98th Birthday – James Boggs May 27, 1919 July 22, 1993

Our comrade friend mentor and fellow Revolutionary Jimmy Boggs Passed Away 24 years ago 1993.

James Boggs (activist)

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For other people with this name, see James Boggs
James Boggs
James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs.jpg

James Boggs and his wife Grace Lee Boggs
Born May 27, 1919
Marion Junction, Alabama[1]
Died July 22, 1993(1993-07-22) (aged 74)
Detroit, Michigan
Occupation political activist
Spouse(s) Annie McKinley (1938)
Grace Lee Boggs (1953–93, his death)[1]

James Boggs (May 27, 1919 – July 22, 1993) was an American political activist, auto worker and author. He was married to philosopher activist Grace Lee Boggs for forty years until his death.


Born in 1919 in Marion Junction, Alabama,[1] James “Jimmy” Boggs was an African-American activist, perhaps best known for authoring The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook in 1963. He was also an auto worker at Chrysler from 1940 until 1968.

Boggs was active in the far left organization, Correspondence Publishing Committee, led by C. L. R. James from around the time it left the Trotskyist movement in the early 1950s, until Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs led a split in 1962, breaking with C. L. R. James. When Correspondence Publishing Committee earlier suffered a split in 1955, led by Raya Dunayevskaya, and lost nearly half its membership, James and Grace Lee Boggs remained loyal to Correspondence Publishing Committee. The group was advised by C. L. R. James, who was at that time exiled in Britain. In 1955, James Boggs became the editor of their bi-monthly publication, called Correspondence. However, political differences with C. L. R. James over time would eventually lead Boggs to take control over Correspondence Publishing Committee in 1962 and continue publication independently for a couple of years. James Boggs expressed the reasons for the 1962 split in his 1963 book, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook.

In later years, he would play an influential role in the radical wing of the civil rights movement and interacted with many of the most important civil rights activists of the day including Malcolm X, Ossie Davis and many others.

Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs, who were married from 1953 until his death in 1993, “built a durable partnership that was at once marital, intellectual, and political. It was a genuine partnership of equals, remarkable not only for its unique pairing or for its longevity, but also for its capacity to continually generate theoretical reflection and modes of activist engagement.”[2]


  • The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1963).
  • Book Manifesto for a Black revolutionary party (Philadelphia, Pacesetters Pub. House, 1969).
  • Racism and the Class Struggle: Further Pages from a Black Worker’s Notebook (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970).
  • Lenin Today; Eight essays on the hundredth anniversary of Lenin’s birth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970). (with Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff)
  • The awesome responsibilities of revolutionary leadership (Detroit, Mich: Committee for Political Development, 1970). (with Grace Lee Boggs)
  • But what about the workers? (Detroit: Advocators, 1973). (with James Hocker)
  • Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974). (with Grace Lee Boggs)
  • Issues in race and ethnic relations: theory, research, and action (Itasca, Ill: F. E. Peacock Publishers, 1977). (with Jack Rothman)
  • Conversations in Maine: exploring our nation’s future (Boston: South End Press, 1978). (with Grace Lee Boggs, Freddy Paine and Lyman Paine)
  • Towards a new concept of citizenship (Detroit: National Organization for an American Revolution, 1979).
  • Liberation or Revolution? (Detroit: National Organization for an American Revolution, 1980).
  • These are the times that try our souls: the questions we have yet to ask ourselves (Detroit: National Organization for an American Revolution, 1981).(with Grace Lee Boggs and James Hocker)
  • Historical development of our social forces (Detroit: National Organization for an American Revolution, 1982) “Cadre Training School, Dec. 1-5, 1982.”
  • Our American Reality (Detroit: National Organization for an American Revolution, 1982) “Cadre Training School, Dec. 1-5, 1982.”
  • The urgent plea: a call for Black leadership (Philadelphia: National Organization for an American Revolution, 1985).
  • What can we be that our children see? (Detroit: New Life Publishers, 1994).



By James Boggs

Public Speakout, 1st Unitarian-Universalist Church

Friday, June 24, 1988

Monday night I went to the graduation for one of my grandsons in Ford Auditorium at which Mayor Young was the main speaker. The student who introduced Young said, with a smile, that he was the only Mayor she had ever known. Young then said in the same joking vein that maybe some students should come back in ten years and run for Mayor because by then he would probably have retired. Everyone laughed, but it is no joking matter. The sad truth is that his honor has been Mayor for so long he thinks he owns the town and seems to have forgotten that the people elected him and may one day retire him before his vision of Detroit leads us into even deeper chaos.

Coleman Young was elected Mayor of Detroit fifteen years ago because the city was majority black and the time had come for a black mayor. Also blacks were furious with STRESS, the decoy system that the Gribbs administration had created to catch street criminals. When he was elected, Young had no program for stopping crime. All he could propose in his inaugural speech was that the criminals should hit 8 Mile road. But he did have a dream, the dream that he could get the corporations to stay in Detroit by bribing them with tax abatements.

