The panel included Gustavo Chui and Harry Villegas (widely known by his nom de guerre, “Pombo”), both brigadier generals in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and Jorge Sutil, a member of the National Bureau of the Union of Young Communists (UJC). Martín Koppel, who was responsible for the preparation of the book in Spanish, chaired the meeting.
Waters’ remarks are © 2013 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY MARY-ALICE WATERS
I want to speak primarily about the importance of this book—Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own—for the political work today of communists in the United States and other countries outside of Cuba.
Today’s spreading international capitalist crisis of production and trade imploded first in the financial sphere with great force more than five years ago. It is still in its earliest stages. This ongoing world contraction in the output of human labor was not exceptional in capitalist history, nor was it unanticipated, even if its timing was not predictable.
It is not the product of “mistaken” fiscal or monetary policies by one or another capitalist government, as some would like us to believe. Nor of “excesses” and “greed.” No, it is the product of the lawful workings of capital itself—including its inevitable “excesses” and “greed.” What still lies ahead of us as their crisis deepens are decades of economic and social convulsions, deepening interimperialist conflicts, and expanding “open-ended” colonial wars. That is not something we can prevent.
Much more important for us, however, we are also at the very beginning of what will soon become decades of growing, sharpening resistance by working people the world over to the consequences of this crisis imposed on us.
And we need those decades, because it is only in the course of such battles that the working class can acquire the experience and consciousness necessary to transform itself and produce the communist leadership that does not exist today—a leadership capable of doing what the working people of Cuba opened for our hemisphere more than half a century ago.
Link in proletarian continuityIt is the Cuban Revolution that today provides the living link in the continuity of the working class back to the early years of the victorious 1917 October Revolution—back to the 1871 Paris Commune, to the revolutions of 1848, the Communist Manifesto and the birth of the modern workers movement.
And that is why Cuba and Angola, the book we are discussing today, is so important.
It brings the example of the Cuban Revolution to life for working people, for youth, whose eyes are becoming more open to seeing that example in all its rich detail than at any time in the last sixty years. More open because of their own experiences.
And please, let me say that again. It is the most important thing I want to say. We know from experiences as part of the working class that working people in the United States are more open to learning about and considering the example of the Cuban Revolution than at any time since the opening shots at Moncada.1
That is not ahead of us. It has already happened.
Crisis for working peopleAccording to one recent survey, nearly 25 percent of workers in the United States have found themselves unemployed at some point since the capitalist crisis accelerated five years ago. Four out of five—80 percent!—know someone in their circle of family and friends who lost a job.
If the official unemployment figures have declined a few percentage points, it is in part because millions of what the bosses’ government calls “discouraged workers” have simply stopped looking for work and are no longer counted in the most widely cited statistics. The majority of those who have found work again took cuts in pay, often drastic ones.
Millions of working-class families have lost their homes, their life savings, and access to health care (a loss that the “reforms” of the current administration will magnify, not diminish).
Most important, perhaps, a substantial majority, more than sixty percent—and rising—no longer believe their financial condition will improve in coming years.
Economic and social blows of this magnitude—an actual contraction in the size of the labor force—do not go unregistered in the consciousness of millions. And that is where real politics begin, as Lenin reminded us. With the actions of millions.
Response in working classI cite a few of these statistics to underscore one simple point. Many people ask us, “Why is nothing happening in face of this crisis and its consequences?” Our answer is that a great deal is happening, and in fact has already happened.
But unless you are part of the working class—and a particularly alert part—you won’t see it yet. You’re outside the class—or outside their gestating class consciousness—so you don’t hear about what’s happening from workers discussing among ourselves. And it doesn’t get reported in the bourgeois media; they are tone deaf to it.
But the broader manifestations in the streets of these changes in consciousness will come—as they did in the 1930s—with the beginning of a cyclical economic recovery, even if short-lived, that gives workers more confidence that the relationship of forces has shifted in our favor, that we have more leverage to put up a fight.
One of the ways we know what has already changed is the response we get from fellow workers as we go door to door in working-class neighborhoods, talking with whoever comes to the door about how their lives have been affected the last few years. A measure of the thirst for explanations of what’s happening, of the desire to talk about what history teaches us and what working people can do to fight back effectively, is the nearly 3,500 subscriptions to our newspaper, the Militant, sold over several weeks last fall, going house to house, apartment to apartment in working-class neighborhoods.
It is a level of response we haven’t gotten in decades. And those subscriptions were combined with workers buying hundreds of books, serious books like those you find at Pathfinder’s stand here at the Havana book fair—Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes; Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs; and The Cuban Five, Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free.
And now we are selling Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own in the same way—yes, door to door in working-class neighborhoods. And workers are buying it with interest.
We know from our own concrete experiences there is no better way to introduce working people and youth in the US to the Cuban Revolution. Books like Cuba and Angola and The Cuban Five help them see what a socialist revolution truly is, why it is necessary, and how ordinary human beings are transformed as we fight not only for ourselves but for others as well.
René González expressed this eloquently in the firsthand account of his internationalist mission in Angola in 1977-79, included in full in these pages, when he wrote, “The Angolan experience taught me that the most beautiful works are accomplished by imperfect men, each one of us a brief burst of energy in history.”
