Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider isn’t a name well-known to many people even those of the left-wing and/or Marxist persuasion, but she is an important and much ignored communist figure in her own right. The reason for this ignorance is largely because she has been completely eclipsed by her last lover: Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
Che, of course, is very well known and perhaps more recognizable in his visage than by his actual ideas (1) to the point where he has become an actual deity of sorts in Cuba and South America (2) as well as being considered worthy to have Friedrich Engels (the by and large actual creator of ‘Marxism’ ) compared to him in a recent Marxist biography. (3)
Bunke was a key officer; under her guerrilla alias of ‘Tania’ , in Che’s failed revolt in Bolivia: her job was to act as a direct link between Che’s guerrilla foco, the urban cadres and the Bolivian Communist Party under Mario Monje. (4) Indeed it was her mistake in leaving documents in a jeep before fleeing to see Che that was the direct cause of the escalation of the problems that Che’s bunch of guerrilla bandits (5), or what Che would call his ‘foco’ per his not very original ‘theory’ of ‘guerrilla warfare’ , (6) were having to deal with; although most of the actual problems themselves were due to the ‘legendary guerrilla’s’ own lack of knowledge about the basics of military action and guerrilla warfare in particular. (7)
There is only one significant (8) English language ‘biography’ extant at present and that is by her former negro lover: Ulises Estrada. (9) While the work; like much of that surrounding Che himself, is essentially an intellectually-thin hagiography it does offer up a lot of valuable detail about Bunke’s early life in Argentina and East Germany as well as her involvement with Cuban intelligence (of which Estrada was a part) (10) under Manuel Pineiro. (11)
Tania was born in 1937 to Erich and Nadia Bunke: two former active KPD members who had fought against the NSDAP during its rise to power before 1933. Nadia was of Russian jewish origin: although Erich was a simple German workman. (12) When it became clear that the Third Reich was going to last; as up to till 1934 the standard SPD and KPD belief and line had been that ‘Hitler won’t last and we’ll be next’ , the Bunke’s fled to Argentina in 1935 and settled in Buenos Ares where Tania was born.
Like Che (13) the young Tania was ‘active in anti-fascist organisations’ with her parents during the Second World War and after. (14) She was also, like Che, (15) highly bookish but yet very physically active: (16) however unlike Che she appears to have; at an early age, displayed heterodox Marxist characteristics which probably stemmed from her time at the Humboldt University in Berlin in the 1950s where she studied philosophy after she and her parents had returned to the Stalinist German Democratic Republic in 1952 (when Tania was 14). (17)
Indeed Tania’s intellectual heterodoxy appears to first obviously manifest itself in her volunteering for assignments as a German to Spanish translator with Latin America communist delegations to the GDR. This lead from her having joined the Free German Youth (the official Communist youth organisation) and then unspecified ‘cultural’ and ‘political’ organisations soon thereafter (18) suggesting that Tania; being intellectually quite able, was quickly going through the traditional evolutionary gears of Marxist thought at this time: from the traditional Marxism-Leninism of Stalin to a form of more revolutionary Marxism-Leninism as championed by Trotsky and Mao.
Had Tania been more orthodox she would have simply been an academic proponent or an avid helper to the established revolutions, as don’t forget that Marxism declares that the revolution is inevitable and Leninism only adds that a vanguard party (i.e. a cadre of disciplined and centrally organised professional revolutionaries) needs to be created but identifies that vanguard party as the ‘industrial proletariat’ (19) However, she, possibly carried away by the myth of revolution, chose to leave all the possibilities open to a passionate intellectual communist behind the Iron Curtain and ’spread the revolution’ elsewhere.
A key event in this development appears to be Tania’s meeting with the Cuban guerrillas of Fidel Castro in July 1959 when she met Orlando Borrego and Antonio Nunez Jimenez in Berlin, and then met and translated for Che when he visited the GDR in December of that year. (20) Tania had apparently kept in close touch with had been going with the ‘guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra’ since the beginning of the Granma expedition, and after meeting the participants in that ‘revolutionary struggle’ (21) she appears to have become even more infatuated with the revolutionary myths of ‘Red October’ and the ‘inevitable triumph of Communism’.
