Che’s New Man
Drawing on his own life as an example, Che told the crowd that when he began to study medicine, he had dreamed of becoming “a famous researcher.” “I dreamed of working tirelessly to aid humanity, but this was conceived as personal achievement.” It was only upon graduating, he said, and traveling through a Latin America riven by “misery, hunger, disease” that his political conscience had begun to stir. In Guatemala, he recalled, he began studying the means through which he could become a revolutionary doctor, but then had come the overthrow of Guatemala’s socialist experiment. “I became aware, then of a fundamental fact: To be a revolutionary doctor or to be a revolutionary at all, there must first be a revolution. The isolated effort of one man, regardless of its purity of ideals, is worthless. To be useful it is essential to make a revolution as we have done in Cuba, where the whole population mobilizes and learns how to use arms and fight together. Cubans have learned how much value there is in a weapon and the unity of the people.”
At the heart of the revolution, then, was the elimination of individualism. “Individualism as such, as the isolated action of a person alone in a social environment, must disappear in Cuba. Individualism tomorrow should be the proper utilization of the whole individual at the absolute benefit of the community.” The revolution was not “a standardizer of the collective will”; rather, it was “a liberator of man’s individual capacity,” for it oriented that capacity to the service of the revolution.
In his talk, Che tried out a phrase that crystallized a concept he had been developing for some time, and which would soon become synonymous with him: the “New Man.”
How does one reconcile individual effort with the needs of society? We again have to recall what each of our lives was like, what each of us did and thought, as a doctor or in any other public health function, prior to the revolution. We have to do so with profound critical enthusiasm. And we will then conclude that almost everything we thought and felt in that past epoch should be filed away, and that a new type of human being should be created. And if each of us is his own architect of that new human type, then creating that new type of human being–who will be the representative of the new Cuba–will be much easier. (478-479)
Requisites of a modern New Man: discipline; honesty; joy (שמחה); critical intelligence; courage; strength.