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Vol. 75/No. 9      March 7, 2011

Book about U.S. class struggle is
presented at Havana Book Fair
(feature article)
HAVANA—A standing-room-only crowd of some 80 people turned out for the February 13 presentation here of the Spanish-language translation of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes. The event was one of the nearly 800 book launches and other cultural events that were part of this year’s 11-day-long Havana International Book Fair.

The panel of speakers included Fernando Martínez Heredia, recipient of the 2006 national prize for social sciences and one of the two Cuban writers to whom this year’s book fair is dedicated; Víctor Dreke, one of the generation of revolutionary combatants who brought down the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959 and currently president of the Cuba-Africa Friendship Association; and Martín Koppel, editor of the Spanish-language translation of the book. Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press, chaired the program.

“This book is about the class struggle and the road to socialist revolution in the United States,” Koppel said. Fighting anti-Black discrimination and oppression, which are pillars of capitalist rule in the United States, “is the only way to achieve the unity of the working class necessary for a victorious struggle against the ruling capitalist class.” The decisive political weight of this question, he noted, is something the leaders of the Bolshevik party and Communist International under V.I. Lenin’s leadership in the early 1920s sought to help the young American communist movement understand.

The vanguard place of working people who are Black has been demonstrated over and over in a century and a half of class struggle in the United States, Koppel said—from the revolutionary war to abolish slavery and post-Civil War Radical Reconstruction, through the struggles by farmers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the union organizing drives of the 1930s and 1940s, the mass proletarian-based civil rights movement that overthrew the system of Jim Crow segregation in the South in the 1950s and ’60s, and up to today. That history, Koppel said, “is not taught in U.S. schools.”

Barnes, who is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, places Malcolm X within this trajectory. The author shows “that Malcolm was a revolutionary leader of the working class,” Koppel said, "something that no one else does.” Koppel pointed to examples from Barnes's book of Malcolm’s political evolution in the last year of his life.  
‘Resilience of toilers who are Black’
Fernando Martínez highlighted a statement by Barnes: “It is the strength and resilience of toilers who are Black, not the oppression, that bowls you over.” Martínez noted that a January 1965 interview with Malcolm X by Barnes, originally published in the Young Socialist magazine and included in the book, was reprinted in the Cuban journal Pensamiento Crítico in June 1968. At the time Martínez was editor of Pensamiento Crítico as well as head of the philosophy department at the University of Havana.

“That is the first time I heard the name of Jack Barnes,” he said. “We published the interview because we wanted to make the connection between the Black movement and the necessity of a socialist revolution.”

Martínez described Malcolm X’s attraction to the socialist revolution in Cuba, captured in Malcolm’s remark that “the Cuban Revolution—now that’s a real revolution. They overthrew the system.” Malcolm’s “greatest legacy,” he said, was throwing “his authority as a fighter behind the need for anticapitalist revolution.”

Martínez noted that in Cuba, workers and farmers who are black have a history of revolutionary struggle, including the 19th century slave revolts and wars for Cuba’s independence and abolition of slavery, as well as the 1908 founding of a black party, the Independent Party of Color (PIC). Martínez was president of a commission established by the Cuban Communist Party to mark the centennial, in 2008, of the founding of the PIC. Next year, he added, events will be organized to commemorate these struggles as well as the 100th anniversary of the “great massacre of 1912,” the bloody suppression of an armed protest led by the PIC.

Today, Martínez said, “one of the greatest responsibilities of the revolution is to ensure that no form of racism continues to exist in Cuba.” Such a legacy continues even after the capitalist system that created these forms of oppression has been overturned, “so we have to act accordingly” to combat it.

Martínez also presented a view of the place of the Communist International that is the opposite of what Barnes defends in the book. In the section of Barnes's book titled “What the Bolshevik Revolution Taught Us,” the reader gets a concrete picture of how the Comintern under V.I. Lenin’s leadership offered invaluable political collaboration to the young communist movement in the United States and worldwide. When a privileged bureaucratic social caste, whose main spokesperson was Joseph Stalin, consolidated its position and reversed Lenin's proletarian internationalist course in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s—imposing defense of its privileged national interests on the Communist International—that aid turned into its opposite.