In 1961 this egoistic infatuation with ‘revolutionary ideals’ lead to Tania not being content, as is quite common among jews (a-la a need for ‘upward agility’), to be a mere cog or helper in the ‘world revolution’ but rather to be a central part and defining agent of it. Thus Tania decided to set off for Cuba to assist in ‘consolidating the revolution’ there with a probable view to spreading that revolution to the rest of Latin America. Tania managed, possibly because she was so ardent a Communist but also possibly because she was in likelihood an obvious Trotskyite radical (either in fact or in the making), to get the necessary visas from the government of the GDR and the new Cuban revolutionary government. (22)
This radicalism on Tania’s part is why I would argue James’ thesis of Tania being a GDR or Soviet intelligence asset in Cuba (23) is not only unlikely but implausible, as it suggests that either government’s intelligence agencies would have gone against policy and operated opposition or likely to turn agents to mollify and/or deal with their fellow radicals such as Che Guevara and Raul Castro. We also have the formal declaration from the former KGB that Tania was no such asset, (24) which more less completes the rejection of James’ thesis on evidential grounds as well as the logical grounds that Butterworth suggests (25) although Fontova still adheres to it. (26)
Once in Cuba Tania’s radicalism was free of the constraints of the Stalinism of the GDR and threw herself into work as an official Cuban translator and a key organizer of an international student conference held in Havana in 1961. However this activity wasn’t enough for Tania and she stuck to Che (currently preoccupied with his second wife Aleida March) like a magnet. As Che wasn’t going anywhere at that time; as he was still in Fidel Castro’s good books, Tania tried to volunteer with Carlos Fonseca to go and fight with him as a Nicaraguan guerrilla. When this failed Tania ended up settling to do a degree in journalism at the University of Havana. (27)
Estrada insists that Tania’s ‘personal conduct’ was ‘unimpeachable’ , but this is rhetorical hot air as it is clear that Tania was on the well-trodden path of ultra-leftism in her personal and intellectual dissatisfaction with the realities of Marxism and its proponents. She identified with the idea of revolution, but she did not like what she saw in revolutions as each revolution in turn she found was in some way inadequate; hence Tania’s gravitation towards revolutionary third world struggle and student fraternities which were sprouting the ideas of the ‘New Left’ and what has been called, ‘radical sociology’, which argued for and believed in the idea that the American and European working class movements were a dead-end and that instead focusing on radicalised students and third world populations was the best way to create international revolution (in effect by inciting and guiding race war against the West from within the West itself).
One can easily see this tendency expressed in Tania’s thought, as she is constantly looking for some way to make the revolution of her dreams happen and as such she begins to radicalise her entire being (a-la Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘new man’ ) by trying to inspire revolution by revolutionary writing (her degree in journalism), revolutionary struggle (seeking to become a guerrilla and then becoming a Cuban intelligence agent) and then race-mixing with Estrada himself. (28) In many respects Tania fulfills the stereotype of the ultra-leftist in that she was highly-intelligent, highly-opinionated and highly-religious (in the sense of needing a clearly defined ideological system to understand the world). (29)
However Tania was only ever a passenger to that view and in spite of attempts by Estrada to white-wash her it is quite clear that Tania had about as much place on a physical battlefield, in spite of all her training and intelligence, (30) as an amoeba has being on a Nobel Prize Committee as she simply lacked the common sense that is required for intelligence work (a characteristic she shared with Che). (31)
I would opine that at this time it would surprise me if Tania had not been sleeping around a fair bit among the ‘revolutionaries’ that she idolised and in spite of Estrada’s repeated denials of ‘anyone other than him’. I think it is fairly clear that Tania was a proverbial Emma Goldman and spent a good part of her time bedding her fellow ‘revolutionaries’ although in Tania’s case I tend to think this is more due to her intense admiration for them, which appears to have rubbed off a little on Estrada, hence her interest in him as a ‘Cuban revolutionary intelligence officer’ (evidently a fairly ineffective one who has since been put out to pasture). (32)
We can see this in some of the things that Estrada quotes Tania as stating like:
‘Her voice full of emotion, Tamara answered that she would be faithful to these principles whatever the price. From this point on, this would be the main goal of her life. She added that she had never expected to experience an occasion like this, and even less to have Che talk directly to her and trust her. She finished by saying, “I will never betray this trust while I am still alive and breathing.”’ (33)
That is hardly the kind of balanced and nuanced statement one would expect according to Estrada’s portrayal of Tania. Indeed it nicely shows that Tania was essentially an intellectual teenager besotted with the idea of ‘world revolution’ and concomitantly the ‘revolutionaries’ who ‘made it happen’ .
If one combines this obvious extrapolation with Che’s known proclivity as a serial womanizer (34) who tended to get women pregnant and then run off from any responsibility to them, usually citing ‘revolutionary activities’ as his reason when he was bored with them, (35) then it is not hard to see that a young woman who was infatuated with Che would have been both an easy and a willing target for Che’s sexual affections and attentions.