Today Young’s dream has turned into a nightmare. Crime has not hit 8 Mile road, but industry has. Parke-Davis, Strohs, the Mack Ave. Chrysler plant are all gone. Young promised us 6000 jobs if we allowed him to bulldoze 1500 homes, 600 businesses and 6 churches for a new GM plant in Poletown. Today our taxes are still going to pay for Poletown, but there have never been more than 2500 workers at the Poletown plant and most of those are from GM plants which have been closed down in other parts of the city, creating a wasteland in once thriving communities, especially on the southwest side of the city. At the same time the east side around the Chrysler Jefferson plants has been bulldozed so that it looks like a moonscape. Despite protests small businesses have been forced to leave, as in Poletown.

The reason Coleman Young’s dream has turned into a nightmare is that it was based on the illusion that we can bring back the good old days when Detroit was the auto capital of the world and hundreds of thousands of workers came to the city to do manufacturing jobs at the decent pay which had been won though the organization of the union. But today cars are being built all over the world, not only in Japan and West Germany but in South Korea and Yugoslavia, and multinational corporations have exported manufacturing jobs to the Third World where they can make more profit through cheaper labor. Coleman Young knows, as we all do, that large-scale industry is not coming back to Detroit. That’s why he is now calling casinos gambling an “industry” and trying to force it down our throats, promising us it will bring 50,000 to 80,000 jobs as the auto industry once did.

The workers, who came to Detroit during World War II, particularly from the South, had a lot of hope. They also brought with them a sense of family and a sense of community or of people living in harmony with one another. Working in the plant, they developed a sense of solidarity, at the same time earning enough money to buy homes and raise their families. As a result, Detroit became known as one of the best organized and disciplined cities in the United States, with the highest percent of working class homeowners north of the Mason Dixon line.

Today, however, the great majority of Detroiters no longer have any hope or solidarity with one another. Born and raised in the city, they have no experience of the culture which was second nature to those who had lived close to the land in small Southern communities. At the same time, they can no longer look forward to the well-paying manufacturing jobs which enabled their parents and grandparents to buy their own homes and raise their families. So rather than accept the minimum wage jobs which offer no hope for the future, an increasing number of our youth are attracted to the fast money and big bucks which come from selling dope. The result is that instead of being the auto capital of the world, Detroit has become the murder capital of the world.

However, instead of calling upon Detroiters to embark on a collective reassessment and exploration of how to rebuild Detroit, Young is becoming more arrogant and more stubborn every day. We, the people, he is convinced are too dumb to know what’s good for us. So he set up a commission stacked with his friends and appointees to study casino gambling. Unable to win a majority in the city for casino gambling, he created his own majority.

Today a person has to be really socially-conscious and farsighted to care about the people of Detroit or for that matter the people of any of our big cities. I emphasize this because we are living today in a society where most people only care about the here and now. To rebuild Detroit we need a long-range perspective and not just a quick-fix solution. We need to think of human beings as more than just bodies to be clothed and housed or bellies to be filled. Most of all, we need a philosophy which gives young people the basis for the kind of hope that their grandparents had: the philosophy that people and the relationships between people are more important than material things and instant self-gratification and the confidence that we can create a better tomorrow if we live by this philosophy. We know that the welfare state has failed to give them this perspective. We also know that big industry is not coming back, and that from now on, large-scale industrial jobs will be done in the developing countries or the Third World.

Historically, capitalism has always made sure that the people on the bottom get the leavings, and in this day and age the large-scale industrial jobs are the leavings and the people in the Third World are at the bottom. We also know that a free marketplace economy only serves the interests of the capitalists and that the capitalists are in business not to serve the human needs of working people but to make profit. Therefore when we think about rebuilding Detroit, we have to think of a new model of production which is based upon serving human needs and the needs of the community and not any get-rich-quick schemes.

The question which Detroit and other industrial cities are now facing is “What is the purpose of a city?” Up to now, because it has been our historical experience for the last 75 years, most Americans have thought of the city as a place to which you go for a job after you have been driven off the land by mechanization. But now we know that the large industrial corporations are not going to provide those jobs in our cities.

What then is going to happen to the one million people who still live in Detroit, half of them on some form of public assistance; not only blacks but Chicanos, Arab-Americans, Asian and poor whites? For most of them, Detroit is the end of the rainbow. They can’t go back to the farms from which their parents and grandparents came because these have been wiped out by agribusiness. There are no new industries coming for Detroiters. So if we are going to create hope especially for our young people, we are going to have to break with most of the ideas about cities that we have accepted in the past and start with new basic principles.

To begin with, we have to stop seeing the city as just a place to which you come to get a job or to make a living, and start seeing it as the place where the humanity of people is enriched because they have the opportunity to live with people of many different ethnic and social backgrounds. In other words, we have to see that our capital is in the people and not see people as existing to make capital for production or dependent on capital to live.

The foundation of our city has to be people living in communities who realize that their human identity or their love and respect for self is based on love and respect for others and who have also learned from experiences that they can no longer leave the decision as to their present and their future to the market place, to corporations or to capitalist politicians, regardless of ethnic background. We, the people, have to see ourselves as responsible for our city and for each other, and especially for making sure that our children are raised to place more value on social ties than on material wealth.

We have to get rid of the myth that there is something sacred about large-scale production for the national and international market. Actually, our experiences over the last 75 years has demonstrated that large-scale production, because it is based on a huge separation between production and consumption, makes both producer and consumer into faceless masses who are alienated from one another and at the mercy of economic forces and the mass media. Instead, we have to begin thinking of creating small enterprises which produce food, goods, and services for the local market, that is, for our communities and for our city. Instead of destroying the skills of workers, which is what large-scale industry does, these small enterprises will combine craftsmanship, or the preservation and enhancement of human skills, with the new technologies which make possible flexible production and constant readjustment to serve the needs of local consumers.

