Revolution

For a few years, when I was a teenager, I had a copy of the iconic poster of Che Guevara on my bedroom wall. The original photograph on which it was based was taken by Alberto Korda, but the poster version which became so famous was the work of the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. For a generation of adolescents it was the banner of the ‘revolution’, something of an abstract concept that suggested that the world could be changed for ever and that posters on a bedroom wall were a start. In fact, I am not really dismissive about that particular phase so many of us went through, as it contributed to a heightened sense of political awareness and social justice and a desire for peace.

Che Guevara died, as many people know, in Bolivia in 1967, but Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba survived and even today is stuttering on, having made some compromises and concessions but, apart perhaps from North Korea under the Kim dynasty, having stayed truer to Communist purity than any other country. In fact, January 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the revolution. The socialist system it created can celebrate the occasion, but it is  not in a healthy state. Whether that is because the blockade by the United States over all these years has undermined the economy, or because old-style socialism has run its course, is something that can no doubt be debated.

But what I wonder is whether the bedrooms of students today are still decorated with Che’s poster, or indeed any other symbol of alternative frames of reference or progressive ideologies. I don’t have a rose-tinted view of Castro’s Cuba, which may have tackled educational disadvantage and healthcare better than most, but which is still an authoritarian dictatorship that often silences dissent. But I do believe that in order for society to retain an idealistic streak alongside the necessary pragmatism, young people in particular need to have visions and icons that lift the eyes above the idols of success and wealth, at least for a while. I hope that spirit is still alive.

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One Comment on “Revolution”

  1. Ultan Says:

    There was a useful article in yesterday’s Guardian on the subject of this anniversary: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/01/fidel-castro-raul-castro.

    I think Che t-shirts are still very popular as iconic symbols only. I saw quite a few of them being worn by students in TCD while I was studying there for the last couple of years (although they did not pause on the irony of wearing them while also shopping in Brown Thomas). However, I wouldn’t take it as any sign of radicalism.

    Instead, I’m told by those in the know that serious radical “heads” are devotees of Hugo Chavez these days, and not Che and the Castro brothers. Incidentally, one of the best commenators on politics in that neck of the woods is Michael McCaughan – a graduate of TCD and DCU too (http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Venezuela-Open-Media/dp/158322680X). Can’t say I’ve ever seen Hugo on a t-shirt in Ireland though…


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