Alan Woods launches “Reformism or revolution” at the Havana Book Fair

On Monday, January 16, sixty people packed the Carlos J Finlay meeting room in the Cabaña fortress to hear Alan Woods launch his latest book "Reformism or Revolution. Marxism and socialism of the 21st century, a reply to Heinz Dieterich". The previous day he also spoke to an enthusiastic group of university students.

On Monday, January 16, sixty people packed the Carlos J Finlay meeting room in the Cabaña fortress to hear Alan Woods launch his latest book "Reformism or Revolution. Marxism and socialism of the 21st century, a reply to Heinz Dieterich". This meeting had been advertised on TV, radio and also on the daily Granma.

Book launch meeting, part of the audience
Book launch meeting, part of the audience

This is the fifth year in which the Spanish Frederick Engels Foundation has participated in this important event and amongst the public we could see many familiar faces. The public was a mix of old Communist militants, academics and university lecturers, youth, Latin American students, veteran Trotskyist fighters and even some comrades from the United States.

Jordi Martorell opened up the meeting by paying tribute to the role played by Celia Hart Santamaria. "Her passionate desire was to bring the ideas of Trotsky to the Cuban revolution, a desire which she fulfilled through the medium of the Frederick Engels foundation", he said. All those present observed a minute's silence in memory of the Cuban communist who died, together with her brother Abel, in September last year in a tragic car accident. The best homage we can pay to her, Jordi pointed out, is to continue her struggle in defence of the Cuban revolution, for world socialism, and to redouble the efforts to release the Cuban Five revolutionaries jailed by imperialism.

Book launch meeting
Book launch meeting

Alan Woods started off his presentation of the book by attacking the idea that everything that is new is necessarily better. "The wheel is very old, but since it works perfectly well, there is no need to invent a 21st century wheel", he said. "Comrades, we have no need to reinvent the wheel, nor do we have any need to reinvent the ideas of scientific socialism, which have retained all their vitality and relevance." Alan noted that the collapse of the USSR had caused a period of tremendous confusion and disorientation within the world Communist movement. We witnessed an unprecedented ideological counter-offensive by the defenders of capitalism who announced the death of socialism, communism and Marxism. Many former Communists abandoned Marxism altogether. When Hugo Chavez raised the question of socialism he opened up a very necessary debate, which in Venezuela is taking place not in narrow intellectual circles but at every bus stop, factory and market place. But then, all sorts of reformist intellectuals and pseudo-academics came running to try to confuse the issue. Heinz Dieterich was the most prominent amongst these. Dieterich promised us an entirely new version of socialism, "socialism of the 21st century". Alan remarked humorously, "this idea has one great advantage: nobody has the slightest idea what it means! It is an empty bottle which can be filled with any content. As a matter of fact, there is not a single new idea in all of Dieterich's writings. He has merely rehashed old, pre-Marxist ideas and presented them as new, a kind of "socialism without class struggle and without the need to expropriate capitalism."

Alan Woods addressing book launch
Alan Woods addressing book launch

Alan talked about the Venezuelan revolution, which had just won the constitutional amendment referendum the day before. He explained that 10 years after its beginning, the revolution had still not been completed. "What needs to be done?" he asked. "It is necessary to expropriate the land, the banks and the factories under the democratic control of the working class. It is not possible to speak of socialism unless the economic power of the oligarchy is broken once and for all." These words were met with approval on the part of all those present.

After Alan's introduction, questions and contributions were taken from the floor. These covered a wide range of subjects, including the fate of the Cuban revolution, the problem of bureaucracy, Ecuador, the use of parliament in the struggle for socialism, the possibility of peaceful transition and others.

Book signing after the meeting
Book signing after the meeting

In reply to the questions about the future of the Cuban revolution, Alan recalled one of the last major speeches given in public by Fidel Castro, in which he warned about the dangers of capitalist restoration arising from internal factors such as bureaucracy and corruption: "Let nobody imagine that what happened in the Soviet Union cannot happen here," Alan said. "It is necessary to combat bureaucracy, which leads towards greater inequality and ultimately capitalism. But the only way to combat bureaucracy is by returning to the four conditions laid down by Lenin in State and Revolution and by breaking the isolation of the Cuban revolution by extending the socialist revolution throughout Latin America, an idea which Che Guevara fought and died for."

Frederick Engels Foundation stand
Frederick Engels Foundation stand

Alan Woods pointed out the enormous importance of a fraternal debate between different tendencies within the Communist movement which has opened up and that this was leading to the rebirth of Communism on a world scale: "We must retie the knot of history" he said, "however, the Communist movement must be based on solid foundations, on the rock of Marxist theory. On that basis and on that basis alone can we win." These words were met with enthusiastic applause.

After the meeting, many of those present bought copies of "Reformism or revolution", as well as the Manifesto of the International Marxist Tendency on the crisis of capitalism and queued up for the author to sign the book and to exchange opinions with him.

Meeting with students

The day before, Alan had been invited to speak on the book by the University Students Federation (FEU) at the Micro X Students Halls of Residence, East of Havana. After a long ride we finally arrived at the venue where about 30 students were already waiting with great expectation. The local FEU has just set up a library which is called "Julio Fernandez Bulté", and this was the hall in which the meeting took place. Presiding was a Cuban flag and a flag of the FEU, whose tradition goes back to the days of Julio Antonio Mella, the founder of the Cuban Communist Party.

Alan Woods with Micro X students
Alan Woods with Micro X students

On the top shelf of the library was an old Soviet painting of the 1905 revolution depicting a fallen worker passing on a red flag to a comrade. The painting was symbolic of the whole meeting, in which the ideas of Marxism and Bolshevism are being passed on to an eager new generation of Latin American revolutionaries. Prominently displayed on the shelves were works by Trotsky, Ted Grant and Alan Woods, published in Spanish by the Frederick Engels Foundation. A very vibrant and enthusiastic group of students from Cuba and many different Latin American countries listened to Alan with rapt attention.

There were many questions, including the Colombian government, the possibility of a revolutionary movement in Peru, perspectives for Cuba, the question of armed struggle, dialectical materialism and complexity theory, Trotskyism, the left turn in Latin America and the class struggle in Europe and the US.

A corner of the Frederick Engels Foundation stand
A corner of the Frederick Engels Foundation stand

The lively debate lasted for almost three hours after which Alan Woods summed up by stressing the responsibility of all those present to build the forces of Marxism throughout the Latin American continent. "In this room I do not see any Cubans, Colombians, Chileans or Argentineans. I see soldiers of the international army of the proletariat," Alan concluded to enthusiastic applause.

The intervention of the Frederick Engels Foundation at the Havana Book Fair is continuing for the rest of the week and Alan Woods is due to speak at a number of other events.


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