Changing Concepts of War and Revolution

By Grace Lee Boggs April 5th-April 11, 2009

I am often asked what keeps me going after all these years. I think it is because I have struggled all my adult life against what historian Barbara Tuchman calls "woodenheadedness." "Wooden-headedness," Tuchman says, "assesses a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions, while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs ... acting according to the wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts."

That is how Ray McGovern describes Obama's "new" Afghan strategy in his recent "Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President" Common Dreams article. McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

The opposite of "woodenheadedness" is thinking dialectically: recognizing that reality keeps changing, and having the courage and imagination to change your ideas when your associates are still stuck in the ideas of the past.

Jimmy Boggs was a "natural" at thinking dialectically. I was introduced to its importance by reading Hegel as a student. But it was only after I moved to Detroit and became Jimmy's partner in struggle for 40 years that I began to appreciate what it means to always begin by recognizing what time it is on the clock of the world.

People come from all over the world to learn from the Zapatista movement, initiated in 1994 by the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, because it is a movement based upon thinking dialectically about War and Revolution.

In the 20th century, the Zapatistas explain, we lived through three world wars: World Wars I, II and the "Cold War" between the U.S. and the USSR. All three were wars between nation-states or Allied Powers for control of discrete territories around the globe. All three had identifiable geographical fronts. All three took place before the onset of globalization which went beyond Neo-Liberalism and established corporate rule over the world.

However, World War IV, the war in which the whole world is now engaged, is a new kind of war, an ongoing and total war, the war of "The Empire of Money" against Humanity. The Empire of Money seeks "to impose the logic and practice of capital" on everything, to turn every living thing, the Earth, our communities and all our human relationships into commodities to be bought and sold on the market. It seeks to destroy everything that human beings have created: cultures, languages, memories, ideas, dreams, love and respect for one another. It even destroys the material basis for the nation-state which western societies created in the 19th century to protect us, if only marginally, from the forces of money.

Under these historically new conditions the meaning of Revolution must also undergo a dialectical change.

Fighting on the side of Humanity against the Empire of Money, we need to go beyond Opposition, beyond Rebellion, beyond Resistance, beyond Civic Insurrection. We don't want to be like them. We don't want to become the "political class," to change presidents, switch governments.

We want and need to create the Alternative world that is now both possible and necessary. We want and need to exercise power, not take it.

The revolutionary organizing that the Zapatistas have been doing since 1994 flows from this new meaning of Revolution. Their struggles are very local. They encourage communities to exercise power by developing their own projects to produce food and clothing and other supplies, solving their own problems of health and education, making their own decisions and in the process slowly but surely developing themselves and their own governance.

By recuperating traditional customs and practices for choosing governance democratically, resolving problems via dialogue and consensus, and rotating positions and responsibilities in order to prevent corruption, the Zapatistas have developed a new generation that has grown up with alternative, autonomous education and health programs and has begun to hold delegated positions in the autonomous municipalities.

Since we founded Detroit Summer in 1992 to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up, people have been coming from all the United States and the world to study what we are doing. I often sum it up by calling Detroit the Chiapas of North America.

Next year, 2010, the United States Social Forum (USSF) is bringing tens of thousands of people from all over the country and the world to Detroit.

To learn more about the Zapatistas and Changing Concepts of War and Revolution, I recommend Beyond Resistance: Everything (Marcos.pdf), and my 2005 Notes on Changing Concepts of Revolution (

Make Sure to Check out These Websites!

Boggs Center Website

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The Michigan Citizen

Detroit: City of Hope has a new website!! DCOH has recently designed a new website and a new logo. In addition to these new efforts, there are several accompanying T-Shirts to help spread the word about this organization, and, more importantly, inform others about creating sustainable communities. The website can be accessed here.

FLYP, too, is a breath of hope. You can find it at

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