It also marked the 40th anniversary of the successful mass campaign to wipe out illiteracy in Cuba, which made 1961 the Year of Education in that Caribbean nation.
The meeting celebrated the publication of Pathfinder's newest book, Playa Girón/Bay of Pigs: Washington's first military defeat in the Americas. The English edition arrived at the event hot off the presses, and the Spanish edition was printed a few days later. Participants bought up 105 copies of the new title, and some picked up boxes of books to take back to sell in their respective cities.
The meeting served as a springboard to launch an international campaign to sell this book, along with two other new Pathfinder titles--Making History: Interviews with Four Generals of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, and Fertile Ground: Che Guevara and Bolivia.
The meeting was hosted by the New York and New Jersey branches of the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialists. People attending the meeting came from throughout the metropolitan area and from numerous cities as far away as Houston, Chicago, and Miami, as well as from Canada. The themes of the afternoon's event were highlighted in a series of photo displays in the meeting hall. They featured striking photos showing how Cuban working people mobilized to defeat the U.S.-organized invasion, and simultaneous protests in U.S. cities organized by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee against Washington's aggression. Also displayed were scenes of volunteers producing books in Pathfinder's printshop and party supporters helping produce reprinted titles; street sales of revolutionary literature; and construction efforts by socialist workers and young socialists in both Brooklyn and Seattle to prepare their new halls based in workers districts.
The first featured speaker at the event was Mary-Alice Waters, Pathfinder president, editor of Making History and Fertile Ground, and coeditor of Playa Girón together with Steve Clark. She pointed to a revealing story told in one of the many books that have attempted to explain the U.S. defeat in April 1961. In Reflections of a Cold Warrior: From Yalta to the Bay of Pigs, Richard Bissell, the CIA's head of covert operations at the time of the invasion, recounts how Secretary of State Dean Rusk asks why a "silver bullet"--an effort to buy off the enemy--wouldn't be more effective than an invasion of Cuba. Bissell explains that, unfortunately for the U.S. government, the silver bullet wouldn't have worked against revolutionary Cuba. U.S. capitalist politicians like Rusk, Waters explained, "couldn't see the men and women of Cuba and what they would prove capable of defending."
Decade of collaboration by revolutionists
Forty years after Cuba's victory, Waters said, working people worldwide can celebrate the historic weight of that accomplishment. And this meeting, she continued, is also an opportunity both to celebrate the collective effort that many people made to produce the book, and to organize to study, use, and sell the book--at factories and mine portals, on campuses, and to bookstores where workers and farmers buy books.
Playa Girón features the July 1999 testimony of Brig. Gen. José Ramón Fernández before a Havana court detailing the background to the April 1961 victory. Fernández commanded the main column of the Cuban forces that defeated the U.S.-organized invasion. The book also carries excerpts of speeches by Cuban commander-in-chief Fidel Castro before and after the battle.
This book, Waters noted, is the cumulative product of collaboration between revolutionaries in the United States and in Cuba over more than a decade in an effort to get out the facts about the Cuban Revolution in Spanish and English, from The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara to Che Guevara Talks to Young People and Making History, which consists of interviews with Fernández and three other Cuban generals. This collective work, Waters said, is making speeches and photos available that capture a revolutionary working-class history and continuity that would otherwise be lost forever. The books that have resulted from this work provide essential lessons for the working class in the United States, and are a crucial part of building a communist movement here, as well as internationally.
In working together with Cuban revolutionaries on photos, manuscripts, and maps, Waters said, "we were educating each other in the best sense of the word," listening, learning, and testing each other by working through challenges together over time.
Waters described the February 2-10 International Havana Book Fair, which attracted tens of thousands of Cubans hungry for books and ideas. Pathfinder had a booth at the fair. Waters introduced several people present on the platform, in addition to herself, who had been part of an international team staffing the Pathfinder booth or reporting on the fair for the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial: Young Socialist Natalie Tremblay of Montreal; Olympia Newton, member of the Young Socialists National Leadership Council, who opened the March 11 meeting; Cindy Jaquith, a garment worker from Miami; and Martín Koppel, editor of the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial and chairperson of the meeting that afternoon.
