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Vol. 73/No. 12      March 30, 2009

Malcolm X is focus of Havana
Int'l Book Fair discussion
Book launch discusses 'one of the most important
revolutionary political figures of the 20th century'
(feature article)
HAVANA—Malcolm X, his political legacy, and the importance of his example in Cuba today were the focus of one of the major presentations at the Havana International Book Fair this year.

The first Cuban edition of Habla Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks), issued by Ciencias Sociales, one of this country’s major publishing houses, and “Revolution, Internationalism, and Socialism: The Last Year of Malcolm X,” by Jack Barnes, the lead article in the latest issue of New International magazine, were presented at a February 20 event to a standing-room-only crowd.

Sonia Almaguer, director of Ciencias Sociales, who chaired the event, told the audience of 60 that Habla Malcolm X, with a run size of about 5,000 copies, was part of the publisher’s expanding “A Look at the United States” collection. She noted that the speeches, interviews, and statements in the book, first published in Spanish in the United States by Pathfinder Press, represented the largest collection of Malcolm X’s works yet published in Cuba.

Almaguer introduced the four panelists: Esteban Morales, director emeritus of the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the United States, who wrote the preface to the Cuban edition of Habla Malcolm X; Martín Koppel, editor of the original Pathfinder edition; Adalberto Hernández, national president of Cuba’s Federation of University Students (FEU); and Fernando Martínez Heredia, recipient of the 2006 national prize for social sciences.

As the audience listened intently to what the speakers said about Malcolm X, the political electricity in the hall was almost palpable. Many were for the first time learning about the political views of a revolutionary leader whose name they were familiar with but who they had never really known.  
Malcolm’s political evolution
“Malcolm X became a revolutionary leader on a world scale,” said Esteban Morales. “He is one of the most stirring and important revolutionary political figures of the 20th century.” The publication of Habla Malcolm X in Cuba is especially important, Morales noted, because Malcolm X “is not sufficiently known.”

In Cuba, excerpts of Malcolm X speeches were published in various collections in 1967, 1968, and 1974, along with the posthumously published Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley. A few years ago Ciencias Sociales reprinted the autobiography, and in 2003 Casa Editora Abril published a Cuban edition of Malcolm X habla a la juventud (Malcolm X Talks to Young People), originally published by Pathfinder Press.

Morales cited Malcolm’s statement that “I’m not an American—I’m one of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of Americanism.” His revolutionary outlook “distinguished Malcolm, in terms of strategy and tactics, from Martin Luther King’s practical course of struggle.”

He pointed to Malcolm’s example as an unflinching leader who broke with the Nation of Islam, as he saw its leadership’s “corruption and lack of real political activity on behalf of Blacks,” and continued to evolve politically. In his last year Malcolm X “was no longer speaking in terms of black and white revolutionaries, but simply of revolutionaries. He was an opponent of imperialism, which led him toward internationalism and socialism. He embraced the Cuban Revolution. He supported the Algerian revolution. He promoted the Militant newspaper. And he was deepening his collaboration with the Socialist Workers Party,” said Morales.

Malcolm X helps us understand the importance “of being communist without forgetting that one is black,” Morales said. That understanding “is relevant in the fight for socialism, including in Cuban society today, because, despite all the progress we have made, we still have a long way to go to eliminate racial discrimination and racism in our country.”

Malcolm’s ideas, he concluded, are important “not only for the American people but for Cubans today.”

Morales is well-known and respected in Cuba not only for his writings on U.S. politics but for his work to make known important chapters of Cuban history that are part of the struggles against the legacy of slavery and racist discrimination, as well as the ongoing fight today to eradicate that legacy.  
A proletarian internationalist
“The Malcolm many Cubans know is the Malcolm of the Autobiography or of the Spike Lee film,” Koppel noted, both of which end before the final, most decisive year of Malcolm’s life. “In Habla Malcolm X, you can follow his development as a proletarian internationalist leader.”

Koppel highlighted the importance for revolutionists in the United States of some key points made by Barnes in “Revolution, Internationalism, and Socialism: The Last Year of Malcolm X,” which is featured in New International no. 14 and in Nueva Internacional no. 8. The first, Koppel said, is that the vanguard role in the U.S. class struggle of workers who are Black is not an open question. It has been demonstrated over and over, from the Civil War to the forging of the industrial unions in the 1930s to the mass civil rights battles that overthrew Jim Crow segregation to today.

