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Vol. 73/No. 43      November 9, 2009

Mexico conference discusses
Martí, Juárez, Lincoln legacy
(front page)
MONTERREY, Mexico—Some 200 people, including students, teachers, and workers, gathered here October 15-17 for an international conference focused on the relevance for today of the political legacy of the 19th century popular revolutionary democratic struggles in Mexico, the United States, and Cuba.

Participants in the conference came from Mexico, Cuba, the United States, Canada, and Venezuela. The José Martí Cultural Society and the José Martí Institute for Higher Education in Monterrey organized the event, together with the Center for Martí Studies in Havana, Cuba. It was sponsored by numerous academic institutions, including the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, the University of Havana, and the Latin American Studies Program at the University of Houston.

Of the 60 U.S. participants, more than half were students and professors from Texas who came from the University of Texas in Austin, the University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College in the Rio Grande Valley, and the University of Houston. Many of the students from the border area—just three hours from Monterrey by bus—had family living in northern Mexico.

The International Conference on Martí, Juárez, Lincoln in the Heart of Our America was named after three great figures in the history of the Americas. José Martí was the central organizer of Cuba’s final independence war against Spanish colonial rule in 1895-98. As the imperialist epoch began, he anticipated and wrote about growing U.S. domination of Latin America and the struggle against it.

Benito Juárez led Mexico’s 1858-61 bourgeois democratic revolution and the 1862-67 war to defeat a French invasion backed by other European monarchies.

Abraham Lincoln, elected U.S. president in 1860, marshaled the forces that assured victory in what became the revolutionary war to abolish slavery in the United States.

Papers presented in the panel discussions explored the many interconnections between these revolutionary struggles and the three leaders whose names are associated with them. For example, Mexican writer Alfonso Herrera Franyutti described the impact of Mexico’s bourgeois democratic revolutions on Martí during his stay in Mexico in the 1870s. Mario Alberto Nájera of the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, spoke about Juárez’s 1853 stay in Havana on his way to New Orleans, where he was in exile for two years. Nájera described how Juárez’s experiences in Cuba led him to collaborate with Cuban independence fighters in subsequent years.

The conference came out of a successful April 2008 speaking tour in Monterrey and Zacatecas, Mexico, by Armando Hart, who today is the director of the Havana-based Office of the Martí Program. Hart, a leader of the July 26 Movement in the 1953-58 revolutionary struggle that overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in Cuba, served as the socialist revolution’s first minister of education—overseeing the mass mobilization of volunteer teachers in 1961 that eliminated illiteracy in Cuba. He later served as minister of culture for some 20 years.

Speaking at the opening session and in panel discussions, Hart explained that the leadership of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, headed by Fidel Castro, drew on the revolutionary democratic and anti-imperialist traditions of José Martí. To meet “the challenge of carrying out the unpostponable revolutionary transformations that these times demand,” he said, it is necessary to draw on the political and cultural legacy of previous revolutionary struggles, from Martí’s contributions to those of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and V.I. Lenin.

Hart told conference participants that the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly two decades ago came about because its leadership “rejected the ideas of Che [Guevara], Fidel, and other revolutionaries and fighters who advanced the paths of socialist revolution.”

Also speaking at the opening session and on other panels was Miguel D’Escoto, a prominent international proponent of liberation theology who was Nicaragua’s foreign minister during the Sandinista-led government in the 1980s and recently served a term as president of the United Nations General Assembly. Gilberto Lopez y Rivas, a well-known anthropologist and columnist for the Mexican daily La Jornada, also addressed the opening plenary, speaking on “The impact of the Cuban Revolution in Latin America.”

Multiple panel discussions took place over two days, with nearly 50 papers presented by speakers from Mexico, Cuba, the United States, Venezuela, and Canada on a wide mix of topics. These included the role of women in the 1961 Cuban literacy campaign; opposition to the U.S. government’s growing militarization of the border with Mexico; political themes in the literature of William Faulkner of the United States, Rubén Darío of Nicaragua, and other writers; the history of leftist Mexican guerrilla groups that emerged in the 1960s and ’70s; and the Venezuelan-led trade alliance called ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America).

