How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID-19 – by Don Fitz at CounterPunch.org

Beginning in December 1951, Ernesto “Che” Guevara took a nine-month break from medical school to travel by motorcycle through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. One of his goals was gaining practical experience with leprosy. On the night of his twenty-fourth birthday, Che was at La Colonia de San Pablo in Peru swimming across the river to join the lepers. He walked among six hundred lepers in jungle huts looking after themselves in their own way.

Che would not have been satisfied to just study and sympathize with them – he wanted to be with them and understand their existence. Being in contact with people who were poor and hungry while they were sick transformed Che. He envisioned a new medicine, with doctors who would serve the greatest number people with preventive care and public awareness of hygiene. A few years later, Che joined Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement as a doctor and was among the eighty-one men aboard the Granma as it landed in Cuba on December 2, 1956.

Source: How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID-19 – CounterPunch.org

This is a fantastic article by Don Fitz, the author of the book pictured above, which I would really like to read.  I “rediscovered” my interest in Che Guevara recently when I used a brief version of his biography as the core of an EFL tutorial.  That lesson can be found at this website.  It’s a broad brush bio in about two paragraphs meant for English learners not already familiar with his story.  So, naturally it leaves a lot out.  But the episode Fitz relates at the beginning of this CounterPunch article is one that I certainly don’t remember from reading the biography of Che that came out in the mid-1990s when I was in high school, Che Guevara:  A Revolutionary Life, by Jon Lee Anderson, a journalist at the New Yorker.

 

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I could be wrong, I do remember there being a section on Che’s becoming a doctor and his famous motorcycle tour.  I could be conflating Anderson’s account with the fictionalized film version “Diarios de motocicleta” (2004).  I was certainly more interested in the guerrilla fighter aspect of El Che than I was in the more practical embodiments of his revolutionary character.  I suppose, I was tricked by CIA propaganda that depicted a one-dimensional figure, a dangerous killer, Fidel Castro’s right-hand man.

But Fitz does a great job of re-calibrating the machinery here, centering Che’s liberatory social health work, against the present day back-drop of post-Cold War Cuba’s breakthrough medical mutual aid in the midst of the AIDS crisis, and now COVID-19.

The figure of Doctor Che is almost too perfect, to have served in the most lasting, arguably most successful anti-capitalist revolution in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world.  But I suppose that’s why the man is a legend.  My intuition is that there are plenty of teachers who have also acted in some respect as revolutionaries in their own times and places.  But who has had the conviction to risk their own life, to abandon prospects of career and personal gain to lend what power they possess to a larger cause.  I guess it is Che’s selflessness that I am most impressed by, and his ability to adapt to the conditions he saw in the world around him, whether as a medical student in a leper colony, or as a revolutionary fighter suddenly at the reigns of a new country’s financial system.

Eat a Pear for Peace!

Mao Zedong - Wikipedia

Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment… If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself… If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.

Mao Tse Tung “On Practice” (July 1937), Selected Works, Vol. I, pp. 299-300.

“Chinese Virus,” World Market by Andy Liu (n+1 magazine)

This is the best clarification of the global situation with Covid-19 I’ve read so far.  Is it a “Chinese Virus” a “Market Virus” or a “Value Virus” we have on our hands?  Andy Liu’s writing about China’s role in a global capitalist nexus is stellar.  This essay reminds me of David Foster Wallace in its attention to detail and moral clarity.  Excellent!

Source: N+1 Magazine, “Chinese Virus,” World Market by Andy Liu

 

Proverbs 17: 22 and Other Foolishness or: “Wipe Yourself with the Rich!”

My daddy sent me a link to this video, which has, I’m sure, made the rounds of the sometimes charming redneck circles he moves in ( currently sheltering in place) in Western N.C. The part that tickled me the most is the deadpan delivery of the line from the King James Version of the Book of Proverbs, which I had to look for online to recognize.

22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

The utility of this particular proverb, which goes on to countenance shutting up and letting the princes take care of things, is probably best left to the ancient Israelites who decided to write it down originally; but the genius and also the wisdom of the redneck duo quoting it in the present moment lies in their willingness to remind their listeners of a time in living memory when indoor plumbing (let alone toilet paper) was a luxury broad swaths of America couldn’t afford. After all, “there are all kinds of ways you can clean yourself,” including leaves, grass, or the coveted Sears Catalog. Less than a century ago, and perhaps now, once again, “toilet paper is for the rich!”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but these ridiculous (if somewhat talented) heehaws do what major network news media are all failing to do: they point out the class ramifications of the current global crisis.

Trump throws paper towels in Puerto Rico - CNN Video

Here Trump doles out paper towels in the wake of massive hurricane damage in Puerto Rico in 2017. I want so badly for this to become America’s “let them eat cake” moment– a symbol of the decadence of the current regime in the face of overwhelming poverty. I want people to finally connect Trump’s imbecility with the greed and bigotry that capitalism always foment. So, among the new rituals of hygiene we have all begun practicing– replace “social distancing” with SOLIDARITY and instead of toilet paper, maybe we can just wipe ourselves with the rich!

