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Vol. 72/No. 12      March 24, 2008

Cuban student federation
educates youth on history of
revolutions, lessons for today
(feature article)
HAVANA—Cuba’s Federation of University Students (FEU) is campaigning to involve youth here in actions and discussions aimed at increasing their knowledge of revolutionary struggles in Cuba and internationally and explaining their relevance for today.

The FEU, which organizes 200,000 university students across the island, decided at its last national congress in December 2006 to sponsor actions marking anniversaries of major events in the class struggle. In a March 3 interview here and a phone interview a week later, FEU vice president Fernando Luis Rojas described some of these activities.

The events held in 2007, Rojas said, culminated with celebrations of the 85th anniversary of the FEU’s founding on Dec. 20, 1922. Over the decades the student organization has been marked by its involvement in anti-imperialist and broad social struggles. The first FEU president was Julio Antonio Mella, who three years later was a founding leader of Cuba’s first Communist Party.

Last year’s events included a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March 13, 1957, assault on the presidential palace, in which FEU president José Antonio Echeverría was killed during an attempt by the Revolutionary Directorate to overthrow U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

On November 6, Rojas said, about 500 students packed into a University of Havana theater for a rally organized by the FEU under the theme “90 years of the Silenced Revolution.” They celebrated and discussed the October 1917 Russian revolution, when workers and peasants in that country, led by the Bolshevik Party under V.I. Lenin, overthrew the capitalist regime and established a workers and peasants government, opening the door to the world’s first socialist revolution.

The rally was sponsored by the FEU along with the Antonio Gramsci Studies Program of the Juan Marinello research center and a group called the Workshop on the Bolshevik Revolution, the History of the USSR and Cuba: Critical Analysis for the 21st Century, which is part of the Gramsci program.

In attendance were students from the University of Havana and other campuses in the city, as well as other youth. Rojas noted that, unlike some campus activities where youth groups and faculty departments organize attendance by assignment, those who participated did so on their own initiative. The turnout was larger than expected, with students packing the theater and overflowing into adjoining hallways.

Rojas said the students had publicized the rally through their own resources, producing a colorful poster they put up all over the campus and in nearby areas.

The FEU organized the event to encourage Cuban youth to learn more about the Russian Revolution. “The example of that revolution, which is relevant for us today in order to defend the Cuban Revolution and confront capitalism,” Rojas told the Militant.

The theme of the event was “The Revolution Silenced,” he said, because “imperialism has tried to silence the gains of the first years of the Russian Revolution. Those advances were also silenced by Stalinism, when the socialist state degenerated in the Soviet Union” under the regime headed by Joseph Stalin.

The two speakers at the rally were Rojas, as vice president of the FEU, and Fernando Martínez Heredia, a veteran revolutionary fighter and writer on Marxist politics who currently heads up the Gramsci Studies Program.  
Early years of Russian Revolution
Speaking to the students on November 6, Rojas noted that many young people in Cuba know little about the October 1917 revolution. He said that studying the revolution’s early years under Lenin’s leadership, especially, “can offer us clues to understand the relevance of our road.”

Rojas said that while “nothing can be expected from capitalism,” a revolutionary perspective cannot be built without a program, and an “antiprogram” of criticizing capitalism is not enough.

In arguing for a way forward, it is important to point to “the experiences of the October Revolution and its early years,” he said. For example, the emergence of soviets (councils) of workers and peasants as vehicles for “popular decision-making” in revolutionary Russia offer a contrast with “the false and deceitful schema of bourgeois ‘participation’” in politics. “The soviets were the state,” he underlined.

Martínez Heredia said the socialist revolution in Russia, involving millions of people, “went beyond any conceivable boundaries with its organized, conscious actions, and it dared to win and change history.” It helped internationalize the struggle for socialism, “and national and popular liberation movements everywhere in the world found their horizons remarkably broadened by the Bolshevik revolution.”

Martínez Heredia emphasized that young people today need to learn the real history of revolutionary struggles in Cuba, and its continuity from Mella and Antonio Guiteras—a leader of the 1930-35 revolutionary upsurge in Cuba—to the 1959 revolution under the leadership of the July 26 Movement headed by Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara, and others.

Following these speeches, the assembled students marched to the plaza in the middle of the University of Havana campus and waited until midnight. Then they celebrated the November 7 anniversary with a singing of the Internationale and Hymn of the July 26 Movement. The date of the Bolshevik-led insurrection is November 7, or October 25 according to the old Julian calendar.

Excerpts of the speeches by Rojas and Martínez Heredia were published in the university magazine Alma Máter, and the full text was posted on the magazine’s website, The November 11 issue of the Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde ran excerpts of Rojas’s remarks, and a news report on the event appeared in the cultural magazine La Jiribilla and in Caminos, the magazine of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana.

Rojas told the Militant that the FEU has decided to extend its campaign of political education into 2008, leading up to the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on Jan. 1, 2009. It will be organizing celebrations of events including the popular uprising in Colombia on April 9, 1948, known as the Bogotazo, in which Fidel Castro participated as a radicalizing youth; the May 1968 revolutionary upsurge in France; and 80th anniversary of the birth of Che Guevara on June 14.
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