Born in 1943 and raised in Alaquippe, Pennsylvania, Carl Davidson earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Penn State University and subsequently (1965-66) found employment as a philosophy instructor at the University of Nebraska. From 1966-68, Davidson, a Marxist, served as vice president and international secretary of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and was a national leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement. From 1968-76, he served as the news editor of Guardian Newsweekly.
Davidson and Tom Hayden take credit for having launched in 1969 the “Venceremos Brigades,” which covertly transported hundreds of young Americans to Cuba to help harvest sugar cane and interact with Havana’s communist revolutionary leadership. (The Brigades were organized by Fidel Castro‘s Cuban intelligence agency, which trained “brigadistas” in guerrilla warfare techniques including the use of arms and explosives.) Many years later, Davidson would reflect on his positive early impressions of Castro: “He [Castro] is a remarkable man, with a photographic memory, wide knowledge and keen insights…. We should all wish Fidel and Cuba well, and double our voices against the blockade.”
In the 1970s Davidson joined the Standing Committee of the “Communist Party USA (Marxist-Leninist)” or CPML, which the Chinese Communist Party recognized as its U.S. fraternal party. He was also the editor of Class Struggle, CPML’s theoretical journal, and was a staff writer for the Maoist publication The Guardian. After CPML collapsed in 1982, Davidson joined the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS), a Marxist-Leninist group whose membership included the poet Amiri Baraka. Davidson served a stint as co-editor of Forward, LRS’s magazine.
Davidson worked on Jesse Jackson‘s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.
In January 1985, Davidson founded a company called Independent Media/Techtrain, which he headed for the next 22+ years.
In 1988 Davidson founded Networking For Democracy (NFD), an organization dedicated to teaching a blend of computer skills and radical politics to Chicago-area teenagers — encouraging them to engage in “mass action” aimed at “tearing down the old structures of race and class privilege” in the United States “and around the world.”
In 1992 Davidson joined the National Committee of the newly formed Committees of Correspondence, a Marxist coalition of former Maoists, Trotskyists, and Communist Party USA members. The organization later changed its name to the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). Davidson has served as one of its national co-chairs since July 2009.
In the mid-1990s Davidson was a major player in the Chicago branch of the New Party, a socialist political coalition whose members hailed largely from the Committees of Correspondence, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and ACORN. Davidson first met Barack Obama through the New Party, which endorsed Obama’s campaign for the Illinois state senate in 1996. Quickly becoming one of Obama’s most ardent political supporters, Davidson counseled leftists to seek to expand their influence by means of electoral politics rather than revolution – specifically, by using the New Party to work within the Democratic Party and push it to the left ideologically.
Circa 1999-2000, Davidson served as a technology specialist for the “Small Schools Workshop” (SSM) in Chicago, premised on the notion that if high schools were to limit their enrollment to no more than 400 students, the learning atmosphere on campus would be improved. Other key SSM figures included Bill Ayers, Timuel Black, Michael Klonsky, and Susan Klonsky.
In 2001, Davidson joined the Steering Committee of the Global Studies Association, a position he continues to hold.
In September 2002, Davidson and Marilyn Katz were among several Chicago-area residents who co-founded Chicagoans Against War in Iraq (CAWI). Soon thereafter, Davidson organized the October 2, 2002 anti-war rally in Chicago’s Federal Plaza, where Barack Obama first drew widespread attention as a Democrat orator.
From October 2002 to January 2008, Davidson served as a National Steering Committee member of United for Peace and Justice.
A supporter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Davidson denounced the 2003 Iraq War as an ill-advised endeavor rooted in American imperialism and “racism.” “Organized terror,” he elaborated, “especially against those with darker skin, is a deep strain in our [U.S.] history” – particularly as a tactic for “the defense of empire.” In June 2004 Davidson condemned “the Bush administration’s ill-conceived ‘War on Terror,’ its drive to an unjust war with Iraq, and … the ongoing brutal occupation of that country.” Blaming “Bush’s unilateralist, militaristic approach” for having “lost the battle for hearts and minds … in the Islamic world,” he accused the President of using the professed goal of “expanding democracy” as “a cover for U.S. hegemonism and Empire.” Added Davidson: “[T]he U.S government, at least over the past 50 years, has been the chief terrorist and sponsor of terrorism in the world. We can never forget that our government has the blood of a million Vietnamese on its hands.”
In 2006 Davidson was an original Board member of the Movement for a Democratic Society, along with such notables as Tariq Ali, Stanley Aronowitz, Paul Buhle, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Bernardine Dohrn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Tom Hayden, Jeff Jones, Rashid Khalidi, Michael Klonsky, Manning Marable, Leonard Weinglass, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn.
By 2007, Davidson had grown somewhat disillusioned by what he perceived to be a diminution in Barack Obama’s anti-war fervor. Nevertheless, in 2008 he enthusiastically backed Obama’s presidential bid and became an original member of Progressives for Obama, which later changed its name to Progressive America Rising (PAR). Davidson also served as PAR’s webmaster from 2008-12.
In November 2007, Davidson became a Board member of the Solidarity Economy Network, which seeks to help “build the movement for transformative social and economic justice”; he continues to serve on the Board today.
On at least two occasions — 2011 and 2013 — Davidson has been a guest speaker at gatherings of the Left Forum.
In 2016, Davidson was elected to CCDS’s National Coordinating Committee. In 2017 he helped build a DSA chapter that represented three counties in Pennsylvania.
In April 2019, Davidson and the Marxist activist Bill Fletcher Jr. co-authored a piece titled “A Left Strategy for the 2020 Elections and Beyond,” which included the following passages:
“As the 2020 presidential campaigns begin in 2019, nearly everyone on the left knows the stakes are high. The defeat of Donald Trump and the ejection of his right-wing and white supremacist populist bloc from the centers of political power is a tactical goal of some urgency not only for Democrats but also for leftists. The outcome of the upcoming election will have a direct effect on thwarting right-wing populism and the clear and present danger of incipient fascism and war….
“Socialists shouldn’t work ‘within the Democratic party,’ but with one of its clusters, the Congressional Progressive Caucus [CPC], especially its DSA/WFP/PDA left wing and its mass allies…. The goal would be to develop and expand the CPC, win over as many of the New Democrats as possible, and isolate the Blue Dogs if they can’t be budged.”
Davidson has authored or co-authored several books, including CyberRadicalism: A New Left for a Global Age (co-authored with Jerry Harris), and Stopping War, Seeking Justice (co-authored with Marilyn Katz).