I just finished reading Angela Davis’ autobiography, published in 1978, shortly after the conclusion of her trial, when she was 28 years old. The Spanish edition is extended very briefly by another political prisoner, the Basque Arnaldo Otegi. I found attractive the simplicity and the clarity Davis uses to expose the institutional racism and police brutality of the United States of the time. In the high security prison of Soledad, after a fight in the courtyard, a guard shot and killed a prisoner. When, during the protests, another guard was accidentally killed, the authorities chose as scapegoats a series of black prisoners, including George Jackson, and accused them of murder. On the day of the trial, Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan, seventeen, stormed into the room and made an attempt to capture hostages, with the aim of using them for a negotiation, but the priorities of the police were first of all to quell every mutiny: the van where the assailants had entered was riddled, Jonathan and a judge killed, and several witnesses injured. Angela Davis, a PhD student under the direction of Herbert Marcuse at the University of California and a professor herself, deeply involved in fighting judicial and prison abuses against men and women of her race, had been campaigning for Jackson and his comrades (the brothers of Soledad) for several months, and, following the events of the trial, was accused of murder, kidnapping and rebellion. By the time of her trial, Jackson was murdered in prison. Eventually, Davis and Jackson’s comrades were all declared innocent.
In the book, Davis obsessively insists on a few issues: the relationship between racism and capitalism (in fact the subordination of racism to capitalism), the validity of communism also in the struggle of people of color (against the opinion of nationalist sectors, which dismissed Marx’s ideas as “European”), and, perhaps most of all, the need (always, day to day) for mass mobilization. On this last point, I find these words revealing: “We have been forbidden to seek the truth about our survival. We have been forbidden to know that survival is a collective enterprise, which must be offensive rather than defensive. For us, the principle of survival demands the annihilation of everything that forces us to organize our lives around that principle. ”