Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Angela Davis Autobiography: The Black Masses Make History, The Revisionists Distort It

First Published: Class Struggle, No. 1, Spring 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Angela Davis, leading member of the revisionist Communist Party USA, has recently published an autobiography which is rising on the best-seller list, and has received a number of favorable reviews in the bourgeois press. The book, while purporting to be a documentation of important events in the Black liberation struggle, is actually filled with little more than personal glorification of Angela Davis. It consistently liquidates the Black national question, and glosses over the role of the masses of Black people in making their own history.

The publication of the book is significant, because it is very much in line with the CPUSA’s campaign to hide its years of class collaboration and liquidation of the struggle for Afro-American self-determination behind the militant and glamorous image of Davis.

Angela Davis was the victim of a fascist, racist police frame-up in 1970 when she was charged with “murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy.” These charges were brought because a gun registered in her name was used in the Marin County Courthouse shoot-out by Jonathan Jackson, trying to free his brother George and other political prisoners from Soledad Prison.

In the two years that followed, hundreds of thousands of people, protested the frame-up of Angela Davis, and demanded her freedom as well as the freedom of the Soledad Brothers, and Ruchell Magee, a Soledad prisoner who was charged as a “co-conspirator” with Davis. While Davis was freed, Ruchell Magee has never been cleared of the charges, and is serving life imprisonment.

This mass movement, which for a time had Angela Davis as its focus, contributed much towards bringing the question of political prisoners before the American people, and exposing the racism of the government in its sabotage attacks on Black liberation fighters like George Jackson. Angela Davis, during this period, was also viewed by many Black women as an important symbol of their fight for equality as both Blacks and women.

For all these reasons, Angela Davis became a very popular figure, and for these reasons too, her book will probably be read by many people. But the contents of the book prove that aside from being a symbol of the Black people’s struggle, Angela Davis’ political views are tied directly to the revisionism of the CPUSA.


While prefacing the book by saying, “The forces that have made my life what it is are the very same forces that have shaped and mis-shaped the lives of millions of people,” Davis proceeds to talk mostly about herself, and very little about the Black masses. She dismisses Watts saying that while Watts was exploding she was studying philosophy in Frankfurt, Germany, and felt “frustrated” at not being able to participate in the struggle of her people. To Davis, the main question was not the oppression of Black people in Watts, the brutality of the police, the flames of resistance and rebellion–but whether or not she personally would go back to the U.S. to participate in this movement.

Continuing her study of philosophy and her travels through Europe, Davis recalls the “Dialectics of Liberation” Conference she attended in London in 1967. Among the many who spoke at this conference were Herbert Marcuse, and Stokely Carmichael. Marcuse, with his anti-Marxist theories of Freudianism and youth culture, had been Davis’ professor at Brandeis University. Throughout the book, there is nothing but praise for Marcuse, and not a word of criticism. But Carmichael’s speech is attacked for being “too nationalist.” Many of the criticisms Davis raises of Stokely Carmichael were correct. For example the fact that he didn’t put forward the leadership of the working class in the Black liberation struggle. But the real crime belongs to Davis and the revisionists, who while calling themselves the standard-bearers of the working class, actually betrayed the working class struggle through reformism and electoralism. Davis heaps consistent criticism on Carmichael, the Black Panther Party and other figures in the Black struggle, who while not Marxist-Leninists, were playing a very progressive role at that time (1967-68). She bitterly condemns the “lack of program” of the Panthers, “individual terrorism” etc. But when it comes to the Black Democratic Party politicians like Mervin Dymally (now California Lt. Governor), Davis mentions only that “their support contributed greatly to the struggle.”

This is the class stand which is reflected in this autobiography–the stand of the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie, with firm reliance, not on the working class, but on the liberals, the intellectuals, lawyers and professors. This is combined with the condemnation of any movements among the people which base themselves on class struggle rather than the capitulation of the revisionists.


