|Gail Walker of IFCO/Pastors for Peace speaks at New York forum on Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution. Book shows how Cuban Revolution “raised women’s sense of dignity and self-confidence,” she said. Also on panel, from left, chair Martín Koppel; Maritzel González, Federation of Cuban Women; Mary-Alice Waters, book’s editor.|
The event, held at Riverside Church in Manhattan, focused on two recent titles: Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution and a companion booklet, Women and Revolution: The Living Example of the Cuban Revolution, both published by Pathfinder Press. The presentations in Havana and the eastern Cuban city of Santiago were sponsored by the Federation of Cuban Women (see facing page).
Maritzel González, an international spokesperson of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), was a featured speaker. She is currently in New York representing the FMC at sessions of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
The other panelists were Gail Walker, co-executive director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace, and Mary-Alice Waters, editor of the books and a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee. The program was chaired by Koppel, who along with Róger Calero was responsible for preparing Spanish editions of both titles.
Participants in meetingKoppel introduced several special guests. Among them were Yamila González Ferrer and Félix Jardines of the National Union of Cuban Jurists who, along with González, are participating in the work of the UN commission; Ariel Hernández Hernández, first secretary of the Cuban Mission to the U.N.; and members of the Riverside Church Mission and Social Justice Ministry’s South Africa Support Group, which facilitated plans for the forum.
Koppel also welcomed Irma Burgos, a picket captain in the hard-fought monthlong strike this year by 8,800 New York school bus drivers fighting for job protection and union rights.
The audience included workers who heard about the forum from Militant distributors going door to door in their neighborhoods; activists from the July 26 Coalition, a Cuba solidarity organization; and supporters of IFCO.
“I bring greetings to all of you from the Federation of Cuban Women, its leadership, and from all Cuban women,” said Maritzel González in her remarks.
“We must remember that before the Jan. 1, 1959, revolutionary victory, conditions in Cuba were intolerable for the big majority. Unemployment, illiteracy, lack of medical care, absence of public services, corruption and thievery by politicians—those were the norm,” she said.
No preconceptionsIn The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution, the FMC leader said, “what life was like in our country, especially in Santiago de Cuba and Oriente province, is very well described. The population—students, young people, men and women—passed through moments of terror, of fear and insecurity, caused by the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista. And the book recounts the work of the underground struggle in that part of Cuba.”
The interviews with revolutionary leader and FMC founding President Vilma Espín describe how “when the FMC was born, there were no preconceived structures, but rather a desire by women to participate in building a better society for all,” González said. The FMC emerged from “the revolutionary struggle of the Rebel Army against the dictatorship, a struggle that transformed how both men and women thought about women’s place in society.”
Sense of dignity, confidence“This book is a real page-turner,” Gail Walker told the audience. “You try to do other things, but you can’t put it down. It’s thrilling and important, a historic contribution to understanding the role of women in the Cuban Revolution.
“The revolution was a challenge to ideas of women’s traditional role. It raised women’s sense of dignity and self-confidence,” Walker said.
“Women got medical training, they hid members of the July 26 Movement in their homes, they hid weapons under their hoop skirts—hiding in plain sight! I love that image.” The stories, Walker said, reminded her of the leadership role of women in the struggle for Black rights in the U.S., including Harriet Tubman, an organizer of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to freedom before the Civil War; civil rights fighters Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer in the 1950s and ’60s; and Angela Davis, a Communist Party leader framed up and railroaded to prison in the 1970s.
Walker said that for the past 12 years IFCO has coordinated a scholarship program for young people from the U.S. to attend the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba, along with thousands of youth from dozens of countries who study medicine there.
A proletarian revolutionThese books are about “the millions of men and women who made the Cuban Revolution and continue to lead and defend it today,” said Mary-Alice Waters.
“The unswerving trajectory of the fight for women’s emancipation, from the very outset up to today, is one of the cornerstones of the Cuban Revolution that defines its class character, its proletarian character. Through this lens we see the working class leading its allies to transform society from top to bottom.”
Without the fight to eradicate women’s oppression, Waters said, “no socialist revolution is possible. And as Frederick Engels explained, true equality between men and women cannot be achieved without a socialist revolution, that is, without abolishing the exploitation of both by capital.”
In addition to the two books featured at the forum, Waters called attention to two other recent Pathfinder titles: The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free and Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own.
Workers and young people who are socialists distribute all these books not only out of solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, as important as that is, she said. We get these books out because “they help clarify life-or-death questions for working people today in the U.S. They help us see our own worth and capacities, as we face the battles increasingly imposed on us as the owners of capital try to solve their crisis the only way they can, by increasing exploitation of our labor and the riches of the earth.
“Working people know that the world contraction of production, trade and employment is having a profound impact on us,” Waters concluded. “Discussions about what’s happening and what to do about it are part of our daily lives.”
As readers of the Militant go door to door in working-class neighborhoods talking with fellow workers about these conditions, they have found a growing openness and interest in the experiences of workers in other places, including the example of the Cuban Revolution. This changed consciousness among working people in the U.S. is also of great interest to those in Cuba fighting to defend and advance their revolution, Waters said.
After the talks, participants joined the discussion, asking how the Cuban Revolution has drawn women into the workforce and into jobs previously shut to them; what young people think about the revolution’s accomplishments; and how Cuba’s internationalist missions have been part of deepening and defending the revolution from the start.
Grenada and Nicaragua“The Cuban Revolution had a big impact in Grenada,” Shirelynn George, a health care worker from Brooklyn, told the audience. As a young woman, George was active in the 1979-83 revolution in Grenada.
“Before the Cuban doctors came,” she said, “I knew of only one doctor in the fishing town where I lived, and few of us had even seen a dentist. Long live the Cuban Revolution and the struggle of Cuban women!”
“I lived in Nicaragua during the early years of the revolution in the 1980s,” said Róger Calero. “We went door to door talking to other workers and peasants about the literacy campaign and organizing them into the popular militias. Talking to each other like this was an essential part of revolutionary work. It helped break down barriers and get rid of our fears and prejudices.”
During informal discussion after the forum, Burgos, the picket captain in the school bus drivers’ strike, remarked how much she had learned about the Cuban Revolution “and how, no matter what, they kept fighting for what they believed in. I can so relate to them, because of everything they’ve been through!”
It was on the drivers’ picket lines in the Bronx that Burgos first met distributors of the Militant and picked up a subscription and a copy of The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution. She left the forum with Teamster Rebellion, the story of a victorious 1934 strike that helped launch the battle for industrial unions across the Midwest, as well as several other books.
Altogether forum participants bought 26 books about revolutionary politics and six Militant subscriptions.
U.S. gov’t bars Cuban diplomats’ visits to René González
‘To be a revolutionary doctor, you must make a revolution’
Who are the Cuban 5?
Write to Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio and Fernando
Students at Cuban medical school exchange views with socialist workers from US, UK, Canada, Australia (photobox)
‘Women have taken part in every battle in Cuba’s revolutionary history’
Meetings in Havana and Santiago discuss books that help new generations of workers understand what a socialist revolution is
Socialists from US, UK, Canada talk with workers at Cuban plant
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