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    Angela Davis and Communism

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    Born from suffering and living without freedom it is fascinating that enslaved black men and women “transformed that negative equality which emanated from the equal oppression they suffered as slaves into a positive quality: the egalitarianism characterizing their social relations” (Davis 16). Angela Davis in Women, Race, and Class takes a radical re-visioning of the suffrage movement specifically through the eyes of black women united by this same paradoxical statement. In examining the lesser heard people of history and modern day society, Davis re-contextualizes what went wrong during the push for equal rights lead by (predominantly) middle class white people and how it can go better by listening to black perspective.

    Through critical examination of bourgeoisie-lead revolutions, Davis ultimately posits that activists (with plenty of exceptions who were ultimately ignored) thought too situationally in the dismantlement of injustice and failed to evaluate the class struggles and economic inequity at its roots. In shedding light on the underreported poor, black, and female struggle; Davis effectively advocates for a new model of activism and for society that ultimately lend itself to socialism. In setting the stage for her argument, Davis opens with a case specific instance of what would have proved Marx’s and Engel’s line that “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production… and with them the whole relations of society” (8). No more was this instance more amplified than with the enslavement of African people of which the entire regional economy was built off of.

    The bourgeoisie, with their goal to commodify everything and thus strip it all of its sacredness, lead to the forced unity and political education of African Americans. On the plantation there was no job for which a slave woman was “too feminine” to do, be it in the fields or in the coal mines (Davis 11). This forceful labor combined with unequal use of sexual predation by slave masters (and once again during Reconstruction) meant black women had to endure and become stronger than the societal norm of maternal fragility the likes of which Harriet Beecher Stowe proposed. Abuse that persisted into Reconstruction era where “Time after time they have been victims of extortion on the job, compelled to choose between sexual submission and absolute poverty for themselves and their families” (Davis 55) which reinforces Marx and Engel’s notion that “the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can (the bourgeoisie) come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women” (25). These sufferings combined greatly motivated its harshest victims to push for reform and emancipation in life, the ballot box, and of the tenant slavery.

    However it was with cusp of initial victory wherein previous (at times, tepid) allies towards the abolition as a whole turned their backs on one another in favor of a zero-sum game with the powers that be. Throughout her historical exposition, Davis characterizes the wrongs and inner divisions perpetuated by the leading women’s suffragettes, in spite of the support that black people had given them. She devotes an entire chapter to the wrongdoings of high profile leaders of the suffrage movement turning their backs on their black sisters and brothers in order to maintain political expediency. Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself wrote “In fact, it is better to be the slave of an educated white man, than of a degraded, ignorant black one” (Davis 44) when attempting to insulate the feminist movement.

    Though this quote certainly in part comes from desperate appeals to a now semi-receptive male upper class, it also highlights major oversights of the movement. In noting the “ignorance” aspect, the movement fails to acknowledge the socioeconomic disadvantages posed onto African Americans well still yet not doing it justice; Frederick Douglass after all was crucial in to adopting their platform of equal vote. It illustrates Marx and Engel’s point that “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers” (21) in assessing the complete and utter unsustainability of the bourgeoisie. Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin acclaim shows this vicious deflecting cycle when she stated “They (women) are not, after all, fit to vote where the Irishman votes, and where the African votes?” I say it is more important that women should vote than that the black man should vote” (Davis 45).

    She illustrates a quite obvious yet brutal equation acknowledged by communists; the bourgeoisie in power will always seek to conquer and divide the working classes by pitting them against one another. Because the society of private property ultimately puts a value on identity and characteristic, everybody “playing” will try to convince others that they/their group have the higher value than others, and thus (temporarily) pushes themselves up on the picking ladder. What Davis argues is that rather than play by a “everything will be fine until this particular, personal change occurs” that women in particular must unify to break the system of competition as a whole. She points out that some of the purest activists for women’s and black rights were school teachers, had the suffragettes been willing to unify on education, they may have been able to comprehensively fight the male-centered bourgeoisie patriarchy.

    However Davis’ exact plan for that unity doesn’t entirely match with the deal the Communist Manifesto had in mind. Though adaptable to circumstances, national borders, and participants; the Communist Manifesto ultimately advocates for a united response for the creation of a unitary society devoid of division. They state how the cause of the proletariat is the cause of the communist, and yet their view lends itself to a broadness in going through with mass revolution to dismantle the institutions all at once. Davis isn’t at the point where she sees all as one, as throughout her argument she specifically posits the inherent difficulties found in black female struggle. In identifying and focusing on race, in some ways she subscribes to the nature of private property by identifying and making clear the nuance of their strengths and struggles.

    She specifically identifies the importance of black female clubs in that during these “They had come together to decide upon a strategy of resistance to the current propagandistic assaults on Black women and the continued reign of lynch law” (Davis 78) in a way that was specified to their needs. In somewhat of a troubling instance, she also somewhat excuses injustice from a situational standpoint when it relates to black suffrage, brushing aside some of Frederick Douglass’ wrongdoings as “… occasionally sexist remarks were never so oppressive as to depreciate the value of his contributions to the battle for women’s rights in general” (Davis 52). It’s difficult to quantify suffering, and while its true those sexist remarks probably more offended more middle-class women, the implications still hurt women all down the line. They still play partially into a degree of proletariat pit against proletariat, all while the system of capitalism continues on spinning unabated.

    On a side note although Davis somewhat disparages its importance, it does not appear that she refutes religion or believe it necessarily plays a role into oppression as the communists believe. However what’s more the crux of her divergence is the nature of intersection and acknowledging its benefit, if only in the short term. It is this very focus on women and race that while not ignoring class, in some ways complicates it. While the ultimate argument of Davis is that everything does tie back to the capitalist system, she still thrusts for a future that takes upon this struggle with as much nuance than the people it effects, even if it justifies some degree of inner-division.

    Throughout Women, Race, and Class, Angela Davis aims to debunk the simplified myths of black slavery, suffrage as a fight for the common woman, and the nature of who really lead the revolutions that took us to where we are now. In analyzing this lesser-known take, Davis tears aparts convenient lies of slavery and misogyny as a symptom when it’s in fact a function of the system, and reveal that black women in their abundance of abuse formed to be the ideal advocate for social change as the Marxist ideal. Thus it is through women who have been through the worst of what the bourgeoisie system has to offer, that best exemplify the motivation and means to correct it.

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    Angela Davis and Communism. (2022, Nov 28). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/angela-davis-and-communism/

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