The event was one of the highlights of the week-long International Havana Book Fair. Sánchez is the director of Casa Editora Abril, the publishing house of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) of Cuba.
The content of the twin edition is a selection of speeches by Ernesto Che Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who was one of the central leaders of the Cuban revolution in its early years. The book also contains a tribute to Guevara by Cuban president Fidel Castro, a preface by longtime Cuban revolutionary cadre Armando Hart, an introduction by the book's editor Mary-Alice Waters, more than 20 pages of photos, and an extensive glossary, which will be especially valuable to readers who are new to Che and the Cuban revolution. The book was compiled and edited with the collaboration of Editora Abril.
The book fair, held February 9-15, was an important cultural event in Cuba. The record attendance--more than 130,000 people this year--was an indicator of the thirst for books, culture, and political debate today among working people, students, and other layers of the population in this country.
Meetings to launch a wide variety of books were held throughout the fair, from collections of writings by Cuban essayist and poet Cintio Vitier, to Barbarroja, a selection of interviews and speeches by Cuban revolutionary leader Manuel Piñeiro .
Pathfinder introduced three new titles at this year's international Havana fair: Capitalism's World Disorder by Jack Barnes; Making History: Interviews with Four Generals of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces; and Che Guevara Talks to Young People. These titles attracted particular interest at the Pathfinder booth, which also carried a broad selection of Pathfinder's more than 300 titles, containing the lessons for today of 150 years of struggle by the modern working-class movement.
The book fair was held at the historic San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress, where Guevara established the headquarters of his Rebel Army column after the fall of the Batista military dictatorship in January 1959. The event to launch Che Guevara Talks to Young People took place in the building that served as Guevara's command post. It is now a museum that, with an abundance of historic photos, depicts his role in the Cuban revolutionary movement and the early years of the revolutionary government.
Some 60 people crowded into the hall for the meeting, which was addressed by Sánchez; Hassán Pérez, president of the Federation of University Students (FEU); and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press.
The director of Editora Abril opened the meeting by acknowledging the presence of prominent individuals in the audience who had contributed to the newly published collection of Guevara's speeches. They included Armando Hart, Cuba's longtime minister of culture who is today director of the Office of the José Martí Program; and Aleida March Guevara, director of Che's Personal Archive, who helped in the selection of speeches by Che and the photos, and contributed other valuable suggestions.
Also present were other members of the Guevara family, including daughter Aleida Guevara and numerous grandchildren, a broad delegation of the FEU leadership, and many young people eager to buy copies of the book, which went on sale at the end of the meeting.
In his brief comments, Sánchez explained that the idea for Che Guevara Talks to Young People was born out of discussions between Pathfinder and Abril at the 1998 Havana Book Fair. In the past several months, he noted, both publishing houses found themselves devoting a substantial effort to produce the kind of book that was needed, from deciding which of Guevara's many relevant speeches to include, to the careful editing and copyediting that went into every aspect of the book.
"We have worked intensely and with the professionalism that is characteristic of Pathfinder," he said. This required detailed collaboration back and forth between Havana and New York by E-mail, he noted, pointing to the advances in technology that made it possible to overcome numerous obstacles and complete the book in time for the Havana Book Fair.
The upcoming April conference in Havana of the Continental Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Students (OCLAE) gave the book added importance, Sánchez said. "With the encouragement of FEU and the UJC, we suggested to the compañeros of Pathfinder that this book could be an important document to make available to the delegates at that conference," who will be coming from across the Americas.
This book by Che Guevara "is necessary as we enter the 21st century," Sánchez concluded.
The FEU leadership has been a central organizer of the many activities in Cuba over the last months demanding the return of six-year-old Elián González from the United States. Hassán Pérez began his remarks by saying that "it was a pleasure for me to take some time, during this week of very intense work, to reread some of the speeches that appear in this book, especially the way they were put together. It allows you to study the views of Commander Ernesto Che Guevara and see how, using Marxism, he was able to talk to young people about the fundamental perspectives of the revolutionary process, which was deepening their consciousness, changing their values, and educating them."
He added, "I was struck by many things in reading these speeches." One was how Che Guevara "drew on the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin as well as the ideas and traditions of struggle of Cuba and Latin America" over the past century of anti-imperialist battles. And he offered a revolutionary perspective "not only for Cuba but for all of Latin America."
In his speeches, Pérez said, "Che explained that capitalist society is in crisis, and that, in contrast with those who thought that imperialism was consolidating itself, he believed that young people--if not that generation, then a subsequent one--would have the privilege of witnessing the end of a system that represents the interests of a minority and not those of the peoples of the world." This understanding of the weakening of imperialism worldwide is central to building revolutionary organizations capable of leading millions to overturn capitalist rule.
The FEU leader noted that, in following the basic course that Guevara and Fidel Castro fought for, "we have maintained the participation of the people--workers, peasants, intellectuals--in our revolution" and avoided "the road of bureaucratization."
Touching on a point made in the introduction by Waters, Pérez pointed out that "Che rejected the idea of a great, lone hero, an image associated with the ideas of capitalism" as opposed to the fact that revolutionary change "is the result of an entire people capable of analyzing things as they take part in a revolution."
The student leader cited one of his favorite speeches by Guevara, given to medical students and health workers in August 1960, which appears under the title "To be a revolutionary doctor you must first make a revolution." Guevara explained how, from his own personal experiences, he had come to recognize the futility of a doctor, however noble his intentions, making an individual effort to change health conditions in countries subjected to imperialist domination. For the efforts of individuals to bear fruit, Guevara argued, "a social cure, that is, a revolution," was necessary, Pérez said.
Similarly, in a December 1959 speech at the Central University of Las Villas, Guevara insisted that as society was transformed by a deep-going revolution in Cuba, "the university could not remain on the sidelines of this social transformation" and that it must change so that its composition "is in its majority workers and peasants," not an elite preserve, Pérez noted. "Che said the university must color itself black and mulatto, worker and peasant, and called on youth to do this."
The FEU president expressed his appreciation of the photos in the book that bring to life Guevara's speeches. He pointed to a photo illustrating the revolutionary leader's May 1964 talk at a seminar organized by UJC members working at the Ministry of Industry, where Guevara challenged them to "politicize the ministry" by striving to bring the broadest world and class perspectives into even the most routine of tasks and become more political themselves. The photos accompanying the speech show Guevara sitting on the speakers' platform table as he addressed the meeting. Pérez remarked, "Che was able to establish communication with young people," cutting through ceremony and addressing others as political equals.
"This book offers youth in Latin America and North America access to ideas by Che that are important today," Pérez concluded, reiterating that FEU and the UJC plan to make it available at the OCLAE conference.
In her remarks, Waters added to points made by Sánchez and Pérez in explaining why Che Guevara Talks to Young People is needed by revolutionary-minded youth and working people engaged in struggle in the United States and other countries outside Cuba (see facing page). As a new mood of struggle develops among workers and farmers in the United States, she said, "they need Che's scientific precision to help them learn to analyze the tendencies and laws of motion of capital underlying the complex and fast-moving political events that mark the unfolding class struggle in this changing world.
"They need Che's Marxism," Waters added, "the Marxism that is not a set of preconceived ideas or formulas set down in manuals, but the generalization of the line of march of a class fighting to achieve its emancipation and open the road forward for all the oppressed peoples of the world, for all humanity."
When the program concluded, members of the audience rushed to the table where the new book was put on sale. Almost 50 copies were sold on the spot, and dozens more through the rest of the book fair. It was one of the most popular titles at the Pathfinder booth.
Claudio Burgos is a member of the Young Socialists in Stockholm, Sweden.
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