The Next American Revolution
By Grace Lee Boggs
Left Forum Closing Plenary, Cooper Union
New York, March 16, 2008

I have decided to talk about the next American Revolution because I
believe it is not only the key to global survival but also the most
important step we can take in this period to build a new, more human
and more socially and ecologically responsible nation that all of us,
in every walk of life, whatever our race, ethnicity, gender, faith or
national origin, will be proud to call our own.

I also feel that it would be a shame if we left this historic gathering
in this Great Hall, at this pivotal time in our country’s history —
when the power structure is obviously unable to resolve the twin
crises of global wars and global warming, when millions are losing
their jobs and homes, when Obama’s call for change is energizing so
many young people and independents, and when white workers in Ohio,
Michigan and Pennsylvania are reacting like victims — without
discussing the next American revolution.

Since it is hard to struggle for something which you haven’t
struggled to define and name, my aim this evening, quite frankly, is
to initiate impassioned discussions about the next American revolution
everywhere, in groups, small and large.

I begin with some history. Forty years ago my late husband, Jimmy
Boggs, and I started Conversations in Maine with our old friends and
comrades, Freddy and Lyman Paine, to explore how a revolution in our
time in our country would differ from the many revolutions that took
place around the world in the early and mid-20th century.

We four had been members of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, a tiny group
inside the Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party, led by
C.L.R.James and Raya Dunayevskaya. Lyman, an architect, and Freddy,
a worker and organizer, had been in the radical movement since the
1930s. Jimmy, an African American born and raised in the deep
agricultural South, had worked on the line at Chrysler for 28 years and
was a labor and community activist and writer. I was an Asian American

 intellectual who had been inspired by the 1941 March on Washington

movement to become a movement activist, and after spending ten years
in New York studying Marx and Lenin with CLR and Raya, had moved to
Detroit in 1953, married Jimmy Boggs and became involved in the
struggles organically developing in the Detroit community.

Our mantra in the Johnson-Forest Tendency had been the famous
paragraph in Capital where Marx celebrates “the revolt of the working
class always increasing in numbers and united, organized and
disciplined by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist
production.” In the early 60s when the working class was decreasing
rather than increasing under the impact of what we then called
“automation,” we separated from CLR when he opposed our decision to
rethink Marxism,

Our separation freed us to recognize unequivocally that we were coming
to the end of the relatively short industrial epoch on which Marx’s
epic analysis had been based. We could see clearly that the United
States was in the process of transitioning to a new mode of
production, based on new informational technologies, and that this
transitioning was not only epoch-ending but epoch-opening, with
cultural and political ramifications as far-reaching as those involved
in the transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture or from
Agriculture to Industry.

As movement activists and theoreticians in the tumultuous year of 1968,
we were also acutely conscious that in the wake of the civil rights
movement, beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, Rachel
Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, and the exploding anti-Vietnam war
and women’s movements, new and more profound questions of our
relationships with one another, with Nature, and with other
countries were being raised with a centrality unthinkable in earlier

Hence, as our conversations continued, we became increasingly convinced
that our revolution in our country in the late 20th century had to be
radically different from the revolutions that had taken place in
pre-or-non-industrialized countries like Russia, Cuba, China or
Vietnam. Those revolutions had been made not only to correct
injustices but to achieve rapid economic growth. By contrast, as
citizens of a nation which had achieved its rapid economic growth and
prosperity at the expense of African Americans, Native Americans,
other people of color, and peoples all over the world, our priority had
to be correcting the injustices and backwardness of our relationships
with one another, with other countries and with the Earth,

In other words, our revolution had to be for the purpose of
accelerating our evolution to a higher plateau of humanity. That’s why
we called our philosophy “Dialectical Humanism” as contrasted with the
“Dialectical Materialism” of Marxism.

Six years later the practical implications of this somewhat abstract
concept of an American revolution were spelled out by Jimmy in the
chapter entitled “ Dialectics and Revolution” in Revolution and
Evolution in the 20th Century (Monthly Review Press, 1974).

“The revolution to be made in the United States,” Jimmy wrote, nearly
30 years before 9/11, “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.” Jimmy
continued. “But potential revolutionaries can only become true
revolutionaries if they take the side of those who believe that
humanity can be transformed.”

Thus, the American revolution, at this stage in our history and in
the evolution of technology and of the human race, is not about Jobs or
health insurance or making it possible for more people to realize the
American Dream of upward mobility. It is about acknowledging that we
Americans enjoy middle class comforts at the expense of other peoples
all over the world. It is about living the kind of lives that will
end the galloping inequality both inside this country and between the
Global North and the Global South, and also slow down global warming.
It is about creating a new American Dream whose goal is a higher
humanity instead of the higher standard of living which is dependent
upon Empire. About practicing a new more active, global and
participatory concept of citizenship. About becoming the change we want
to see in the world.

