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Che Guevara Speaks on Decolonising the University

BO Staff Writer

This speech was given by Che Guevara at the Central University of Las Villas, Cuba, December 28 1959:

So what must I say about the university’s fundamental duty, its article number one, in this new Cuba? What I must say is that the university should colour itself black and colour itself mulatto – not just as regards students but also professors.

It should paint itself the colour of workers and peasants. It should paint itself the colour of the people, because the university is the patrimony of no one but the people of Cuba.

If this people, whose representatives occupy all the government posts, rose up in arms and broke through the dikes of reaction, it was not because those dikes lacked flexibility. Nor did reaction lack the basic intelligence to be flexible in order to slow the people’s advance.

Nevertheless, the people triumphed. And they are somewhat spoiled by their victory. They are conscious of their own power, that they are unstoppable. Today the people stand at the door of the university, and it is the university that must be flexible. It must colour itself black, mulatto, worker, peasant, or else find itself without doors. And then the people will smash their way in and paint the university with the colours they see fit.

That is the first message – one I would have liked to express in the first days following the victory in all three universities of the country, but was only able to do so at the University [of Oriente] in Santiago.

If you were to ask my advice on behalf of the people and the Rebel Army, and as a professor of education, I would say that in order to reach the people you must feel as if you are part of the people. You must know what the people want, what they need, and what they feel. You must do a little self-analysis, study the university’s statistics, and ask how many workers, how many peasants, how many men who make their living by their sweat eight hours a day are here in this university.

Once you have asked yourselves this, you must also ask yourselves, by way of self-analysis, whether or not the government of Cuba today represents the will of the people. If the answer is yes, if this government really represents the will of the people, then one must also ask the following: This government – which represents the will of the people – where is it at this university and what is it doing? We would then see, unfortunately, that the government representing virtually the totality of the Cuban people has no voice in the Cuban universities with which to sound the alarm, to provide words of guidance, and to express, free of intermediaries, the will, the desires, and the feelings of the people.


Today, we are working tirelessly to transform Cuba into a different country. But the professor of education standing before you today does not deceive himself; he knows that he is as much a professor of education as he is president of the Central Bank, and if he must perform one or another task, it is because the needs of the people require that of him. None of this is accomplished without the people themselves suffering, because we are still learning in each case. We’re learning on the job. Since we hold new responsibilities and are not infallible – we weren’t born knowing what to do – we must ask the people to correct the errors.

Che Guevara
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was born in Argentina but later became one of the key leaders of the Cuban revolution and a military theorist. Photo: Rene Burri/Konbini.com

This professor standing before you was once a doctor, and by dint of circumstance was obliged to take up arms, and after two years graduated as a guerrilla commander – and will later on have to graduate as a bank president or a director of industrialisation of the country, or perhaps even a professor of education.

This same doctor, commander, president and professor of education wishes that the diligent and studious youth of the country prepare themselves so each of them in the near future may occupy the positions assigned them, without hesitation, and without the need to learn on the job. But this professor here before you – a son of the people, forged by the people – also wants this very same people to have, as a right, the benefits of education. The walls of the educational system must come down. Education should not be a privilege so the children of those who have money can study. Education should be the daily bread of the people of Cuba.

Naturally, it never occurred to me to demand that the current professors and students of the University of Las Villas perform the miracle of enrolling the masses of workers and peasants at the university. We still need to travel a long road, to go through a process all of you have lived through, a process of many years of preparatory studies. What I do hope to accomplish, however, basing myself on my modest background as a revolutionary and rebel commander, is for the students at the University of Las Villas to understand that education is no longer anybody’s exclusive preserve, and that this campus where you carry out your studies is no longer anyone’s sheltered enclave. It belongs to the people of Cuba as a whole, and it will either be given to the people, or the people will take it.

I began the ups and downs of my career as a university student, a member of the middle class, a doctor who shared the same horizons, the same youthful aspirations you have. In the course of the struggle, however, I changed and became convinced of the imperative need for revolution, and of the great justice of the people’s cause. That’s why I would hope that you, who are the masters of the university today, would turn it over to the people. I am not saying this as a threat that tomorrow the people will take it from you. No, I am simply saying that if the masters of today’s University of Las Villas, the students, turn it over to the people as represented by their revolutionary government, that would be another of the many beautiful examples being set in Cuba today.

And to the professors, my colleagues, I have something similar to say to you: You must colour yourselves black, mulatto, worker and peasant. You must go to the people. You must live and breathe as one with the people, which is to say, you must feel the needs of Cuba as a whole. When we achieve this, no one will be the loser. All of us will have won, and Cuba will be able to continue its march towards the future on a stronger footing.

And it won’t be necessary to include, as a member of your faculty, this doctor, commander, bank president, and now professor of education, who bids you all farewell.

This is an extract from a new book, Che Guevara Talks to Young People. by Ernesto Che Guevara, published by Kwela. This extract first appeared in City Press

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