Type into your browser “Che Guevara merchandise” and a plethora of t-shirts, badges, posters and mugs will appear fit to adorn any self-respecting Corbynista. It was the recent introduction of an Irish stamp bearing his familiar face that truly confirmed Che’s legacy as the ultimate commercial fad. The stamp was designed by Irishman Jim Fitzpatrick to commemorate the fifty years since he died fighting for his ideology in a Bolivian jungle. Guevara’s Irish connection doesn’t stop there: his father Ernesto Guevara Lynch was of Irish descent. Despite these links, it is questionable whether Guevara would have supported a state that recently appealed against a European court ruling, forcing Apple to pay them more tax; it is more than ironic that a man who fought against capitalism has been recognised by the one of the worst tax havens in the world.
It may be claimed this is just another deserved reward for a tragic hero (or ‘martyr’ if you prefer, as he was deemed in the eyes of Fitzpatrick). However, the mysticism that surrounds our modern-day Robin Hood is a delusion and a dangerous one in that. The very idea of martyrdom, adopted by extremist groups across the world, consolidates the worst ideals of the hard left that should be eradicated from any rational enquiry. This is a man who presided over Cuba’s labour camps and firing squads and effectively saw the establishment of a police state. Rather than the ends justifying the means, as his supporters would argue, in Cuba the means have destroyed the ends and left a society wholly unequal and driven on fear.
Whilst there is a debate to be had on the validity of leftist ideologies, let us not forget Guevara is just one man, twisted and reproduced by the capitalist system he fought against, and “Disney-fied” into a semi-mythical figure. Reduced to a pixelated image, manufactured and sold at the greatest profit margin possible, we are not required to understand his historical context, for he is portrayed as a loveable rouge, desensitised for mass consumption. The people at An Post may as well have had a draw between him, Pol Pot and Lenin. If we join the dots, this commemoration of a dubious figure coincides with the Irish president’s visit to recently de-sanctioned Cuba this year. If a stamp with Che Guevara is what is needed to open the floodgates of Cuban oil reserves to the global market, then so be it. May he continue to serve as our capitalist pawn for ever more.
At the end of the day, we are just talking about postage stamps. A communication in decline, perhaps this debate is completely irrelevant. Perhaps Che’s imagery will only inspire revolution on the back of holiday postcards to elderly relatives. Che’s legacy has been sanitised and commodified. But for one I’d rather see Che’s youthful smiling grin than that of a Queen who stands in symbolic place for a legacy of monarchy and imperial exploitation sanitised even more.
Image: Alberto Korda via Wikimedia