Micro Review: The Socialist Sunday School (Kenneth Teitelbaum and William J. Reese) The History of Education Quarterly

Micro-Review:  American Socialist Pedagogy and Experimentation in the Progressive Era:  The Socialist Sunday School, by Kenneth Teitelbaum and William J. Reese.  History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 429-454.

This was another piece identified in the HEQ 50-Year Retrospective.  This piece jumped out at me, not because of any familiarity I had with the authors, but with the specific subject matter it dealt with—Socialism in American Schools.  In this case, this sweeping overview of a segment of the socialist movement in the United States (and the U.K.) outlines the foundation of and development of curriculum, as well as the impact of these relatively informal, small, niche institutions had on the culture of the United States in the opening decades of the 20th Century.

I suspect that there exists a much longer, more detailed book by Mr. Teitelbaum and Reese on this topic, but this essay provided an excellent taste.  This is much closer to the sort of history I envision myself writing, but with a stronger reliance on individual teacher data—a diary, or set of letters relating to the actual conditions “on the ground” so to speak at school.  But the way this essay foregrounds individual texts like excerpts from the Socialist Sunday School Songbook, against broader demographic data—numbers of schools, student enrollment figures, and the economic and government structures underlying the foundation of these schools is very much in line with the type of writing I’d like to do for my dissertation.

Ultimately, Teitelbaum and Reese are able to make a much broader claim about the influence of Socialist Sunday Schools by locating them in the broader cultural milieu of the time—figures like the progressive public intellectual and educationalist John Dewey, as well as Eden and Cedar Paul, who are new figures to me, but who seem to have been doing their part to agitate for communist education in the English-speaking world of the inter-war period.  Reese and Teitelbaum’s most powerfully resonant claim in the present day is that socialist education in the United States in the first half of the 20th century were something of a “counter-hegemony” in a “war of position,” as described by the Italian anarchist thinker, Antonio Gramasci in his Prison Notebooks.

Proletcult (proletarian culture) : Paul, Eden, 1865-1944 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Books, pamphlets and periodicals: p. 143-151

Source: Proletcult (proletarian culture) : Paul, Eden, 1865-1944 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Great resource from The Internet Archive, itself a great resource!  Looking forward to digging into this, which was referenced in a 1989 History of Education Quarterly Article by Kenneth Teitelbaum, and William Reese.  Reference to this work, or possibly to the Russian institution with a similar name (spelled, of course, with a K) lives on in podcast form under the auspices of The Antifada, which, I have to credit for making me aware of this particular portmanteau word, and the phenomena it points to.

Analysis: Tracking the NEA’s and AFT’s $43 Million in Donations to PACs, Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits — and the State Engagement Fund? (The 74)

The 74 Million is an independent news blog dedicated to the 74 million primary and secondary students in the United States.  A lot of their coverage tends to be skewed towards rhetoric around “school choice,” and so I’m a little bit skeptical.  But there also seems to be a strong racial justice core to their reporting.  The most interesting and useful coverage I’ve seen have been Union Reports like this one, which shed light on the connections between teachers unions (NEA, AFT) and shady groups like Democratic Super- PACs and the so-called “State Engagement Fund” described below.

I guess, what is so disappointing about characterizations of America’s largest Teachers Unions in purely vehicles for cashflow (not that this isn’t an accurate portrayal, because I think it is) but it ignores the humanity of the teachers these organizations purport to represent.  I don’t think the problem is with unions as such, but certainly the way the AFT and NEA seem to be operating at the highest levels is gross and tends to feed into the stories we have been told for generations about unions’ corruption, mob connections, racism, sexism and so on.  Do teachers need to remake their unions and union culture before they can remake their schools, communities and society?

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive. The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are known as labor unions, advocates for teachers and public school employees, and political powerhouses. But they also are grantmaking institutions. During the 2018-19 school year, the two national teachers unions directly donated $43.1 million […]

Source: Analysis: Tracking the NEA’s and AFT’s $43 Million in Donations to PACs, Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits — and the State Engagement Fund?

Exiting the Vampire Castle by Mark Fisher

We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication.

Source: Exiting the Vampire Castle

I kept hearing again and again about this 2013 essay on some of the socialist podcasts I subscribe to– The Majority Report family of podcasts, but also Chapo Trap House, and Best of the Left too.  The Antifada podcast has aparently created a vampire-centric spin-off inspired, in part, by this article as well.  I’m glad I finally got a chance to read it.  Though I am unfamiliar with the particular comedian and the imbroglio that was the impetus for the article, it certainly seems to ring true.  The final caution about how social media ought to be used for revolutionary aims is particularly clarifying.  And Mark Fisher’s call to resist the erasure of class in whatever form that erasure may take is essential.