Che Guevara
Original publication:
Translation: Roderic Day

The American Working Class: Friend or Foe? (1954)

10 minutes | English Español | Latin America

Written in April 1954.

Originally published in Casa de las Américas magazine, Jan-Feb 1988.

Independently translated fragments of this same text were presented last week, interspersed with commentary, by A. Ratchford for New Socialist UK[1]

The world today is divided into two halves: the one where capitalism is exercised to full consequence, and the one where socialism has taken root. However, we cannot group all countries under a capitalist life-system in one single bucket. There are marked differences among them.

There are colonial countries where the landowning class, allied with foreign capital, monopolizes the life of the community, and keeps the nation backwards in order to better serve its profit motive. This includes almost all the countries of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. There are a few in which capitalism has not transcended its own national boundaries but where the meddling of foreign capital is not so dominant as to constitute a problem in need of immediate solution. This is the state in which we find one or two countries in Europe with small bourgeoisies developed to the extreme. There is another interesting group of countries that could be called colonial-imperialist or pre-imperialist, whose economy, without having fully taken on the characteristics of industrialized nations, begins to, under the auspices of dominant foreign capital, strive for the conquest of neighboring markets, while still manifestly belonging to the colonial group. Such is the case of Argentina, Brazil, India, and Egypt. A dominant feature of these countries is the propensity to form blocs over which they exercise certain leadership.

Another group, and one of the most important, is that of nations whose imperialist expansion was curbed after the last war. Such is the case of the Netherlands, Italy, France and, most importantly, England. Although we are witnessing the dismemberment of the colossal English empire, its leaders are still fighting for it. Naturally, they not only face the just yearning for freedom of the oppressed peoples, but also the predation of large North American capital interests, which precipitate crises in order to advance their own interests (e.g., Iran).

The last group is that of imperialist countries in full expansion. Here the United States stands alone — and that is the great problem of Latin America. One wonders: How is it possible that in the United States, a maximally industrialized country with all the characteristics of capitalist empires, the contradictions that lead to total war between capital and labor are not felt? The answer must be sought out in the special conditions of this Northern country. Except for Black people — segregated, and the germ of the first serious rebellion — the other workers (those who are employed, that is) can enjoy enormous wages compared with those commonly doled out by capitalist enterprises. This is because the overhead of this actual pay over the standard required for profiteering is more than made up for by groups of workers from two great communities of nations: Asians and Latin Americans.

Asia, shaken, and with precedent set by the magnificent victory of the Chinese people, fights with renewed faith for its own liberation, and slowly begins to remove sources of raw materials and cheap labor from the radius of operation of imperialist capitals. However, imperialist capitals won’t yet suffer this defeat in their own flesh: they transfer it whole onto the shoulders of the workers. Although part of the Asian victory hurts us Latin Americans, workers in the North also feel the impact, in the form of layoffs and lower real wages. A mass completely lacking in political culture cannot grasp evil beyond immediate first impressions, and staring at them directly is the triumph of “communist barbarism over democracies.” A warlike reaction is logical but difficult to realize — Asia is very distant, and has many people willing to die for the ideal of sovereignty. The American petty bourgeoisie, wielding serious political power, won’t allow even a significant minority of its children to meet their death in a foreign land. Facing this inexorable and impending loss of Asia, the imperialist power faces a dilemma: either wage total war against the entire socialist enemy and all peoples with nationalist yearnings, or abandon Asia and circumscribe its sphere of action to two continents that can be controlled for now: Africa and America. (This latter option of course entails small limited wars enabling it to maintain its arms industry without loss of life — it will always find traitorous rulers ready to sacrifice their land for a few crumbs of the master’s leftovers.)

The United States fears total war. It cannot unleash an atomic barrage because the reprisals would be terrible at this time, and in an “orthodox” war they would lose all of Europe in an instant. Asia would fall completely within a short time, as well. Against this backdrop, the United States is more inclined to defend its positions in America and recent ones in Africa. Each of these two continents has a different outlook: while U.S. domination of Latin America is complete and cannot be interfered with, in Africa it only possesses small territorial patches, and exercises control mainly through subsidiary nations spread out throughout the continent. That is why nationalism is tolerated and even stoked by the United States — with the steady waning of traditional European empires, it sees its own imperial reach extending.

Now, any such true nationalist sentiment would lead the peoples of Latin America to try to emancipate themselves from the oppressor — i.e. monopoly capital — but the larger share of the owners of this capital lives in the United States, and has enormous influence on the decisions of the government of that country. The composition of its government and its connections with the most important companies owned by these individuals is the key to understanding the political behavior of our Northern neighbors. In these uncertain times, with the United States at the helm of the portion of the world they’ve declared “free,” they cannot attack and interfere in any country unless there is a powerful motive; but this motive has already been invented and is being enkindled by them: “International Communism.” This hackneyed trope serves, for the moment, to excuse modern propaganda operating at maximum effectiveness in the organized spread of falsehood. Later, perhaps, it will justify economic intervention, and then, why not, armed intervention.

This whole defensive system is vital for the capitalists if they want to maintain their present system, but it also serves, for a period of time, the North American worker, since the abrupt loss of cheap sources of raw materials would immediately ignite the conflict inherent to the contradiction between capital and labor. [2] So long as it is incapable of taking over the sources of production this result would be disastrous to it. I insist that we cannot demand that the working class of the North look past its own nose. It would be useless to try to explain, from afar, with the press totally in the hands of big capital, that the process of internal decomposition of capitalism can only be deferred for a while longer, but never stopped, by the totalitarian measures taken towards maintaining Latin America in a colonial state. The reaction, to a certain extent logical, of the working class, will be to support the United States, rallying behind any given slogan, as “anti-communism” happens to be in this case. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that the function of the workers’ unions in the United States is rather to serve as a buffer between the two forces in conflict, and to surreptitiously sap the revolutionary power of the masses.

Given this background, with American reality being what it is, it’s not difficult to suppose what will be the attitude of the working class of the North American country when the problem of the abrupt loss of markets and sources of cheap raw materials is definitively posed.

This is, in my opinion, the stark reality facing Latin Americans. In the final analysis, the economic development of the United States and the need of its workers to maintain their standard of living means that our struggle for national liberation is not waged against a given social regime, but rather against the whole nation, bound as a bloc by the iron-clad supreme law of common interest, over their domination of the economic life of Latin America.

Let us prepare, then, to fight against the entire people of the United States, for the fruit of victory will be not only economic liberation and social equality, but the acquisition of a new and very welcome younger brother: the proletariat of that country.

[1] Aidan Ratchford, 2022-10-21. “Che Guevara’s Anti-Imperialist Theory of Class.” New Socialist UK. [web] 

[2] Che uses the term “immanent,” translated here as “inherent” for the sake of readability.