Archive for the ‘Communism’ Category


Killing the Face That Graced a Million T-Shirts

Review of Hunting Che: How a Special Forces Team Helped Capture The World’s Most Famous Revolutionary; Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer; Berkley Caliber 2013; pp 277

– Shana Susan Ninan

Traces the US-trained Bolivian forces’ success at capturing 20th century’s most famous man – Che Guevara. It’s the ordeal of a US Green Beret team that trained Bolivian soldiers and common men in 1967 to capture Che. After Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, Che was on a high, travelling to Asia, Africa and countries of South America

The CIA knew everything about him, except where he was. And that was damn frustrating. For a man who was trained to blend into the forest and not be visible to the rest of the world, Che does a good job evading the Americans.

Major Ralph Shelton a.k.a. “Pappy”, who saw combat in Korea, Laos and the Dominican Republic, led the Green Beret team which captured the famous man. Shelton was a favourite in his unit, accepted by the soldiers and villagers, alike.

The middle section of the book is rife with photos pf the capture, Che’s travels, and for the first time in publications, a photo of Che in disguise as an old man. The writing is prose mixed with some news writing. The authors have written well, showing the death of the revolution and not just the death of one man.

Che was a grand propagandist, more like a PRO for the Communist Party – even now- than as a leader. His message, his photo, rather, lives on in the minds of the young and the old. And in all fairness, I think, of all the books I’ve read of and by Che, this one is the most unbiased. As writers and journalists, the authors have taken an even stand in recreating this drama at the end of Che’s life.

When most writers, filmmakers and documenters of Che’s life absolutely fall for his charm, Weiss and Maurer are not at all enamoured by this smart-talking revolutionary. In fact, their words in describing the few minutes after Che’s capture says it all:

“Don’t bother, captain, this thing is all over,” Che said.

The Che – the picture of confidence, the icon of the revolutionaru movement – hung his head….

And for once, Che had nothing to say.


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Rating: 9.3/10 (7 votes cast)

Fidel Castro vs JFK

Review of The Tragedy of Fidel Castro; Joao Cerqueira; River Groove Books 2013; pp 168

– Shana Susan Ninan

I’ve grown up reading extensively on Che’s and Castro’s works, as well as those written by others about these two historical figures. So when Cerqueira offered to send me his book, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro I agreed, wanting to look at a contemporary perspective. And it was worth it. I read the translated version of the book, and not the Portuguese one, which I’m sure must be pretty high on readers’ lists in the Portuguese-reading and understanding parts of the world.

This satirical piece of work fabulously weaves fictional historical and religious figures into an interesting plot. Although the author states at the beginning of the book itself that except Castro, none of the other characters – God, Christ, Fatima and JFK – have any similarities with religious or historical persons, we can cite many instances and events where the real and the imagined merge. The use of metaphors, political satire, poetic phrases and vivid imagery makes for an entertaining plot. And those familiar with Communist works as well as the Cuban revolution will be able to identify with minor characters and situations that are tapped from history.

Christ is summoned by God, on Fatima’s request, to once again visit Earth to solve a certain matter. The issue is nothing short of a battle between JFK and Castro, Capitalism taking over where Communism seemed to have failed. The book shows us a highly modernized version of God, Christ and Fatima, much like the nuclear family of today:

It was dawn when Fatima was woken by the phone ringing…. Maybe it was God himself… My son and I were thinking about the JFK-Castro war, and we came to the following conclusion… I’m going to send my son to knock some sense into them, and I need your help.

In between chapters, the author’s own opinion come across strongly, leaving the reader no room to formulate his own. In a way, that’s good; especially, considering the genre of the book – alternative history. Even after more than four decades after Che’s death, and the downside of Communism revealed in the following years, Fidel Castro is still a large and looming figure in history.

The end of Communism can’t have been better captured than on the striking and symbolic cover picture – a skull with a cigar in its mouth, curly black smoke rising up, and the word ‘tragedy’ written in red. And I loved the coined term for Christ – International Conflict Mediator.

