The Havana International Book Fair is the most important cultural event in Cuba. Although its most important part takes place in Havana, in reality the Fair then travels to more than 40 cities and towns, taking books and culture to the most remote regions of the island. The eagerness for reading and the high cultural level of the Cuban population are one of the most obvious conquests of the revolution. The massive attendance of the public (more than half a million people went this year through the Havana leg of the Fair) has forced the organizers to bring forward the sale of new titles to all of the capital's bookshops a week before the official opening of the event.
The Havana leg of the Fair, under the slogan "To read is to grow", took place between February 14 and 24, in the impressive La Cabaña fortress, and this was the fourth time that the F. Engels Foundation was present. The results could not have been better, with a marked increase in the sale of books and documents from last year.
Our launch of Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky, attended by a hundred people, was a truly historic event, the first time a book by the Russian revolutionary has been launched in Cuba. This was, by far, our best seller, and after six days we run out of copies. The second most sold book was Permanent Revolution also by Trotsky, showing the enormous interest there is for his ideas. Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, Lenin's State and Revolution, Trotsky's Their Moral and Ours, Ted Grant and Alan Woods' Reason in Revolt, Trotsky's Problems of Everyday Life, Rosa Luxemburg's Reform or Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for by Ted Grant and Alan Woods, and Preobrazhensky's Anarchism and Communism complete the top ten of the most sold books.
As for magazines and documents, we have to underline the enormous interest in the latest edition of our theoretical magazine Marxism Today, which is a monograph on China, including the programmatic document by the International Marxist Tendency on the restoration of capitalism in that country. Interestingly, several Chinese students on the island, learning and improving their Spanish, bought the document and showed a lot of interest in continuing the discussion.
The second most sold document was Alan Woods' "Stalin: 50 years after the death of a tyrant", followed by "The Cuban Revolution, past, present and future" (which sold out on the fourth day). Marxist introductions to art, religion and dialectical materialism were also amongst those in highest demand and also sold out.
The participation of the F Engels Foundation in the Fair had a certain impact in the media with radio and TV interviews, including one for Canal Habana which stressed the launch of Trotsky's Revolution Betrayed.
It is interesting to note the large number of Venezuelan comrades who visited the stand, many of them coming from the International Gathering on Higher Education. Most of them already knew Alan Woods' writings on the Venezuelan revolution and many were in contact with the Revolutionary Marxist Current.
During our presence at the Fair we also had the opportunity to discuss with the comrades from the Editora Política, the Cuban Communist Party's Central Committee's publishing house and the Ciencias Sociales publishing house, about the possibility of further collaboration. We offered them our editions of the classics (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, etc), which have not been published in Cuba for some time, as well as the possibility of publishing Alan Woods' forthcoming book, Marxism v Socialism of the 21st Century, which refutes the ideas of Heinz Dieterich, in Cuba.
The Cuban revolution makes a very big effort to publish books and to make them accessible to the whole of the population. This year 350 new titles have been published in a total of 8 million copies. Amongst them is the reprint of Ten Days that Shook the World, by John Reed, by Ciencias Sociales. The book includes an introduction by Francisco Brown, from the Centre of European Studies and co-writer with Ariel Dacal of "Russia: from real existing socialism to real existing capitalism". The back cover of this edition warmly recommends the book which contains "almost cinematographic descriptions of situations and places where the most significant revolutionary events took place, with Lenin and Trotsky as the main characters". After years of Stalinist slanders about the role and figure of Trotsky in the October Revolution, it is refreshing to see the publication of a book, of which Lenin said that he "would like to see it published in millions of copies and translated to all languages", and which faithfully describes the leading role that Trotsky played in this revolutionary feat.
The Havana International Book Fair is not only a place where to buy books, but also a space for debate and discussion, where authors can present their titles and discuss them with the public. Amongst those who were launched this year we think it is important to mention two twin titles about the cultural policies of the Cuban Revolution. The first, "Cultural Polemics of the 1960s", with a foreword by Graziella Pogolotti, is a selection of writings summarizing the polemics which divided aspects of Cuban culture in the 1960s, between the defenders of Stalinist "socialist realism", and those who, from a Marxist point of view, opposed it.
That rich period of debate and polemics came to an end in 1971 (some say already in 1968) with the so-called "Five Grey Years", a period of censorship, repression and Stalinist imposition. The debate about that dark period of the revolution was reopened in the months of January and February 2007, after TV appearances of some of the most prominent censors from that time (Jose Serguera, Armando Quesada and Luis Pavón). This opened a wave of indignation in cultural circles which expressed itself through the circulation of emails.
The Criterios Theory and Culture Centre organized a series of conferences about the subject which have now been collected in the form of a book which was launched at the Fair: "The cultural policy of the revolutionary period: memory and reflection". The publication of this book allows the Cuban reader access to a polemic which was almost completely silenced by the media. At the launch of this book, attended by more than 300 people, several of the victims of the Pavonato, as the Five Grey Years are also known, spoke: Desiderio Navarro, Ambrosio Fornet, Mario Coyula, Eduardo Heras León and Fernando Martínez Heredia (the latter was a victim of the closure of the Pensamiento Critico magazine and the Philosophy Department of the Havana University). As Desiderio Navarro correctly pointed out at the launch: "all recent history has shown that a socialism without criticism and without collective participation is doomed to end up like the worst of capitalisms".
In the presentation leaflet which we gave out at the Fair we said that Marxist theory is needed for the revolution. We are proud to have been able to make a modest contribution to the defence of the Cuban revolution and its conquests, at a time where it faces a crucial turning point.
Once again, we would like to thank all those who have made possible our participation in the Fair and particularly everyone in the organisation team, as well as the workers, youth and militants from Cuba and many other countries who showed an interest in our material.
- More than one hundred attend launch of 'Revolution Betrayed' in Cuba (February 21, 2008)
- Impressions from Havana (February 21, 2008)