Without saying a word about the positive contributions of organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee (SNCC), Davis only alludes to her personal role in it and characterizes it as being an “anti-communist” organization. She says that because of a split between SNCC in Los Angeles and the CPUSA, the chapter there collapsed. She has plenty of verbal venom for the nationalism which led some SNCC members to call socialism “a white man’s thing” but nowhere does she go to the root of the problem, which includes in no small measure, the consistent liquidation of the Black national question by her own revisionist party over the last 20 years. The fact that Davis, with all her charisma, etc. was unable to work within SNCC without destroying it in Los Angeles, is testimony to her revisionist outlook towards the nationalist sentiments among sectors of the Black masses. The fact that many former members of SNCC have become leading fighters for Marxism-Leninism and against the revisionism of the CPUSA is further evidence.

After the bout between the CP and SNCC, Davis says she “turned over her fifty cents,” and became a full-fledged member of the revisionist party. At this point she tells of how she dropped all of her previous criticisms she had of the racism of the CPUSA. In what is perhaps the book’s most incriminating paragraph, Davis criticizes herself for having “accused the Communist Party of not paying sufficient attention to the national and racial dimensions of the oppression of Black people.” By her own account, it was this liquidation of the national question which drove many SNCC members and other Black liberation fighters away from the CP.

This section of the book is the last time she even mentions the “national oppression” of Black people. Although the national question was always been central to Marxism-Leninism, Davis apparently agrees with the revisionist line of the CPUSA and the Democratic Party that integration is all there is to the struggle of Black people and that the right of self-determination no longer is applicable. At a time when large numbers of Black and other minority peoples are moving towards revolutionary action and thought, and the revolutionary position of Marxism on the national question has become decisive in winning them to this cause, Angela Davis sees fit to write a book whichignores this question entirely.

Her reasons for joining the revisionist party reflect her idealist world view. They are filled with personal motivation and careerism rather than feeling for the masses. She says: “I wanted an anchor, a base, a mooring. I needed comrades with whom I could share a common ideology.” Apparently sharing common thoughts was more important to Angela Davis than what those thoughts were. Her isolation from the masses is reflected in her own words as she described her early days living in San Diego: “Sometimes I would get into my car and, out of sheer frustration drive ... towards Logan Heights, where the largest concentration of Black people lived, and drive around aimlessly, day-dreaming, trying to devise some way of escaping this terrible isolation.” To Davis, the Black masses are a faceless crowd she is isolated from.

Over a third of the book is devoted to Davis’ murder trial. This section highlights the “brilliance” of her attorneys, the emotions felt while in jail, and the support the CP gave her. But whenever the masses appear, they are only an unknown woman who clenches her fist as Davis goes by, or a prison worker who smiles and tells her, “we’re with you all the way.” The lessons of the mass movement against repression are never mentioned, let alone summed up.


A long section is devoted to proving that there was never any split between Davis and her charged co-conspirator Ruchell Magee. She talks about how much it “pained her” to hear people talk of such a split. However, it appears from the book and subsequent history that Davis and her lawyers forced Magee out of the joint defense, using a disagreement over tactics to do so. The revisionists undoubtedly felt they would have a better chance of defending the beautiful, eloquent Angela alone, than if her case was tied to a Black worker serving a life sentence. The CP raised the slogan, “Free Angela, Our Beautiful Sister!” without mention of Magee.

Davis never deals with the criticism which many Black activists (and whites) have made since her acquittal–namely that she has yet to lift a finger to help free Ruchell Magee. When she was first released, many people thought that she would concentrate on working with the Magee case, but instead, her first act was to fly off to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, to be paraded around the world to make it appear that the revisionists were leaders in the cause of Black liberation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While the autobiography of Angela Davis presents some militant-sounding material about the Black struggle, its essential content reveals that she has ideologically abandoned Marxism-Leninism and the struggle of the working class and the Afro-American people to become another mouth-piece for modern revisionism and the CPUSA.