From palace to prison

It’s fun to be a British royal in Cuba.

Vanity Fair apparently found the whole thing delightful: “With make-your-own mojitos and stylish sunglasses, the future King of England proved that diplomacy can be fun.” The occasion in question was a four-day Cuba trip in late March by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. As VF put it, they “decided to mix work and play,” seeing the island’s “nicest sites and activities” (translation: their hosts took them on what used to be called a “Potemkin tour”), “embrac[ing] Cuba’s love for vintage cars” (as if the superfluity of junky 1950 vehicles were a product of taste and not of necessity), “spoke to artists about their response to a tornado that hit Havana in January” (these were, of course, government-approved artists, not dissident ones who are languishing in jails as political prisoners), and “met with activists who work on issues connected to domestic violence” (again, they certainly didn’t meet with pro-democracy activists).

Charles, meet Che.

Town and Country was so excited by the royal drop-in that it ran a glossy spread featuring “the best photos” of it – for example, an image of the heir to the British throne posing in front of that famous mural of Che Guevara in Havana. Interesting, isn’t it, how these high-class magazines devoted to capitalist comfort are so charmed by one of the world’s few remaining Communist dictatorships? Town and Country, by the way, was one of several publications that included a photo of a bench with a statue of John Lennon seated on it. Nobody bothered to comment, however, on the appropriateness of the Lennon figure: for the fact is that the end result of the political views articulated in Lennon’s anthem “Imagine” is always a terror state like the Castro’s.

Imagine there’s no Windsors.

Then there were the British newspapers. The Express focused on a supposedly whimsical part of the tour, when Charles and Camilla were shown how to use a large press to crush sugar cane to make mojitos. In a classic photo op, the Prince of Wales tried his hand at the press, quipping, apparently to the delight of the press contingent on hand, that he was certainly “cheap labour” – riotous humor for somebody visiting a country that is, in essence, an island prison. The august Times was presumably amused too, running a headline about the wonderful success that had been achieved by the royals’ “mojito diplomacy.”

Making mojitos.

Recall that when Donald and Melania Trump visited Britain last summer, Prince Charles and his older son, Prince William, both refused to meet him, obliging the Queen to greet the President and First Lady alone. When Charles referred to the Holocaust in a speech and lamented the fact that hatreds of the kind that motivated the Nazis are still alive and well, many observers got the distinct impression that he was alluding to Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” Prince Harry, Charles’s second son, has also publicly badmouthed the American President. Curious how key members of the House of Windsor are so eager to be on jolly good terms with Caribbean tyrants but don’t mind insulting the elected leader of their country’s strongest ally and protector.

“The embodiment of all we hold dear”

davislifeYesterday we met Angela Davis, who in August 1970 supplied guns for a courtroom raid and hostage-taking incident in Marin County, California, that was intended to free her boyfriend, a felon then confined at Soledad State Prison. The incident ended in several deaths, and when the authorities became aware of Davis’s role, she was charged with murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping. Instead of surrendering to the police, Davis – who at the time was an active member of both the Communist Party and Black Panthers – became a fugitive from justice.

During her months underground, the FBI put her on its Ten Most Wanted List. She became a household name. Some American Communist leaders wanted to expel her from the Party and brand her a terrorist; but they lost out to other Party honchos, who decided to give Davis the Party’s full support and publicly identify her as a noble crusader against – and tragic victim of – racist, sexist, and capitalist oppression. 

American activist Angela Davis, shortly after she was fired from her post as philosophy professor at UCLA due to her membership of the Communist Party of America, 27th November 1969. (Photo by Lucas Mendes/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Davis in 1969

Davis was finally tracked down and arrested at a New York motel in October 1970. When she went on trial in February 1972, she was represented by the American Communist Party’s general counsel. At the same time, the Party, in league with its sister parties in the West and under the direction of the Kremlin, spearheaded a high-profile worldwide movement promoting sympathy for her “cause” and calling for her release.

This movement won the support of a number of useful celebrity idiots. The Rolling Stones dedicated a song, “Sweet Black Angel,” to Davis; John Lennon and Yoko Ono also recorded a song about her, “Angela.” (It began: “Angela / They put you in prison / Angela / They shot down your man / Angela / You’re one of the billion political prisoners in the world.”)

Among Davis’s fervent supporters were Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. In the USSR, thousands of people signed petitions demanding her freedom; Soviet children mailed postcards to President Nixon pleading with him to let her go.

In the end, Davis was acquitted, despite mountains of incriminating evidence. Ron Radosh later compared the verdict to that in the O.J. Simpson murder trial; so did Roger Kimball, writing: “How did she get off? In part, for the same reason that O.J. Simpson got off: celebrity, edged with racial grievance mongering.” What’s more, the jury was heavily compromised: one of its members was Mary Timothy, an activist who would later become romantically involved with Communist Party official Bettina Aptheker, a friend of Davis’s and founder of the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners.

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Davis in Cuba with Fidel Castro

Following her acquittal, Davis flew to Cuba, a country that she hailed as a model of socialism and racial harmony. In 1975, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn criticized her for having refused to speak up for prisoners in Communist countries. In 1977, she expressed enthusiasm for Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple cult in Guyana, over 900 of whose members, in one of the signal events of that decade, would die in a 1979 mass murder-suicide. Also in 1979, Davis went to Moscow to accept the Lenin Peace Prize. Russian writer Vitaly Korotich, who met her there, later said that she was “a useful tool for the Brezhnev government, used to bolster Communist ideals and speak out against the West during the Cold War.”

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Davis in Moscow, 1972

During those years, the media followed Davis everywhere she went and covered her public activities and statements extensively. An opponent of all American military ventures, Davis gave a thumbs-up to the Soviet invasions of both Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, she received honorary doctorates from two institutions in Warsaw Pact countries, Lenin University and the University of Leipzig.

davis3In 1980 and 1984, she was the Communist Party’s candidate for Vice President. In the 1980s she taught Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University; she was later hired by the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was a member of both the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies departments. The current profile of Davis on the website of UC Santa Cruz includes the following sentence: “Professor Davis’s long-standing commitment to prisoners’ rights dates back to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment.” An interesting way of referring to the fact that Davis supplied Jonathan Jackson with those guns. 

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Davis speaking at the Brooklyn Museum

Today, she is hailed as a hero of feminism, of black civil rights, and of social-justice causes generally. In 2012, Ron Radosh noted that the Superior Court building in Washington, D.C., was hosting “a photo exhibit celebrating renowned black women” – and that one of those honored was none other than Angela Davis. Then, in early June of this year, came the news that Davis had won the Sackler Center award, presented to women at the top of their fields. At the ceremony, Elizabeth Sackler, chairwoman of the Brooklyn Museum, said that Davis was “the embodiment of all we hold dear” and that her very name was “synonymous with truth.” In fact, the award was only one more deplorable example of the contemporary elevation to heroic status of enemies of freedom and champions of totalitarianism.