Between Love of Revolution and Hatred of Injustice, or, The Erotic Jurisprudence of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

Luis Gómez Romero   | Bio
School of Law at the University of Wollongong in June 2013


Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara famously claimed that ‘the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love’. This article contends that the emotional constituents of Guevara’s political and legal thought have played an essential role in the cultural configuration of his political myth. In the wake of the global financial crisis, they also seem to be quite relevant for our current understanding of society and law. As law and myth are synonymous with the symbolic order, Guevara’s myth constitutes an outstanding case to dissect the passionate ingredients that the perception of injustice introduces in the symbolic order. The emotions that saturate Guevara’s writings and revolutionary actions – love for justice, hatred of injustice – relentlessly challenge and undermine the intersections between law and inequality in Latin America. Guevara’s wrath, however, could hardly be contained within this region today. In a world in which the gap between poor and rich people is continuously deepening, it seems convenient to be at least aware of the canvas behind Guevara’s legal and political thought, which constitutes one of the most powerful social imaginaries that have been erected around law’s contribution to the unequal distribution of income, capital and political standing.


1 ‘[Che was] angry and sorrowful.’ All translations are mine unless noted otherwise. The term Latin America can be traced back to the works of Michel Chevalier, who claimed that Europe had a double origin: Latin (Roman) and Teutonic (German). According to Chevalier, the southern part of America was inhabited by descendants of ‘Latin’ Europeans. See Lettres sur l’Amérique du Nord (Wouters et Co, 4th ed, first published 1836, 1844 ed) vol 1, 12-13. The term Latin America eventually became accepted in the whole world, except in Spain where the terms Spanish America or Ibero-America are preferred. Ernesto Guevara loosely understood Latin America as those territories in the Americas where the Spanish or Portuguese languages prevail. See, for example, ‘América desde el Balcón Afroasiático’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 1; and Diarios de Motocicleta: Notas de Viaje por América Latina (Centro de Estudios Che Guevara and Ocean Sur, first published 1993, 2004 ed) 133-134.
2 See Jorge Castañeda, La Vida en Rojo: Una Biografía del Che Guevara (Punto de Lectura, first published 1997, 2002 ed) 653.
3 See Peter McLaren, Che Guevara, Paulo Freire and the Pedagogy of Revolution (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) 3. I use the Argentinian colloquialism ‘Che’ –which can be roughly translated to English as ‘mate’ or ‘bro’– to name Comandante (Commander) Guevara throughout this essay because his correspondence proves that he willingly adopted this friendly moniker when he referred to himself.
4 Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (Grove Press, first published 1997, 2010 ed) 709-710; David Kunzle, Che Guevara: Icon, Myth, Message (UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History and Center for the Study of Political Graphics, 1997) 110; Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Ernesto Guevara, También Conocido Como El Che (Planeta, first published 1996, 1998 ed) 819.
5 Taibo II, above n 4, 820.
6 Castañeda, above n 2, 653ff; Taibo II, above n 4, 826ff.
7 Jean Paul Sartre, ‘El “Che” fue el hombre más completo de su tiempo’ (22 December 1967) 70(52) Bohemia 45.
8 Fidel Castro, Imagen del Hombre Nuevo (Editora Política, 1987) 32.
9 See Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Seuil, first published 1957, 1970 ed) 209ff; and Claude Lévi-Strauss, La Pensée Sauvage (Plon, first published 1962, 2010) 29-49.
10 Desmond Manderson, ‘From Hunger to Love: Myths of the Source, Interpretation and Constitution of Law in Children’s Literature’ (2003) 15(1) Law & Literature 87, 89.
11 See Mircea Eliade, Aspects du Mythe (Gallimard, first published 1963, 2010) 11-34.
12 Chiara Bottici, A Philosophy of Political Myth (Cambridge University Press, 2007) 123.
13 Ibid, 124.
14 See Peter Fitzpatrick, The Mythology of Modern Law (Routledge, 1992).
15 See Jacques Lacan, ‘Le Symbolique, l’Imaginaire et le Réel’ (1982) 1 Bulletin de l‘Association Freudienne 4.
16 Bottici, above n 12, 134ff.
17 Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (Basic Books, 1983) 143.