In order to create these new enterprises, we need a view of our city which takes into consideration both the resources of our area and the existing and potential skills of Detroiters.

Detroit itself is in the Great Lakes region, so we should think of how we can take advantage of this resource. We can start by developing a fishing fleet. This would mean training young people to fish for a living as they do in New England and along the West and East coasts. It would also mean building docks and cleaning facilities along the river bank in order to supply fresh fish for the whole area.

Michigan also has the best sand in the world. In the past this sand has been used mostly in foundries. We can use it to produce glass; glass to replace the broken windows that we see all around us; glass for the storm windows which will enable us to save energy and use the sun to heat our homes and our water. We can also use glass for greenhouses all over the city, so that we can grow vegetables for the local market all year round. During the spring and the summer we should “Green Detroit” by planting gardens in the thousands of vacant lots all over the city.

Every day on the expressway we see hundreds of trucks and vans equipped with ladder, electrical tools and lumber, bringing carpenters electricians and other skilled workers into Detroit to do the work of repairing Detroit homes. Meanwhile, inner city youth, black and white, stand around doing nothing and waiting for the dope man. Our community colleges should be organizing crash programs to train our youth to use their hands and heads so that they can be doing this work to improve our communities and our city instead of depending on suburbanites.

Detroit has raised many talented clothes designers, but they have all left for New York or California because we have only been able to think in terms of large-scale industry and haven’t recognized that Detroit could become a clothes-producing center for the state of Michigan.

Over the years Detroiters have become locked into the mentality that a party store is the only small business that the average person can create and that shopping malls in the suburbs are where you go to buy most things. We need to be creating all kinds of locally-owned stores in our communities so that we can not only buy our necessities locally but so that our young people can see stores not just as places where you spend money to buy what you want but as places where people are working to meet the needs of the community. In every neighborhood there should be a bakery where families can purchase freshly baked bread and children can stop by after school to buy their sweets. In every neighborhood there should also be food shops where working people can purchase whole meals to take home to eat together, instead of living off McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. This has been a common practice in other countries.

We also need a fundamental change in our concept of schools. Since the World War II our schools have been transformed into custodial institutions where our children are warehoused for 12 years, with no function except to study and get good grades so that they can win the certificate that will enable them to get a job. What kids learn from books in school has little if any relationship to their daily lives. While they are growing up, they are like parasites doing no socially useful work, spending their time playing and watching TV. Then when they become teenagers, we blame them because they have no sense of social responsibility. We have to create schools which are an integral part of the community, in which young people naturally and normally do social necessary and meaningful work for the community, for example, keeping the school grounds and the neighborhood clean and attractive, taking care of younger children, growing gardens which provide food for the community, etc. etc. Connections should be created between schools and local enterprises so that young people see these as an integral part of their present and future. Our goal should be to make Detroit the first city in the nation to use our schools to support the community rather than as places where our young people are upgraded to leave the community.

Because of our declining population many school buildings in Detroit have been abandoned or are about to be abandoned. These schools can be turned into day care centers to care for the children of working mothers and fathers. They can be developed into political and cultural centers for the community; the place for town meetings or for a local museum where the arts and crafts are proudly exhibited.

These are only a few examples of the kinds of things we can do to rebuild Detroit once we realize that we can no longer depend upon the corporations or the politicians to save us and begin thinking for ourselves about what we can do and must do. At this point, what we need to do is to begin discussing how we are going to rebuild our city, in every block club, every church, every school, every organization and every home –because for the rest of this century and most of the next, the major question in this country is going to be “How will we live in the city?” Up to now we have come to the city expecting somebody else, meaning the corporation, to provide us with a livelihood. Now we are stuck here and we can’t run or hide anymore. We can’t go back to the farms, we can’t keep running from city to city. We must put down our roots where we are and put our hearts, imagination, minds and hands to work, so that we can empower ourselves and one another to create an alternative to casino gambling. Coleman Young’s crisis is our opportunity. Let us start the discussion here tonight.


James Boggs – HOW CAN WE RE-CIVILIZE SOCIETY? excerpts


by James Boggs

“Urban Design and Social Change,”

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,

Nov-3, 1988. (Thanks to Grace Lee Boggs for transcription)