The courage, commitment and strategies required for this kind of
revolution are very different from those required to storm the Kremlin
or the White House. Instead of viewing the American people as masses
to be mobilized in increasingly aggressive struggles for higher wages,

 better jobs  or  guaranteed health care,  we must have the courage to

challenge them and ourselves to engage in activities that build a new
and better world by improving the physical, psychological, political
and spiritual health of ourselves, our families, our communities, our
cities, our world and our planet,

This means that it is not enough to organize mobilizations calling on
Congress and the President to end the war in Iraq. We must also
challenge the American people to examine why 9/11 happened and why so
many people around the world who, while not supporting the terrorists,
understand that they were driven to these acts by anger at the U.S.
role in the world, e.g. supporting the Israeli occupation of
Palestine, overthrowing or seeking to overthrow democratically-elected
governments, and treating whole countries, the world’s peoples and
Nature only as a resource enabling us to maintain our middle class way
of life.

We have to help the American people find the moral strength to
recognize that, although no amount of money can compensate for the
countless deaths and indescribable suffering that our criminal invasion
and occupation have caused the Iraqi people, we, the American people,
have a responsibility to make the material sacrifices that will help
them rebuild their infrastructure. We have to help the American people

 grow their souls (which is not a noun but a verb) enough to recognize

that since we, who are only 4% of the world’s population, have been
consuming 25% of the planet’s resources, we are the ones who must
take the first big steps to reduce greenhouse emissions. We are the
ones who must live more simply so that others can simply live.

Moreover, we need to begin creating ways to live more frugally and
cooperatively NOW because as times get harder, we “good Americans,” if
we view ourselves only as victims, can easily slip into scapegoating
the “other” and goose-stepping behind a nationalist leader, as the
“good Germans” did in the 1930s, itlerHitler

This vision of an American revolution as transformation is the one
projected by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his April 4, 1967
anti-Vietnam war speech. As Vincent Harding, Martin’s close friend
and colleague, put it recently on Democracy Now, King was calling on
us to redeem the soul of America. Speaking for the weak, the poor, the
despairing and the alienated, in our inner cities and in the rice
paddies of Vietnam, he was urging us to become a more mature people by
making a radical revolution not only against racism but against
materialism and militarism. He was challenging us to e was
“rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle
for a new world.”

King was assassinated before he could devise concrete ways to move us
towards this radical revolution of values. But why haven’t we who
think of ourselves as American radicals picked up the torch? Is it
because a radical revolution of values against racism, militarism and
materialism is beyond our imaginations, even though we are citizens of
a nation with 700 military bases whose unbridled consumerism imperils
the planet?

In Detroit we are engaged in this “long and beautiful struggle for a
new world,” not because of King’s influence (we identified more with
Malcolm) but because we have learned through our own experience that
just changing the color of those in political power was not enough to
stem the devastation of our city resulting from deindustrialization.

I don’t have time this evening to tell you the story of our
Detroit-City of Hope campaign. We hosted a panel about it yesterday
morning and you can read about it in the Boggs Center broadsheet.

Our campaign involves rebuilding, redefining and respiriting Detroit
from the ground up: growing food on abandoned lots, reinventing
education to include children in community-building, creating
co-operatives to produce local goods for local needs, developing Peace
Zones to transform our relationships with one another in our homes and
on our streets, replacing punitive justice with Restorative Justice
programs to keep non-violent offenders in our communities and out of
prisons that not only misspend billions much needed for roads and
schools but turn minor offenders into hardened criminals.

It is a multigenerational campaign, involving the very old as well as
the very young, and all the inbetweens, especially the Millennial
generation, born in the late 1970s and 1980s, whose aptitude with
the new communications technology empowers them to be remarkably
self-inventive and multi-tasking and to connect and reconnect 24/7 with
individuals near and far.

Despite the huge differences in local conditions, our Detroit-City of
Hope campaign has more in common with the struggles of the Zapatistas
in Chiapas than with the 1917 Russian Revolution because it involves a
paradigm shift in the concept of revolution.

One way to understand the paradigm shift is by contrasting our vision
of health in a revolutionary America with the health care programs
offered by the Democratic presidential front-runners.

Hillary’s and Obama’s “health care” programs are really insurance
programs having more to do with feeding the already monstrous
medical-industrial complex than with our physical, mental and spiritual

 health.  By contrast, once we  understand that  our schools are in

such crisis because they were created a hundred years ago in the
industrial epoch to prepare children to become cogs in the economic
machine; once we recognize that our challenge in the 21st century is

 to engage our children from K-12 in problem-solving and

community-building activities, our children and young people will
become participants in caring for their own health and that of our
families and communities. Eating food they’ve grown for themselves,
creating and sharing information from the Net, and organizing health
festivals for the community, they will not only be caring for their own
health. They will be helping to heal our communities.

This kind of transformation is what the next American revolution
is about. It is not a single event but a process. It involves all of
us, from many different walks of life, ethnicities, national origins,
sexual orientations, faiths. At the same time, based on our experiences
in Detroit and the panels I attended at this weekend’s Forum, I see
the Millennial generation playing a pivotal role. As Frantz Fanon put
it in The Wretched of the Earth, “Each generation, coming out of
obscurity, must define its mission and fulfill or betray it.”

More sound social theory at Grace Lee Boggs.

Last edited by Godsil.   Page last modified on March 21, 2008

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