Martínez, to the contrary, stated that “the Communist International sought to universalize struggles organized against capitalism around the world, just as capitalism was becoming universalized through imperialism. Perhaps [the Comintern] was premature. What is certain is that its ideas and practices turned out to be a failure.” Drawing no distinction between the revolutionary course of the Communist International under Lenin’s leadership and its counterrevolutionary record under Stalin, Martínez said the Comintern organized on the basis “of dictates, not of understanding, not of an appreciation of complex diversities.”  
‘Importance for young generations’
“This book is important not only for Cubans who lived under capitalism and experienced race discrimination here in Cuba,” Víctor Dreke noted, “but for young Cubans who never lived through that stage of our history.”

Dreke, who fought in the 1956-58 revolutionary war that brought down the Batista dictatorship, was the head of the units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces combating the U.S.-backed counterrevolutionary bands in the Escambray mountains after the 1959 victory. He was second in command to Ernesto Che Guevara in the Cuban internationalist mission aiding anti-imperialist forces in the Congo in 1965, and headed the Cuban combatants aiding the independence movement in Guinea-Bissau in 1966-68. He has held various diplomatic responsibilities in Africa over the years.

Recalling his 2002 U.S. speaking tour on his book From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution, published by Pathfinder Press, Dreke said that experience helped him “understand that, while before 1959 there was a lot of racial discrimination in Cuba, it was never comparable to the discrimination that our black-skinned brothers and sisters in North America faced.”

While racial prejudices don’t disappear overnight, Dreke said, “in Cuba racism began to be ended politically, economically, and socially on Jan. 1, 1959, when the revolution led by Fidel [Castro] took power.” The new government implemented “laws that attacked racism at its roots.”

“Today we don’t forget our roots. But in Cuba we can’t fall into thinking we are white or we are black—we are Cubans,” he added.

Dreke pointed to the significance of Malcolm X’s political evolution and his understanding that “the problems could not be solved by uniting only blacks” but all the oppressed. Malcolm visited Africa and met with revolutionaries there, listened to their opinions, and his views changed. “Malcolm advanced toward the idea that what is needed is to change the capitalist system of exploitation,” he said. “He became a leader of the working class in the United States.”  
Exchange on affirmative action
During the discussion period, one participant pointed to affirmative action policies in the United States in employment, housing, and university admissions. He argued strongly that “affirmative action is needed in Cuba today” to address inequalities that remain in jobs and education.

Dreke replied that revolutionary leaders, including Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara, and Raúl Castro, have addressed the need to confront the legacy of discrimination. But he said he opposed establishing racial quotas in hiring or school admissions in Cuba.

Because of the concrete history of Cuba, in which black, mulatto, white, and Chinese revolutionaries fought and bled together, “we are united, we are all human beings,” he said.

Another member of the audience continued this exchange. He said he thought establishing affirmative action quotas reinforced racial divisions in the United States. In Cuba, he added, affirmative action was needed but it should be for those living in the most impoverished neighborhoods, not based on race.

In the United States, Koppel replied, “affirmative action programs in employment, housing, and education grew out of the mass civil rights battles led by workers and farmers who were Black" following World War II, and the impact of those conquests in the working class and union movement as workers sought to resist the employers' mounting assaults in the 1970s and ’80s. Those measures strengthened the working class and unions, helping to break down barriers for Blacks, women, and others facing discrimination and to unite working people in struggle.

The U.S. rulers, however, have used what they call affirmative action—a component of "diversity"—to foster the integration of a large and growing section of Blacks into a broader "meritocratic" layer of the upper middle-class and professionals in the United States whose class interests are alien to workers of any skin color. It’s the layer Obama comes from, Koppel said. “Bourgeois 'affirmative action' is being used to deepen divisions in the working class and among the oppressed rather than reduce them.”

Forty-five copies of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power were sold to participants in the meeting. Altogether, more than 200 copies of the book—in Spanish, English, and French—were purchased during the course of the book fair.

The presentation of this Pathfinder title was part of a number of book fair programs on the history and struggles to end anti-black discrimination in Cuba and worldwide. Panels were organized under the title “International Year for People of African Heritage.” Book presentations included Spanish-language titles such as Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon, Mali: A Road toward Pan-African Integrationism, History of the Haitian Revolution, Cuban Deities of African Origin, Martí’s Black Mother, The Racial Question in Cuba, Toward an Afro-Ecuadoran Narrative, and a special feature on “Memory of Slavery” in Caminos, magazine of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana.

Rebecca Williamson and Doug Nelson contributed to this article.  
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