BY MARTÍN KOPPEL
HOLGUIN, Cuba - "The goal of U.S. government policy toward Cuba is to try to wipe out the example of our revolution and prevent another Cuba in the world," said Francisca López, a University of Havana professor, at a panel discussion on U.S.- Cuba relations. The panel was part of the eighth annual U.S.-Cuba Philosophy and Social Science Conference, held in mid-June in Havana and other Cuban cities.
The main conference, held at the University of Havana June 10- 14, brought together about 120 Cuban participants and 45 from the United States and a few other countries. Afterward, some of them traveled to the cities of Holguín, Matanzas, and Camaguey to join smaller regional conferences.
The meetings took up a wide range of subjects. Among them were "Renovation of Marxism and Revolutionary Thought," "Neoliberalism and How to Fight It," "Gender, Race, and Sexuality," and "The Philosophy of José Martí and Education for the 21st Century." Underlying much of the conference discussion was the world capitalist depression - what it represents and how to confront it.
Neoliberalism is capitalism
"Transnational corporations are using the globalization of the economy to become virtually invincible," said one U.S. professor. He and others argued that a fight was needed against "neoliberal" economic policies, referring to so-called free-trade agreements and privatization.
Neoliberalism is capitalism
Orieta Caponi, a professor from Venezuela, replied that "neoliberalism is actually capitalism." She described the savage austerity measures taken by the Venezuelan government and noted that "even left-wing parties in my country have ended up accepting the economic goals of the capitalists they were fighting." Her compatriot, Humberto Mendoza, referred to the brewing social unrest and working-class resistance to these attacks.
In the Havana and Holguín conferences, debates unfolded on the issue of "market socialism," the reliance on capitalist economic methods in workers states. U.S. professor David Schweickart argued that in countries like Cuba, factories should compete among themselves as a way to motivate workers and increase profitability, although he acknowledged that such policies could have "dangerous" repercussions for workers.
In the Havana meeting, Jaya Mehta, an economist from Delhi, India, responded that "market socialism hasn't ever worked anywhere in the world." She pointed to the disastrous conditions facing working people in Eastern Europe, where governments have carried out such policies for years.
Luis Aguilera, vice rector of the University of Holguín, rejected the "market socialism" perspective. "The objective of socialism is to achieve a superior form of organization and consciousness by the working class. That's the only genuine socialism," he said. He described the "workers parliaments" and other workers assemblies that have been held in Cuba over the past few years as an example of "real participatory democracy, unlike what exists in capitalist countries." Working people have been debating and deciding how to get Cuba out of the economic crisis.
At a panel discussion in the Holguín conference, several participants described the extraordinary efforts made by working people and others in Holguín province to complete the sugar harvest by June 14. Despite damaging rainstorms, that province achieved more than half a million tons -the highest results in the nation.
Another debated topic was the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, known here as the Helms-Burton law. Some participants from both the United States and Cuba asserted that U.S. president William Clinton had signed this measure because of pressure from right-wing Cuban-American businessmen. The law tightens Washington's trade embargo against this Caribbean nation.
At the panel discussion on U.S.-Cuban relations, a few Cubans reiterated points made by National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcón, who had addressed the opening session of the conference. Alarcón noted that the Helms-Burton law was part of a 36-year-long history of imperialist aggression against the Cuban revolution. He pointed out that Clinton had agreed with Congressional leaders to sign the bill months before the official pretext -Cuba's February 24 shootdown of two hostile U.S. planes that had violated the country's airspace - occurred.
At the end of the conference, Clifford DuRand, coordinator of the U.S. delegation, read a resolution on behalf of that group. "We express our solidarity with the socialist revolution, the anti-imperialist struggle, and the self-determination of the Cuban people, especially during the present hardships of the Special Period," it stated. The statement pledged active opposition to the U.S. embargo and travel ban against Cuba. The term special period is used widely here to describe the crisis triggered by the post-1989 collapse of favorable trade relations with the former Soviet bloc countries.
One center of discussion at the conference was around a large display of Pathfinder books and pamphlets. Professors and students eagerly browsed titles on the fight for women's liberation, the struggle against fascism, speeches by Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and the history of the communist movement in the United States.
One popular title was Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. Another was Lenin's Final Fight. "Lenin's fight to incorporate more workers into the leadership of the Bolshevik party was a decisive part of his last political efforts," commented Rosa Nogueras of the University of Camaguey when she picked up that book.
Among the conference participants were two from Matanzas who have been helping prepare a Pathfinder edition of the Lenin book in Spanish. They have been checking the translation directly from Russian.
In Holguín, Arturo Leyva came right up to the Pathfinder table as soon as it went up. Leyva is the director of the Che Studies Program, which was established in February at the university here. "There's a tremendous hunger for the ideas of Che among youth today," he said.
Che studies programs
Che studies programs have also recently been initiated in Guantánamo and Santiago, Leyva said. And at the University of Havana, the Che Studies Program just completed its first successful semester in March, program director Delia López proudly reported.
Che studies programs
Dozens of students and teachers who sought out the Pathfinder books said they had read books by that publishing house in the university library. Others had been reading the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial, which are part of a permanent exhibit of publications set up by head librarian Joaquín Osorio. "Our library now has about 300 Pathfinder titles, thanks to donations," Osorio remarked.
"Joaquín introduced me to the Militant, and I've been reading it since then," said Amaurys, one of a group of sophomore English students who stopped by to discuss politics.
"Is Mark Curtis still in prison?" asked another 20-year-old. He first heard of the framed-up political activist from ads in Perspectiva Mundial.
Many students at that campus had become Pathfinder readers in 1992, when Pathfinder president Mary-Alice Waters had been invited to a conference there. Since then, Osorio has helped promote these books through contests and special exhibits. Most of the earlier group of students have by now graduated, and a new generation of students are becoming avid readers of these books by revolutionary leaders.
Frank Patterson, an economics student who was very interested in Habla Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks), came by the literature table as he was organizing volunteer student brigades to work in the sugarcane planting in mid-July. He added that his organization, the Federation of University Students (FEU), "is holding discussions to prepare two-person teams of students to go out to workplaces and communities throughout Holguín to discuss the Helms-Burton law next week."
At the end of the conference here, donations of Pathfinder books were
made to the campus student center's reading hall, the Che Studies
Program, and the university library.
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