Sunday, February 19, 2006

Just Because You're Dressed Like This:

Doesn't mean You're a Communist.

I do a lot of leafletting, and other forms of harassing passers by. I have random theories about leafletting (refusals always come in threes, your last leaflet is always the hardest to give away); I'm even quite good at it. But one of the things that sustain me while leafletting is hating people who are wearing Che Guevara T-Shirts but refusing my leaflets (which are always on things Che would support). They're a reasonably common occurance, and if you're a Che Guevara T-shirt wearer who ignores politics, you have no idea how much people curse you.

A Washington Post article about the commodification of Che as reprinted in the Dominion Post this Saturday. I really loathe the way that picture has been used, and see it as the ultimate example of style over substance. Even actual communists I know who have worn Che T-shirts haven't been able to tell me why it is Che, in particular, that they're wearing on their chest.

I think I have a solution. The picture should be licenced so that everyone who wears a Che Guevara T-Shirt has to participate in any protest an actual left-wing activist tells them to, or give a good Marxist reason why not.


  1. Anonymous10:49 pm

    Its so true!
    I've sold 'The Spark' to people in business suits, but people in Che T-shirts never have a dollar or some other pathetic excuse.
    I'll also point out that I know people who own Marx, Mao and Rosa T-shirts, and I recall seeing Lenin ones but don't think I know anyone with them

  2. I'd never wear a Che t-shirt, as he was way too far in favour of the death penalty, and remarkably close to Stalinist in his writings. The fact that Che t-shirts sell so well really proves that you can fool the children of the revolution, quite easily.

  3. I have a Che t-shirt which I bought to support the people selling it, and I only ever wear it to bed for the very reasons you have in your post. I now cringe even more after reading an article about how opposed to the commercialisation of images he was. I also have a massive poster of that image on a wall in my house, which is a bit of a difficult point because it was a gift and I feel I can't really take it down because it would hurt the giver... It's so fraught being a leftie sometimes.

  4. Anonymous6:16 pm

    Um...yeah, I don't really agree with you on this one.

    I know for some people having Che on a t-shirt shirt is simply just being 'cool' and 'rebellious'. I understand how that can be irritating to those who do know who he is and what he stands for.

    But my personal experience is that people who do this are, like, teenagers or young people. And teenagers (and people in their 20s) do lots of things to be cool, and since I quite like Che (OK, I choose to ignore his scary militaristic side), I think it's much cooler than having 'Von Dutch' or 'Playboy' on your shirt, which is what I see much more often.

    Also, this gives you all an opportunity to discuss Che and communism with the ignorant wearer...

    And you can't deny that it's an awesome image - so simple and powerful. It's a great print that is aesthetically pleasing. More so that a playboy bunny, I think.

    I also have to add, his image is worn throughout South America by people of all ethnicities and classes - not because everyone agrees with what he did or believed, but because he's an icon; he's someone from South America who stood up for South American & Indigenous people.

    I guess in the end I think it's rather elitist to suggest that only left-wing activists (or those who subscribe to his ideals and/or will partake in left-wing activities) should wear his shirt.

    As for Che-t-shirt-wearing activists not knowing who Che, WTF?! You call yourselves activists, and you don't know who Che is?!

  5. Che was the only one of the people you list who took part in a revolution that lead to an enduring socialist society.

    (Marx - didn't live to see his ideas adopted anywhere.
    Lenin - Russia passed through xenophobic dictatorship and is now
    a dysfunctional nationalist/capitalist state
    Mao - China has become a capitalist (not to mention imperialist) dictatorship
    Rosa Luxembourg - failed to ignite a revolution in Germany, which is now a social market society, although at least with fairly effective trade unions).

    Anyways, wouldn't standing there with a banner be a bit wussy for Che - surely he'd have been blowing up McDonalds?

  6. I've edited the post to clarify that the actual communists did know

    It's not so much that I think only left-wingers should wear a t-shirt. Possibly I only think Marxists should wear Che T-shirts. But mostly I'm just opposed to politics becoming a commodity based on what they look like (as a side issue I'm against glorifying the leaders of a struggle over those who took part, if I was really into the Cuban revolution I wouldn't wear a picture of Che, I'd find some pictures of people who took part - and transfer that to a t-shirt).

    Personally I only wear left-wing t-shirts made by left-wingers (ideally made by me), to avoid this problem.

    I think I"d probably have a different view if I was living in South America. At least there there's less appropriating going on and it's more likely to a symbol of liberation and resistance than looking cool

  7. To finish the first sentance - actually did know who Che was, just not why it's him, in particular, they're supporting with t-shirts

  8. Anonymous5:22 pm

    Sorry that was my lazy/tired reading skills - you were clear the first time :)

  9. Anonymous2:31 pm

    I once saw a boy in a club wearing a T-shirt with stylized pictures of Marx, Lenin, and another bloke I couldn't identify. I asked him who it was and he said "I don't know, I just thought the shirt looked cool." Somehow I thought it was even stupider than your typical Che shirt.