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Vol. 74/No. 8      March 1, 2010

‘We sought out and studied
the Bolsheviks’ ideas’
HAVANA—“This book by Lenin is one that needs to be read today—it’s essential,” said Fernando Rojas, a deputy minister of culture here.

Rojas was speaking to a standing-room-only audience at the launching of Pathfinder Press’s newly released edition of La última lucha de Lenin, published in English as Lenin’s Final Fight. It was one of the book presentations held here February 12 on the first full day of the annual Havana International Book Fair, Cuba’s largest cultural festival, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from this city as well as across the island.

The panel also included Fernando Martínez Heredia, recipient of Cuba’s 2006 National Social Sciences Award and today the director of the Juan Marinello Center for Research on Cuban Culture; Gladys Gutiérrez, national president of the Cuban Federation of University Students (FEU); and Diosmedes Otero, who some 15 years ago organized a team of volunteers at the University of Matanzas to review and correct the existing Spanish translations of the writings and speeches of Vladimir Lenin collected in La última lucha de Lenin.

The book documents the political battle led by Lenin within the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922-23 to maintain the proletarian course that had brought workers and peasants to state power in Russia in October 1917.

Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press, chaired the panel discussion. She told the audience of almost 70 that before Pathfinder published the first edition of Lenin’s Final Fight—in English in 1995 and in Spanish in 1997—this material had never before been collected in a single book in any language.

Pathfinder has published this new edition, she said, not as a historical archive, but because “it is needed now by those around the world who are determined to put an end to capitalism’s exploitative, oppressive, and historically destructive social relations.” (See text of Waters’s remarks beginning on page 8.)

It was for this reason that Pathfinder asked Jack Barnes and Steve Clark to prepare a new political introduction to the 2010 edition of Lenin’s Final Fight.

Rojas, the first panelist to speak, began by expressing his appreciation for Pathfinder’s work in producing books such as La última lucha de Lenin. He focused his remarks on the class struggle that unfolded in Soviet Russia in the 1920s and the political questions that were at the center of the revolutionary course Lenin continued to fight for during the last months of his active life.

He noted that for decades many of the writings by Lenin contained in this book had been suppressed, in some cases even their existence had been denied by the Soviet government, and “much of what was told about this period is not what really happened in the Soviet Union.”

In the years leading up to the 1917 revolution, Rojas said, Lenin led the Bolshevik party along the course that assumed that even in tsarist Russia, one of the most backward countries of Europe, “it was possible and necessary to take power, without”—as the majority of the leadership of the Socialist International insisted was necessary—“going through a long period of capitalist development.”

This course was tied to the perspective of socialist revolutions in other countries, Lenin explained. And it was proven correct by the inspiration to emulate the Bolsheviks that spread around the world as a result of that October 1917 revolutionary victory.  
Political questions at stake
Rojas outlined several political questions around which Lenin waged the fight during the period covered in the book—a time when the workers and peasants of what was becoming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had triumphed in the bloody, three-year-long Russian civil war, defeating the alliance of the counterrevolutionary armies of the toppled capitalist and landlord classes and invading imperialist forces, but when revolutionary struggles in Europe had not been victorious.

These questions, Rojas said, included Lenin’s efforts to advance “the democratization of the state—the fight against bureaucratization, as Leon Trotsky described it in 1924.” He cited Lenin’s proposal in early 1923 to reorganize the Workers and Peasants Inspection, a state body “created to combat bureaucratism and increase popular control, which, headed by Stalin [from its origins in 1920], had itself become bureaucratized.” He noted that Lenin called for drawing more rank-and-file workers and peasants into this body.

Other fronts in Lenin’s final battle, Rojas said, included his opposition to efforts by some Bolshevik leaders to weaken the Soviet government’s monopoly of foreign trade, and his insistence on establishing the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a voluntary union. Regarding the latter, he noted, Lenin criticized Stalin’s initial proposal for “the so-called autonomization plan, in which the Russian republic would absorb other republics” that had been subjected to national oppression by the tsarist empire—a proposal marked by Great Russian chauvinism.