We live in an age of both material and spiritual pollution, exploiting each other and our environment without any thought for future generations. We bulldoze forests to clear land to raise cattle for McDonald hamburgers, nor- caring, that are depleting the supply of oxygen which our atmosphere requires. We use chemicals which endanger our ground water and our soil. Every six minutes in our country a woman is raped, in one out of four cases by more than one person. Every five minutes someone is shot; every ten minutes someone is killed. In the last few years in Detroit alone at least two people have been killed every day’, more often than not by a family member or a friend. The homelessness of hundreds of thousands of Americans has become an international scandal. Yet in Ferndale Michigan, residents near St. Luke’s Episcopal Church have sued for an injunction to stop the church from providing shelter for 60-70 homeless people seven days a year. For the last 45 years, while our leaders have been telling us that our enemies were over there, they have actually been increasing over here, among and within ourselves …
Fortunately there are a few people in our country who are beginning to recognize that our country cannot continue on its present course, that we can no longer depend on runaway corporations or on big government for our social and economic well-being, and that somehow must begin to create new economic, social and political ties in our communities in order to gain some control over our lives. Communities have always been and will always be the basis for developing and maintaining human values and building personal character. Those who recognize this are still very few. But all great historical movements were started by a minority. The civil rights movement began in Montgomery, Alabama, with the 1955-56 Bus Boycott. Even capitalism, which was progressive 400 years ago because it offered freedom and independence from the bondage of feudalism, began with a few entrepreneurs.
The first question we need to ask is not how many people are beginning to think this way, but what is the good life in this historical period?” If we can explore this question together in a way that makes us more aware that we are human beings with, the unique capacity imagine, to innovate and to cooperate, our discussion tonight can be a step in the direction of making the 21st century a century that will go down in history as one in which humanity took a big leap forward towards becoming more human.
JAMES Boggs was born in Marion Junction, Ala.. in 1919.
“All of us know of the struggles that have been waged in this century around racism, not only in the United States but all over the world…But as we approach the 21st: century, the issues we face, especially in the United States, are even more complex than those of racism. The struggle of the 21st century is going to be over what will become of our cities.”

As we Struggle (From “Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century,” pp. 22-23

in-love-and-struggle-book-coverJames and Grace Lee Boggs speak to the urgency of our moment and the vision that must sustain us. (From “Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century,” pp. 22-23)

As we struggle in the second part of this book to understand our  choices in the United States, we must not allow our thoughts to be  paralyzed by fear of repression and fascism. One must always think  realistically about the dangers, but in thinking about the counter-revolution a revolutionist must be convinced that it is a “paper tiger.”  Revolution and counter-revolution both involve social upheaval,  but they are not equal opposites. The revolution creates the future;  the counter-revolution seeks to maintain the present or restore the  past. The counter-revolution is invariably anti-historical. It narrows  and limits human beings, whereas a revolution expands and enriches  human identity.

An American revolution will enable the American people to renew and enlarge their sense of their own humanity. It will give them a new sense of time, of duration, of development, and of progress. It will instill in them a new love both for themselves and for men and women everywhere as they begin to see themselves as an integral        Revolution and Evolution      23 part of the history of all man/womankind. An American revolution will give Americans real and continuing opportunities to make responsible choices-opportunities which at the present time they do not even know they lack.

Think Dialectically, Not Biologically By James Boggs

(This is a talk given to a seminar in the Department of Political Science at AtlantaUniversity on February 17, 1974. It was part of a weekly seminar for graduate studentsand faculty during which invited guests—activists, scholars, politicians, and others—addressed issues facing black people in the U. S. and globally. During the year preceding Boggs’s visit, guests included Julian Bond, Samora Machel, Archie Singham,Maynard Jackson, and Max Stanford.)

Think Dialectically, Not Biologically


This is the first opportunity I have had to speak to an audience in Atlanta, a city which in the last few years has become the center for many tendencies in intellectual and political thinking by Blacks. Many black groups from all over the country have held conferences here, and in this process you have had an opportunity to evaluate the movement of the black indigenous forces which erupted in the 1960s and within a few  years brought this whole country into its present state of social upheaval.

Here in the South, which gave birth to the movement all over the country, we should be especially able to see the difference between the present movement and past movements. For although there have been many revolts and rebellions in other sections of the United States—revolts and rebellions which have led to some social and economic reforms—the present movement which started out in the South was unique. It was unique because at its inception it raised the human question in its most fundamental form. What is the appropriate relationship between human beings, between on man and another? The movement began as a quest for a higher form of human relationships between people, relations not yet shared and not even believed in by most people, but which those who launched the movement believed could or should be shared by people in the United States.

In raising the question of human relations so fundamentally, this movement touched every person in the United States, North and South, and for a period of time it seemed that the country—despite the obvious division and opposition of many – would be lifted to a new level of human relationships. Instead, today, nearly twenty years after the movement began in the 1950s, we are experiencing the most dehumanized, blackmailing relationships between blacks and whites, and between blacks and blacks. In terms of material conditions, most blacks are much better off than they were twenty years ago at the beginning of the black movement. But in terms of relations among ourselves as human beings, we are all worse off. This is the reality which we must be willing to face squarely.

I shall not attempt to review the many struggles and confrontations which created the movement. You know and have experienced these either directly or indirectly. What I want to emphasize instead is that this kind of struggle could only have been unleashed in the South. This is not just because the South was more racist or more impoverished—which it surely was. Rather it is because in the South the tradition of viewing blacks as inferior had been rationalized and given legitimacy by a philosophy. All over the country, the philosophy that one set of human beings is inferior to another on the basis of race was practiced. But in the South this philosophy was not only practiced; it was preached.

Therefore the movement which was organized to struggle against racism in the South also had to develop a philosophy as the basis for struggle; the philosophy of the essential dignity of every human being, regardless of race, sex or national origin. That is why the movement began to draw everybody into it – either pro or con – because it put forward a philosophy with which everybody, regardless of race, color or sex, had to grapple.

