Photos of Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir Hanging with Che Guevara in Cuba (1960)

sartre che smoke

In 1960, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beau­voir ven­tured to Cuba dur­ing, as he wrote, the “hon­ey­moon of the rev­o­lu­tion.” Mil­i­tary strong­man Ful­gen­cio Batista’s regime had fall­en to Fidel Cas­tro’s gueril­la army and the whole coun­try was alight with rev­o­lu­tion­ary zeal. As Beau­voir wrote, “after Paris, the gai­ety of the place explod­ed like a mir­a­cle under the blue sky.”

At the time, Sartre and de Beau­voir were inter­na­tion­al­ly renown, the intel­lec­tu­al pow­er cou­ple of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Beauvoir’s book, The Sec­ond Sex (1949), laid the ground­work for the fem­i­nism move­ment, and her book The Man­darins won France’s high­est lit­er­ary award in 1954. Sartre’s name had become a house­hold word. The phi­los­o­phy he cham­pi­oned – Exis­ten­tial­ism – was being read and debat­ed around the world. And his polit­i­cal activism — loud­ly con­demn­ing France’s war in Alge­ria, for instance — had giv­en him real moral author­i­ty. When Sartre was arrest­ed in 1968 for civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, Charles de Gaulle par­doned him, not­ing, “You don’t arrest Voltaire.” As Deirdre Bair notes in her biog­ra­phy of Beau­voir, “Sartre became the one intel­lec­tu­al whose pres­ence and com­men­tary emerg­ing gov­ern­ments clam­ored for, as if he alone could val­i­date their rev­o­lu­tions.” So it’s not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing that Fidel Cas­tro wined and dined the two dur­ing their month in Cuba.


Cuban pho­tog­ra­ph­er Alber­to Kor­da cap­tured the cou­ple as they met with Cas­tro, Che Gue­vara and oth­er lead­ers of the rev­o­lu­tion. One pic­ture (above) is of Gue­vara in his com­bat boots and trade­mark beret, light­ing a cig­ar for the French philoso­pher. Sartre looks small and unhealthy com­pared to the strap­ping, mag­net­ic rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Sartre was appar­ent­ly impressed by the time he spent with the gueril­la leader. When Che died in Bolivia sev­en years lat­er, Sartre famous­ly wrote that Gue­vara was “not only an intel­lec­tu­al but also the most com­plete human being of our age.”

Lat­er, Kor­da caught them as they were guid­ed through the streets of Havana. And as you can see (below), that icon­ic image of Gue­vara, lat­er plas­tered on T‑shirts and Rage Against the Machine album cov­ers, is on that same role of film.

When the cou­ple returned to Paris, Sartre wrote arti­cle after arti­cle extolling the rev­o­lu­tion. Beau­voir, who was equal­ly impressed, wrote, “For the first time in our lives, we were wit­ness­ing hap­pi­ness that had been attained by vio­lence.”


Yet their enthu­si­asm for the regime cooled when they returned to Cuba a year lat­er. The streets of Havana had lit­tle of the joy as the pre­vi­ous year. When they talked to fac­to­ry work­ers, they heard lit­tle but par­rot­ing of the offi­cial par­ty line. Beau­voir and Sartre ulti­mate­ly denounced Cas­tro (along with a bunch of oth­er intel­lec­tu­al lumi­nar­ies like Gabriel Gar­cia Mar­quez and Octavio Paz) in an open let­ter that crit­i­cized him for the arrest of Cuban poet Her­ber­to Padil­lo.

You can read more about the life and pho­tog­ra­phy of Alber­to Kor­da in the 2006 book, Cuba: by Kor­da.

Pho­tos above by Alber­to Kor­da.

via Crit­i­cal The­o­ry

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Philosophy’s Pow­er Cou­ple, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beau­voir, Fea­tured in 1967 TV Inter­view

Jean-Paul Sartre Breaks Down the Bad Faith of Intel­lec­tu­als

Wal­ter Kaufmann’s Clas­sic Lec­tures on Niet­zsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre (1960)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (8)
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  • Hanoch says:

    “Yet their enthu­si­asm for the regime cooled”. I should hope so. It can’t be much fun to real­ize you were duped by a bunch of thugs.

  • Hanoch says:

    “Yet their enthu­si­asm for the regime cooled”. I should hope so. It can’t be much fun to real­ize you were duped by a bunch of thugs.

    • Don Kenner says:

      ^This.nnnWhen I saw the first pic I thought “I hope Simone got to talk a lit­tle.” From what I’ve read she was often qui­et while her man spoke on an on.

  • Open Culture says:

    Just curi­ous, does any­one know who post­ed this on their Face­book page today?nnnCheers,nDan (edi­tor)

  • ajay sinha says:

    Rare pho­tos. Love them.

  • elisa sol says:

    Heber­to Padil­la es el nom­bre cor­rec­to del poeta. NO “Her­ber­to Padillo“n.

  • Maan Toor says:

    Sartre was a very calm and gen­tle type intel­lec­tu­al, nonth­less De Beau­voir and Sartre both wrote ruth­less­ly against injus­tice.

  • wingedream says:

    Nos­tal­gia of the Icon­ic and melan­cho­lia for the frus­tra­tions and dis­ap­point­ments of real­i­ty !It is a sto­ry told and retold with­out ever becom­ing stale.What is It about this time­less indul­gence?
    ‘For once I felt there was so much joy due to vio­lence’, Sartre and Simone gushed about a once-only to be seen ‘com­plete indi­vid­ual called Che Gue­vara’ !Some bits of the past that I shall always trea­sure as my child­hood mem­o­ries and refuse to believe that it was all, but, true !
    Come join me to dig for your heroes.It shall nev­er change grow­ing up.or will it?

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