What would Che Guevara Say to Covid-19?

July 22, 2020

Ed. note: This post was translated from the original Spanish by volunteer Jane Brundage.

Under capitalism the wealth, goods and services of a country are very unevenly distributed. Capitalists, banks and multinationals hold the lion’s share, while the vast majority of salaried, unemployed and marginalized people (including indigenous and black communities in Latin America) are left with the crumbs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic exploded and governments were forced to order the suspension of non-essential activities, all informal employees (in Latin America, for example, the mass of street vendors) and many of the hitherto formal and domestic servants were left without any income, making it impossible for them to maintain the required quarantine. The marginalized, as before, remained without income. The unemployed continued to depend on state assistance, when they have it, and they watched as millions of ex-employees joined them, who now also need assistance in order to survive with their families (and thus be able to quarantine). Capitalist state assistance is, however, always small and short-lived, as employers pressure governments to return the economy to its previous rate as soon as possible, even if it is at the price of sacrificing the lives of many workers to COVID-19.

In this context, only rarely does capitalism produce humanitarian news, such as the Minimum Income Program, approved in June 2020 by the Spanish Government. Nonetheless, it is necessary to note that the amounts granted in this permanent program are inadequate for being able to live decently. (For example, those without any or little income receive assistance that provides 450 Euros per month, when we can personally verify that in 2009 the cheapest rental on the outskirts of Madrid cost 500 Euros). Meanwhile, major capitalists, banks and multinationals arrange to hold the lion’s share.

As long as capitalism continues to exist, with or without a Minimum Income Program, its profit-oriented production will generate continuous and often irreversible devastation and contamination of land, water and air. Meanwhile, the overconsumption by a small part of Humanity takes place simultaneously while millions of people endure underconsumption of basic goods and services.

Very different from that scenario is the one that unfolded starting with the Budgetary Financing System (SPF) put forward by Ernesto Guevara as a pillar of the socialist economy (obviously without bosses) whose spine would be the Production and Distribution Plan (which today must also include Reduction of materials and waste, and Reuse and Recycling of the latter). As a basis for construction of the New Human Being, Che postulated conscious work guided by communal interest oriented toward communism. Che’s Plan prioritizes the moral stimulus, and the material stimulus is accepted only when individual benefit is framed within a greater benefit for the national community (the “great community”, as Che said, which encompasses and subordinates the small community that is each business concern) and applies a higher value than that previously possessed by the worker.

As articulated by the Plan, Che saw the country’s entire economy as a single large company administered by the State (with popular control, although we believe that this and popular participation should be greater than that envisioned by Che). According to the Plan, exchanges between parties would not be commercial in nature and could deviate from the law of value, if the deficit in one area was balanced by surplus in another. In this context, people always employed (to wit, unemployment forever abolished) could circulate in harmony with their successive skill levels and the needs of the national community, in order to earn income distributed in a few wage bands (while moving toward the disappearance of wages and money) that in their entirety would fit within what is available for the country. The only source of financing for each business concern would be the National Budget, and the National Bank would not give loans with interest, limiting its function to keeping a simple record of the debit and credit of each company and of non-commercial exchanges between companies and sectors of the economy.

Reality in Cuba showed that such a concept would only make possible a dignified frugal life (with and despite the fierce blockade by the United States) without any luxury or superfluous consumption, but that — by putting all the country’s resources at the service of all — avoided extreme poverty and guaranteed universal free education and health care. Now, note that this frugality, when it is voluntary, is positive, in light of the third fundamental norm of Ethics, which requires preserving-regenerating a healthy human and non-human Nature, and is the necessary means for controlling and reversing the massive devastation and pollution caused by capitalist production and consumption.

Guevara’s concept is even more relevant in times of pandemic. At such a time, each life is obsessively safeguarded. Since a vaccine is not yet available, quarantine, social distancing and hygiene measures are the only tools of combat and, in the interim, a highly effective palliative remedy. When the quarantine requires that a good number of the producers stay at home, only a pooling of wealth, goods and services generated by essential activities makes it possible to avoid abandoning of certain sectors, which is what happens in capitalism before insufficient emergency state aid is implemented, and after it ceases.

Guevara’s concept allows many of the people to strengthen essential activities when necessary, especially in the areas of food production and distribution, health services, scientific research and communications (which make possible, for example, telemedicine and remote work). Simultaneously, the concept guarantees that the majority of the population remain in quarantine and — based on the decreased availability of goods and services resulting from the decrease in production — that all healthy adults tighten their belts equally, without privileges, such that those prioritized in the distribution are the sick, the elderly and the children. When the pandemic is overcome, the pooling of all replenished social production enables a return (ideally at a higher level) to the basics needed for the “buen vivir” | “good living” of all. (To use a term coined by the indigenous communities of Latin America which — given its focus on ecological frugality and its communal nature — is very different from the individualistic focus on consumer “comfort” characteristic of capitalism.)

