Che Guevara and American Economic Imperialism

Che Guevara was your stereotypical revolutionary. Raised in a rich household, he was trained to be a doctor before he realized his interests were helping the poor. The son of a leftist father, he grew up listening to socialist ideologies from Spanish Republicans. After allying with the Cubans Fidel and Raul Castro, he helped to liberate Cuba from Batista’s rule and gained political influence within Cuba society because of his role within the revolution. In 1964, he was sent to address the UN in regards to Africa and Caribbean decolonization. In his speech to the UN, Che builds the Cubans as a reactive nation as opposed to proactively provoking the United States and challenging their imperialist rule within Africa (indirectly) and more specifically the Caribbean. While Che states that the US’s military influence has helped to oppress many a person, their economic system dwarfs that of the socialist states and prevents any attempts at economic freedom for them and their citizens. “So long as the economically dependent peoples do not free themselves from the capitalist markets, and as a bloc with the socialist countries, impose new terms of trade between the exploited and the exploiters, there will be no sound economic development, and in certain cases there will be retrogression, in which the weak countries will fall under the political domination of imperialist and colonialists” (Blaisdell 273). Che believes that these economics will prevent the burgeoning socialist states from ever truly freeing themselves from imperialism and in turn prevent them from ever truly breaking free of capitalism. Without an equal power base, capitalism and socialism will never resolve their conflict and continue to fight one another in an unequal relationship instead of peacefully coexisting, which is what Che wants to see happen.

Original source as delivered by Che:


Morel’s Morals

Edward Morel was born in France in 1873, although he attended school in Britain and eventually became a naturalized British citizen in 1896. Throughout his life he held various jobs and was known as a British journalist, author, pacifist and politician. In 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote “The White Man’s Burden” which celebrated colonialism and discussed the duty of the white man to civilize ‘savage’ populations. ((Rudyard Kipling, The White Man’s Burden, 1899)) Morel wrote The Black Man’s Burden in direct response to this work by Kipling. In The Black Man’s Burden, he discussed how colonialism decimated African populations through famine, forced labor and disease as well as by destroying social ties and breaking their spirits. ((Edward Morel, The Black Man’s Burden, 1903)) In this time period, there were few advocates for African rights but Morel developed an uncommon sympathy and respect for African cultures earlier in his life when working for a British shipping company. When looking at this company’s trade between Belgium and the Congo, Morel saw that no commercial goods were brought to the Congo, but valuable natural resources were brought back. Morel explored this relationship more, realizing that the resources were brought back at the expense of the native African people. He resigned his job at the shipping company and began to campaign against Congo misrule. He published his own magazine and started the Congo Reform Association to advocate for change in colonial practices in the Congo.

African colonies in 1914.

African colonies in 1914.

Morel was an unusual case for his time in Britain as many were supportive of imperialism and its ability to provide economic benefits to the controlling country. He spoke out against imperialism and brought many other prominent figures into the Congo Reform Association, eventually succeeding in changing the colonial rule there. Do you think that support from British citizens was necessary for change in colonial practices or would the suppressed peoples eventually have resisted and demanded this change for themselves? Did Morel go far enough in demanding better conditions for laborers or should he have advocated for no longer having colonies?

UN Declaration of Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and People

The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People was created by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1960. It was a resolution that provided independence for once colonized people. The assembly declared that these people were no longer the subjects of other. One of its main goal was to promote freedom and provide basic human rights to all. It states, ” All States shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the present Declaration on the basis of equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of all States, and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity” ( The declaration signifies the changing attitudes towards human rights that countries collectively share.

Che Guevara, “Colonialism is Doomed”

Che Guevara was an Argentinian doctor turned Cuban revolutionary and spokesperson whose popularity peaked after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. He became an ally to the Castros, and often spoke out against several American policies. In his speech to the UN in 1964, Colonialism is Doomed, he referenced colonialism as “complacent” and stated, “But imperialism, particularly United States imperialism, has tried to make the world believe that peaceful coexistence is the exclusive right of the great powers on earth.” He referenced the Soviet Union and China as threats to the US and alluded to the bullish ways of NATO and the Turkish government, which he believed eliminated hope for peaceful coexistence.

