Turning Over in his Grave?

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Jan. 4-10,2009

Dear Brother Gregory,

In your recent Construction Workers News Service article, you identify yourself as an "African American revolutionary communist labor activist in Harlem." You then write that it was "stupid, morally bankrupt" and "dangerous" for me to support Obama's presidential campaign "because of the "hope" that his election supposedly engendered in Black youth." Instead I should have voted, as you did, for a socialist candidate. And you conclude "I'm sure her husband James is turning over in his grave."

Let me begin where you end.

I thank my lucky stars that I was Jimmy's wife and partner in struggle for forty years. I also feel blessed that, at 93, I still have enough of my marbles to respond to the growing numbers, especially young people, who want to know more about him and also to those who chide me for not being more like him.

I can't be sure that if Jimmy were alive he would have supported Obama's presidential campaign for the reasons that I did. But Jimmy's dialectical way of thinking is never far from my mind.

Jimmy was often described as a "radicals radical" because he felt that it was our responsibility to do for our time, when the working class is shrinking, what Marx had done for his, the 19th century when the working class was expanding. In The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker's Notebook (1963) he describes how radicals fumble for answers when workers ask them "What is socialism and why should we fight for it?" Out of print for years, this book will be re-issued by Monthly Review in 2009.

In Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century (RETC), first published in 1974, he wrote: "The revolution to be made in the United States will be the first revolution in history to require the masses to make material sacrifices rather than to acquire more material things. We must give up many of the things which this country has enjoyed at the expense of damning over one third of the world into a state of underdevelopment, ignorance, disease and early death. "Until that takes place, "this country will not be safe for the world and revolutionary warfare on an international scale against the United States will remain the wave of the present.

"It is obviously going to take a tremendous transformation to prepare the people of the United States for these new social goals. But potential revolutionaries can only become true revolutionaries if they take the side of those who believe that humanity can be transformed."

RETC has just been re-issued by Monthly Review with a new introduction by me.

Experience taught Jimmy that reality is constantly changing so that once correct ideas and practices can turn into their opposite.

For example, in the 1960s he was active in the Black Power movement and wrote and spoke about its revolutionary potential. But in 1988, when Coleman Young, Detroit's first black Mayor, proposed a Casino "industry" to provide the jobs no longer provided by the auto industry, he recognized that in Detroit we had come to the end of the industrial epoch that had given birth to the socialist vision. "It is now up to us" the citizens of Detroit," he wrote, "to put our hearts, our imaginations, our minds and our hands together to create a vision and project concrete programs for developing the kinds of local enterprises that will provide meaningful jobs and income for all citizens."

A few years later he co-founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural. intergenerational youth program/movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up.

Jimmy had the kind of political imagination needed to rebuild, redefine and respirit our county in this period of unprecedented climate crisis and economic meltdown. A James Boggs Reader will soon be published by Wayne State University Press. Meanwhile I recommend the James Boggs Reader on the website.

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