Throughout the conference a lively exchange of views took place on a number of important political questions. These included the character and roots of the unfolding capitalist world economic crisis, a historical materialist understanding of capitalism and the rise of imperialism, whether the working class is an agent for revolutionary change, and whether the overthrow of slavery in the United States entailed a revolutionary war.  
Lively debate
Mexican economist Arturo Huerta, in a plenary talk on the opening day, argued that the current economic crisis is the result of “failed neoliberal” government policies. He advocated an alternative “economic model” for capitalist governments in countries oppressed by imperialism, including greater trade collaboration among Latin American countries to counter U.S.-promoted trade pacts.

López y Rivas, in one of his panel presentations, criticized those who attempt to organize revolutionary working-class parties as “workerist” and “elitist.” He argued that the working class in the United States has its own “corporate interests” and has become “an aristocracy that serves as a pillar of support for imperialism.” Those who seek “revolution, not reform” should look not to the working class but to indigenous and peasant movements, such as the Zapatistas in southern Mexico, he stated.

The views advanced by López y Rivas were answered directly and indirectly by a number of participants. Gerardo Sánchez, a worker in the San Francisco Bay Area, described the working-class resistance and struggles that are increasing today under the impact of the capitalist economic and social crisis. Several students and teachers from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, including professor Nick Braune from South Texas College, explained the impact on U.S. politics of struggles by working people, both immigrants and the U.S.-born, against attacks by the bosses and the U.S. government. They noted the May Day mobilizations for legalization of undocumented workers in 2006 and 2007, and protests against factory raids and deportations.

August Nimtz from the University of Minnesota took on the arguments of historians like Howard Zinn who deny that the U.S. Civil War became, by necessity, a revolutionary war to destroy the slave system. Nimtz counterposed the writings of Marx and Engels to Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which portrays the Civil War as a squabble between two wings of the bourgeoisie and not a revolution.

Mary-Alice Waters, editor of the Marxist magazine New International and president of Pathfinder Press, gave a presentation titled “From Lincoln, Juárez, and Martí to Lenin and Fidel—the Revolutionary Struggle Redeemed.” She focused on the popular revolutionary character of Radical Reconstruction, which together with the Civil War victory became the Second American Revolution—and the lasting consequences of its bloody defeat registered by the withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877. Reconstruction, Waters emphasized, “remains to this day the best example in U.S. history of the kind of fighting alliance of rural toilers and the working class that we must build if there is to be a future for humanity.”

Waters pointed to the coming revolutionary battles in Mexico and the United States, saying that “the goals of the unfinished revolutionary struggles inherited from the times of Juárez, Lincoln, and Martí are yet to be redeemed as they have been by the working people of Cuba” through their socialist revolution. (See Waters’s talk on page 8.)

The presentations by Nimtz and Waters sparked informal comments by a number of participants who disagreed, as well as discussions with others who said they had changed their previously held opinions and were now convinced that there indeed had been a Second American Revolution.

At the closing session, participants adopted resolutions demanding the release of five Cuban revolutionaries held in U.S. prisons and the immediate lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Conference organizers announced a second conference to be held next year in Nicaragua.

Throughout the three days, many participants stopped by the various literature displays to pick up copies of conference presentations and books by panelists and others. Students from the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, where one day of the sessions was held, were among the enthusiastic visitors to the Pathfinder Press table.

More than 200 books and pamphlets on revolutionary working-class politics published by Pathfinder were purchased during the event. Among the most popular titles were Aldabonazo, Armando Hart’s account of the clandestine struggle in Cuba’s cities and countryside against the Batista dictatorship; Is Socialist Revolution in the U.S. Possible? by Mary-Alice Waters, and The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning by Jack Barnes.

At the conclusion of the conference, Hart invited the students from Texas to meet him for an informal exchange. They accepted with pleasure. In their hour-long discussion, several of the students told Hart they had previously known little about the Cuban Revolution and appreciated beginning to learn about it in the course of the conference. They said they looked forward to more discussions about “What is socialism?”
Related articles:
From Martí, Juárez, and Lincoln to Lenin and Fidel: The Revolutionary Struggle Redeemed
‘Yes, socialist revolution in U.S. is possible’  
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