Angela Davis recently celebrated a birthday and the release of a new book Abolition.Feminism.Now. and the release of the third edition of her autobiography.
For nearly the span of my lifetime, she has been a relentlessly consistent force for anti-capitalism, empowerment, and global solidarity among the dispossessed. Her autobiography was a salve, inspiration, and touchstone during difficult days for me. Days in which police harassment and institutional anti-Black violence were a near-daily given.
Today, as we witness the perilous repercussions of neoliberal individualism, I am more convinced than ever that we need to engage in relentless critique of our centering of the individual. As was the case fifty years ago, I believe that if we fail to emphasize how our lives are precisely produced at the many junctions of the social and the individual, we fundamentally distort the was we live and struggle in community with one another and with our nonhuman companions on the planetAngela Davis, Preface to the third edition(2021) of Angela Davis, An Autobiography
Today, February 21, 2022, is the 107th birthday Claudia Jones, a fierce Trinidadian activist, intellectual Communist buried to the left of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery; it is the 174th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto. Leftward Books in Delhi originated Red Books day to celebrate the work of leftist author — it is a joy to use it as another opportunity to celebrate the writing and vision of Dr. Davis.
In her autobiography, Davis describes her first encounters with the Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto hit me like a bolt of lightening. I read it avidly, finding in it answers to many of the seemingly unanswerable dilemmas that had plagued me. I read it over and over again, not completely understanding every passage or every idea, but enthralled nevertheless by the possibility of a communist revolution here.Angela Davis, An Autobiography
She goes on
What struck me so emphatically was the idea that once the emancipation of the proletariat became a reality, the foundation was laid for the emancipation of all oppressed groups in the society. Images surged up in my mind of Black workers in Birmingham trekking every morning to the steel mills or descending into the mines.Angela Davis, An Autobiography
I too had those images of my great uncles laboring in those same Birmingham factories, their partners working equally as hard to collectively make ends meet — barely. Day after day having having the life slowly sucked out of them, passing away too soon, taking the pain and indignities with them to early graves too soon.
In a decades long life of struggle for a just world, Davis and many others including Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Ericka Huggins have transformed and expanded upon the possibilities and limitations of Marx and Engels work. The abolition of prison and policing, one of the hallmark struggles to which Davis has devoted decades is itself an embodiment of the abolition called for in the manifesto: to do away with “the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the labourer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only insofar as the interest of the ruling class requires it.”
I’m not aware of any conversations between Harriet Tubman or Engels or between Marx and any of the bold Black women who were embodying in daily struggles of insurrection across the Americas. In those idealized conversations, the writers of the Communist Manifesto might have come to a conclusion that their Black feminist revolutionary contemporaries had long known: that capitalism was always racial. In the preface to her autobiography, Davis reflects upon the struggles of the last decades
Even if these movements have not produced the structural transformations we know we need in order for the masses of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Middle Eastern, Asian, and working-class white people to begin to enjoy the material and intellectual benefits of life in an industrial society — or even life on this planet, regardless of the level of development in a particular region — they help us to envisage concrete possibilities of such revolutionary changes in the future.Angela Davis, An Autobiography
In the prescient and bravely reflective writing of Angela Davis it becomes clear how the path to freedom is not some static, fixed route. These words from her preface are particularly important:
While I have expressed chagrin at recognizing how intellectually and politically immature I was, I realize that this was, in many ways, and unavoidable historical immaturity characteristic of our engagements with the world we wanted to transform. At the same time, I also realize how happy I am that many of us continued to press forward, which required and acknowledgement of our past capitulations to prevailing misogynist, ableist, and homophobic and transphobic ideas and vocabularies.Angela Davis, An Autobiography
To fully understand and confront history is to open ourselves up to even more radical futures
Only by taking history seriously could these immensely important insights have eventually become accessible to us. This recognition also means that our work to imagine possible futures will give rise to new insights that will render some of current ideas and vocabularies obsolete.Angela Davis, An Autobiography
I invite you to explore Davis’s Freedom is a Constant Struggle as well as Claudia Jones’ An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman.