HAVANA — Thousands of people have visited the grounds of the colonial Spanish fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña over the last five days, since the Havana International Book Fair opened at this historic site April 20.
The 10-day fair, held under the theme “To read is to grow,” is a yearly cultural event. It’s a product of Cuba’s socialist revolution, through which, over six decades, working people not only wiped out illiteracy but dramatically broadened access to education and culture in city and country.
Holding the book fair this year also registered the big progress in combating the COVID pandemic in Cuba. Last year the event was not held due to public health measures. Cuba has produced several effective vaccines of its own, and 88% of the island’s population is now fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the world.
The Cuban government took special steps to make available scarce resources for the book fair, including importing enough paper and printing supplies to have 900 newly published titles at the event. This was a big effort, given the U.S. government’s intensified sanctions aimed at strangling the production and availability of goods in Cuba, compounded by rising import prices and other effects of the world capitalist crisis.
Mexico is the country of honor this year. The Mexican delegation includes dozens of writers and academics, and cultural performances, including by the famed Ballet Folklórico de México. The Mexican government donated a shipload of 25,000 books, a gesture of solidarity and of opposition to the U.S. economic war against Cuba, even if the prices of many titles are too high for most Cubans to pay.
Pathfinder Press is once again taking part in the Havana book fair. Its stand, staffed by communist workers from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is attracting hundreds of readers, from high school and university students to health care workers and retirees.
Book on Jewish question
Two new Pathfinder titles featured at this year’s Havana book fair are drawing particular interest. One is Labor, Nature, and the Evolution of Humanity: The Long View of History, with writings by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, George Novack, and Mary-Alice Waters. The other is The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon.
Over the first few days, a top seller among Pathfinder titles has been The Jewish Question. Many have bought the book to learn more about the roots of Jew-hatred and the fight against it today.
Looking over his new copy, Daniel Gregorio Pérez, who works at the José Martí National Library, pointed with pride to remarks by Fidel Castro, quoted in the introduction, explaining why antisemitism is a deadly danger that must be combated. Cuba’s revolutionary government has consistently helped “to protect Jewish traditions” among that community here, Pérez said.
Juan de Dios, a doctor in Havana, also bought Leon’s book. He told volunteers that his mother had a close school friend whose family had arrived in Cuba from their native Austria, escaping the Holocaust. “My mother,” de Dios said, “was determined that our family would be educated in this history and the importance of opposing antisemitism.”
Right to self-determination
Another popular title at the Pathfinder stand has been Lenin’s Final Fight, featuring writings by the central leader of the October 1917 Russian Revolution. Readers learn how Lenin led the fight in the Bolshevik Party to defend national self-determination and a voluntary union of nations oppressed by the former czarist empire, and to oppose efforts by a rising counterrevolutionary social layer to reimpose Great Russian domination over Georgia, Ukraine and other republics.
Samir Hazboun, a Young Socialist and Socialist Workers Party member from Cincinnati, explained to a group of young people how valuable a guide Lenin’s Final Fight is to understanding the importance of opposing Moscow’s assault on Ukraine and backing the determined resistance of its working people. Lenin’s proletarian internationalism counters the Putin regime’s claims that Ukraine has no right to exist.
Among people visiting the Pathfinder stand, most are shocked by Moscow’s invasion. Few express enthusiastic support for it, although many echo the view, promoted by Putin’s government, that its forces are combating a fascist danger and that the war is being prolonged by the weapons provided to Ukraine by imperialist powers trying to encircle Russia.
The Militant, with its front-page coverage of the war, attracts a lot of interest, especially when people learn the Militant has sent reporting teams to Ukraine several times in recent years.
“The most important thing is to respect a nation’s sovereignty,” said Fabián Mena, an 18-year-old student, who bought Spanish-language editions of The History of American Trotskyism by James P. Cannon and the issue of New International magazine, “U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War.”
Karyna Neehepurenko, a Havana resident originally from Ukraine, agreed. Without this information, she said, “many people believe Putin’s lie that Ukraine belongs to Russia.”
Interest in the work of the Socialist Workers Party and Communist Leagues has been shown by the sales of dozens of copies of The Turn To Industry: Forging a Proletarian Party by Jack Barnes, Tribunes of the People and the Trade Unions and In Defense of the US Working Class by Mary-Alice Waters.
In the opening days, visitors purchased more than 1,000 books at the Pathfinder stand on a wide range of topics, as well as 14 Militant subscriptions. Many express appreciation that Pathfinder books are being offered at prices that make them affordable here.