18 Manuel García-Pelayo, Los Mitos Políticos (Alianza, 1981) 31.
19 See Enrique Krauze, ‘Che Guevara: El Santo Enfurecido’ in Enrique Krauze, Redentores: Ideas y Poder en América Latina (Debolsillo, 2013) 317.
20 Eduardo Galeano, Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina (Siglo XXI, first published 1971, 2013 ed) 15ff.
21 Álvaro Vargas Llosa, The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty (The Independent Institute, 2006) 2.
22 Ibid, 3.
23 Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Methuen, first published 1981, 1986 ed) 76.
24 Ibid, 115.
25 Taibo II, above n 4, 849.
26 Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy, Che Guevara: Une Braise que Brûle Encore (Mille et Une Nuits, 2007) 144. See also Jean Ortiz, ‘Crise de la Politique: Le Che, Plus Actuel que Jamais’ in Jean Ortiz (ed), Che, Plus que Jamais: L’Éthique dans la Pensée et la Pratique de Ernesto Che Guevara (Atlantica, 2007) 135.
27 See Eric Hobsbawm, Revolutionaries (Abacus, first published 1973, 2013 ed) 226-227.
28 See Kunzle above n 4, 78-87 and Trisha Ziff, Che Guevara: Revolutionary & Icon (Abrams Image, 2006) 88-95.
29 See above n 1. On the appropriation of the term ‘America’ by the United States as an example of imperial knowledge formation through colonial logic, see Walter Mignolo, The Idea of Latin America (Blackwell, 2005) 149ff.
30 See the classic study by Albert Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History (AMS Press, first published 1935, 1979 ed).
31 See, for example, Galeano, above n 20, 175ff; and Alan McPherson, Yankee No! Anti-Americanism in US-Latin American Relations (Harvard University Press, 2003).
32 José Martí, ‘Congreso Internacional de Washington: Su Historia, sus Elementos y sus Tendencias’ in José Martí, Obras Completas (2nd ed, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1975), vol 6, 157, 157ff.
33 José Enrique Rodó, Ariel (Prometeo, 1900) 98ff. Ariel was a prescribed reading in Mexican schools until the 1960s. See Enrique Krauze, ‘El Che, Vida y Milagros’ (February 2007) 65 Letras Libres 18, 19.
34 Rubén Darío, ‘A Roosevelt’ in Rubén Darío, Azul. El Salmo de la Pluma. Cantos de Vida y Esperanza. Otros Poemas (Porrúa, 16th ed, 1992) 123, 124.
35 Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera (Aunt Lute Books, 1987) 3.
36 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Discurso en la Quinta Sesión Plenaria del Consejo Interamericano Económico y Social, en Punta del Este, Uruguay, 8 de Agosto de 1961’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 41.
37 Ibid, 46.
38 Subcomandante Marcos is currently known as Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.
39 Subcomandante Marcos, ‘Inauguración de la Reunión Preparatoria Americana del Encuentro Intercontinental por la Humanidad y Contra el Neoliberalismo, 6 Abril 1996’ in Antonio García de León and Carlos Monsiváis (eds), EZLN: Documentos y Comunicados (Era, 1997) vol 3, 204, 212.
40 Ibid, 213.
41 Ibid, 211.
42 Guerrillero Heroico (March 5, 1960). See Kunzle, above n 4, 56-60 and Ziff, above n 28, 32-41.
43 See Michael Casey, Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image (Vintage, 2009) 5.
44 Ibid, 9. See also Hobsbawm, above n 27, 284.
45 Vargas Llosa, above n 21, 7.
46 Castañeda, above n 2, 664.
47 See below n 89.
48 Ernesto Guevara, ‘El Socialismo y el Hombre en Cuba’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 8, 253, 269.
49 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Mensaje a los Pueblos del Mundo a través de la Tricontinental’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 355, 369.
