For most people, I suspect, the name of Régis Debray is still inextricably linked with that of Che Guevara. For many, it still conjures up a blissful time of youthful certainties and heroic purpose. Debray was one of the first to do what many later dreamt of doing. In 1961, as a 20-year-old philosophy student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, he visited Cuba in the aftermath of the Revolution. He travelled widely in Latin America, studying the various left-wing movements. In 1966 he returned to Cuba to take up a chair in philosophy at Havana University. The following year, his Revolution in the Revolution? was published in Havana, where it was regarded as a semi-official exposition of Castroism. It was to become a best-seller the world over. In it, Debray developed the doctrine of the foco, the small guerrilla band that was to be the nucleus of Marxist revolution throughout Latin America. Repudiating the 'reformist' policies of the continent's Communist Parties, this self-proclaimed Leninist rejected, not only the urban proletariat, but also the peasantry, as the motive force of the revolution. For, far from living among the peasants 'like fish in water' (Mao), the revolutionary base ought to remain for ever on the move, avoiding the villages and mistrusting the peasants.
LRB 2 July 1981 | PDF Download