What is a Colonial Empire? The Misclassification of the Soviet Union

In his article, Adeeb Khalid, describes the distinct differences between colonial empires and modern mobilization states and argues that confusing the two different polities leads to the misinterpretation of modern history. Colonial empires and modern mobilization states have different overall goals and methods. Colonial empires were based on the difference between the rulers and the ruled and therefore destroyed any possibility of the natives being part of ‘civilized’ society. Whereas, modern mobilization states wanted to homogenize and sculpt their citizenry into an ideal in order to achieve universal goals. However, classifying governmental systems as either of these polities is rarely clear and often confusing. Khalid argues that Soviet Union is an example of a system that has previously been labeled as a colonial empire, but in reality it was a modern mobilization state. The continued comparison of the Soviet Union to oversea colonial empires such as Britain, leads to a biased Eurocentric view of their history,

To illustrate the differences and similarities between modern mobilization states, Khalid compares Early Soviet Central Asia with the Turkish Republic. The main common tie between the Soviet and Kemalist states were their mission to transform culture and reshape their citizenries. Both states reformed their language and adopted a latin based alphabet in order to distance themselves from the old backward traditions. Both states emphasized education, separated the state from religion, and exercised state power of all citizens to achieve their goals. The major difference between the two was that the Kemalist state’s leadership of the economy differed from the complete abolition of private property in the Soviet Union. The Kemalist state decided against a direct assault on religion, unlike the Soviet Union, and chose to subjugate all religion to the state. But the crucial point that Khalid argues is that because the Soviet civilizing mission was not targeting a specific group, but rather the old traditional way of life it can not be categorized as colonial. The absence of the racial or ethnic superiority of one group over another contradicts the basis of colonial empire.

Not Colonial but Not Much Better: Backwardness and the Quest for Civilization

While colonial empires strove to emphasize the difference between the “ruler” and the “ruled”, modern mobilizational states sought to homogenize the entire population. Modern mobilizational states, such as that of the Soviet Union and to the Kemalist regime, dealt directly with their citizens through destroying traditions and “micro-managing” society. Both the Soviet regime and the Kemalist regime emerged in the disorganization following WWI and both pursued “shock modernization” programs which involved radical and intense intervention in society and culture, including the spread of literacy, secularization, and the integration of women into public life. In the Soviet Union, local nationalist groups were allowed, such as the Jadids, as long as they fit into the structure of the soviet regime. In regards to the “emancipation” of women, both the Jadids and the Bolsheviks attacked the paranji-chachvon (a long robe and veil that completely covered Muslim womens’ bodies) as a health hazard and a means of oppression, and encouraged women to abandon and burn the garments. This campaign against traditional Muslim garb is comparable to the Kemalist regime in that the veil was considered a sign of backwardness and similarly linked to health hazards. The Kemalist regime and the Soviet Union stood at odds to traditional ideas of colonialism in that both regimes attempted to wholly transform Muslim gender norms and the social order, as opposed to simply condemning the norms in order to legitimize their imperial order. In the Soviet Union in particular, there were considerable efforts to deploy state power in order to remake society, an effort towards transformation that was not synonymous with colonial powers. The victims of the cultural revolution were not one group of peoples or a specific ethnic group but the traditional ways of life in general. Although the the Soviet and Kemalist states professed a civilizing mission similar to that of colonial empires, their power was utilized not to exclude people but to force them to participate. Such a goal of integration conflicted with that of colonial empires. However, the seemingly less harmful and often well-intentioned effort to homogenize society did not make the Soviet or Kemalist states any less brutal, aggressive, or invasive than colonial empires. For example, the Kemalist regime brought all education under state supervision and into a secular agenda, banning religious teachings in attempt to coincide the individual’s thinking with national ideals. Such actions, even though the focus is on integration as opposed to segregation, forced people to abruptly abandon cherished traditions and ideals, inevitably encouraging resistance and outrage. While colonial empires employed intermediaries to transform their colonies, modern mobilizational states cut away intermediaries to directly focus state power on transforming the whole of their society, forcing change upon all individuals, not just the “colonized”, and therefore surpassing the ruthlessness of a colonial empire.

