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Mike Davis (1946 –2022): Enemy of the State

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I’m a fatalistic Celt, and I have the example of my mother and older sister, who died like Russian soldiers at Stalingrad.  Thanks to California’s aid-in-dying law, I have control over the final act. But I guess what I think about the most is that I’m just extraordinarily furious and angry. If I have a regret, it’s not dying in battle or at a barricade as I’ve always romantically imagined — fighting. Everybody always wants to know: Aren’t you hopeful? Don’t you believe in hope? To me, this is not a rational conversation. I’m writing because I’m hoping the people who read it don’t need dollops of hope or good endings but are reading so that they’ll know what to fight, and fight even when the fight seems hopeless.

Mike Davis, 2022

Verso is extremely sad to announce the death of our friend and comrade Mike Davis. He had been ill for many years, but that never really softens the shock of actual death. A feeling of loss. This was especially true in Mike’s case. He never stopped writing essays and notes. Close to the end he took his own editorial duties very seriously, exchanging mails with NLR commenting on recently submitted articles. And he was usually persuadable to transform a blog or a private communication into a text, short or long. Intellectually always vigorous, he was very generous with his time.

Many of Mike’s essays and most of his books were published in the New Left Review and by New Left Books/Verso from the early Eighties onwards. His style varied. He could be didactic, lyrical, funny, truculent, ferocious when he needed to be, but his principal target was usually the same: the economic, political, and military apparatuses of the US state machine and the brutalities of empires in general. (Late Victorian Holocausts was a devastating critique of the British in India). Several weeks ago, rumours spread on the social networks suggesting he was dying. There was an outpouring of affection and respect and many articles: premature obits. The breadth of the tributes surprised and pleased him.

There will be others as time passes, for his was a remarkable life. He was an American working-class intellectual, radicalized in the Sixties by the US Communist Party and later moving leftwards, without ever denigrating the women and men in the CP who had educated him. His life was lived on the Left and he both learnt from others and educated many more. Together with his friend and comrade, Michael Sprinker, he set up a US-specific list in Verso (Haymarket) linked to the American Socialist Yearbook, published annually between 1985 and 1988. The intellectual quality was high.  His classes at UC Irvine and other institutions were popular with students. How to convey wisdom without being patronizing or incomprehensible; how to remind the young of the fine fruits of past experiences without making them feel ignorant. These were always his concerns. 

His many books will always live. We were very proud to publish and work with him. Our condolences to his partner, the Mexican artist Alessandra Moctezuma, whose regular emails kept us informed of the various stages of his illness. His four children – Róisín, Jack, and the twins James and Cassandra – he loved dearly and this inspired him to write a work of fiction that treated kids as intelligent humans.

He would have liked this poem by Brecht:

EPISTLE TO THE CHICAGOANS

The laughter on the slave markets of the continents
Formerly confined to yourselves
Must utterly have shaken you, the cold in the regions of the fourth depth
Will have soaked into your skin.
So you still love the horse thieves’ blue eyes?
But when you’re taken into the old people’s home
I shall examine your backs to see
If the winters have marked you.
Your children
Will hear from me, on the evidence of your dead wrists
Whether you stood in the rivers
Between the ice floes and the black fishes
And learned something about this planet.
Oh, in reality there is nothing
But
Deceivers and deceived.
See?