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Che Guevara: An Exploration of Revolutionary Theory

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Che Guevara: An Exploration of Revolutionary Theory


by Jamie E. Hill

Download the Full Article: Che Guevara: An Exploration of Revolutionary Theory

During the mid-20th century, a number of revolutionary movements were being conducted throughout South America. Some of which applied the theories developed by Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution in the 1950's. This paper will analyze Che Guevara's 'Foco Theory', from his work Guerrilla Warfare, in relation to the revolutions in Cuba and Bolivia. The comparison will be made to determine what methods worked in Cuba, which led to the revolution's success, and then determine to what extent the 'Foco Theory' was actually employed to reach that success. In addition, other South American dissident groups attempted to use the same theory and did not achieve the same results. As a result, there will be an analysis of the events that took place in Bolivia to determine the contributing factors to the revolution and what may have caused its failure. The end result will provide a comparison of the revolutions and determine what led to certain successes or failures and why. It will also provide an assessment of Che's theory to determine if it is useful, and valid, to the events that inspired and supported its creation.

Download the Full Article: Che Guevara: An Exploration of Revolutionary Theory

Jamie Hill grew up in Barrie, Ontario and joined the Canadian forces in 2007. He is currently a 4th year Officer Cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada and hopes to graduate in May 2011 with an Honours degree of Political Science. He is an armour officer awaiting phase training after graduation.


Categories: El Centro

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slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 12/17/2010 - 10:44am

Excellent paper,glad to see somebody studying successful Insurgents as opposed to just Counter-insurgents. I would add that Castro had the "X" factor of a Guerrilla leader, he was very charismatic and understood the value of Propaganda more than Che' did.


Sat, 12/18/2010 - 12:08am

Slapout9: I wouldnt say Che isnt someone not to be studied, but as I understand it, he did export and conduct his isolated experience of foquismo from his Cuban experience, along with taking shortcuts, that isolated him in Bolivia and may have doomed himself from the beginning,

I for one, would prefer to study a more successful insurgent in one T.E. Lawrence, which perhaps you have studied, and didnt view him as an insurgent? : )

slapout9 (not verified)

Sat, 12/18/2010 - 8:27am

Tyrtaios, I didn't want to imply that we should not study Che', my point is that Fidel Castro was more successful then Che' and that we should pay proper attention to that.

Chucklehead (not verified)

Sat, 12/18/2010 - 2:10pm

Let's not forget that focoism got senor Che dead. That's great if you're into dieing for a cause. Also, it seems that geography does play certain roles in revolutionary theory. Cuba is an island, so is Sri Lanka. Focoism worked in Cuba but probably because it had to. The Tamil tigers had much less luck in Sri Lanka. Chairman Mao would have warned against the Tamil's approach due to a lack of resource heavy hinterland.

Slapout I agree with you, Castro provided the decisive leadership and leadership cult for his revolution, not Che. Other than writing a book with some decent ideas for UW I'm not sure what Che really accomplished?

Unfortunately his profile is very appealing to the masses and over the years it has become an icon for the counter-culture globally, and as with most icon's there is a lot of myth associated it. I plan to grow my hair out Che when I retire, so I can become an icon image for Viagra (one retirement plan, but I do have other courses of action).

Chucklehead you can't really compare Sri Lanka to Cuba just because they're both islands. One movement was a separatist movement and the other was a revolution intent on changing the nation's form of government. IMO the Tamils of Sri Lanka were much more successful than Castro's guerrillas, but ultimately the government did a better job of isolating them and then defeating them. On the other hand, I have read historical accounts where experts (I use that term loosely) view Castro's victory as an accident of history. He only had minimal military success and I don't think is political organization was that strong. I'm far from an expert on it, so anyone please correct me if this is an incorrect interpretation of what I read. Despite Castro's weakness the Bastista government decided to take their money and leave, which was a surprise to Castro, a welcome surprise, but a surprise none the less.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 11:13am

I grew up going to school with children of the "Revolution" and new their parents, and some were even my teachers in school. As I got older I even had a "Bay of Pigs" survivor buy me a Cuban Guerrilla fighters breakfast at a most excellent Cuban Restaurant.?!Point being I have a very different opinion than a lot of the experts. The Cuban Government had become so corrupted and power had concentrated into the hands of only a few people that some type of Revolution (wasn't really an Communist Insurgency IMO) was inevitable. Anybody could have led a revolution and won, it was that bad IMO. And as you point out when Batista fled (mysteriously) that was pretty much the end of the show. There were and are lessons not learned and future warnings from the Cuban revolution that either we don't want to recognize or can't recognize because we are so blinded by COIN psychosis. Just my 2 cents.

