Debray, Jules Régis


Debray, Jules Régis
(1940– )
   A French left-wing revolutionary theorist and intellectual, Debray achieved prominence for his advocacy of guerrilla warfare in advancing socialist goals, and his links with and writings on Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Latin American Marxism. Debray showed early intellectual ability and at the age of 16 he won the philosophy prize in the annual Concours Général. He graduated with a 1:1 from Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and then entered the École Normale Supérieure (gaining the highest score in the entrance exam) where he studied with Louis Althusser and became a member of the French Communist Party (PCF). Debray’s interest in Latin America began in 1961 when he visited Cuba and saw Castro’s new regime first hand. He followed this with tours of Latin America in 1963 and 1964 during which he studied guerrilla tactics. In 1966 he held a position as a professor in Havana, and in 1967 he went to Bolivia where he worked alongside Che Guevara. He accompanied Guevara on his final fateful expedition and was himself captured, arrested and imprisoned for three years. He subsequently continued his work as an academic, writer and intellectual and in 1981 became an advisor to French President François Mitterand on Latin America.
   Debray has written a number of books including Castroism: The Long March in Latin America (1964), Problems of Revolutionary Strategy in Latin America (1965), Revolution in the Revolution? (1967), A Critique of Arms (1969), The Chilean Revolution: Conversations With Allende (1971), and Critique of Political Reason (1984). In the earliest of these he developed his views on the importance of rural guerrilla warfare, as practised by Guevara, which he believed would prompt the evolution of socialist theory. In guerrilla movements Marxist–Leninist vanguard parties were not necessary. He became more critical of Guevara for failing to appreciate the vital need for urban proletariat support and for his lack of attention to specifics of theory and history in relation to Bolivia. In his writings Debray also praised “Fidelism,” the revolutionary nationalist practice of Fidel Castro, and criticized orthodox communism with its dogmatic emphasis on the key role of the party and the need to inculcate correct revolutionary theory into the masses. He also rejected the approach of Eurocommunism, and even though sympathetic to Salvador Allende in Chile, he still saw the need for armed insurrection in much of Latin America. By 1984 he had moved to a further critique of Marxism in his Critique of Political Reason in which he argued that a reinvigorated Marxism needed to reject its scientific pretensions and, instead, had to connect with people’s emotions, hopes and fears.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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