In our lifetime we have also witnessed how no social upheaval in any one part of this country can be isolated indefinitely from social upheaval in the rest of this country.

Therefore what started out in the South as a movement whose aim was chiefly to reform the South quickly spread all over the country. Everybody, oppressed and oppressor, was drawn into the confrontation.

But when everyone is drawn into a conflict which is as deeply rooted in the history of a society as racism is rooted in this society, there is no telling how far the struggle will have to go. You begin to open up contradictions which most people in the society have been evading or tolerating—for various reasons. Some because they benefit from them—as many do; others because they believe these are beyond their power to challenge or negate—as blacks used to think; and still others because they think that to confront these contradictions will create too much antagonism and upheaval.

Once the struggle began to extend out of the South, it became clear that every institution of this country, economic, social, political, cultural, was based upon keeping blacks at the bottom. The whole development of this country had been based upon treating blacks as scavengers, to take the leavings of whatever whites considered beneath them—whether these were jobs or houses, churches or whole neighborhoods. In this process of treating blacks as scavengers, United States capitalism had been able to develop more rapidly than any other country in the world because or whole neighborhoods. In this process of treating blacks as scavengers, United States capitalism has been able to develop more rapidly than any other country in the world because it has had the wherewithal to exploit on a double basis. Not only was it able to exploit wage labor in production and the consumer in the market, as every capitalist society does. But when factories and machinery became obsolete for the exploitation of whites, capitalism could always use them for the exploitation of blacks. Used plants, used ouses, used churches, used clothing, used anything and everything, could be recycled. After being discarded by whites, they could always be used or re-used, to exploit blacks both in production and consumption. Thus all whites in this country could get to the top faster because blacks were kept at the bottom.

In providing this opportunity for rapid upward mobility to whites, the system of American capitalism has developed very differently from other capitalisms. First of all, this country, from the very beginning, had to import labor, either by force or by promises.

Secondly, every ethnic group which came to this country voluntarily came in order to get to the top as quickly as it could. Therefore these groups closed their eyes to the obvious fact that they were able to rise as rapidly only because the indigenous labor force of the blacks was being excluded from the same opportunities. In this way the system of American racism – or the institutionalized exclusion of blacks from equal opportunity – was inseparably interconnected with American capitalism – or the system of upward mobility for special ethnic and special interest groups at the expense of others. Whites could not see this because they were the beneficiaries of the system. The eruption of the black movement exposed the historical connection between racism and capitalism in the U.S. and also made it clear that it is not possible to get rid of racism in this country without getting rid of American capitalism; any more than it was possible to carry on a struggle to reform the South without carrying on a struggle to change this entire nation.

How is it possible to get rid of racism without getting rid of the method of thinking which has become ingrained in the American people as a result of the special historical development of this country, namely, that special groups should advance at the expense of others?

There is a very important dialectical principle here which every student of political science needs to understand. A struggle may start out with the aim of resolving one contradiction. But in the course of the struggle, if the contradiction which it sets out to negate is fundamental enough, the main contradiction may change; it may become enlarged or expanded. Struggle is social practice and when you engage in social practice, you gain new insights. You find out that there was much more involved than you had originally perceived to be the case when you began your struggle. Therefore you are faced with the need to raise your level of understanding, your level of  onceptual knowledge. If you do not raise your level of understanding as the struggle expands and develops, then what began as a progressive struggle can turn into its opposite.

When the struggle which began in the South exploded all over the country, the question of racism became no longer just a regional but a national question – a question of transforming this whole nation. It has been a national question ever since; national in the sense that it involves this whole country; and national also in the sense that it embraces all the aspects of this nation. We now face the question of the Second Reconstruction of the United States. What kind of nation should the United States be?

What kind of society should we build in the United States? On what kind of philosophy concerning the relations between people should we base ourselves—because no movement can ever develop momentum without a philosophy.

Note that I used the word “we.” I mean “we.” The strength of the movement that began in the South stemmed from the fact that those who led and participated in it understood that blacks had to change this society—this country. They had many illusions about the possibilities of reforming this society, but at least they did not have the romantic and escapist notions about leaving this country to make the revolution in Africa which nationalists of today have. However, once the movement came North and the tremendous complexity of the struggle that would be necessary to transform this whole society began to dawn on blacks, all kinds of romantic and escapist notions began to develop within the black movement. These romantic and escapist notions are now crippling the minds of many of our black young people.

All kinds of black militants call themselves black revolutionists these days. But few of them have yet been willing to come face to face with the contradiction that, Justas it has been on the backs of the black masses that this society has advanced economically at such tremendous speed., so it is only under the revolutionary political leadership of black people that this country will be able to get out of its contradictions. We are hesitant to face up to this country will be able to get out of its contradictions. We are hesitant to face up to this truth because it is too challenging. We have the fears which always haunt the revolutionary social forces, the fear of not knowing whether we can win; the fear that if we set our sights too high we may provoke the enemy to counterattack; the lack of confidence in ourselves and in our ability to struggle to create a better society.

This is not a fear that is unique to blacks. All revolutionary social forces have this fear as they come face to face with their real conditions of life and the growing realization that they must assume revolutionary responsibility for changing the whole society—so that their lives as well as those of others in this society can be fundamentally changed. Because the fear is so great, it becomes much easier to evade the tremendous challenge and responsibility for disciplined scientific thinking and disciplined political organization which are necessary to lead revolutionary struggles.