Wargames Mark

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 1:59pm

I think it is vitally important that people involved in fighting small wars read more from the bad guys. Read A LOT MORE from the bad guys.

So many (uppity) types like to quote Kilcullen and Exum as they seek to correct my crude, low-brow views on fighting terrorism, insurgency, and other small wars, but tell me they've never even heard of Abimael Guzman, George Habbash, and so on. (Not sure if Habbash ever wrote anything, but you get the point -> Read stuff by terrorists and insurgents, not just by the people who fight against them. Otherwise you're like an oncologist who doesn't know anything about cancer.)

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 2:22pm

Wargames Mark, agree completely. You learn how to catch criminals by studying criminals not by studying the police.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 2:24pm

Wargames Mark, That "Anonymous" was me! Hit the wrong button.

Jamie Hill (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 4:25pm

I agree as well Wargames Mark on the necessity of studying guerrillas. Another person to consider would be Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa during WW1. I know it's a little dated, but he did a fine job making a mockery of the British.

To Bill M, I would not necessarily say the Castro's success was an accident because he did a very good job consolidating power after Batista left; even though his military operations were lackluster at best. This is one of the reasons I brought up luck as one of the aspects that led to the successful revolution in Cuba. Things just managed to fall into place despite minimal organization on behalf of guerrillas.

Keep the comments coming though, I appreciate them.

Wargames Mark,

I'll second Slap's comments, and recall that our reading lists in the late 70s and early 80s were more focused on the terrorist and insurgent movements, their leaders, their strategies, their TTP, etc., and now they appear to be almost totally focused on COIN theorists and the associated doctrines.

Furthermore as Gian has pointed out several times the theorists focus almost entirely on Mao's strategy when they discuss "how the insurgent or terrorist fights".(I will argue that Kilcullen is a cut above and differs in this regard and is far from uppity, he speaks in very plain terms which indicates he actually understands what he is talking about and can convey that understanding in plain English).

I found it helpful that you mentioned two terrorists who were both Christian that waged secular conflicts. George Habbash was not a Muslim, and I think that is forgotten by most after 9/11. He was a first rate medical doctor who self radicalized based on the horrors he witnessed in the Palestinian refugee camps, and unfortunately he turned out to be a brilliant terrorist when it came to planning and executing complex operations.

Every insurgent and terrorist movement is different, so we must at least spend as much time studying their strategies and TTPs as we do our doctrinal approach.

That aspect of our craft was reinvigorated shortly after 9/11, but somewhere along the line the focus shifting from understanding to how we apply population centric COIN doctrine with little consideration to how this would actually undermine the enemy's strategy.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 5:09pm

Did not someone many years ago state "know your enemy better than yourself"?

Still think though that the Robb theory of "open source warfare" using Kilcullen's "conflict ecosystem" as the analysis tool for OSW would take us alot further than the pluses and minuses of which COIN theory is right or wrong.

If the recent reporting of Taliban and related groups killed or captured numbers for a three month period ending mid Nov via SOF operations is accurate then it seems to indicate that the Taliban and related groups are regenerating faster that SOF can carry out raids---so current COIN theories are not providing answers to their regeneration abilities.

Name me just a single researcher or think tank that has based they research either on and or uses "conflict ecosystem analysis"--- for that matter name just one researcher that even uses the concept of open source warfare to explain what is being seen globally in the Sunni Salafi jihadi movements ---especially in the areas of IED evolution, TTP evolution or the ability to absorb major raids and regenerate within four weeks.

Also as a matter of record name a single researcher/think tank who can define the two concepts.

All of the theories concerning Attack the Network are simply no longer working.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 5:25pm


Warden's "The Enemy as a System" is as valid today as it was when he wrote it. Although ASCOPE probably is easier to understand. Robb's theory of system disruption is straight up Warden but done from a ground level unit as opposed to an Air Power approach. The Eco-system approach is no differant than the original General System Theory that I learned in the 4th grade except it is being applied to war, it is the same thing. No disrespect to Killcullen intended.


