- Marxist anti-war activist
- Former leader of the Students for a Democratic Society
- Co-founded the Venceremos Brigades
- Leading figure with the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
- Original board member of the Movement for a Democratic Society
- Political supporter of Barack Obama
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.
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 became a member of an organization known as the “Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist,” or CP-ML, which the Chinese Communist Party recognized as its U.S. fraternal party. After CP-ML collapsed in 1982, Davidson joined the League of Revolutionary Struggle, a Marxist-Leninist group whose membership also included the poet Amiri Baraka.
In 1988 Davidson founded Networking for Democracy (NFD), which taught (and continues to teach) a blend of computer skills and radical politics to Chicago-area teenagers. The NFD program encourages students 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 became a leader of the newly formed Committees of Correspondence, a Marxist coalition of former Maoists, Trotskyists, and Communist Party USA members. The organization has since changed its name to the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, where Davidson remains a prominent figure as national co-chair.
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, 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.
In 2002 Davidson helped organize a large Chicago rally where Obama first established himself as an anti-war orator.
A supporter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Davidson denounced the Iraq War as an ill-advised endeavor rooted in American imperialism and “racism.” “Organized terror,” he elaborated, “especially again 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). Today he is PAR’s webmaster.
Davidson has served as a national steering committee member of United for Peace and Justice, a field organizer for the Solidarity Economy Network, and co-chair of Chicagoans Against War & Injustice. He is the author of 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).