Confronted with this political challenge many of those who have been frustrated by the failure of the civil rights movement and the succeeding rebellions to solve all our problems have begun to put forward all kinds of fantastic ideas as to what we should now do. Some say we should separate and return to Africa. Some say we should separate but remain here and try to build a new black capitalist economy from scratch inside the most advanced and powerful capitalist economy in the world. Some say we should join the Pan-African movement of the African people in Africa and build a military base in Africa from which we will eventually be able to attack the United States.

Others say we should just struggle for survival from day to today, doing whatever has to be done for survival. They have just given up struggling for anything at all and have turned to astrology or drugs or religion – in the old-time belief that some metaphysical force out there in the twilight zone will rescue us from our dilemma.

And finally most black militants of the 1960s, even while they are still talking their nationalist rhetoric, have today just become a part of the system. They are doing their best to get to the top in one form or another, regardless of whom they have to step on to get there, just as every other ethnic group has always done in this country.

The American System: Incorporation of Ethnic Groups

Those who have given a great deal to a particular struggle in the past always find it hard to realize that what began as a struggle for equal justice, equal representation or equal rights, can, precisely because it gains momentum, become just another factor in the development of the system. A system doesn’t have any color. It is a way of social functioning which not only has institutions and structure but also has an ideology and the tendency to perpetuate itself. In the United States the capitalist system functions not only by exploitation of different groups but also by incorporation of successive ethnic groups into the system. This is the way that it has historically transformed what might become antagonistic social forces into non-antagonistic social forces. Already we have seen how American labor has been incorporated into the system in the wake of the militant labor struggles of the 1930s. Instead of being a threat to the system as it used to be, labor now helps the system to function. Labor keeps demanding more for itself in the way of more wages, pensions and other benefits and doesn’t give a damn if this “more” is extracted out of the super exploitation of people in other parts of the world or passed on to the consumer. In this way the labor organizations which came out of the great social struggles of the 1930s and 1940s are today just mainstays of capitalism itself. They not only act as obstacles to its overthrow; they actively keep the system going.

The black movement is now running a parallel course. Gradually blacks are being incorporated into the structured, the institutions and the ideology of U.S. capitalism. This is happening because, in the wake of the black rebellions of the 1960s, the black movement has made no serious effort to repudiate the bourgeois method of thought on which U.S. capitalism is based which involves each individual or group just getting more for itself. It has made no serious effort to create a movement based on a more advanced method of thinking and which aims to transform the whole of society for the benefit of the majority of the population.

It would be childish to blame U.S. capitalism for incorporating blacks into the system. In doing this, the system is only doing what it is supposed to do in order to maintain itself. In this respect U.S. capitalism is doing and has done very well. From the time of the Johnson administration tens of thousands of black militants, who might have become revolutionists, have been incorporated into various pacification programs.

Scholarships were made available on a mass basis to blacks so that they could go to

college and become part of that huge apparatus of social workers and teachers which

keeps the system going. Now we have blacks in every sphere of capitalist society – junior

executives of corporations, local and national politicians, mayors and judges, sheriffs and

policemen. Blacks have acquired the same entourage of officials which ever other ethnic

group has. In this sense blacks have risen in the sliding scale of upward mobility just as

the Kerner Commission proposed. They have not supplanted or replaced whites. But as

whites have been elevated upwards, blacks have replaced them on the levels which they

have vacated. Hence today blacks are taking over the cities in the traditional pattern of

other ethnic groups. In the past, as we pointed out in “The City is the Black Man’s Land,”

this upward mobility in the politics of the city had always stopped at blacks. But after the

rebellions U.S. capitalism was ready to make this concession. Just as it incorporated labor

after the class struggles of the 30s, it has now incorporated blacks in the wake of the

racial struggles of the 60s.

Today blacks are inheriting the old cities which are more poverty-stricken and

crime-ridden than they have ever been. Technology has made it possible for capitalism

not to depend on the city any more as the main base for its production facilities. So

industry is abandoning the cities for the rural areas with the same ease that in the 19th

century it abandoned the rural areas for the cities. It is in the rural areas that the U.S.

capitalism is developing the new technical industries, leaving behind the cities to be

fought over by petty-bourgeois careerists, whites and blacks. These blacks and whites

can’t do anything to restore the cities which have become little more than urban

reservations. All that is happening is that thousands of careerist blacks are getting plush

jobs for themselves and living high on the hog. But the cities continue to deteriorate.

The Struggle Between Two Roads

In The American Revolution I pointed out there are two sides to every question—

but only one side is right. There are many ways that we can look at what is happening in

this country today. But in the end we are going to have to recognize that we now have

only the choice between two roads for the movement—only two directions of thought

and action.

Will the United States continue to be a society based on the bourgeois system of

upward mobility, with each rebellious group becoming incorporated into the system

through its careerist or opportunist members, while the mass at the bottom sinks deeper

into despair? Or can we build a society in this country based upon social responsibility

between individuals and between groups in which everyone tries to make decisions based

on the interests of the whole rather than on the special interest of his or her ethnic group?

