some food fragments for thought:
December 2nd is the UN declared international day for the abolition of slavery. Angela Davis invites us to understand that the legacy of slavery is the prison industrial complex, “the set of political and economic relations in which the system of punishment is embedded.” [from Davis’ The Meaning of Freedom].
Here’s an excerpt from Karl Marx’s ‘Capital: Vol 1’ that provides a historical backdrop of the inner workings of capitalism and creating a class inextricably dependent upon the system [chapter 26]:
“In themselves money and commodities are no more capital than are the means of production and of subsistence. They want transforming into capital. But this transformation itself can only take place under certain circumstances that centre in this, viz., that two very different kinds of commodity-possessors must come face to face and into contact; on the one hand, the owners of money, means of production, means of subsistence, who are eager to increase the sum of values they possess, by buying other people’s labour-power; on the other hand, free laborers, the sellers of their own labour-power, and therefore the sellers of labour. Free laborers, in the double sense that neither they themselves form part and parcel of the means of production, as in the case of slaves, bondsmen, &c., nor do the means of production belong to them, as in the case of peasant-proprietors; they are, therefore, free from unencumbered by, any means of production of their own. With this polarization of the market for commodities, the fundamental conditions of capitalist production are given. The capitalist system pre-supposes the complete separation of the laborers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labor. As soon as capitalist production is once on its own legs, it not only maintains this separation, but reproduces it on a continually extending scale. The process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system, can be none other than the process which takes away from the laborer the possession of his means of production.” [bold mine]
There are particular moments that “act as levers” Marx says, for the flourishing conditions of forming and strengthening a capitalist class and economic structure. “[A]bove all”, he says, “those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means os subsistence, and hurled as free and ‘unattached’ proletarians on the labor-market” create a sudden mass of people who cannot immediately adapt to their new conditions. This new found “freedom” is actually a setup of people indentured to the system by way of creating laborers and/or criminals. As a byproduct of being dispossessed from their land and their ways of sustenance, this mass of people are forced to sell themselves (labor), beg, steal, or find underground economies which by law make them ‘criminals.’
Over one hundred years later, Angela Davis writes “Our criminal justice system sends increasing numbers of people to prison by first robbing them of housing, health care, education, and welfare, and then punishing them when they participate in underground economies.” She extensively writes about the racialization of prisons, and the “negative space” that was left post-abolition. How were black people supposed to be “free” once slavery was abolished when all they were provided was 40 acres and one mule? How did that change the voracious structures of enslavement when there wasn’t access to voting, to civil rights, to civil institutions, to proper resources to have prosperous farms? What ensued, as Marx wrote, were the prime conditions for “legally” utilizing the same technologies of slavery while labeling the new law as “freedom.”
Thus continues the intimate relationship between racism, capitalism and a discourse of ‘democracy’ ensconced with the “ghosts of slavery” [Angela Davis]. In a conversation with Eduardo Mendieta, Davis says, “there is a direct connection with slavery. When slavery was abolished, black people were set free, but they lacked the access to the material resources that would enable them to fashion new and free lives. Prisons have thrived over the last century precisely because of the absence of those resources and the persistence of some of the deep structures of slavery.” [Chap 6, The Meaning of Freedom]
Both W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis (among many others) encourage the practice of imagining life without slavery, without the prison industrial complex, as an essential part of change and movement building. What would it be like to take these (his/her)stories that are heavy with collective injustice and suffering and allow them to fuel our dreams of another way, another world? What could it feel like to shamelessly wish, with child-like wonder, for a world without any kind of slavery?