BY MARY-ALICE WATERS
On behalf of Pathfinder, I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to all of you who are with us here today. To vice president José Ramón Fernández. To the compañeros of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution (ACRC). And above all to generals Choy, Chui, and Sío Wong.
A very special word of appreciation is also due to our chairperson, Compañera Iraida Aguirrechu of Editora Política. Without exaggeration we can say that were it not for her unfailing support and expertise, we would not be presenting these books today.
I also want to mention the assistance we received from the compañeros and compañeras of the José Martí National Library, and of the photo archives at Granma and Bohemia. Their enthusiastic and very competent help in locating many of the drawings and photos that enrich the pages of Nuestra historia aún se está escribiendo was indispensable. Such graphics, we have learned, are vital in drawing workers and youth into a political story that is often very different in time and circumstances from their own experiences.
Where and why
The three generals whose lifetimes of revolutionary action are at the center of this book will have much to say this afternoon. I want to add a few words about only two things: First, where this book came from. And second, why it is important outside Cuba, especially in the United States.
Work on the book that became Our History Is Still Being Written began almost exactly four years ago. At that time, with the collaboration of the national leadership of the Combatants Association, Pathfinder had already published the first edition of Making Historycomposed of interviews with Néstor López Cuba, Enrique Carreras, José Ramón Fernández, and Harry Villegas, all generals of the FARwhich will be presented here tomorrow in a new edition for distribution throughout Cuba. In February 2002, From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution by Víctor Dreke had just been presented here at the Havana International Book Fair. And we were finishing work on the interview with General Teté Puebla that was published a few months later as Marianas in Combat.
At that momentas we were just beginning to ask ourselves What next?Chui and Pombo [Harry Villegas, executive vice president of the ACRC] suggested we might be interested in interviewing the three generals of the FAR who are of Chinese ancestry. With our enthusiastic agreement, Pombo invited us to the offices of the Combatants Association one morning. Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong joined us, and we started work that very hour.
It is safe to say that none of us thought it would be four years before the multiple interviews begun that day would be shaped into a book and published. But as is always the case in the lives of revolutionaries, the class struggle unfailingly disposes of preconceived blueprints or schemas. Far from being a problem, learning to act on that fact is a precondition for the victory of the toilers.
The curse that the old Mandarin caste of prerevolutionary China once hurled at its enemies was: May you live in interesting times! We all gladly accept. For us it is a keen anticipation, not a curse.
The book we are presenting here today is not solely about the past, although it is rich in history and its clarification. It begins with mid-century stories of the three young Cuban rebels of Chinese ancestry, each of whom had grown up under social and economic conditions different from one another, as well as in three different regions of the countrySío Wong in Matanzas and Havana; Choy in Fomento and Santa Clara; and Chui in Santiago de Cuba. Like thousands of others of their generation, they threw themselves into the revolutionary struggle to bring down the Batista tyranny.1
A section of the book tells the history of Chinese immigration to Cuba, which in proportion to the size of the population was greater than anywhere else in the Americas, including the United States. (In absolute numbers the Chinese immigration to Cuba in the mid-1800s was nearly the same as the immigration to the U.S. But the U.S. population at the time was 38 million, while that of Cuba was 1.4 million!)
The book includes a section on Cubas internationalist mission in Angola from 1975 to 1991, with the reflections of each of the three generals on their experiences in that epic struggle. And an appendix with excerpts from several speeches by Fidel [Castro] explaining what happened at some of the critical moments in that nearly 16-year mission.
One of the richest elements is the final section of the book entitled The Special Period and Beyond, in which each of the three compañeros talks about the responsibilities he carries today. Organizing the work to transform the infrastructure and productivity of the port of Havana and restore the environmental health of the bay and its tributaries. Leading the military-patriotic work of the Combatants Association. Overseeing the strategic reserves of the Cuban state. Transforming the structure of agriculture in Cuba with the development of the organipónicos [urban farming]. Supporting the revolutionary struggles advancing in Venezuela and preparing to meet, throughout Our America, the inevitably sharpening aggression from the empire to the north.
Above allas its title, chosen by the generals, indicatesit is a book that draws us into the present and toward the future, allowing us to understand where we come from, how we got here, and where we must go. In reality, it is an introduction to What is the Cuban Revolution? What is a socialist revolution? Why should you dedicate your life and work to advancing toward it in whatever country you find yourself?
Because it is needed
That helps answer my original second question. Why is this book important outside of Cuba, and in the United States above all? Why did Pathfinder publish it? Why will young socialists and communist workers be selling it, in English and Spanish, not only through bookstores, to libraries, and on the worldwide web, but from tables in front of plant gates and mine portals, on university campuses, and on the streets of working-class districts in towns and cities across the continent.
The simplest answer is the most accurate one. We published this book because it is needed by those on the front lines of the class struggle, wherever they may be. Because the example of the Cuban Revolution is not only a moral one, great as that is. It is a practical lesson for our class of how to fightand most importantly, how to win.
