NEW YORK — “Tens of thousands of workers and others in Ukraine are throwing themselves into defending the sovereignty of their country. They are putting up a fierce resistance, against a murderous invasion by Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia aimed at conquering and obliterating their nation,” Militant editor John Studer told a special meeting of over 100 people in New York City Feb. 27. “We want to join their defense, using the Militant and the Socialist Workers Party campaigns to tell the truth about what is unfolding there and the need for Putin’s forces to be defeated.”
Studer participated in three reporting trips to Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 following the Maidan popular uprising there that overthrew the dictatorial pro-Moscow regime of Viktor Yanukovych. The aim of those trips was to find the truth in order to use the Militant to get out that truth about the battle by Ukrainian working people to defend their independence as they fight to protect their class interests.
At the center of the Feb. 27 meeting was arming and mobilizing members and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party to throw themselves into campaigning in defense of the sovereignty of Ukraine, opposing Moscow’s invasion, and calling for U.S. troops out of Europe. “Despite their show of crocodile tears for the people of Ukraine, the rulers in Washington, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere care nothing about them. They are each focused on how they can advance their own imperialist interests, including in Ukraine,” he said.
Studer said the Militant has launched an international drive to expand the reach of the paper, explaining the importance of working people acting in support of the Ukrainian people’s fight to defend their sovereignty.
The meeting — sponsored by the SWP in New York and New Jersey — also included a talk by Mary-Alice Waters, director of the party’s work in defense of Cuba’s socialist revolution: “Havana International Book Fair and May 1, International Day of the Worker; Rich exchanges on working-class politics in the U.S. and world and solidarity with Cuba’s socialist revolution.”
“Lenin built the Bolshevik Party on the fight for the right to self-determination of oppressed nations that were under the thumb of the czarist empire, including in Ukraine,” Studer said. “This is the continuity the SWP draws on today.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB thug, is determined to extinguish all vestiges of Ukraine as an independent nation. “He aims to rebuild a Great Russian empire like the czarist prison house of nations before him,” Studer said. “But you can see the problem he faces with the fearless struggle of millions in Ukraine and the solidarity they’ve won around the world, including from working people in Russia.”
On the three Militant reporting trips to Ukraine, Studer and SWP leader Frank Forrestal spoke with coal miners, nuclear workers in Chernobyl and Enerhodar, rail and other workers and defenders of Ukraine sovereignty in Kharkiv, Kryvyi Rih and in Dnipro. They met with Mustafa Dzhemilev, the central leader of the Crimean Tatar people, who was expelled from Crimea after Moscow occupied it in 2014.
They paid special attention to the history of Nazi occupation as well as virulent Jew-hatred under the Stalinist regime. They interviewed leaders of Jewish organizations in Ukraine on the Holocaust and the Nazi slaughter of 30,000 Jews in Babyn Yar. When they visited Sokal, the hometown of the team’s volunteer translator, Oksana Demyanovych, she took them on a tour, pointing to a mural of Che Guevara, and then to “the burned-out synagogue.” The two SWP leaders asked, “When was that?”
Demyanovych said she didn’t know. It turns out Sokal was conquered and occupied by German troops in the second imperialist war. Fascist troops organized to slaughter all the Jews there or ship them to concentration camps. Only 30 Jews in the town survived the war.
Today Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, who Putin calls a Nazi, is in fact Jewish. Putin’s slander of him is nothing but a lie.
Though the 2014 Maidan revolution succeeded in removing Yanukovych and Moscow’s control, Ukrainian working people didn’t have a party and a leadership that could lead them to overthrow capitalist rule.
Ukrainian workers with whom the SWP is in continuing touch send reports to the Militant on fights over unpaid wages, government efforts to shut down state-owned coal mines, and other social struggles against the ravages of capital. “The government of Ukraine rules for the capitalist class there,” Studer said.
He appealed to all those at the meeting to join the SWP in using the Militant to get out the truth and advance today’s fight to defeat Moscow’s invasion and defend Ukraine independence.
Havana book fair: ‘To read is to grow’
A program combining discussion of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine with a book fair and May Day activities in Cuba may seem “incongruous,” Mary-Alice Waters told the meeting. “But it’s not.” We are looking at the two opposing faces of the imperialist epoch in which working people are fighting to open the way forward for humanity.
“Solidarity with the people of Cuba and their 60-plus years of unyielding battle in defense of their socialist revolution in face of the mightiest imperialist power in the world is not a question of solidarity alone,” Waters said. Like the right of self-determination for Ukraine, “this is a life and death question for the working class. Without this there will never be a socialist revolution in the U.S.”