The black movement started out in the belief that racism was the only

contradiction in this society and that if it could only win equal opportunity for blacks to

advance in the system, blacks and whites would end up equal. In the course of two

decades of struggle, i.e. in the course of social practice, it has become clear that racism is

not the sole contradiction and that it is inseparable from the capitalist contradictions

which h arise from each group advancing at the expense of others and individuals within

each group using the group to advance themselves.

The more nationalist the black movement has become, the easier it has been for

U.S. capitalism to incorporate blacks into the system. Not only has it been easy for the

system to identify the individuals to be incorporated. But the more nationalistic blacks

became, the more they began to fool themselves and allow themselves to be fooled by

black opportunist leaders into believing that everything black is beautiful and everything

non-black is ugly or worthless or a threat to blacks. More and more blacks began to think

and insist that “all we care about are blacks – and to hell with everybody else.” Thus step

by step they have taken on the dehumanized ideology of U.S. capitalism.

Thus, in the course of only twenty years, both the integrationists, who only

wanted to reform the system so that blacks could be included in capitalist exploitation,

and the nationalist, who claimed to be against the system, have each gradually been

brought into the system and are assuming responsibility for it and the chaos which has

been created as a result of the system.

The nationalists ended up by going into the system because they made the mistake

of thinking that nationalism in and of itself is a revolutionary ideology, when in fact

nationalism is only a stage in the development of a struggle by an oppressed people. It is

the stage when all layers of an oppressed group—the petty-bourgeoisie, workers,

peasants, farmers—come to the conclusion that they have shared a common oppression

and have a common history.

In the United States nationalism was an inevitable stage in the development of

black struggle because throughout the history of this country, blacks have been kept at

the bottom of this society as blacks, i.e. on a racial basis. But ever since the black power

movement erupted in the late 1960s, the question facing the black movement has been

not the past but the future. The question has become “What are we going to do about the

future of this country, this society? What kind of society must we create here in this

country for our children and our children’s children?”

In other words, from the time that the nationalist or black power stage erupted in

this country, the need has been for blacks to develop a revolutionary ideology for this

country. But instead of doing this, black militants began to look towards Africa and

towards the past; in other words, to a world that they really couldn’t do anything about.

Instead of grappling with the tremendous challenge of transforming the conditions and

relations in this country, they began to idealize the past. Instead of examining the changes

that would have to be made in this country—which would inevitably benefit not only

blacks but everybody else in this country—they began to think of themselves as living in

some metaphysical space totally separate and apart from everybody else and what was

happening in this country. They began to insist that blacks in this country are Third

World people. They refused to face the reality that black GIs were raping and massacring

the people of Vietnam just like white GIs. Or that blacks are an integral part of the 5% of

the world’s population living in the United States and using up 40% of the world’s

energy resources for their big cars and their new appliances, just as whites are doing.

Unwilling to face their actual conditions of life inside this country and the

challenge of bringing about fundamental changes in this country, blacks have drifted

steadily into bourgeois methods of thinking and bourgeois practices. The result is that

today blacks are no different from whites in seeking individual advancement based upon

the capitalist principle that every individual can “make it” in the system, if only they are

ready to use others to get there, exploiting even those closest to them in the most

degrading ways, from the pimp on the street to the politician seeking office. Meanwhile,

instead of confronting this growing criminal mentality among black people, black

militants have been making excuses for it—thus helping this criminal mentality to

become even more widespread among black children and youth.

Today, in the year 1974, blacks all over the country are bragging about how many

black mayors have been elected, while practically every black who can get together a few

hundred dollars is running for one office or another. In terms of numbers this looks like

progress for black people. But in terms of grappling with the fundamental issues that

confront this country and everyone inside it, including blacks, (crime, the energy crisis,

the corruption at all levels of government) this rush of black politicians only means that

more blacks are now caught up in the system of bourgeois politics. Just like white

politicians they cannot raise any of the real questions which confront this country and

force the American people and those who might elect them to office, i.e. their own

constituents, to discuss and clarify their positions on them. If they did this, they might not

get elected to office which is their main aim. So black politicians are now making deals

to please the most voters—just as white politicians have been doing for the last hundred

years. Thus the elevation of blacks into the system has weakened the black movement

and the overall struggle for real change in this country—even though on the surface it

may seem to have strengthened it. In this sense, even if we took the process to the logical

conclusion of electing a black president and vice-president, all it would mean would be

trapping more black sin the position of defending and projecting the practices and

ideology of the system.

Learning From Social Practice

There is no use wondering what might have happened differently. Now we must

try to learn from what has happen d. there is a good side to this. Now that blacks have

been incorporated into the bourgeois practices of this country, the fundamental issue

facing blacks is much clearer than it could possibly have been twenty years ago. It is

easier for young people to see now that blacks, like everybody else in this country, now

only have the choice between two roads.

Either you can join those blacks who are now rushing in to defend and expand a

system which is based upon the exploitation of many for the benefit of a few. Or you can

take the socialist direction which has as its aim to create a society based on advancing the

many and all Mankind, above the interests of a few.

