The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 74/No. 10      March 15, 2010

Cuban book fair travels
throughout provinces
Panel discussions present literature
on Cuban Revolution and communist strategy
(feature article)
MATANZAS, Cuba—A scramble to purchase books and get them signed by the authors followed the presentation here February 27 of a new printing of the Spanish-language translation of Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution.

Released by Editora Política, the publishing house of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, the Cuban edition includes all the material first published in English and Spanish by Pathfinder Press in 2005. A Chinese-language translation of the book was published in China in 2008. The Cuban edition was launched at a February 17 presentation during the Havana International Book Fair.

Following the conclusion of the 10-day cultural festival in Havana, the book fair becomes nationwide, traveling to each of Cuba’s provincial capitals. The fair in Matanzas, a city 60 miles east of Havana, ran from February 24 to 28.

Guests participating in the Saturday activities were welcomed by a number of Matanzas provincial officials: Dulce María López, director of culture; Fidel Alpízar, head of the Cuban Book Institute there; Yanel Poyato, responsible for the cultural program at the book fair; and Nelson González and Róger Almeida, president and vice-president of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution (ACRC). The Combatants Association is a voluntary organization of some 300,000 Cubans who have participated in the revolutionary struggle, in internationalist missions, in medical cooperation brigades in other countries, or with many years of service in the armed forces.  
Cuba’s Special Book Plan
The Editora Política edition of Our History Is Still Being Written was published under the Special Plan of the national Cuban Book Institute (ICL). The plan was launched in the 1990s during what’s known here as the Special Period—the profound economic and social crisis when production contracted sharply following the sudden collapse of trade and aid agreements with the former Soviet Union.

Funded by the Ministry of Culture, the plan makes possible larger-than-normal print runs. Publishing houses submit proposals to a council of representatives of each publisher affiliated to the ICL, and the council decides which titles to include in the program that year. Prices are heavily subsidized to make the books broadly available to the Cuban people, and are sold at each of the 15 book fair locations.

Iraida Aguirrechu, editor of the Cuban edition, chaired the presentations in both Havana and Matanzas. Addressing the audience of 80 packed into the ACRC center in Matanzas, Aguirrechu spoke with pride about the book’s quality, its photographs, glossary, and notes—as well as its name and subject index, something rare in books published in Cuba. “And it has a print run of 5,000 copies, selling at just 15 Cuban pesos,” she announced.

On the platform at both presentations were Generals Armando Choy and Gustavo Chui, two of the authors, and Mary-Alice Waters, editor of the Pathfinder edition. The third author, Gen. Moisés Sío Wong, died February 11, shortly before the Havana launch of the book, in which he had planned to take part. Aguirrechu pointed out that Sío Wong, having been born and raised in what is now Matanzas province, had been particularly eager to speak at the presentation here, as well.

“Today we are all mindful that Sío Wong is not here to join us,” said Mary-Alice Waters in her opening remarks. “This is truly a day to celebrate, because this book is a great tribute to him. Through it, his legacy as an exemplary revolutionary combatant is being passed on to new and future generations of proletarian internationalists in Cuba and around the world.”

“It’s rather difficult to present this book without him,” noted Gustavo Chui, “since for a long while we’ve shared a common struggle. All three of us were involved in the underground struggle against the Batista dictatorship. All three of us joined the Rebel Army. And all three have been internationalists,” including serving as combatants in Angola in the war to repel the South African apartheid army’s invasion.

This theme was picked up by Armando Choy. In the final months of the 1956-58 revolutionary war, he said, “I had the good fortune to be in a platoon that joined with the vanguard detachment Moisés was part of.” Both platoons were part of Column 8, led by Ernesto Che Guevara.

Choy said that he and Sío Wong participated together in the battles that led to the taking of Fomento, the town in central Cuba where Choy was born, in what was then Las Villas province. “We took 142 prisoners and almost 200 arms,” Choy still recalled.

During the battle, Sío Wong climbed the church bell tower so he could take better aim at the dictatorship’s army, which had occupied Fomento’s tallest building, the Varona Theater. “I joked with him afterward, saying this was sacrilegious, and he laughed. That’s how he was, a great comrade.”

Choy spoke of Sío Wong’s work in the underground in Havana and of the esteem in which he was held by Che Guevara. Sío Wong “was not an officer, just a soldier in a vanguard detachment throughout the entire course of the war,” Choy said. Following the 1959 triumph Che promoted him to lead a company, with the rank of first lieutenant.

Choy reviewed the many assignments Sío Wong had shouldered—from antiaircraft defense, of which he was the first head; to a founder of the military police; to specialist in logistics, including in Angola where he organized the enormous effort to supply tens of thousands of Cuban troops; to serving as president of the National Institute of State Reserves, which is effectively a ministerial post.

“In every responsibility he had, he served with distinction,” Choy said. “He’s a dignified example for our youth.”

The presentations on Our History Is Still Being Written were followed by a lively discussion. Moisés Velásquez González spoke about his work in the same column as Choy and Sío Wong and later as a teacher alongside local Combatants leader Nelson González in the school of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, where Choy had been a student.  
Two other book programs
The presentation was the third in a morning of Matanzas book fair programs here. The first was the presentation of Estrellas en la frente: Comunicaciones, electrónica e informática 1959-2008 (Guiding lights: Communications, electronics, and information technology 1959-2008) by Omar Pérez Salomón.

The title is taken from a metaphor by Cuba’s national hero, José Martí. What’s important “is not the number of arms at hand but rather the lights that guide,” Martí had written. The book’s author, also from Matanzas, is a telecommunications engineer who has worked for Cuba’s armed forces and Communications Ministry and participated in the Angola mission.