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Rating: 8.0/10 (6 votes cast)

Of Jungles and Jails

Review of Kerala’s Naxalbari – Ajitha: Memoirs of a Young Revolutionary; Translated by Sanju Ramachandran; Srishti Publishers 2008; Rs 195; pp 287

– Shana Susan Ninan

K. Ajitha, Kerala’s Naxal Movement’s poster woman, was brought into the forefront of the revolution happening in Kerala’s jungles and hunted by the media, starting with parading her with the “dacoits” who attacked a police station in Pulpally, in 1968. This class XII girl didn’t look back. This is her story of how she grew in the revolutionary movement, her life as an educator in the rank and files, her close working and friendship with Comrade Varghese.

Through eye-opening chapters in her book, she takes us through her life and that of the movement’s to tell us about her initiation into it by her revolutionary parents, the Pulpally Revolt, martyrdoms of many comrades, their lives in police custody, political responses of then ruling Communist party, murder of Comrade Varghese, the Emergency and tortures of those times, her freedom from jail and life after that.

This memoir is as much about Ajitha’s life as a revolutionary in the jungles of north Kerala as it is about her life in the various jails across the state. Starting with the wardens eating up a lion’s share of the jail rations to how inhuman the authorities can be, these incidents open our heart to yet some more truths. She reflects many stories that bring to light the painfully atrocious goings-on in the women’s section of the jails she’s been in. This particular one is shattering to even contemplate. I am sure, for Ajitha, witnessing it was even worse:

The jail doctors too were an irresponsible lot. …once, a woman went into labour at midnight. The wardens were informed, but they rained such abuses on the poor woman that she got scared out of her wits. Her baby had come out partially even before the wardens decided to take a look at her. She sat in a corner pushing the baby back. After a while the baby died… who gives a damn about a prostitute and her bastard? No court would want to punish those jailers who killed the infant.

Ajitha isn’t shy to point out that even the glorified revolutionary movement was flawed in some places. The most visible being the gender bias and the objectification of women. In her later years, in 1993 to be exact, she declared she was no longer a member of the Naxalbari movement and that she is a confirmed feminist, a Marxian feminist. She now works for the liberation of women, operating and organisation from Calicut in northern Kerala, Anweshi.

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Rating: 9.6/10 (5 votes cast)

Alive? Yes. Life? No.

Review of Jangalnama: Travels In A Maoist Guerilla Zone; Satnam; translated by Vishav Bharti; Penguin Books; pp 206; Rs250

– Shana Susan Ninan

Adivasis all over India have many things in common, whether in the jungles of Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka or the northeast. But one characteristic demarcates them from city folk: they are all simple people. And it is this very simplicity of the Adivasis that the politicians and schemers exploit to the core. Satnam, a Punjabi activist and a published writer of national and international issues, travelled across the tribal regions of Bastar at the beginning of this millennium and recorded his first hand experiences of the lives of the tribals as well as the Maoist guerrillas who’ve set up camps in the jungles. The guerrillas comprise mainly of Gondi boys and girls, and a mixture of Telugu and Bangla leaders.

Jangalnama, translated by Chandigarh-based journalist Vishav Bharti, is a dense, heart-touching and authentic series of events that Satnam encounters and lives through for two solid months.

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Rating: 8.7/10 (10 votes cast)

Turkey To Hold Its First Ever Diego-Kahlo Paintings Exhibition

Born José Diego Rivera Barrientos in December 1886, this Mexican muralistis best known for being one the greatest artists of the 20th century and one of the pioneers of 20th century art and politics in Mexico. In his 70 years of living, he has lived, worked and travelled across many countries, been influenced by several themes and other artists.

Starting with portraits and landscapes and later becoming a master in Cubism and frescoes his political voice is best heard and felt through his murals. Diego was an ardent Marxist and Communist. His famous work of writing is My Art, My Life: AN Autobiography.