50 Jon Elster, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999) ix. James R Averill suggests that the analysis of human behaviour (including emotions) can be carried out in three levels: biological, psychological and sociocultural. See Anger and Aggression: An Essay on Emotion (Springer-Verlag, 1982) 5. This article is exclusively concerned with the sociocultural facets of emotions, that is, their normative principles and consequences and their effects in the constitution of society.
51 Elster, ibid, 50.
52 See Susan Bandes, ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ (2001) 8(1) William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law 97, 98-99.
53 Rachel Moran, ‘Law and Emotion, Love and Hate’ (2001) 11(2) Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 747, 747.
54 Richard Posner ‘Law and the Emotions’ (2001) 89(6) Georgetown Law Journal 1977, 1977-1978.
55 William James, The Principles of Psychology (Harvard University Press, first published 1890, 1983 ed) 1064.
56 Ibid.
57 I admit that this theoretical standpoint could be controversial. In his introductory notes to the English translation of Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s Mille Plateaux, Brian Massumi claims that it is important not to confuse affect with feelings and emotions. According to Massumi, feelings are basically personal, emotions are social, and affects are ‘prepersonal’ intensities ‘corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body’s capacity to act’. In other words, affects are the expression of the particular grammar of the body – responses involving, for example, the facial muscles, the viscera, the respiratory system or autonomic blood flow changes – that cannot be fully expressed through language. See ‘Notes on Translation and Acknowledgements’ in Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Brian Massumi trans, University of Minnesota Press, 1987) xvi, xvi (trans of Mille Plateaux: Capitalism et Schizophrénie, first published 1980). See also, by the same author, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Duke University Press, 2002) 24ff. Che, however, did not acknowledge any substantive difference between these three terms: he loosely uses the term passion as an encompassing concept for his account of individual emotions (such as love or wrath). The Deleuzian distinction would therefore unnecessarily add a level of complication to his erotics of revolution.
58 See Paul Ricoeur, La Métaphore Vive (Seuil, 1975).
59 Moran, above n 53, 748-749.
60 René Descartes, Les Passions de l’Âme, in René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode; Les Passions de l’Âme (Bookking International, first published 1649, 1995 ed) Articles 27 and 34-36.
61 Ibid, Articles 211-212.
62 Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Reclam, first published 1798, 2008 ed) 192-193.
63 See Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie (Mohr/Siebeck, first published 1922, 1980 ed).
64 See Hans Kelsen, Reine Rechtslehre: Mit einem Anhang, Das Problem der Gerechtigkeit (Franz Deutike, 2nd ed, 1960).
65 See, for example, Martha Nussbaum, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013).
66 See, for example, Susan Bandes, ‘Introduction’ in Susan Bandes, The Passions of Law (New York University Press, 1999) 1, and András Sajó, Constitutional Sentiments (Yale University Press, 2011).
67 Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 2001) 24-33.
68 William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of Disgust (Harvard University Press, 1997) 8.
69 Nussbaum, above n 67, 19ff.
70 David Konstan, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (University of Toronto Press, 2007) 27-28.
71 Aristotle, De Anima (On the Soul) (Hugh-Lawson-Tancred trans, Penguin, 1986) 432a-433b (trans of: Περì Ψυχῆς, written circa 335-323 BCE).
72 Ibid, 403a-403b.
73 Aristotle, Rhetorica (W Rhys Roberts trans, Clarendon Press, 1971) 1359b (trans of Ῥητορική (written circa 4th Century BC)).
74 Ibid, 1358b.
75 Ibid.
76 Ibid, 1356a.
77 Ibid, 1378a. See also Nichomachean Ethics (H Rackham trans, Harvard University Press, 1968) 1105b (trans of: Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, written circa 350 BCE).
78 Aristotle, above n 73, 1356a.
79 Konstan, above n 70, 34.
80 Aristotle, above n 73, 1378a.
81 Konstan, above n 70, 37.
82 Elster, above n 50, 55-58.
83 See Nussbaum, above n 67, 25-26.
84 See Averill, above n 50, 7-9.
85 Robert C Solomon, The Passions (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977) 186-187.
86 Seneca, On Anger, in Seneca, Moral Essays (John W Basore trans, Harvard University Press, 1970) I.8, 2-3 (trans of: De Ira, written circa 41 AD).
