From a talk by Gloria Verdieu at Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center in San Diego. Verdieu shared the stage with poets from the San Diego / Tijuana reEvolutionary Poets Brigade at an evening of “Poetry, Education, and Voter Registration.”
Thank you for inviting me to speak at this important event. A lot of thought went into what I wanted to speak on since I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I am a socialist. I believe that socialism, which ultimately leads to communism, is the key to a better world for all of us.
I thought about an essay by political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal entitled “Women of the World” which begins with the words:
“Who can think of the world’s women, and not marvel? There is no area of human endeavor upon which the mark of woman has not been made, and made well.”
I thought about Sisters in the Struggle, Black women who fought for a better world for everyone while focusing on justice and freedom for Black people: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, all Black women of the Civil Rights and the Black Liberation movements.
I thought about Black women who have embraced socialism, as I have, and who committed their lives to creating a better world for all people:
Lucy Parsons, Mabel Byrd, Capitola Tasker, Lulia Jackson, Louise Thompson, Claudia Jones and Angela Davis.
Lucy Parsons, born in 1853, joined the Socialist Labor Party and fought for the rights of labor, Blacks and women until her death in 1942.
In 1934, three Black women joined the U.S. delegation that traveled to Paris for the International Women’s Conference. Mabel Byrd was elected to be one of the conference secretaries. Capitola Tasker and Lulia Jackson stunned the conference with their eloquent testimonies about African-American struggles for human dignity.
Louise Thompson studied Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin and emerged as a leader in the Harlem Branch of the CPUSA. In the 1930s, her apartment became a forum where Black intellectuals and activists discussed the Bolshevik Revolution and the party’s position on African Americans in the South.
Claudia Jones was born in Trinidad and became one of the most respected members of the CPUSA. Jones joined after working with the CPUSA in the defense of the Scottsboro Brothers.
Angela Davis’s commitment to the struggle of Black people intensified on Sept. 15, 1963, when four Black girls were murdered in the racist bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama: Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson. As part of her militant activism, Angela Davis organized rallies and demonstrations defending the political prisoners known as the Soledad Brothers, and she herself became a political prisoner.
Okay, so what does a socialist country look and feel like?
To answer this, I would like to read a portion of a speech given by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1959. Du Bois spent several months in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the Soviet Union and China.
I have been to socialist Cuba several times. On one visit, I got sick and was admitted into a Cuban hospital, where I stayed for 16 days in 2007. I was 50 years old at the time, so I was in a room with seniors. I had 2 roommates in their 70s who had witnessed the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
During that two-and-a-half weeks I was worried about my job, because my vacation time had run out and my boss did not know I was in Cuba.
So, here are some observations from Du Bois in 1959 that I also noticed during my stay in Cuba in 2007.
The people are ordinary folk; they are not in chains; they laugh and cry; they work and rest; there are homes and schools. Life goes on about the same as here. Of course with time and through observation you do see differences.
One thing they fear which we do not, and that is war. They know what war is, what it costs in death and destruction, in dislocation of life, in disease and hurt. The world fears war, except the United States. We laugh and joke about it. Our children play at murder.
In socialist countries, certain fears are absent which never leave the waking hours of Western lands, and are always there in the hours of sleep. They are four in number: unemployment, old age, sickness and opportunity to rest.
Take any person you know, anyone you meet. Take yourself. We fear unemployment, losing our job, being unable to work.
This, the socialist citizen does not fear. He or she may have to change work, may have to change the place of work, but of work at current pay they are always sure.
We fear old age. What will we do when we’re old? We are desperate to save enough to insure a decent life when we are too old to earn. Thousands of people walk our streets each day sick with fear of age. The citizens of socialist countries do not fear age. Every citizen is certain of support, of food and shelter and clothes, as long as they live. It may not be of the highest quality or what we prefer, but they will not freeze nor starve.
We are frightened of sickness and accident, and attack of some disease, being knocked over by a car. Any day, any time, we may be put to bed by such misadventure. We may be covered by insurance, but many people are not. We can seldom afford the best medical care, and we nearly always lose pay and burden our families when sick. In socialist countries medical care is given great attention. Physicians are being increased rapidly in number and distribution according to the need, even if that need is in a lonesome country district or in a far-off province, or late at night. Medical care is available for all. Of course, everybody cannot get the best, but none are neglected.
All workers need rest, but how many of us dare take it? Some provision or recreation is made, but most workers do not get adequate recreation, and can hardly afford what they take. In socialist lands, the vacation with pay is part of the work contract. The vacation will not be at a fashionable resort, it may not be what the worker would choose, but it will be rest with medical care, with food and recreation.
These systems are not perfect. They break down here and there, now and then, but they are successful. This kind of rest and protection stands in the midst of the supporters of socialism.
Then there is the problem of children: the loss of time, the pain and discomfort of their birth, the time and money needed for their upbringing, the question of their education and life employment. Many people refuse to procreate children because of these problems so difficult to solve in capitalist lands with individual initiative. But in socialist lands the problem of children comes first. The working mother has rest time with pay during pregnancy. The children are in nurseries and kindergarten when small, and in school as they grow. There is higher education with pay for studying and school attendance and as they become of age, free training for earning a living is open to them according to talent. All of these programs again are not perfect. School facilities lag. School programs go wrong. Monies are wasted. All of this and more, yet the school systems of socialist lands outstrip the systems of Western Europe and of the United States.
I can see the wealth of human ability the socialist lands are preserving and using for humanity, and see why they have little juvenile delinquency.
All this effort costs: in money, in freedom, in individual training. It means discipline. It means that individuals do what they are told to do, in many cases, rather than what they want to do. But is the situation much different here? Are we free in America to do what we please?
Of course not, in a world of natural law, in a world of human legislation, in a world of habit and inherited cultural patterns, the area of human freedom of action must be seriously curtailed. But it is further narrowed when industry, ownership of property, and distribution of income is directed by the owners of capital goods and by the men who own and control the labor of human beings. The question is not whether there will be discipline, but rather, who is to administer it and under what controls will most of the essential freedoms be conserved. The anarchy of individual rule and the rule of chance is inadmissible, just as complete slavery is unthinkable. Discipline involves planning, and planning is absolutely necessary for modern industry. We must not deceive ourselves by assuming that the industry of the United States is not planned. It is planned by the owners of capital and for the individual profit which the enterprises bring. This may lead to much prosperity, but it also leads to financial crises, to poverty, to exploitation and unemployment, and to crime. Socialism, on the contrary, tries to plan for the general welfare of all citizens. It owns the wealth used for industry. It controls the labor which produces wealth and seeks to distribute property according to need and not by chance, inheritance or force.
One of the principles of socialism is democratic centralism. It takes the full participation of everyone in order for this process of democratic centralism to work.
I am a registered voter and I believe in the democratic process, but I believe we must look carefully at what we are voting for because in this capitalistic system we continue to vote away our rights because we vote based on our individual needs and wants; not for the needs of everyone.
We must study socialism and capitalism, to figure out what it is going to take to make a better world for all people.
And we must fight for it!
Thank you for listening.