In making this choice, those who are ready to take responsibility for changing

society in the direction of a socialist society can’t start by taking a poll of the masses. Nor

can they just wait for the masses to rebel and then rush in to become their spokesman,

which is what most of the black militants of the 60s did. Like all masses the black masses

are full of internal contradictions. They can only acquire the strength to fight against the

external enemy by first struggling against their own internal contradictions and

limitations. No potential revolutionary social force has ever become an actual

revolutionary social force except through struggle to overcome its limitations and


Through past struggles black have rid themselves of physical fears standing in the

way of struggles against oppression. This is the first obstacle which any oppressed group

has to overcome—an obstacle which is usually overcome through mass rebellions. Now

the great need is for blacks to rid themselves of the fear of theoretical and political

struggles against their own limitations. This requires a different kind of courage and

boldness. It also requires discipline and patience and a readiness to struggle to acquire an

appreciation of the dialectical process by which development takes place.

Our first need now is to look critically at the past of the black movement of the

50s and 60s, not in order to blame black leaders for what they did not do or to dream

about what might have been if somebody had done differently—but rather to prepare for

the next stage of struggle.

Black intellectuals especially must be ready to look very critically at how quick

they were to accept the idea that there is such a thing as “black thought,” i.e. that thought

is based on color or biology rather than on the creative use of the mind to analyze

historical and social developments and to project new direction for an actual society. By

accepting the idea that biology is the basis for thinking, black intellectuals have not only

crippled their own minds but also the minds of millions of young people—until today few

blacks know how to think historically or to make social judgments based on anything else

but color. With every day the thinking among black youth becomes more anti-historical,

more metaphysical and more superstitious and therefore more vulnerable to manipulation

by unscrupulous demagogues and the mass media. The reality, the very sad reality today

is that most of our young people have no basis for making decisions except their own

momentary feelings, their own immediate selfish interest or their desire not to be

unpopular with their peers. Every day black youth are becoming more individualistic,

more pleasure-seeking, more unable to tell the difference between correct and incorrect

ideas and principles.

That is why the responsibility of black intellectuals, and especially those of you

who are in the field of political science, is so great. You have the responsibility to

acquire, to develop a method of thought that is based upon the historical developments

and contradictions of this society in this country. You now have the tremendous

advantage of the experience so the last 20 years—both good and bad—to evaluate. In this

sense you are very fortunate.

Not all black intellectuals are going to be ready to accept his responsibility. Many,

perhaps most of them, will continue to be prisoners of bourgeois thought, i.e. they will be

concerned only with advancing their own careers and the careers of their cronies, just as

white intellectuals have been. More and more black politicians are going to win elections

in the next few years; therefore it will seem to most of you foolish not to jump on their

bandwagons or create a bandwagon of your own. But in thinking and acting this way, you

will only become like so many black prime ministers in the West Indies and in the tiny

African nations of our time—enjoying their own pomp and circumstance and begging

whites to come to your city to spend their tourist dollars, so that you can entertain them

with African dances as the native Americans entertain tourists with Indian dances.

My hope, however, is that some of you will be ready to accept the challenge I put

to you—to be ready to struggle to think dialectically. That is, we must be ready to

recognize that as reality changes, our ideas have to change so that we can project new,

more advanced aspirations worth striving for. This is the only way to avoid becoming

prisoners of ideas which were once progressive but have become reactionary, i.e. have

been turned into their opposite. The only struggles worth pursuing are those which

advance the whole society and enable all human beings to evolve to a new and higher

stage of their human potential.

Knowledge must move perception to conception; in other words, knowledge and

struggle begin by perceiving your own reality. But it must have the aim of developing

beyond what you yourself or your own group can perceive, to wider conceptions that are

based upon the experiences of the whole history of Mankind. The only way that anyone

can take this big step of moving beyond perception to conception is by recognizing and

struggling against your own internal contradictions and weaknesses. Of these

weaknesses, the most fundamental and most difficult to overcome, as a result of the

specific history of United States society, is the tendency not to think at all but simply to

react in terms of individual or ethnic self-interest.


August 2016 In Love and Struggle


Beyond the Book

<span >In Love and Struggle</span>

Approx. 432 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, bibl., index

Justice, Power, and Politics


ISBN  978-0-8078-3520-3

Available: August 2016

In Love and Struggle

The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs

By Stephen M. Ward

James Boggs (1919-1993) and Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015) were two largely unsung but critically important figures in the black freedom struggle. James Boggs was the son of an Alabama sharecropper who came to Detroit during the Great Migration, becoming an automobile worker and a union leader. Grace Lee was a Chinese American scholar who studied Hegel, worked with Caribbean political theorist C. L. R. James, and moved to Detroit to work toward a new American revolution. As husband and wife, the couple was influential in the early stages of what would become the Black Power movement, laying the intellectual foundation for labor and urban struggles during one of the most active social movement periods in modern U.S. history.

Stephen Ward details both the personal and the political dimensions of the Boggses’ lives, highlighting the vital contributions these two figures made to black activist thinking. At once a dual biography of two crucial figures and a vivid portrait of Detroit as a center of activism, Ward’s book restores the Boggses, and the intellectual strain of black radicalism they shaped, to their rightful place in postwar American history.

About the Author

Stephen Ward is associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan.


“This fascinating biography examines the intellectual foundations of Black Power, labor, and urban struggles for equality through the lives of two estimable but understudied figures: James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs. The lovely thing about this book is that readers are privy not only to the personal stories of the Boggses, but also to a multilayered narrative that challenges us to think broadly about people’s political and emotional journeys into activism.”
–Rhonda Y. Williams, author of Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century