Indeed we know she got very emotional around Che (36) and that she slept with other men (37), we also know more poignantly that Che expressed an unusual (and probably sexual) interest in her. (38) We also know that she all but fled to see Che in the jungles of Bolivia when she was supposed to be organising the urban cadre and liaising between them and the guerrilla foco. (39)
It is more than probable that this otherwise inexplicable, or rather hard to explain satisfactorily, (40) lapse was due both to Tania’s hero-worship of Che (hence need to be with the ‘heroic guerrilla’ that she dreamed of) and their probable romantic/sexual relationship. Indeed Che kept her very close to him and out of harms way for most of her jungle tenure (41) before she was killed in an ambush. Che, of course, being something of a coward and a hypochondriac begged to be spared as he was a ‘very important and valuable’ prisoner (42) before being killed by the Bolivian Rangers against the direct orders of the CIA (who wanted him alive). (43)
It is fairly universally agreed that Tania’s amateurish mistake in Bolivia was the start of the end for Che Guevara (44) and his rag-tag band of ‘guerrillas’ most of whom were either former members of the University of La Paz’s philosophy department or former high-ranking Cuban communists who had fallen into disfavour and wanted to get out of Cuba without leaving in a body bag. However it is; as I have said, very hard to explain Tania’s behaviour within a non-sexual/romantic framework as she had been trained in how to behave as an intelligence asset and promptly didn’t on her first mission out with her idol.
Tania was a failure; like her namesake the failed Soviet partisan Koja Kosmodemjanskaja, (45) but much like her was turned into a myth to suit the needs of the far left. However her failure is instructive for us as it turns our minds towards the study of the involvement of jews in supporting and sustaining Castro’s Cuba: particularly in its earliest days.
I haven’t looked into the subject in any detail yet, preoccupied as I am researching and writing on several other topics that command more immediate attention and intellectual interest, but I have in my research on Che Guevara found at least two key figures in the history of Cuban Communism who are without doubt jewish.
They are firstly Herbert Matthews; the eminent New York Times journalist who consistently apologised for Castro and claimed he was merely an ‘agrarian reformer’ not a Communist, who was in fact jewish. (46)
Secondly, we have Enrique Oltuski Osacki; a Polish jew who was one of Castro's key commanders in the 26th of July Movement , one of the three of Castro’s original ministerial appointees in 1959, was Che’s Director of Planning in the Ministry of Industry, then a central figure in the planning of the Cuban economy, and is today Vice Minister of Fishing in Castro’s government. (47)
Interesting: n’est-ce pas?
- Fernando Garcia, Oscar Sola (Eds.), 2000, ‘Che: Images of a Revolutionary’ , 1st Edition, Pluto Press: Sterling, pp. 198-207; Olivier Besancenot, Michael Lowy, James Membrez (Trans.), 2009, ‘Che Guevara: His Revolutionary Legacy’ , 1st Edition, Monthly Review Press: New York, p. 7
- Sergio Sinay, 1997, ‘Che for Beginners’ , 1st Edition, Writers and Reader: London, p. 1; Garcia and Sola, Op. Cit., p. 205; Cindy Forster, 2010, ‘“Not in All of America Can There Be Found a Country as Democratic as This One”: Che and Revolution in Guatemala’ , pp. 230-231 in Paulo Drinot (Ed.), 2010, ‘Che’s Travels: The Making of a Revolutionary in 1950s Latin America’ , 1st Edition, Duke University Press: Durham.
- John Green, 2009, ‘Engels: A Revolutionary Life’ , 1st Edition, Artery: London, p. 9
- Che Guevara, 2009, ‘The Bolivian Diary’ , 1st Edition, Harper: New York, p. 58
- Manuel Pineiro, Mary Todd (Trans.), 2001, ‘Che Guevara and the Latin American Revolutionary Movements’ , 1st Edition, Ocean: Melbourne, p. 69
- This is largely a copy of Mao’s writings on the subject, which we know that Che had read and was; during his tenure in office in Castro’s Cuba, to partially idolise.
- For example the locale in Bolivia that they selected was a relatively rich area with little dissent and unrest with the government and they did not bring anybody who could speak the local language fluently. See Ann Zulawski, 2010, ‘The National Revolution and Bolivia in the 1950s: What did Che See?’ , pp. 195-198 in Drinot, Op. Cit.