The brutal face of U.S. imperialism that the world sees in Iraq, in Guantánamo, threatening Iran and Venezuela, is the same face that confronts working people within the United States. The intensifying interimperialist competition and the colossal profits to be made from the exploitation of workers and farmers at home and abroad fill the owners of the mines and factories with both heightened fear and enhanced greed. That has meant, and will continue to mean, a dangerous intensification of the pace of work, absolute disregard for life and limb of working people, and the degradation of conditions of life.
Most important for us, however, that capitalist reality is already generating new levels of resistance, and new levels of solidarity among working people, who are increasingly searching for answers as to how to resist, and how to organize themselves to resist effectively.
You all know of the social (not natural) catastrophe that unfolded in the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But what the capitalist media never tells you about is how the working people of New Orleans reached out to help one another, working together and organizing themselves to confront that calamity. It is something the rulers in their class blindness and arrogance cant even see, much less understand.
In the same way, they could see nothing but a propaganda trick in the hand of solidarity extended by the people of Cuba, who offered to send 1,500 doctors and other medical personnel who would have traveled to the furthest reaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, with their knapsacks on their backs, to bring life-saving care to those most desperately in needjust as they are doing in Pakistan, Bolivia, and elsewhere today.
Since January 1 of this yearin only five weeks18 workers have been killed in six separate incidents in the coal mines of the United States, from the Appalachian mountains of the east to the high mountains of the west. The mine in which the largest number of miners were killed is a relatively small nonunion mine in West Virginia. It is owned by a big U.S. energy company that was on an accelerated production drive, fueled by rising energy prices worldwide, to increase coal output threefoldthreefoldthis year, from 350,000 tons in 2005 to 900,000 tons in 2006. A few days after the men who died had been laid to rest by their grieving families and friends, the chief executive of the company callously and calmly announced that their deaths would not alter the owners production goals.
Under such conditions, more and more miners inevitably come to see there is only one way to prevent an increasing toll of life and limb, and that is to organize themselves into the United Mine Workers union and to use union power to impose the necessary safeguards. The bosses can do nothing to stop the outbreak of what will be sharpening struggles to build the unions, in the mines and in other industries.
That kind of shift in the thinking of working people inside the United States is taking place at the same time that we can see the stiffening resistance of the toilers who are targets of imperialist oppression worldwidefrom the Altiplano of Bolivia; to the streets, factories, and fields of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; to the suburbs of Paris.
Reading is a weapon of resistance
I want to end with a word about Antonio, Fernando, Gerardo, Ramón, and Renéour five Cuban brothers who today find themselves on the front lines of this class struggle within the U.S., even if not by their own choosing and despite our collective efforts to win their freedom.2
As many of you know from your own lives of revolutionary struggle, the prisons of the capitalist masters are places many a young, thinking worker passes through, trapped by conditions of life they are unable to escape. There is no better example in the United States than the great revolutionary leader Malcolm X.
In the United States, which has the second highest per capita prison population in the worldonly in Russia is it higherone out of every four young men who are Black are either in prison, on parole, or have only recently been released. For communists the prisons are not unknown territory, and for many decades the books published by Pathfinder have won avid readers there.3 We have a special fund, well subscribed, through which prisoners can obtain books at half their normal cover price.
Within the walls of the separate federal prisons where they are confined, our five compañeros continue their work as Cuban revolutionaries. It is a source of strength that touches us all. Pathfinder frequently receives letters from one or another of them asking if it would be possible to receive this or that title they want to read and to share with fellow inmates impatiently awaiting their turn. Some of the titles most recently requestedand readinclude The Jewish Question by Abram Leon, a young Jewish resistance fighter, a Marxist, who died in the hands of the Gestapo during World War II; El Capital by Karl Marx; How Far We Slaves Have Come!, with speeches by Nelson Mandela and Fidel on Angola and South Africa; and Marx and Engels on the United States.
As René put it in one of his recent letters, Reading is one of the weapons of resistance we most often resort to here, and your books have been a blessing for usalbeit a dialectical materialist one!
I can report to you that Our History Is Still Being Written, in both English and Spanish, is one of those blessings now in their hands. As I was leaving for Havana we received confirmation from both Gerardo and René that it was already being read and shared.
Special interest for Chinese
One final comment: We will actively seek out a wide audience for this new book among workers, farmers, and youth of all backgrounds in the United States. At the same time, there will be special interest among the 2.5 million Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans in the U.S. Yes, thats 2.5 million!from garment workers to hundreds of thousands of students on campuses across the country. And thats an official government figure, which does not include the uncounted numbers of Chinese who are undocumented.
This book will not only help to throw light on a hidden chapter in the history of Our America. It will open the eyes of those Chinese-Americans who read it to the truth about the Cuban Revolution and revolutionary working-class politics more broadly. Circulating and discussing this book with them in English, Spanish, and perhaps one day soon in Chinese as well, will be a joyous task young socialists will embrace!
These are the reasons why Pathfinder has published this book.