Regis Debray: Praised be Our Lords.

Author:Cotterell, Gerard
Position::Book review
 
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Regis Debray Praised be Our Lords, Verso: London, 2007; 336 pp.: 9781844671403, 19.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)

This book is the second of three volumes of memoirs by Regis Debray. The first, entitled Les masques, une education amoureuse, was published in 1988; and the second, which is reviewed here, was published in French in 1996. The third volume, Par amour de l'Art, une education intellectuelle was published in 1998. On its cover, this English version of the second book is subtitled The Autobiography, with a further subtitle on the inner pages declaring it to be A political education'. The latter subtitle is more apt, since the book is much less an autobiography than a series of chapters that detail Debray's interaction with, first, two of the most important revolutionary figures of the second half of the 20th century--Fidel Castro and Che Guevara--and then Salvador Allende, and finally Francois Mitterrand.

The book is divided into two parts, with the first entitled 'Los Comandantes' and the second 'Governors', containing four and six chapters respectively. The chapters in the first section--'The Backdrop', 'Enrolment', 'Monarch and Crusader' and 'Disconnection'--cover Debray's early political engagement in France very briefly, before discussing in detail his involvement with the leading figures of the Latin American revolutionary movement identified above. Debray had first-hand experience of the revolutionary developments taking place in Latin America, having visited briefly in the early 1960s before settling in Cuba for an extended period in 1965. He became a close acquaintance of both Guevara and Castro, trained as a guerrilla, and eventually joined 'el Che' in Bolivia in 1967. Debray was taken prisoner in Bolivia shortly before Guevara's capture and subsequent execution, sentenced to 30 years in jail, and released after four years. He then spent time in Chile with Allende before returning to France in 1975.

Despite his closeness, or perhaps because of it, Debray's reflections on these times treat both Castro and Guevara unkindly. He notes that Castro was a person 'for whom theory has never been a problem, has no interest in debating ideas and never listens to an adversary's argument', detailing his fascination with guerrilla tactics and the capability of the kalashnikov. Debray also criticises Castro for having too quickly aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union, after having earlier been extremely critical of the Soviet model. Guevara...

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