I agree with you that John Robb got it right with thoughts on open source warfare. You'll note a lot of resistance to change in our ranks, and I disagree strongly with Slap's assessment of looking at the enemy as a system. We have been doing just that for years to no avail. Complex adaptive organizations do not fit nicely in the easy to complicated sytem view we have developed for viewing terrorist and insurgent organizations.

As for killing terrorists/insurgents faster than they can regenerate, I still think that is possible if we want to go down that route. We are more focused on going after the mid to low level leaders, that isn't attrition targeting, that is system targeting. Lots of debate on this as there should be, but in my opinion complex adaptive systems all thrive in an environment and must adapt to that environment to survive. We alter the environment we alter the organization we're targeting.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 7:50pm

I agree with you that the way systems analysis is being used is incorrect but that is not how Warden intended it or wrote about it for that matter. Killing Pablo is much closer to what he would have in mind as to what we should be doing as opposed to what we are doing, which is closer to a Systems Engineering approach instead of a Systems Analysis approach. And this is nothing against John Robb either he writes good stuff, but so have others. Now back to Cuba.

Jamie Hill,
Cuba had a very small economy and Castro was a wealthy sugar cane plantation owner. In fact one of the things he did was to get on the radio and tell everyone to to set the fields on fire and he started with his own. Because he was wealthy he was well connected to the centers of power in Cuba and that made it fairly easy for him to consolidate power when took over, he new the system so to speak. Where he got into problems was later on down the road with the economy. There was nobody left to run things in an efficient way. Contrary to popular belief but after the Revolution you could leave Cuba anytime if you could pay your way and were willing to leave your wealth behind and were not on some Hit list. Many of what you could call the technical class were able to get out of Cuba and come to America and start over. That eventually changed and after the Bay of Pigs you pretty much had to escape from then on.

Bill M.

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 10:12pm

Jamie, my apologies for not commenting on your article. I think it was very well resourced and I enjoyed your writing style. Although you didn't mention a single COIN model in your article, you provided several examples where you could have explained the behaviors using COIN models.

The best description of winning hearts and minds for small wars was that was winning hearts meant the insurgent's or counterinsurgent's objectives were in line with the populace (similar values and goals), and winning minds meant that they actually thought they were going to win. As you clearly demonstrated in your article, rational people don't jump on a team they don't think will eventually win. They'll not only put themselves in great danger for no return, but sacrifice the security of their families.

What I enjoyed most about your article was your explanation of why Bastista fled. It was due to the urban mass movement, which in many ways was disconnected from the largely unsuccessful guerrilla movement being waged in the country side. This supports one of my arguments that COIN studies are flawed because they focus on the counterinsurgent only and ignore the other variables that influence the outcome. The same is obviously true for those who study insurgencies. So the question remains, were Castro and Che skillful or simply lucky?

It also appears that Che suffered from considerable hubris, and his assumption that the Bolivian people would embrace "his" revolution in their country unfortunately parallels a similiar hubris we demonstrated after 9/11, largely with the same results.

Jamie Hill (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 11:40pm

Bill M,

Thanks for your comments, I didn't see focusing on a COIN model as particularly relevant because the focus was on the revolution and the COIN strategy employed was flawed to say that least; that's really what I tried to bring forward.


I don't know how much Castro's wealth contributed. Yes Castro may have been somewhat wealthy (I would note he did need money from the former president Prio Scarras prior to his failed Manzanillo expedition), but as you said that helped him consolidate power, which is what I mentioned in the paper. This however, does not speak to his next to complete failure as a military commander, which is why I mention luck as a key to his ability to get to the point where he was able to move in after the power vacuum presented itself and use his contacts.

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 12/20/2010 - 12:00am

"This however, does not speak to his next to complete failure as a military commander, which is why I mention luck as a key to his ability to get to the point where he was able to move in after the power vacuum presented itself and use his contacts." by Jamie Hill

Luck is close enough I guess, I just tend to think it was more of a coincidence due to economic conditions, a Revolution was going to happen anyway. Yes, he was a pretty inept military commander but he was very good at propaganda, in particular the use of the media. Also something that is not talked about a great deal is Fidel thought Che' was such a goof ball that he shipped him off to Africa for awhile to see if he could learn something before he went on his ill fated trip to Bolivia.