Angela Davis’ advice: identify with the defeated?
There are many things I admire about Angela Davis, and I have warm memories of being on a panel with her at Rethinking Marxism 2000. She was wise and very gracious. But she reportedly told the OWS gathering at Zuccotti tonight to: 1) identify with Troy Davis, and 2) study the Attica prisoners for pointers on how to become a “dangerous class.” I have two problems with this: 1) Troy Davis is dead. His execution was a crime, but as anything but a moral force, he’s dead. And 2) the Attica prisoners were utterly crushed. Many of them are either dead or still behind bars.
The American carceral state is an appalling horror, a grotesque form of social control. But most people are not in prison. There are about 70 times as many employed members of the working class as there are prisoners in the U.S. Even among African Americans, there are about 30 times as many employed as there are behind bars. There are about 6 times as many black unemployed as there are prisoners. Yet if you judged by a lot of left discourse, the modal black American is a prisoner.
Why such an emphasis on people with no social power? The working class produces everything of value, and could shut it all down tomorrow if it wanted to. I’d be the first to say that too much behavior is criminalized, there are way too many people behind bars, and our prisons are miserable places. But the only reason to have any hope for social transformation is that “we are many, they are few.” In strictly numerical terms, there are about as many prisoners as there are members of the bourgeoisie. Revolutions are not made by the most marginalized members of a society.