The Pathfinder exhibit at the nine-day Havana book fair drew thousands of visitors. One typical example was a group of Haitian youth studying in Cuba, who bought up every Pathfinder book in French. One of the students insisted, "We have to have these books--we need a Marxist perspective." Other workers, professors, and students visiting the booth had a similar thirst for books giving a class explanation of world politics.
Strengthening of revolution in Cuba
Waters recounted a high point of the book fair, on the opening day. A mounting crowd of eager and persistent parents and children, when told the event would open a couple of hours later, would not take no for an answer--they had to go in and buy books. The police were finally persuaded to step aside and let the crowd pour in.
Among the wide array of literature, one of the largest and most attractive sections of the Havana book fair was the Children's Pavilion. The resources devoted to this center of children's books--which featured mime shows and music as well as a selection of international children's literature written by authors including Mark Twain and Jules Verne--were an illustration of how the Cuban Revolution has fostered a culture of reading, beginning at an early age.
The breadth of literature and ideas represented at this literary festival, and the response to it by thousands of Cubans, is one sign of the strength of the Cuban Revolution, Waters noted.
Another initiative to broaden culture among working people in Cuba today, she added, is the University for All, a popular series of nationally televised classes that make the study of English and Spanish literature, art and music appreciation, and other subjects available to the entire population, young and old.
Waters pointed to a parallel development--a new campaign led by the Federation of University Students and the Union of Young Communists (UJC) to mobilize youth to visit the poorest working-class neighborhoods and make door-to-door visits to learn about some of the most pressing problems the residents face. The youth then report to the government what they have learned, and make proposals that sometimes include immediate material assistance with such items as mattresses or toys where they are lacking.
In his presentation, Jack Willey, organizer of the New York City Socialist Workers Party, emphasized the significance of the 15th World Festival of Youth and Students, which will be held in August in Algiers, capital of Algeria. "Thousands of young people from dozens of countries on every continent of the globe will converge on Algiers for an anti-imperialist world youth festival, where they will be part of discussions, debates, and exchanges of ideas on how to advance the struggles of the toilers from Ireland to Ecuador to imperialist centers such as the United States," he said.
Willey had just returned from participating, as part of a Young Socialists delegation, in an international preparatory meeting for the festival, held in Rome in conjunction with a meeting of the General Council of the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY). Two other members of the YS delegation were present on the stage, Roberta Black, a meat packer from Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Argiris Malapanis from Miami.
"It's important that the festival will be in Algeria," Willey explained, as the site for an event that can draw youth broadly from around the world. Algeria is a good place to hold it because of the revolutionary legacy still evident in that North African nation, where workers and farmers threw off French colonial rule in the early 1960s and established a workers and farmers government that existed for several years.
Willey noted the efforts by those organizations in WFDY that are seeking to build an inclusive, anti-imperialist festival in Algiers, drawing youth from many regions to learn from each other, and opposing attempts to close it off to differing political currents.
This effort, Willey explained, is part of the long-term work to rebuild a worldwide anti-imperialist youth organization. Participants from the United States can use events like the upcoming U.S. tour of Cuban youth leaders to build a broad delegation to the festival. He reported that several new youth groups were voted in as WFDY affiliates, including the Youth of the Labor Party of St. Lucia, the Youth of the Socialist Party for Power of Turkey, and the Young Socialists of New Zealand.
Building broad U.S. delegation
"Pathfinder books are one of the greatest tools to facilitate revolutionaries meeting each other," Willey said, describing how a representative to the meeting from the African National Congress Youth League of South Africa picked up 14 Pathfinder books to read and share on his return. This isn't too different, Willey remarked, from his experiences on book tables in the New York City Garment District, where workers originally from West Africa snap up, among other books, collections of speeches of Burkina Faso communist leader Thomas Sankara.
Twenty-three organizations are sending representatives to Algiers for three months leading up to the world youth festival in order to prepare the gathering. Participants in the Rome meeting proposed that representatives from the United States be part of this preparatory work. A March 24 meeting of the U.S. Preparatory Committee will decide who the representatives will be.