He added that “this chauvinism even led to the use of physical violence against communist militants,” referring to an incident in which a Bolshevik Central Committee member, Grigory Ordzhonikidze, had struck a Communist from Georgia during a dispute over national rights.

Rojas pointed out that an important aspect of Lenin’s struggle took place around the efforts to increase access by working people to culture and education. To continue to maintain state power, he noted, surrounded as the Soviet Union was by capitalist powers with a much higher level of productivity of labor, workers and farmers “needed a genuine cultural revolution.”

He said that as part of deepening the involvement of working people in running society, Lenin argued for encouraging the organization of peasants “through cooperation, through the persuasion of peasants” to join state-backed cooperatives as a step toward advancing a socialist course. This approach contrasted with “what we know happened afterward in the Soviet Union,” he said, referring to the forced collectivization of agriculture by the bureaucratized regime beginning on a massive scale in 1929.  
Lenin as a real person
Gladys Gutiérrez remarked that Cubans of her generation—she was born in 1985—had never known a world in which the Soviet Union even existed. And for many, Lenin is “a cold, distant figure” reduced to “busts, slogans, sometimes the name of a cooperative farm,” but not a political leader whose views are worth studying.

Reading La última lucha de Lenin allowed her to get to know Lenin as a real live person, she said, as a revolutionary “whose views were not schematic.”

Gutiérrez added that “my only reference point for a socialist revolution has been the Cuban Revolution,” and that in Cuban schools youth do not get an in-depth understanding of what happened in the early years of the Soviet Union. Studying this history, however, “elicits questions that lead us to understand better the Russian Revolution and our own revolution.”

The student leader remarked that the introduction to La última lucha de Lenin made her think about the November 2005 speech by Cuban leader Fidel Castro “on the fight against bureaucratism and schematicism,” and Castro’s assertion that one of the greatest mistakes made by Cuban revolutionaries “was believing that someone knew how to build socialism,” something that could only be learned by the Cuban people through their own revolutionary struggle.

She said the Cuban Revolution stands out for its internationalism, in contrast with “the Great Russian chauvinism” that Lenin fought against in the Soviet leadership in the period covered by the book. “Cuba’s support to national liberation struggles in other countries helps all of us.”

All these questions, she said, make this a book “that not only youth leaders but all young people must read and become knowledgeable about.”  
Work to ensure accurate translation
Diosmedes Otero spoke on behalf of the four volunteers who in the mid-1990s, as young faculty members at the University of Matanzas, worked together to check the standard Spanish translations of the material being prepared for the first edition of La última lucha de Lenin. In the audience was another member of this team, Idalmis Izquierdo, who had also come from Matanzas, a city 60 miles east of Havana, to participate in the book presentation. The four, having studied for many years in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, had gladly volunteered to put their knowledge of Russian to use in producing this book.

Otero said it gave them tremendous satisfaction to know they had “helped create a tool that is useful” to many people. He described how they went about carefully checking the translation. Each would review an article, make necessary changes, and then the four would collectively discuss the difficult translation problems, going through rounds of work until they were satisfied they had achieved the most accurate translation, “not just the words but the spirit” of what Lenin said.

While the translations in the fifth Spanish edition of Lenin’s Collected Works by Progress Publishers in Moscow were acceptable overall, Otero said, the group of volunteers made numerous corrections that clarified the meaning.

He gave several examples from one of the pieces he had worked on, Lenin’s December 1922 letter to the 12th party congress that was scheduled to take place in March 1923. In his evaluation of other central Bolshevik leaders, Lenin had said Joseph Stalin, recently elected general secretary of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party, had concentrated “unlimited authority” in his hands. In the Collected Works that phrase had been translated less accurately as “immense authority.”