- There is an early one with very little useful information and hagiographic to the point of provoking intellectual vomiting in Marta Rojas, Mirta Rodriguez Calderon, 1971, ‘Tania: The Unforgettable Guerrilla’ , 1st Edition, Random House: New York. A far more critical and highly controversial biography is the German language; Jose Friedl Zapata, 1997, ‘Tania: die Frau, die Che Guevara liebte’ , 1st Edition, Aufbau Verlag: Berlin, that has yet; to my knowledge, to be translated into English that argues at length; as I do (although using different sources), that Bunke was one of Che’s many lovers. This has been claimed to be ‘discredited’ , but it can be clearly demonstrated on the strength of what we do know that it is not only probable but very likely and Nadia Bunke’s court injunction primarily covers; in relation to Tania’s Bolivian life with Che, the unprovable assertion that Tania was pregnant with Che’s child when she was killed not whether she and Che were likely lovers.
- Ulises Estrada, 2005, ‘Tania: Undercover with Che Guevara in Bolivia’ , 1st Edition, Ocean: Melbourne
- Ibid, p. 2
- Who has himself written hagiographically on Che and his Marxism in Manuel Pineiro, Op. Cit. He also contradicts Che’s theory of ‘guerrilla warfare’ on pp. 16-17.
- Estrada, Op. Cit., p. 140
- Ernesto Guevara Lynch, Lucia Alvarez de Toledo (Trans.), 2007, ‘The Young Che: Memories of Che Guevara’ , 1st Edition, Vintage: London, pp. 129-132; Jon Lee Anderson, 1997, ‘Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life’ , 1st Edition, Bantam: London, pp. 22-24
- Estrada, Op. Cit., pp. 32; 141
- Anderson, Op. Cit., pp. 19-21; Daniel James, 2001, , ‘Che Guevara: A Biography’ , 1st Edition, Cooper Square Press: New York, pp. 35-38
- Estrada, Op. Cit., p. 141
- Ibid, p. 24
- Ibid, p. 23
- Robert Service offers easily the most readable of the many introductions to Lenin’s myth and modifications of Marx’s thought in Robert Service, 2000, ‘Lenin: A Biography’ , 1st Edition, MacMillan: London. For the best place to understand Marx and his ideas within their contextual environment the Israeli author Shlomo Barer’s massive 1204 page ‘The Doctors of Revolution’ (2000, 1st Edition, Thames & Hudson: London) is a readable and intellectually through guide.
- Estrada, Op. Cit., p. 23
- Which had a racial angle to in that Batista was a mulatto while the revolutionary leaders; including Che, were largely from rich local aristocracy. For the background to this see Hugh Thomas, 2010, ‘Cuba: A History’ , 2nd Edition, Penguin: London, pp. 751-764.
- Estrada, Op. Cit., pp. 23-24
- James, Op. Cit., pp. 237-241
- Estrada, Op. Cit., p. 271
- James, Op. Cit., pp. viii-ix
- Humberto Fontova, 2008, ‘Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots who Idolize Him’ , 2nd Edition, Sentinel: New York, p. 183
- Estrada, Op. Cit., p. 24
- Ibid, p. 59
- Ibid, pp. 33; 74-75
- Ibid, pp. 34-42
- Pineiro, Op. Cit., p. 69
- Estrada, Op. Cit., p. 54
- Ibid, p. 29
- Fontova, Op. Cit., p. 186; James, Op. Cit., pp. 54-62
- Patience A. Schell, 2010, ‘Beauty and Bounty in Che’s Chile’ , pp. 54-61 in Drinot, Op. Cit.
- Estrada, Op. Cit., pp. 52-53
- Ibid, p. 86
- Ibid, pp. 100-105
- Estrada predictably white-washes it by the use of pure rhetoric, but fails abysmally (see Ibid, p. 106)
- James, Op. Cit., p. viii
- Che Guevara, 2009, ‘The Bolivian Diary’ , 1st Edition, Harper: New York, p. 131; Garcia and Sola, Op. Cit., p. 176
- Marcos Bravo, 2004, ‘La Otra Cara del Che’ , 1st Edition, Editorial Solar: Bogota, pp. 467-499
- Richard Harris, 2007, ‘Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara’s Last Mission’ , 3rd Edition, W. W. Norton: New York, p. 223
- Ibid, pp. 96-97
- Estrada, Op. Cit., p. 27
- Anthony DePalma, 2006, ‘The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba and Herbert L. Matthews of the New York Times’ , 1st Edition, Public Affairs: New York, p. 262
- Helen Yaffe, 2009, ‘Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution’ , 1st Edition, Palgrave MacMillan: New York, p. 286