Quest for Civilization and the Question of Colonialism or Modern Mobilization

In his article “Backwardness and the Quest for Civilization: Early Soviet Central Asia in Comparative Perspective,” Adeeb Khalid addresses the problematic use of colonialism when discussing the government of the Soviet Union. Khalid argues that the Soviet Union’s control over its territories in Central Asia should not and cannot be discussed in terms of colonialism. Using the Turkish Republic as a comparison, Khalid demonstrates that in both cases the state wielded its power to create a universal standard within the nation’s culture that forced all citizens into a new, modern era. The states of the Turkish Republic and the Soviet Union sought to universally civilize their people, where as the colonial empires focused on perpetuating the differences between themselves and their newly conquered peoples.[1] As with any nation building exercise, language and education played a central role in the mission of these “modern mobilizational states,” as Khalid refers to them.[2] It is the Soviet Union and the Turkish Republic’s nationalizing efforts that separate them from contemporary colonial empires, such as Britain and France.

However, how different are colonialism and modern moblizational states? Both oppress ethnic groups under their control and impose their own culture onto the conquered populations. Is one policy better than the other?

The question of the Soviet Union’s role as a colonial power or a modern mobilizational state is of great importance when determining its historical legacy. As Khalid shows, the Bolsheviks did not want to only modernize Russia proper they also sought to create a universal culture and nationality amongst all of the territories under Soviet control. In order to do so, they established secular, state operated schools and Latinized all languages within the Soviet Union. They imposed their radical notions of language, women’s rights, and legal operations onto those indigenous peoples of Central Asia. By bringing all cultural institutions under the control of the state, they collectively modernized the Soviet Union and its territories in Central Asia. They created a standardized culture and ideology throughout the Soviet Union that served as the foundation for the country’s new nationalist identity. In contrast, colonial powers allowed their conquered peoples to retain aspects of their traditional culture while infusing it with their own ideology. This led to the establishment of a separate national identity from that of the colonial power. In this fundamental way, modern mobilization differs from colonialism.

The question still remains, is one policy better than the other? Should they even be compared?

[1] Abeed Khalid, “Backwardness and the Quest for Civilization: Early Soviet Central Asia in Comparative Perspective,” Slavic Review, 65.2 (2006): 232, 250.

[2] Ibid., 232.


U.N. on Colonial Independence

Tree Points

1. It is important to note that all people in the world, regardless of race, gender, religion, or language deserve stability and peace.

2. It is necessary to end colonialism in the world.

3. The subjection of people by another, foreign group of is directly against fundamental human rights.

2 questions:

1. What was the reaction of the countries that had colonial properties to this document?

2. What was the country or incident that made the United Nations create this document?

1 Thought:

The entire declaration is very thorough and covers each part of colonialism.  While broad it also seems to target a very particular section of colonialism.  While most colonialism was violent, all of it was not.  This declaration is an umbrella look at colonialism and what it means for both sides involved.  This makes it much more difficult to enforce.  It could not have been easy for the U.N. in the 1960s to monitor all of its members.  It would be that much harder to manage the colonial properties.  It is so broad and general that it becomes harder to manage.

Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples

Three points

1) The United Nations starts out by reaffirming the dignity and worth of the human person, the yearning for freedom in dependent peoples, the equal rights of men and women, and the need for better standards of life.

2) According to the UN, an end must be put to colonialism and all practices associated with it. Exploitation in colonies is a violation of human rights.

3) People and nations have the right to self-determination. A nation may be independent regardless of its social, economic, or cultural conditions.

Two questions:

What prompted this declaration?

Does this document take away from the original purpose of colonialism- to outsource labor, expand territory, and increase the diversity of consumer choices?

One point:

I thought the tone of this declaration was particularly interesting. The UN adopts an air of righteousness, when many of the countries in the UN had been employing methods of colonialism for centuries. It seems as if the countries that make up the UN suddenly realized that what they had been doing for generations was wrong. Furthermore, it’s interesting that the UN acknowledged the equal rights of men and women, when they certainly did not exist. Also, freedom is mentioned several times throughout the course of the document without any definition or guidelines as to how freedom may be defined. However, the document was written in 1960, and preceded many instrumental social and cultural movements that occurred towards the latter half of the 60s.