87 Ibid, I.3, 4-5.
88 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Carta a la Madre: Abril de 1954’ in Ernesto Guevara, Otra Vez: Diario Inédito del Segundo Viaje por Latinoamérica (Ediciones B, 2001) 154, 155.
89 The use of the term diary to define the works that Che wrote after the most significant experiences of his life – his two journeys through Latin America, the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra, or the revolutionary war in Congo – is quite misleading. Che developed a method to theorise on the events that he experienced: he kept diaries in order to preserve meticulous memories of such events, which he used later as a basis for chronicles that developed his reflections on his own memories. Compare, for example, Diario de un Combatiente: Sierra Maestra-Santa Clara 1956-1958 (Centro de Estudios Che Guevara and Ocean Sur, 2011) – the diary of the guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra – against Pasajes de la Guerra Revolucionaria (Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1975) – the chronicle that Che wrote on the same period. On Che’s historiographical and philosophical method, see Fidel Castro ‘Una Introducción Necesaria’ in Ernesto Guevara, El Diario del Che en Bolivia (Siglo XXI, first published 1968, 1988 ed) 9ff.
90 Guevara, Diarios de Motocicleta, above n 1, 63.
91 Ibid, 64.
92 Ibid.
93 Ibid, 71-72. Under the Ley No 8987, de Defensa Permanente de la Democracia (Law 8987, for the Permanent Defence of Democracy), the Partido Comunista de Chile (PCCh, Communist Party of Chile) was outlawed from 1948 to 1958.
94 Guevara, Diarios de Motocicleta, above n 1, 72.
95 Ibid, 73.
96 Ibid, 72.
97 Ibid, 88.
98 Ibid.
99 Ibid, 92.
100 Ibid, 26.
101 Ibid, 142.
102 Ibid, 142-143.
103 Ibid, 143.
104 See above, n 63 and n 64.
105 Anderson, above n 4, 167ff.
106 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Carta a la Madre: México, 15 de Julio de 1954’ in Ernesto Guevara, Otra Vez: Diario Inédito del Segundo Viaje por Latinoamérica (Ediciones B, 2001) 176, 177.
107 Montesquieu, De’l Esprit de Lois (Flammarion, first published 1748, 1979 ed) vol 1, Book III, ch I.
108 Ibid, Book III, ch III.
109 Ibid, Book III, ch IV.
110 Ibid, Book III, ch VII.
111 Nussbaum, above n 65, 22.
112 See Ernesto Guevara, ‘Discurso en la Inauguración del Curso de Adoctrinamiento del Ministerio de Salud Pública’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 4, 175, 176.
113 Ibid, 182.
114 Aristotle, above n 73, 1385b. Jean-Jacques Rousseau likewise argues – thus agreeing with Aristotle – that compassion (pitié) requires awareness that one’s own weaknesses and vulnerabilities are similar to those of the sufferer. See Émile ou de l’Éducation (Flammarion, first published 1792, 2009 ed) 321ff.
115 See Nussbaum, above n 65, 142ff; and Sajó, above n 66, 171ff.
116 Barbudos means ‘bearded men’. The term was coined to describe the rebel forces of the Cuban Revolution, who did not shave while they were fighting in the Sierra Maestra. The beard was later perceived as the emblem of the revolutionaries. See Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (Pan Books, first published 1971, 2001) 692.
117 Anderson, above n 4, 360.
118 Ibid, 359.
119 Castañeda, above n 2, 281ff.
120 See Michael Löwy, La Pensée de Che Guevara (Maspero, 1970) 27ff.
121 Orlando Borrego, Che, El Camino de Fuego (Imagen Contemporánea, 2011) 112ff. Antonio del Conde – also known as ‘El Cuate’ – who worked with Che when he was the Cuban Minister of Industry, summarises Che’s attempt at reforming the economy through a simultaneous reform of the human soul in two key facets: ‘disciplina y muchos huevos’ (discipline and big balls). Interview with Antonio del Conde (Mexico City, 9 January 2015).
