Looking for Books

By Esteban Diaz

 El Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton
El Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton

El  Salvadorian poet Roque Dalton once commented that poetry brought him closer to the revolution.  In my case, the coin landed on the other side; it was the “revolution” – as a struggle of social contradictions – that drew me to political science, and through that I came closer to poetry, revolutionary literature, the exact sciences and social sciences.

Maybe that order is not the most common, but the study of Marxism has forced me to understand the cultural journey of all of society to come closer to fathoming this remarkable revolutionary theory.

Coming to Cuba I was able to find books as interesting as “Capital,” “The Communist Manifesto,” “Ten Days that Shook the World,” “Lenin’s Collected Works,” as well as countless volumes of universal literature.

Over the years I’ve gone crazy stockpiling books, since – in comparison to the cost in Argentina – they are considerably less expensive here. When I left Argentina, the price of the three volumes of “Capital” was $60, while I was able to get them here for $7 a couple of years ago. In general, books range between the 10 and 20 Cuban pesos (between $0.50 and $1.00 USD). All that encouraged me to read a lot and with more ease.

Nonetheless, the situation of Cuban society is another story.  More than half of the books that currently grab people’s interest here are older editions, published from between 1965 and 1975, which means they’re pretty beat up.  A great part of these came from other countries like the former USSR, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, etc.  And of these materials, very few are circulating for sale.

The books in State-run stores are on and by Jose Marti, Fidel Castro, or contemporary literature from Cuba and Latin America. These days, however, such works are generally not popular with a large percentage of the public, especially the youth, who have to search for “used books” that for the most part are sold by self-employed vendors, though their inventories are not totally satisfying.

That is to say, youth have to turn to these vendors to develop their intellects. All I can say is good luck! – though that is not an attack on the independent vendors, who are merely looking to earn their daily bread and butter.

The problem lies with the “socialist” State. It should be able to unite the whole of society through literature on economics, politics, culture, etc.  That is to say, with its tools it should be able to surpass individual vendors, demonstrating the potential of collectivization and furthering socialization.

The shortage of a variety of books – both universal literature as well as the various sciences – is greater than ever.  This begs the question: How it is possible that after 50 years of revolution it’s not possible to find an extensive Marxist bibliography in the bookstores and libraries of Cuba?

Presently you can find new editions of “Ten Days that Shook the World” and “The Communist Manifesto,” but the State fails to publish a large number of books by authors from the spectrum of the Marxist revolutionary movement, from its beginnings to the present.

If the youth comprise the foundation of all revolutionary societies, we cannot let their minds fall into abeyance.  Formal education in academia is not enough.  Young people must be motivated in the constant search for knowledge; and what’s better than the theory drawn from the entire Marxist movement? – maintaining a critical posture towards any established order that causes us to drift backwards.

2 thoughts on “Looking for Books

  • Where have millions of Cuba’s books gone? Consider these alleged production numbers:

    “Independent libraries in Cuba? Perhaps Cubans don’t have access to books? Let’s leave ideological prejudices behind and use numbers. … In 2003, more than 2,000 titles, for a print run of 30 million copies, were published.” — Salim Lamrani, “Cuba and the Myth of the Independent Libraries,” [On line]. Znet. July 30, 2004. Translated by Dana Lubow. Available at

    Cuban Minister of Culture Abel Prieto Jiménez, interviewed 9 November 2004: “We now publish more than 50 million books a year and have done much to diffuse Cuban and international literature to the masses. People … can read world classics.” See http://www.cubanlibrariessolidaritygroup.org.uk/articles.asp?ID=13.

    Where have all these books gone? A recent report of a toilet paper shortage is one clue. See http://www.miamiherald

  • As Eduardo Diaz makes clear, all points of view should be available to people, in Cuba and everywhere else. Fortunately, an independent library movement exists in Cuba with the goal of providing access to books representing all viewpoints, including the many topics censored by the government. Cuba’s volunteer librarians are being persecuted. Some are serving 20-year prison terms, and many of their books have been burned by court order following police raids. The jailed librarians have been adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. For details on Cuba’s pioneering independent library movement and what the international community can do to support them, please refer to the webpage of our organization: (www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org)

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