Thursday, September 14, 2006

Grace Lee Boggs: “Living For Change: An Autobiography” (University of Minnesota Press, 1998) Grace Lee Boggs is one of the great under-recognized American revolutionary/radical heroes. Born to Chinese-American parents in 1915 and as far as I can tell, still active to this day in Detroit with the Boggs Center, Grace has been at or near the heart of nearly a century of the struggle for change in this country. Written in a warm, loving yet analytical style, “Living For Change” is equal parts history, philosophy and memoir. For much of her life, Grace lived willingly under the shadow of two remarkable males. First Grace worked alongside C.L.R. James, the Trinidad born political/literary theorist and author of many books including: “The Black Jacobins” (1938) and “Mariners, Renegades & Castaways: the story of Herman Melville and the world we live in” (1952). As early as 1947 Grace co-wrote a book with Paul Romano under the pseudonym Ria Stone, “The American Worker” (Johnson-Forest Tendency). Later Grace worked with, fell in love with, and married the not-so well-known James Boggs author of the seminal “The American Revolution” (Monthly Review Press, 1963). James Boggs also wrote “Racism and the Class Struggle” (Monthly Review Press, 1970) and the brilliant, 39 page, “Manifesto for a Black Revolutionary Party” (Pacesetters, 1969). In 1974 “Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century” (Monthly Review Press), was published. Grace received a perhaps overdue co-writers credit. “Conversations in Maine: Exploring our Nation’s Future” (South End Press, 1978) was co-written by James and Grace with long time comrades, Freddy and Lyman Paine.

The writing and organizational works of Grace Lee and James Boggs were always ahead of their times. Perhaps in part for this very reason, the Boggs have never been given the credit they deserve. For example, James Boggs was amongst a small group of people talking about the idea of Black Power several years before Stokley Carmichael and Willie Ricks turned the slogan “Black Power” into a Black Power movement, at the side of an unprepared Martin Luther King, during the 1966 Meredith March Against Fear. In 1964, working out of the Boggs basement, the Revolutionary Action Movement put together an issue of a magazine called “Black America” with a cover illustration of Max Stanford and contents that included quotations from Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammed, W.E.B. Du Bois, Robert Williams, Malcolm X, and Albert B. Cleage (father of Pearl) plus full length articles by Stanford, James Boggs, Rolland Snellings and a letter of “Greetings to our Militant Vietnamese Brothers.” This was years ahead of its time and as Grace says: “although not widely known, remains an excellent introduction to the ideas that went into the creation of the Black Power movement."

The voluminous “Encyclopedia of the American Left”, edited by Mari Jo and Paul Buhle (Garland, 1990), gives James (along with Grace Lee) only one mention in a chapter on “Trotskyism”! Grace Lee has two additional mentions due to her association with C.L.R. James and the Johnson-Forest Tendency. During much of 1940’s and 1950’s Grace worked on the excellent journal “Correspondence” which was published as the voice of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, named after the pseudonyms of C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya respectively. It was as a part of this group that Grace met James. James and Grace went their separate ways from C.L.R. James after Boggs had the nerve to challenge the currency of some of the ideas of Marx in an article which became, perhaps his masterpiece, “The American Revolution.” This 93-page paperback original was something of an underground legend throughout the 1960’s Black movement and radical student movement. In fact, I only recently discovered James Boggs from the bibliography at the back of the Weather Underground book, “Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism” (1974). So again I am indebted to Dan Berger. His book “Outlaws of America” led me to the writings of the Weather Underground which led to James Boggs who led me to Grace Lee. Thanks to them all.