This second edition of the book, first published in 2003 by Editora Política, tells the story of the revolutionary expropriation of the telecommunications sector, carried out over many months between 1959 and 1960, as well as the development and use of mass media and the struggle against Washington’s 50-year economic war against Cuba. Pérez explains the battle by Cuba that continues today to gain access to the Internet at affordable rates.  
Lenin’s final fight
The second presentation was of the 2010 edition in Spanish of Lenin’s Final Fight: Speeches and Writings, 1922-23, published by Pathfinder Press. The book chronicles Lenin’s struggle, in the last 12 months of his active political life, to maintain the Bolshevik revolution’s proletarian course in face of the growing influence of an expanding bureaucratic layer.

On the platform were Edith González, dean of the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Matanzas, and Pathfinder president Mary-Alice Waters.

Introducing González, Waters explained that the book had been published because it is needed today “by those around the world who are determined to put an end to capitalism’s exploitative, oppressive, and more and more destructive social relations.” As capitalism enters its deepest economic crisis “since the decades leading from the first to the second imperialist world wars,” she noted, “the questions in dispute in the communist workers movement in the early 1920s weigh heavily in the prospects for the working class in every country to advance along its historic line of march toward the conquest of power.”

González was one of four faculty members at the University of Matanzas who, working together, helped prepare the first edition of Lenin’s Final Fight in the mid-1990s, checking the existing Spanish translations against Lenin’s Russian originals. Diosmedes Otero, who organized the translation team, participated in the panel at the Havana book fair 10 days earlier. Idalmis Izquierdo, who also worked on the Spanish translation, was present at both meetings. (See the Militant no. 8 in 2010 for reports of the Havana event.)

Waters first met a number of faculty members at the University of Matanzas—which earlier had been the Agro-Industrial Institute—in 1993. The previous year she had participated in a librarians’ conference in the eastern city of Holguín, where a librarian from Matanzas encouraged Pathfinder representatives to visit. Waters and two others were then invited to a student conference on social sciences at the University of Matanzas. It was there that they met Otero and other faculty members and collaboration on the Spanish translation of Lenin’s Final Fight was born.

With a laugh, González opened her remarks by noting that most people in the hall knew her not as a dean at the university but as the daughter of one of their ranks, a worker combatant who had taken part in the revolutionary underground in Matanzas. She expressed her pleasure in again being with those from Pathfinder with whom she had worked some 15 years earlier in producing the Spanish text for Lenin’s Final Fight.

“We were qualified for the work, being familiar with the subject matter and, having all studied in the Soviet Union, we knew Russian,” said González, who studied in Kazakhstan from 1980 to 1985. She proudly explained how the translators worked, individually and cooperatively, to ensure an accurate product.

“The standard Spanish translations we started from were generally of high quality,” she said, “but they contained important misrepresentations.

“It’s not just that the translations were not always accurate,” González noted. “They sometimes distorted what Lenin said.” She gave several examples.

One was the translation of a March 1923 article by Lenin, “Better fewer but better.” “We have been bustling for five years trying to improve our state apparatus,” Lenin wrote. “But it has been mere bustle …” He proposed instead organizing the most advanced workers, and others who could be depended upon, along a course to advance toward “a republic that is really worthy of the name of Soviet, socialist.”

This included cutting the staff of a Soviet government body called the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate from 1,200 to 300-400. “We must follow the rule: Better fewer but better,” Lenin wrote. “We must follow the rule: Better to get good human material in two or even three years than work in haste without hope of getting any at all.”

This class-struggle trajectory was totally distorted in the standard Spanish translation, González explained—which had quoted Lenin as saying not “better fewer but better” (in Spanish, “es preferible menos pero mejor”), but instead, “better few and good” (más vale poco y bueno)!

“When we embarked on the project,” González said, “we had no idea how much work would be involved. No matter. We can see today, 15 years later, how important it was.”

Speaking from the floor, Idalmis Izquierdo recalled the conditions of the mid-1990s when they were engaged in the work—a time of blackouts and extreme shortages. She spoke of the late nights and early mornings when the work was done—they were all working jobs—“and we all had small children too!”

But what emerged, Izquierdo said, was “a weapon of struggle—a book that addresses key questions in the building of socialism.” She gave the example of the national question, the decisive importance of raising the cultural level of workers and peasants, developing the forces of production, broadening the Central Committee to strengthen its proletarian character, and Lenin’s efforts to avoid a split in the Communist Party.

Following the presentation of the book in the Havana book fair Izquierdo explained how essential the material in Lenin’s Final Fight is to the students to whom she teaches history at the prison in Matanzas.

Also taking the floor was Justino Baró, a member of the Combatants Association who, as a student activist, had participated in the revolutionary underground in Matanzas. “What’s particularly striking,” Baró said, “is how relevant these questions are for today. At stake is whether the revolution continues to move forward toward socialism or whether it’s reversed and defeated.”  
Fourth in two weeks
The Matanzas presentation was the fourth in two weeks in Cuba, following one at the Havana book fair and another at Havana’s technological university, CUJAE (see last week’s Militant for a report on the CUJAE presentation).

The third was a February 22 presentation at the University of Havana, organized by the Department of Philosophy and History. Forty students and faculty members attended the meeting despite torrential rain and flooding that led to most classes being canceled that day. Paraphrasing a poem by Bertolt Brecht, written as a tribute to Lenin, philosophy professor Carlos Delgado said there are good books and there are very good books, but that some books—like Lenin’s Final Fight—are indispensable. He urged everyone in the room to read it.

Students and faculty members bought 59 copies, along with many other Pathfinder titles. So far more than 400 copies of Lenin’s Final Fight have been purchased or donated to libraries and other institutions in Cuba since the opening of the book fair February 11.

Róger Calero and Mary-Alice Waters contributed to this article.
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An intertwined history: Chinese in Cuba and U.S.  
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