Lenin had entitled an important January 1923 article “On Cooperation,” Otero noted. But the standard Collected Works translation called it “On Cooperatives.” That was inaccurate, he said, “limiting the scope of the question Lenin was taking up.” The corrected translation made a big difference in readers’ understanding of the course Lenin was fighting for.  
Lenin in ‘Pensamiento Crítico’
Fernando Martínez Heredia spoke about the thirst for Marxism in the early years of the Cuban Revolution, when he was in his 20s. Many revolutionaries like himself looked to the experiences of the Russian Revolution. “We sought out and studied the ideas and debates of the Bolsheviks. Lenin, the greatest of the communist revolutionaries, seemed very much ours,” he said. “We felt the need to take hold of Marx and Marxism, but we had to reject the Soviet ideology, misnamed Marxism-Leninism.” He pointed to the example set by Ernesto Che Guevara.

Martínez Heredia noted that in the late 1960s he was part of a group of young Cuban revolutionaries teaching in the philosophy department at the University of Havana who also launched the magazine Pensamiento Crítico (Critical Thought), published from 1967 to 1971. During this period Martínez was the head of the philosophy department and editor of the new magazine.

In the philosophy department, he said, “we studied and discussed Lenin, who had a leading place in our course on the history of Marxist thought that thousands of students studied in what were then Cuba’s three universities. We developed that course after criticizing and discarding the philosophy that came from the Soviet Union.”

The department, he said, organized “a rigorous seminar on Lenin’s ideas in relation to the 1905 and 1917 Russian revolutions. We also used the broadest and most varied bibliography possible, from the Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries of that time—such as Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky—to serious writers who held very different positions.”

During this time Pensamiento Crítico published articles by and about Lenin in many issues. The November 1967 issue, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, contained a selection of writings by Lenin; a firsthand account of the October 1917 insurrection; an analysis of the Bolsheviks’ debate on the March 1918 Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which took Soviet Russia out of World War I; and a chronology of events in Russia from February to November 1917, as an aid to readers.

In order to mark the centennial of Lenin’s birth, Martínez said, in March 1970 Pensamiento Crítico published a special 300-page issue, containing many of the same speeches and writings that today appear in La última lucha de Lenin.

He told how that issue was completed in the midst of Cuba’s 1970 sugar harvest—a huge nationwide mobilization that ultimately failed to meet its goal of producing 10 million tons of sugar—when most editorial board members were in eastern Cuba as part of volunteer cane-cutting brigades. Martínez said he asked the one Pensamiento Crítico board member they had left behind in Havana to finish the issue to read him the final draft of the editorial over the phone so he could approve it in time to meet a tight print deadline. “I approved it and told him, ‘Lenin must come out! Lenin must come out!’” Some 15,000 copies of the special issue were printed.

In subsequent years, the study in Cuba of Lenin’s revolutionary course suffered, Martínez said, noting that they had been obliged to cease publication of Pensamiento Crítico in 1971. “But the Cuban Revolution was able to confront its own problems, and in the process, Lenin returned.”

Today, he concluded, “Lenin continues to help us more and more in the vital task of defending and deepening socialism.”

Nearly 40 copies of La última lucha de Lenin were purchased at the end of the presentation, and dozens more have already been sold at the fair or donated to numerous Cuban institutions, making it one of Pathfinder’s most sought-after titles.

Speaking to the Militant after the presentation, Idalmis Izquierdo told of one way she has found her experience working on the translation of La última lucha de Lenin to be essential to her work today. As part of her responsibilities at a language school in Matanzas, she gives history classes to inmates of all ages at a minimum-security prison in the province who are completing their pre-university studies.

“In the contemporary history class, when we study the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, it’s inevitable that we have to come back to Lenin,” Izquierdo said. “I use the material in La última lucha de Lenin to help the students understand what happened there.”

In the coming days, the new edition of La última lucha de Lenin will be presented together with representatives of the FEU at the University of Technical Science in Havana. It will also be presented together with the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution at the center organized by the Combatants in Matanzas as part of the national book fair that travels to every province.
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‘Lenin’s Final Fight’ needed for struggles … now
Book festival opens in Havana  
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