The second, he said, is that only a socialist revolution can open the door to the possibility of ending racist oppression. “The legacy of racism cannot be abolished overnight, but, with conscious leadership, state power is the most powerful weapon that can be used to combat that legacy,” Koppel said, pointing to the example of the Cuban Revolution. “Whatever the challenges that remain, Cuba is the one place we can point to today and say: this is what a socialist revolution opens up.”

In the New International article, Koppel said, Barnes also explains how in his last year Malcolm, deeply affected by world events and his international travels, evolved away from considering himself a Black nationalist and toward proletarian internationalism.

The turning point for Malcolm was not his pilgrimage to Mecca and discovery “that some whites might live beside him as brothers in Islam … in a distant future, in a far-off land," as Barack Obama asserts in his book Dreams from My Father. It was Malcolm’s discussions with revolutionaries, especially in Africa, that led him to stop using the term Black nationalism to define his outlook, Koppel noted, and to “seek out fellow revolutionists around the world, no matter what their skin color or views on religion.”

Malcolm “was on a trajectory that was taking him toward socialism and communism,” Koppel said.  
Relevant for Cuban youth today
Adalberto Hernández said that “Malcolm X offers an important message for today’s generations” of Cubans. He noted that Malcolm X and “other revolutionary leaders from the 1950s and ’60s worldwide” are not studied much by young people in Cuba today.

“In his last year Malcolm X underwent a radicalization,” Hernández noted. More and more he “embraced the cause not only of American Blacks but of the oppressed of the world.”

Malcolm X “also has another message for us,” Hernández said, “not to forget our identity—to be defenders of our historic cultural patrimony.” Malcolm’s instilling of pride and rejection of degrading self-images among blacks is an answer to antiblack prejudices and stereotypes that persist in Cuba today, he noted, offering several examples that had many in the audience nodding in agreement.

“Sometimes, when a man sees an attractive young mulatta or black woman, he will say, ‘Qué blanca se perdió ahí,’” (She must have quite some white woman in her background), Hernández remarked.

To much laughter Hernández, from his own experience as a dark-skinned black person, gave a second example—the stereotype that blacks are natural-born dancers. “I’m not very good at dancing,” he said. “But sometimes people say to me, ‘How can it be that you don’t know how to dance?’”

Hernández concluded by quoting from a speech by Fernando Martínez Heredia at a meeting last year at which the Communist Party of Cuba established a commission, headed by Martínez, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Independent Party of Color, a political party in Cuba that fought for the rights of blacks and was brutally repressed by the capitalist government in a 1912 massacre that cost the lives of thousands.

The speech underscored the need to “encourage an understanding of the pluralistic character of our nation’s culture” and “recover the forgotten contributions and sacrifices of the poor of all colors,” Hernández noted.  
‘One of our own’
The final speaker was Martínez Heredia, who began by welcoming the new Ciencias Sociales edition of Habla Malcolm X as well as the “profound essay” by Jack Barnes published in New International. He saluted Pathfinder Press and the Socialist Workers Party in the United States for its 45-year record of “compiling, publishing, and making known” Malcolm X in his own words.

Martínez highlighted Malcolm’s political contributions, from his opposition to supporting Democratic Party politician Lyndon Johnson as a “lesser evil” to the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential elections, to his discussions with young civil rights fighters on rejecting “nonviolence” as a strategy. He quoted Malcolm’s words on the need to awaken the oppressed, not to their exploitation but “to their humanity, to their own self-worth, and to their heritage.”

Malcolm, he noted, “evolved from Black nationalism to advocating the unity of all those who want to take action” against the “miserable condition that exists on this earth.” He condemned U.S. imperialist aggression, from Africa to Vietnam, and increasingly took an internationalist course. “He began to pose the need to oppose capitalism as a system and to overthrow it.”

The revolutionary leader’s ideas “constitute an extraordinary legacy on the road toward the liberation of the people of the United States and the cause of liberation of other people.”

For all the oppressed who are engaged in struggle, “Malcolm was what you can call ‘one of our own,’” Martínez concluded. Many in the audience clearly understood that more deeply than ever before, and several commented that the remarks by the Cuban speakers on the continuing fight to eradicate the vestiges of racism in Cuba were encouragingly frank.

The hunger for learning more about Malcolm X was seen in the fact that every book by the revolutionary leader at the Pathfinder booth was sold out by the end of the fair. More than 340 copies of Nueva Internacional no. 8 and New International no. 14 were sold and distributed at the book fair and related events.

The book presentation was covered by Cuban TV, as well as in articles in Cuba Ahora and La Jiribilla, two Cuban online publications. The remarks by Martínez Heredia were reprinted by the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina.  
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