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Vol. 81/No. 9      March 6, 2017

(special feature)

New books ‘capture reality faced by US workers’

Panelists at Havana book fair discuss capitalist crisis, response by working people

HAVANA — “I’m struck by the interest these books have generated here,” said Fernando González, speaking at a Feb. 10 presentation of three new titles by Pathfinder Press on the class struggle in the United States today.

“These books capture the reality people in the United States are living through on a daily basis — a reality we often don’t see. It’s a reality that’s not reflected on CNN, in the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, on ABC, NBC, CBS or any other U.S. TV networks.

González, one of five Cubans who spent more than a decade and a half in U.S. prisons for their actions in defense of the Cuban Revolution, is vice president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples. He was speaking on a panel held the first day of the Havana International Book Fair. The annual fair, which ended Feb. 19, was a giant cultural festival that included book presentations, roundtable discussions, and other events, along with dozens of bookstands where thousands came every day to browse and purchase literature by publishers from Cuba and other countries.

The Pathfinder titles that were presented included The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People and Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning under Capitalism both by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. The third, Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? A Necessary Debate Among Working People, is by Mary-Alice Waters.

Joining González to discuss the books were Elier Ramírez, a historian at Cuba’s Council of State; Enrique Ubieta, a writer and popularizer of Marxism widely read among youth and others; and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. The event was chaired by Javier Dueñas, director of Casa Editora Abril, publishing house of Cuba’s Union of Young Communists (UJC).

As González indicated, the new books drew curiosity and serious interest among the steady stream of visitors to the Pathfinder stand during the 10-day book fair. They asked questions such as: How do you explain Donald Trump’s electoral victory? What is life like for working people in the United States today? What about the continuing wars in the Mideast and other parts of the world? How do other people in the United States respond to socialists and communists like you; do you face government repression?

That interest was reflected in the several dozen people who attended the presentation, including a good number of university students and other youth. It was also registered in the sale of nearly 440 copies of the three books during the fair.

‘Carnage’ facing working people

“If you had read these three books a year ago, nothing happening today in U.S. politics would be a surprise to you,” said Waters, opening the panel discussion. (Her full remarks are reprinted on page 7.)

She noted President Trump’s reference in his inaugural speech to “this American carnage” to describe conditions of life many working people experience today. That phrase, she said, “was singled out by the hysterical anti-Trump media as an example of the president’s twisted refusal to acknowledge what those who’ve benefited so greatly from the ‘Obama years’ portray as an economic recovery.”

But carnage is exactly “the word you’ll find in the pages of The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record,” Waters said. It describes the consequences for U.S. working people of a quarter century of social policies carried out by the Clinton White House and subsequent Republican and Democratic administrations: high levels of joblessness, a soaring prison population, increased use of solitary confinement, record numbers of deportations, growing suicide rates among young adults, an epidemic of drug addiction in smaller towns and devastated rural areas, unending wars abroad, and much more.

When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton contemptuously declared that those who weren’t going to vote for her — that is, those who weren’t going to vote to continue the carnage — were a “basket of irredeemable deplorables,” at that moment “she was finished,” Waters said.

As a result of these worsening conditions, caused by capitalism’s global economic and social crisis, “there is today greater openness in the U.S. working class than at any moment in our lifetimes to discuss the broadest social questions and political issues,” she noted. There are greater opportunities — and greater responsibilities — for communist workers as they join these discussions and the struggles working people are engaged in.

‘Books show class struggle in U.S.’

“These three books, which come together like a single volume, show us the situation that is developing today in the class struggle in the United States,” said Elier Ramírez. “This is very important for Cubans to learn about.”

Drawing on The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record, he highlighted some of the policies carried out by that administration, such as the elimination of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a 60 percent increase in the prison population, and the all-time high in deportations of immigrant workers.

“At the same time that President William Clinton was signing these harsh laws against the working class in the United States, he was doing the same against Cuba with the Helms-Burton Act,” which intensified the U.S. economic war against that country.

These government policies, continued by successive administrations, are being carried out “in the midst of a slow-burning economic depression of the capitalist system in which it’s the working class that bears the brunt of the crisis,” Ramírez noted. In this situation, he said, it’s not surprising “why Hillary Clinton was such an unpopular candidate” and why “many workers were disgusted by both candidates.” He pointed to the cartoon in the book’s introduction in which one house has a yard sign reading “She’s worse” while a sign next door says “He’s worse.”

Ramírez said he appreciated the book Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? Agreeing with the author that the answer is “Yes, but it depends on us,” he said it made him think of arguments heard decades earlier that a socialist revolution was impossible in Cuba.

He illustrated the point with a story about his grandparents, who had emigrated to Miami during the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s. “When Fidel [Castro] visited Miami back then, my grandfather joined the July 26 Movement, and one of Fidel’s first meetings in Miami was held in my grandparents’ house. My grandmother told him, ‘Are you crazy? What are you doing with that man who attacked the second-biggest military barracks in Cuba using bird-hunting rifles? Do you think that man selling those little pamphlets’ — it was History Will Absolve Me, which was sold by the July 26 Movement — ‘is going to bring down Batista?’ Of course, my grandfather was right, and eventually my grandmother joined him.”

“The Cuban Revolution destroyed all the ‘theories’ that said a socialist revolution was not possible in a country like Cuba. And if it was possible in Cuba, why won’t it be possible in the United States?” Ramírez concluded.

Enrique Ubieta focused on Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? It explains the sharpening class inequalities in the United States and resulting conflicts intensified by the global depression.

Ubieta noted the book’s description of the expansion of a “meritocracy” of well-paid professionals “who serve the capitalist system that has enriched them,” of which former President Barack Obama is part. The capitalist class, he said, rules not just through coercion but uses this privileged upper-middle-class layer to bolster its class interests and values.

That meritocracy “has absolute contempt for workers, whom they consider ignorant, stupid and worthless,” Ubieta said. U.S. society “has become more polarized economically as workers have become impoverished and have lost social gains that were won through years of struggle.”

The U.S. ruling class is beginning “to fear workers” as anger rises among working people at these conditions. This anger “is reflected in the election of Donald Trump,” he said.

‘What is the United States really?’

Fernando González spoke from the vantage point of his years living in the United States as part of the working class, including nearly 16 years in federal prisons. He described how, in his final stretch of incarceration, he was transferred from the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, to the one in Safford, Arizona.

After being flown to Phoenix, González said, “I traveled four and a half hours along a highway to a prison in the desert, near the Arizona-New Mexico border and an hour and a half from the border with Mexico. And what I saw through the bus window during that trip was a lesson in the poverty that exists in parts of the United States that we often don’t see.

“We saw small towns that used to be on a railroad line — it was their lifeblood — and now they’re ghost towns.” He pointed to the devastation across the copper mining areas. “But you have to cross a Native American reservation to really see what poverty is: the unemployment, the level of alcohol consumption that is a result of these conditions.”

“When we think of the United States we often think of big cities, what we see in U.S. films,” González said. “But the United States has 320 million inhabitants. Maybe 100 million of them live in big cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco. What about the other 220 million? What is the United States really?”

Those class realities of the United States, González said, are what the new books published by Pathfinder explain.
Related articles:
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Carnage, deplorables: 2 words explain workers’ openness to talk politics
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