Invaders 'ran out of will to fight'
Jack Barnes, SWP national secretary and author of the foreword to Playa Girón, noted that in Cuba, 1961 was the Year of Education. Many people are impressed with the fearlessness of the Cuban toilers in the face of death, he said, but what is different about those who were transforming themselves was their attitude toward life. The conquests workers and farmers made with the literacy campaign and other steps to broaden culture were at the heart of what the Cuban people defended so fiercely at the Bay of Pigs, Barnes said.
"The word 'education' has a different meaning in Cuba than anywhere else in the world," Barnes said, because of the transformed social relations that are only possible through socialist revolution. The meaning of education in Cuba is captured in the emblem of the UJC, which pictures a rifle, a shovel, and a pencil--the intertwined activities of defense of the revolution, work, and schooling, all of which are part of working people gaining more control over their lives and broadening their horizons.
The new Pathfinder book, Barnes said, helps answer several false contentions about the Bay of Pigs, including the argument by bourgeois critics of John F. Kennedy that the invasion failed because it was ill-planned or bungled by mistakes made by the Kennedy administration.
Fernández explains in his testimony in the new book that "from a strategic and tactical point of view, the enemy's idea was well-conceived.... What they lacked was a just cause to defend." Washington's choice of the Bay of Pigs as the invasion site was sound. The invaders' problem, Barnes said, was that "they ran out of the will to fight before they ran out of bullets."
A model of mass work
The foreword, Barnes explained, highlights the impact the Cuban Revolution had on the class struggle in the United States. In recounting the work of students and others involved in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and how they responded to decisive events, "the foreword describes a model of mass work," he said, work that involved collaborating and contending with various political currents in opposition to U.S. policy toward Cuba.
As the U.S.-organized invasion unfolded and was defeated, Barnes explained, "every political current broke open within a matter of hours" on the small Minnesota campus of Carleton College described in the foreword. Patient political work done by supporters of the Cuban Revolution suddenly had an impact on people who had been unconvinced of their arguments before the assault.
A lesson explained in the foreword, Barnes said, especially for the Young Socialists, is that you can prepare and prepare, and not see big results for a period of time, but at turning points such as the Cuban people's lightning victory over the invasion, "when it comes together--the preparation and homogeneity and connection of generations--you can see it pay off."
A whole layer of young people were transformed by the events around the Bay of Pigs and joined the communist movement at that time, and a number of them remain committed to it today, Barnes explained, from leaders of the Socialist Workers Party to party supporters helping produce Pathfinder books--he pointed to several who were present at the meeting itself.
Before and after the program, there was plenty of time for participants to talk, look at the displays, and buy books. Party supporters in New York had prepared an array of hors d'oeuvres and desserts.
Lena Ourique, 25, who recently joined the Young Socialists in Toronto, has been participating in classes organized by the Communist League. She came to the meeting "as part of educating myself about the socialist movement and getting to know other Young Socialists from Canada and the United States." That morning she had attended a class on The Second Declaration of Havana, organized by the Upper Manhattan Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists.
Mindy Brudno, a rail worker and SWP supporter, took time out from setting up food for the reception to talk about the sales work she and other New York supporters have been doing to convince book buyers in bookstores and libraries to order Pathfinder titles. "We've done four visits in the last month," she said, "and we've had nothing but positive results," including a $200 order from a bookstore in Albany, New York.
Ignacio Ramírez, 38, a construction worker and organizer for Laborers International Union Local 79, came with his son Luis Ramírez, 14. "We're here to learn about the histories of the struggles," Ramírez said, in particular, how in revolutionary Cuba "they took over life in their country." Ramírez said he and a group of Mexican-born co-workers had joined the union "because we were exploited by the companies who paid us $60 for 14-hour days." He learned about the meeting at a literature table at Union Square in Manhattan.
Shane Robertson, 28, a carpenter from Cleveland, drove with socialists to the meeting. Robertson has been studying Black history with a group of friends. He came to the meeting "to try to absorb more" about Cuba and Marxism. He has recently studied Leon Trotsky on Black Nationalism and Self-Determination and the introduction to Capitalism's World Disorder by Jack Barnes.
Martín Koppel announced the launching of a $80,000 spring Pathfinder Fund. A collection brought in $23,627 in pledges, including $2,743 in cash.
Brooklyn SWP inaugurates hall
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