The Havana International Book Fair, set for April 20-30, is the most important cultural event that takes place in Cuba each year, Waters noted. Tens of thousands of Cubans come to it, thirsting for discussion on culture and politics, science, literature of the world, children’s books and more. It takes place under the banner: “To read is to grow.”
Our participation in the annual Havana book fair for more than 35 years “has been central to our work producing books published by Pathfinder Press and articles for the Militant that make the reality of Cuba’s socialist revolution known in the U.S. and around the world.” At the same time, Waters emphasized, “We’ve brought an understanding of the class struggle in the U.S. and other imperialist countries to working people in Cuba.”
This year’s fair — the first in two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic — takes place in the midst of “a profound economic crisis in Cuba. It’s part of the broader imperialist crisis, which has hit working people everywhere, including here in the U.S., but even more so throughout the underdeveloped nations.”
“On top of this the brutal tightening of sanctions imposed on Cuba by both Republican and Democratic administrations, including the current one, have taken a heavy toll on Cuba’s toilers,” Waters said. “The fact that even under these conditions they refuse to turn culture and learning into capitalist commodities says a great deal about the character of a genuine socialist revolution.”
Pathfinder Press will present two books at public meetings during the book fair this year: The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon and Labor, Nature, and the Evolution of Humanity: The Long View of History with articles by Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, George Novack and Waters.
“There couldn’t be two books that are more germane to the politics that will be at the front of this book fair and all of the discussions we have in Cuba,” Waters said.
Members and supporters of the SWP and the Communist Leagues in Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand will staff the Pathfinder Press booth there, introducing the publisher’s wide range of political literature and joining in discussions on the war in Ukraine, the fight against Jew-hatred, defense of the scientific and cultural advances throughout millennia of human civilization, the worldwide capitalist economic crisis, and examples of resistance by U.S workers and farmers.
The Jewish Question takes up the roots of Jew-hatred in the evolution of class society and why it’s an intrinsic part of capitalist rule today. With the deepening crisis of capitalism, the rise of new fascist movements is inevitable. The bosses will foster Jew-hatred as a welcome diversion of the growing anger and desperation of a devastated middle-class and some workers who will be led to believe that Jews, not capitalism, are the source of their problems. Workers must explain and fight against Jew-hatred in whatever guise it raises its head, Waters said, including on the left.
The panel presenting The Jewish Question at the Havana book fair among others will include José Altshuler, a former vice president of the Cuban Academy of Sciences who as a member of the Popular Socialist Party was part of the underground during the fight against the Batista dictatorship. He’s known in Cuba, Waters told the audience, for having helped construct the radio transmitter that Che Guevara used in the Sierras during the revolutionary war that brought down the Batista dictatorship.
The second book that Pathfinder will feature is Labor, Nature, and the Evolution of Humanity, which presents “the scientific foundations of Marxism and everything we do,” Waters said. “Dialectical materialism, including historical materialism, is under renewed assault today in the U.S. and around the world,” Waters said, “and this book will help arm us to answer those ‘woke’ elements who believe that the history of the western world has been driven by white supremacy and racism.” That’s simply not true, Waters said, “but we have to raise the debate to a higher level. The entire history of humanity has been driven by the increasing productivity of human labor acting on and transforming nature, including human nature. The systemic racism we are fighting today in the United States is the product of capitalism, not the other way around.”
The panel on Labor, Nature, and the Evolution of Humanity will include Fernando González, president of Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) and one of the Cuban Five, who read some of these works while in prison in the U.S. for more than 14 years; Zuleica Romay, former president of the Cuban Book Institute and now head of the Afro-American Studies at Casa de las Américas; and Pedro Pablo Rodríguez, of the José Martí Studies Center.
May Day in Havana
The end of the book fair this year overlaps the beginning of the celebration of May Day, International Workers Day, organized by the Central Organization of Cuban Workers (CTC). The three days of activity will include events in workplaces and working-class neighborhoods, an international solidarity conference, and a march of tens of thousands through the streets of Havana on May Day itself.
“There’s nothing like experiencing the giant May Day march in Havana in person,” Waters said, “to see the strength of Cuba’s working people and depth of their support for their socialist revolution. And our entire delegation will be doing that together with the CTC” and hundreds of supporters of Cuba from around the world who will take part in the march and activities associated with it, she said.
After the meeting one of the participants, Rojon Spence, told the Militant, “What most struck me was what John Studer said about protests taking place inside Russia. It shows that when there’s a conflict not everyone in the aggressor nation supports what their government is doing.” Now he said he wants to join the protests taking place in New York.
After a serious and lively discussion period, participants responded to a fund pitch by Joanne Kuniansky, one of the party’s candidates for Congress in New Jersey, contributing over $7,500 toward the work of the SWP.
The party’s spring campaigns are well underway.