Book on Cuban RevolutionMartín has already described how Cuba and Angola brings together in a single book many different levels of experience and looks at the same historic events from multiple perspectives—from the heaviest leadership responsibilities and broadest historical sweep provided by Fidel [Castro], Raúl [Castro], and Nelson Mandela; to the insights of four generals of the FAR who were frontline officers of Cuba’s “revolutionary army of the people,” as Raúl called it, leading the battle here and in Africa (that includes Gen. Chui, who is on the platform here today); to the youngest volunteers like Gerardo [Hernández], Fernando [González], and René [González], who vividly describe how their lives were transformed by what Raúl referred to as Angola’s “school of life and struggle.”2
I want to stress only two points.
Cuba and Angola is not a book about Angola. We don’t pretend to write in any detailed way about the heroic struggle of the Angolan people during the first liberation war against Portugal. Nor of the second liberation war waged to push back and defeat the invasion by the apartheid regime of South Africa and its imperialist backers in Washington.
This is a book about Cuba and the Cuban Revolution, as told by Cubans who were on the front lines of “Cuba’s greatest internationalist feat ever,” to use Fidel’s words.
It is a book about the ways in which the proletarian internationalism of the Cuban people—both those who served in Angola and those who were on the front lines here, including their families and loved ones—strengthened the alliance of workers and small farmers that has always been the bedrock of the revolution, and made possible the advances consolidated in the 1980s through the rectification process.3
Raúl expressed it well in May 1991 on the day the victorious battle flag of Operation Carlota was returned to Cuba: “When we face new and unexpected challenges,” he said, “we will always be able to recall the epic of Angola with gratitude, because without Angola we would not be as strong as we are today.”
Nor would any of us, anywhere.
Without the years of the internationalist effort in Angola, without the rectification campaign by the Cuban people, the daunting weight of the “new and unexpected challenges” of the Special Period that had already begun by the time the last Cuban troops returned from Angola in 1991 would have been infinitely greater. The creative energies and endurance of Cuba’s toilers would have been even more harshly tested.
The victorious battle of Cuito Cuanavale, to use that symbolic milepost singled out by Nelson Mandela, not only changed the history of southern Africa. It changed the history of Cuba as well.
And, without fear of perjury, we can testify it changed the future for revolutionaries in North America too.
Twenty-five years have passed since that historic moment, however, and much of this great epic is now unknown to new generations that have come, and will be coming, onto the front lines of battle from the United States, to Cuba, to Africa.
Martín and I saw this firsthand a few years ago in Equatorial Guinea when, at the invitation of the National University of Equatorial Guinea and then Cuban ambassador there, Víctor Dreke—who is also with us today—we took part in the first ever book fair in that country. Every book we had by Nelson Mandela and every book by Thomas Sankara, leaders not only of the people of Africa but of working people the world over, flew off the table as fast as they could be taken out of the boxes. To many young people there, most not even yet born when the apartheid regime fell to the revolutionary upsurge of the South African people, this was history they knew little of but longed to make their own.
Cuba and Angola aims to be a small contribution to filling the void of books that tell this story and encouraging those who took part in those epic battles to make that history known.
Five Cuban revolutionariesFinally, I want to draw attention to sections of Cuba and Angola that tell the stories of the internationalist missions of Gerardo, Fernando, and René. In their own words they describe how they were molded by that combat experience and transformed for life. We see how they became the men they are today, the finest products of the Cuban Revolution.
Their accounts show how decisive Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola was in producing an entire generation of leaders of the revolution among whom the Cuban Five stand as an example to the world.
Fernando’s account is available here in Cuba and Angola for the first time. And while the accounts by and about Gerardo and René have been published here in Cuba before, they are little known abroad.
The inclusion of their stories means that for us this book becomes one more weapon we can wield in the battle to win freedom for the Five. There is no better way to introduce Ramón, Antonio, René, Fernando, and Gerardo to new generations of working people young and old who are themselves beginning to be transformed by the initial skirmishes of the class battles that are on the horizon.
There is no better way to answer, “Who are the Cuban Five?”
There is no better way to show that “yes, there is an alternative,” there is a way forward for working people in today’s increasingly crisis-ridden world.
The Cuban Revolution has given us that example. And for that we thank you.
1. On July 26, 1953, some 160 combatants under Fidel Castro’s command assaulted the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba, opening the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista that culminated in the January 1, 1959, victory of the Cuban Revolution.
2. Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González, and René González are three of the five Cuban revolutionaries serving draconian sentences in the US federal prison system on trumped-up espionage and murder conspiracy charges. The worldwide fight for their freedom has been covered extensively by the Militant for more than 14 years.
3. The rectification process was the political course initiated by the Cuban revolutionary leadership in 1986. It marked a turn away from copying the stifling anti-working-class political and economic polices long entrenched in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The disintegration of these regimes in 1991 led to the rapid loss of 85 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade and precipitated a deep economic, social and political crisis referred to in Cuba as the Special Period.
‘Cuban Revolution strengthened by internationalist mission in Angola’
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