And for the first time in the history of Turkey, it will be exhibiting 40 pieces of work by Diego and Kahlo, his long time student, friend and wife. The Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum will exhibit these selected works for a show starting December 23 and go on till March 2011. The exhibition will be curated by Professor Helga Prignitz-Poda.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Straddling The Canyon

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver; Harper Collins; $26; pp 507

– Susan Thomas

From the author of The Poisonwood Bible comes another ambitiously lengthy and provocative piece surrounding the life and times of Harrison Shepherd from the colourful 1930s in Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Mexico to the McCarthy hearings in the 1960s – The Lacuna.

A bilingual, biracial Harrison Shepherd is dragged to Isla Pixol by his philandering Mexican mother where he masters the language, history and cuisine. During his formative years, his father enrolls him in a Virgina military school, which ends in disaster and prompts his return to Mexico.

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Rating: 6.8/10 (4 votes cast)

From Dream To Disaster – Che’s Congo Mission

Review of The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in The Congo; Ernesto Che Guevara; Perseus Distribution

– Shana Susan Ninan

How many histories, personal accounts, or even for that war stories, have you read that start this: “This is the history of a failure.”? That’s how Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara starts his The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo. Having stopped Lee Anderson’s biography of Che in the middle only to read Che’s account in the Congo, I must say it was worth the read. If Che thought it was a failure, he has also identified the errors, for future reference, in the epilogue of the book.

Che’s time in the Congo – April to November 1965 – was scattered with numerous events, little triumphs but loads of disappointment. Before going in to his failures, lemme tell you how well he did in the Congo. His diaries record his truthful reactions and responses in the African jungle. No wonder the Cuban government kept it under wraps for about four decades. Che appealed to me as an adventurer and a traveller. His thirst for society’s welfare and upliftment of the masses led him to see and feel their pulse.

I think what drove him to Congo were his urge to spread Communist practices in the rest of the world beyond Latin America and Cuba, and his extreme hate for US neo-imperialist colonisations. Che’s inclusive policy in dealing with his black and African-origin Cubans is quite commendable. His ability to plan and execute strategies, steadfastness to the cause, positive thinking even in the midst of downfall are the qualities of a matured Communist.

The infighting between the Congolese tribes, the friction between them and the Rwandans and the Tanzanians, the non-conducive climate, the laziness of the natives and the absolute neglect of the top brass of the Congolese government all contributed to Che’s fall.

How can you expect an untrained, uninitiated Congolese to believe in Che’s ideals and follow his orders without any questioning or murmur? Why would a people who fight neighbouring clans for land and agriculture be interested in uniting their country under Communist ideologies? I wondered how Che could grumble, though occasionally, about the natives’ lackadaisical approach when they don’t even want it, in the first place.

Che’s quality as a leader cannot be questioned by the events that took place in the Congo. His words and deeds have led thousands of later revolutionaries and thinkers to their goals.

Verdict: Illustrative account; neat text; slightly tedious and long-drawn in the second half. All in all, a must-read for Che’s fans and followers.

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Rating: 7.4/10 (5 votes cast)

A Marxian’s Word

Marx and Engels: A Biographical Introduction by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

That this unpublished introduction was written by a practicing Commie and a devoted Marxian makes this book credible. Spanning 70-odd pages, Che recreates the lives of Marx and Engels: he looks at the both of them from their birth to death, and deals with everything in between. The book also has interesting photographs and ample quotes of theirs.

Che was profoundly influenced by Marxism, and practiced it in his contribution to the Cuban Revolution and also in Africa, which he visited in 1965. We can draw parallels between Marx’s and Che’s lives. Both had left their family, so to say, in order to widen the world’s and their own conceptualisation of Communism; Marx by only having to relocate to London and Che travelling the world.

Marx and Engels were born in Rhineland, in a gap of around two years, but they associated with each other only in their youth. Marx was way ahead of Engels in most aspects. Hegels would only be dreaming of putting his idea on paper when Marx would have already made his a book. In some ways, both of them crossed paths – in the books they frequently brought out and in their criticisms. Later, they co-authored books, Engels often played the “elder” brother to Marx, both ideologically and in his personal life.

Verdict: Communists, students, activists and political scientists will love this book: absolutely insightful and crisp. The list of books by both Marx and Engels, and Che’s own reading is very helpful.

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Rating: 8.3/10 (6 votes cast)