122 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Discurso en el Segundo Seminario Económico de Solidaridad Afroasiática’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 341, 343.
123 Karl Marx, ‘Thesen über Feuerbach’ in Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie: Mit Anhang: Karl Marx über Feuerbach vom Jahre 1845 (JHW Dietz, 1888) 69, 72.
124 Löwy, above n 120, 29.
125 Guevara, above n 122, 344.
126 See Ernst Bloch, Naturrecht und menschliche Würde (Suhrkamp, 1961) 237.
127 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Discurso en la Asamblea General de Trabajadores de la Textilera Ariguanabo’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 7, 39, 47-48.
128 Anderson, above n 4, 724.
129 Walter Benjamin ‘Zur Kritik der Gewalt’ in Walter Benjamin, Zur Kritik der Gewalt und andere Aufsätze: Mit einem Nachwort von Herbert Marcuse (Suhrkamp, written circa 1920, 1965 ed) 29, 29.
130 Ibid, 40ff.
131 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Discurso en la Asamblea General de Naciones Unidas: 11 de diciembre de 1964’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 285, 305.
132 Ernesto Guevara, ‘Discurso en la Conferencia de Naciones Unidas sobre Comercio y Desarrollo: 25 de marzo de 1964’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 285, 305.
133 Aristotle, above n 77, 1125b-1126b, 1135b and 1149a.
134 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ (trans T Gilby, Blackfriars, 1963) 1a2æ, quest. 47 (trans of: Summa Theologiæ, written between 1225 and 1274).
135 Ibid, 1a2æ, quest. 46.
136 Ibid.
137 Seneca, above n 86, I.1, 1-2.
138 Che’s opening remark in his African chronicles is: ‘This is the story of a failure’. See Pasajes de la Guerra Revolucionaria: Congo (Mondadori, 1999) 31.
139 Che could not write any chronicle on the revolutionary war he fought in Bolivia as he was captured and executed. For a detailed account of Che’s campaign in Bolivia, see Régis Debray, La Guérilla du Che (Seuil, first published 1974, 1996 ed).
140 Guevara, above n 48, 269-270.
141 Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (Verso, 2010) 108-109.
142 Ibid, 115. See also, from the same author, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (Profile Books, 2009) 172-173.
143 Guevara, above n 49, 369.
144 Žižek, above n 141, 117.
145 Ernesto Guevara ‘Táctica y Estrategia de la Revolución Americana’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 225, 240.
146 Immanuel Kant, Zum ewigen Frieden (Fischer, first published 1795, 2008 ed) 194. Kant ironically paraphrased this proverb in the following terms: ‘Let justice rule on earth, even if all the rascals in the world should perish from it’ (Es herrsche Gerechtigkeit, die Schelme in der Welt mögen auch insgesammt darüber zu Grunde gehen).
147 Ibid, 152.
148 Quoted in Castañeda, above n 2, 389.
149 See Thomas Piketty, Le Capital au XXIe Siècle (Seuil, 2013).
150 Ricardo Rojo, Mi Amigo El Che (Sudamericana, first published 1968, 1997) 11.
151 Guevara, ‘América desde el Balcón Afroasiático’, above n 1, 3.
152 See, for example, Castañeda, above n 2, 661ff; Krauze, above n 19, 353ff; and Vargas Llosa, above n 21, 21-22.
153 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin, first published 1939, 2011 ed) 177.
154 Ibid, 175.
155 Ibid, 411.
156 Ernesto Guevara ‘A Mis Hijos’ in Ernesto Guevara, Escritos y Discursos (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977) vol 9, 391, 392.
How to Cite
Romero LG. Between Love of Revolution and Hatred of Injustice, or, The Erotic Jurisprudence of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. LiC [Internet]. 2018Dec.21 [cited 2023Oct.1];34(1). Available from:

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