Against Rebels

The rebel is a brand in our soci­ety and brands can be used by any­one.

che_guevara_coffeeRebels are not just boring, they are dangerous. We’ve had decades of rebel-worship now and if I see Che Guevara on one more t-shirt I’m going to start shooting the hostages. Che Guevara was a dick. I know this because I have the Bolivian Diary in my toilet and every time I pick it up I have the urge to use it when I’m done. He was emotionally as well as actually committed to authoritarianism — and of a particular patriarchal stripe that didn’t shrink from programs of executions for the greater good. His death was no great loss, except perhaps to his family. If the CIA had any sense they would have let him live in order to discredit him. As for the Cuban revolution, it was mostly driven by Cuba’s own social movements and for all we know it would have turned out better without Che and his pal Castro.

The rebel is a brand in our society and brands can be used by anyone. Charles Handy, master management consultant, can pose as a rebel against monolithic corporate structures. Richard Branson can pose as a rebel against corporate culture. Boris Johnson can pose as a rebel against boredom.

The rebel is easy to turn into a brand for one simple reason: it is an individualistic image. The lone warrior fighting the good fight against the dark forces of corruption. Blah blah blah. What a load of nonsense. We should be more careful about whether we confuse myths with reality.

In left politics, where everything turns on working together with others, the image of the rebel is a mixed blessing to say the least. To work together successfully we have to align ourselves with others, not see ourselves as the biggest rebel in the room. Not only that, the rebel self-image encourages reaction. That is to say, the feeling that doing something, and doing it differently, is a subversive act in itself. As I have argued in previous posts about the use of consensus in activist circles, this is not necessarily helpful. If by romanticising the rebel we make it more likely that we have to look radical, that is, perpetuate the brand of the rebel through ourselves, then we are more likely to be simply reacting to those we are fighting and so still controlled by them.

If we wanted to romanticise anything we should perhaps romanticise some other words. ‘Uprising’ is a good word because it loses the individualism — you can only rise up together. ‘Economic organising’ sounds boring but is kind of what a real counterculture needs to do to survive. ‘Critical’ is a good word because it can move us beyond reaction. Rebels? I’ve had enough of them. But if that’s your style you’re in luck: pre-ripped tights now cost only £10 at Topshop. Being a rebel is cheap.

Reposted from In Bed With the Resistance

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  6 comments for “Against Rebels

  1. 18 October 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Well, now, that was certainly something different! Given the references to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, the essay seems to concern not merely ‘rebels’, but, more broadly, any of those who take leadership positions within leftist movements. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many leftist movements indeed rejected the authoritarian structures of traditional politics by seeking a non-hierarchical organisation (sometimes inspired by earlier, radical Protestant sects, which had rebelled against, e.g., Roman Catholic or Anglican hierarchies).

    Needless to say, any attempt to enter mainstream politics made such efforts difficult (e.g., the age-old struggles in the German Green Party between the ‘Fundamentalisten’ and the ‘Realpolitiker’, which caused many to leave in disgust). Be that as it may, this essay certainly challenges Žižek’s proposal that the left needs ‘its own Thatcher’.

    • Open
      19 June 2015 at 4:51 pm

      i think you dont know why and for what this man had fight for…..Asshole !! remove this photo rite now……or else some day your faimly’s photo will be hanged on web in same format…and i will be doing photoshop modification on that….motherfucker !! people like u must be burnt alive !! Bastard !!

  2. Philip
    18 October 2013 at 4:11 pm

    I think you make the mistake of blaming Che himself for the reduction of his politics to mere “rebel-worship.” The transformation of Guevara into a mindless pop icon has been a remarkably effective means of neutralizing his intellectual radicalism. That Alberto Korda’s photographic portrait of Guevara endures to this day as one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century, still the height of postmodern chic, is yet more evidence of capitalism’s ability to transcend ideology and politics to accumulate profit even when that ideology or politics may be explicitly hostile to capitalism itself. You are right that ‘Che’ has become a brand in its own right and is used to sell anything from beer to skis to Swatch watches. This is an irony that wasn’t lost on Naomi Klein in her analysis of the ways in which the market saps radical movements of their ability to challenge the structures power. Che Guevara was a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who lived and died for a socialist dream, striving to oppose a world order to which he was fervently opposed. Disparaging his memory and conflating what he stood for with the market’s production of his image serves no purpose. Much better to engage with his texts (put the Motorcycle and Bolivian Diaries to one side and try his speeches and political writings) and begin the work of examining where his project succeeded and where it fell short, and the recuperation of that which remains of intellectual and political value today.

  3. qalandar
    20 October 2013 at 11:05 pm

    good ideas terrible analysis. Che has nothing to do with the inversion of his ideas after his death. nice anger though. good to read.

  4. Colin
    30 October 2013 at 1:19 am

    Guevara was not an individualist in any way, shape ,or form. To attach his ideas ( or ideals) to a brand assigned by the market or a propagandist is a short cut to thinking.

  5. Sharmeen
    15 November 2013 at 3:11 pm

    It might be useful to talk more about the commercial use of leftist branding and how it impacts activism rather than shitting all over the role Che played in the Cuban revolution. It was a brutal revolution and yes there were executions – however to claim he was acting as a lone, individual rebel is incorrect and ahistorical – and pretty insulting to those who were tortured and killed by the Batista dictatorship during that time. Rather than dismissing the image of the rebel, why is it compelling? How is it used within consumerism and capitalism? Why do many people cling to images of martyrs for inspiration? Ultimately while I am annoyed with the use of Che, I actually don’t want to see less images of him. I hope it might spark curiosity in people to check out the amazing history and the role of resistance Cuba continues to play.

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