Of course, in order for this universal coverage of the fundamental needs of all to function fully, the country must be as self-sufficient as possible. Self-sufficiency is especially important in the production of all the food it consumes, and in the equipment and supplies used in the areas of health, education, housing, public transportation, clothing and communication (including computers and the internet). In this context, energy self-sufficiency occupies a prominent place. In the current economy, if the country lacks the amount of hydrocarbons it consumes, then it is necessary that its energy matrix already be self-sufficient or that it evolve as quickly as possible toward other energy sources that can be self-sufficient. We are thinking, for example, of wind and/or solar energy, or biofuels (made from sugar cane crops, for example). Unfortunately, Cuba, due to the fierce U.S. blockade but also due to its own errors, has not yet achieved that desired self-sufficiency, not even in the food area, and it suffers periodically from shortages of some basic products.

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Now, the more the country fails to achieve this self-sufficiency, the more difficult it will be to implement the idea of the Guevara SPF, since the need to import equipment, supplies and goods will force it to generate foreign currency and contract foreign debt. The former distorts the logic of balanced production destined solely to satisfy the frugal needs of the entire population. No less distorting is foreign debt, because it can upset balanced production. The capitalism that dominates today’s world effectively does away with a country’s autonomy and independence. If a country intends to overcome capitalism, as is the case with Cuba, to this danger is added the fact that in order to obtain the foreign exchange needed to repay the debt, it will have to divert the share of its production destined to satisfy the frugal needs of the entire population.

Therefore, it is not surprising that in the period immediately prior to the pandemic, the current Cuban Government (although it is not continuing to implement the Guevara SPF) expressed its willingness to grow economically without producing debt. (It should be known that up to now, Cuba has not been able to pay off its debt, despite some deductions that have been obtained with some creditors).

Another theme is if the Guevara concept of a single company extended to the world (via Ecommunitarian socialism). In this way, the entire human species would constitute a single family that, with the capacity of each, would produce cooperatively and share in solidarity what is accomplished, such that each individual might have what it takes to develop fully, within the limits of what is compatible with maintaining ecological balance and respecting interculturality. In this scenario, the law of value, wages and money will have disappeared.

We invite Humanity to walk there.


Teaser photo credit: By His Father – Museo Che Guevara, Public Domain,

Sirio López Velasco

Sirio López Velasco, Uruguayan-Brazilian-Spanish, was born in Uruguay in 1951. In 1985, while living as a political exile in Belgium, he obtained his doctorate in Philosophy at the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium), where he also received a “Licensed” diploma in Linguistics and was co-founder and coordinator (1983-1985) of the Latin American Philosophy Seminar (the first PhD seminar created by students at that University founded in 1425). In 2002 and 2009, he conducted postdoctoral research in Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC, Madrid, Spain). In 1988, he was elected Vice-President of the International Association of Young Philosophers (IAYP) at the XVIII World Congress of Philosophy (Brighton, England); he held that post until the next World Congress (1993). From 1989 to 1992, he was retained by the University of Mainz (Germany) as a researcher for development of the Diatopic and Diastratic Linguistic Atlas of Uruguay (coordinated by Harald Thun and Adolfo Elizaincín). López Velasco was a professor at the PUCRS and UNISINOS Universities (in Porto Alegre, Brazil). From 1989 until his retirement in 2019, he was Professor of Philosophy at the Federal University of Río Grande (FURG, in Rio Grande, Brazil); where from 1994 to 2016  he helped develop first the Master, then the Doctoral Degree programs in Environmental Education (the first and only program to date recognized by Brazil’s Ministry of Education). He was a member of the International Scientific Committee for the 1st and 3rd World Congress on Environmental Education (held, respectively, in Portugal in 2002, and in Italy in 2005). He was also a member of the official Brazilian delegation in education to the “Rio+20” (UN Conference on Sustainable Development), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. He is a member of two Working Groups of the Associação Nacional de Pesquisa e Post-Graduação em Filosofia (ANPOF) | National Association of Research and Graduate Studies in Philosophy, Brazil. He was Secretary in Rio Grande of the Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (SBPC) | Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science. He directed several postgraduate theses, in Philosophy and Environmental Education, and gave lectures at international conferences held in Latin America and Europe.

Tags: building resilient societies, critiques of capitalism, democratic socialism, Ecocommunitarian socialism