Below is an excerpt from Che Guevara Talks to Young People. The Spanish edition is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for April. On May 9, 1964, Guevara gave a presentation to members of the Union of Young Communists working in the Ministry of Industry. Under Guevara’s leadership since early 1961, the ministry sought to give the working class greater leverage in determining economic and social priorities. In advancing this course there were many challenges, some of which Guevara discusses below. Copyright © 2000 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY ERNESTO CHE GUEVARA
You have been talking about the technological revolution. This is one of the most important things, one of the most concrete tasks and one that is closest to the mentality of youth. But one cannot seek to carry out a technological revolution by oneself, because the technological revolution is happening all over the world, in every country, both socialist and nonsocialist—I am referring to the advanced countries, of course.
There is a technological revolution going on in the United States. There’s a powerful technological revolution in France, in Britain, in the Federal Republic of Germany, and these are certainly not socialist countries. So the technological revolution must have a class content, a socialist content. And for this to happen, there must be a transformation of the youth so that they become a genuine motor force. In other words, all the bad habits of the old, dead society must be eliminated. One cannot think about a technological revolution without at the same time thinking about a communist attitude toward work. This is extremely important. We cannot speak of a socialist technological revolution if there is not a communist attitude toward work.
This is simply the reflection in Cuba of the technological revolution taking place as a result of the most recent scientific inventions and discoveries. These are things that cannot be separated. And a communist attitude toward work consists of changes taking place in an individual’s consciousness, changes that naturally take a long time. We cannot expect that changes of this sort will be completed within a short period, during which work will continue to have the character it has now—a compulsory social obligation—before being transformed into a social necessity. In other words, this transformation—the technological revolution—presents the opportunity to get closer to what interests you most in life, your work, your research, your studies of every type. And one’s attitude toward this work will be something totally new. Work will be what Sunday is now—not the Sunday when you cut cane, but the Sunday when you don’t cut cane. In other words, work will be seen as a necessity, not something compelled by sanctions.
But achieving that requires a long process, a process tied to the creation of habits acquired through voluntary work. Why do we emphasize voluntary work so much? Economically it means practically nothing. Even the volunteers who cut cane—which is the most important task from an economic point of view—don’t accomplish much. A volunteer cutter from this ministry cuts only a fourth or a fifth of what a cane cutter who has been doing this his whole life does. It has economic importance today because of the shortage of labor. It is also important today because these individuals are giving a part of their lives to society without expecting anything in return, without expecting any kind of payment, simply fulfilling a duty to society. This is the first step in transforming work into what it will eventually become, as a result of the advance of technology, the advance of production, and the advance of the relations of production: an activity of a higher level, a social necessity.
We will advance if at every step we bring together the ability to transform ourselves, generalizing our attitude toward study of the new technology, with the ability to perform in our workplaces as the vanguard. And if you get into the habit of turning productive labor little by little into something that, over time, becomes a necessity, then you will automatically become the youth’s vanguard, and you will never have to wonder what you should be doing. You will simply do what at the time seems to make the most sense. You won’t have to go searching for what youth might like.
You will automatically be youth, as well as representatives of the most advanced youth. Those who are young, young in spirit especially, don’t ever have to worry about what to do in order to please others. Just do what is necessary, what seems logical at the time. That’s how youth will become leaders.
Today we have begun a process of, let us say, politicizing this ministry. The Ministry of Industry is really cold, a very bureaucratic place, a nest of nit-picking bureaucrats and bores, from the minister on down, who are constantly tackling concrete tasks in order to search for new relationships and new attitudes.
Now, the youth organization here was complaining that even though they had organized things, this place was empty on the days when I didn’t show up, and they wanted me to raise this. Well, I can raise it, but I can’t tell anyone to come here. What’s going on? Either there is a lack of communication or a lack of interest, and this hasn’t been overcome by the people in charge of doing so. This is a concrete task of the ministry. It is the task of the youth organization, to overcome the indifference within the ministry. Of course, there is always room for self-criticism; and the assessment that not enough has been done to stay in constant communication with people is always appropriate.
That’s true, but it’s also important that self-criticism be complete: because self-criticism is not self-flagellation but rather an analysis of a person’s attitude. Moreover, the enormous amount of work on one’s shoulders, one task after another all piled up, makes it more difficult to have a different type of relationship and to pursue a more human relationship, one could say, a relationship less directed through bureaucratic red tape.