REVOLUTION AND EVOLUTION
IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
By JAMES AND GRACE LEE BOGGS
9 CHANGING CONCEPTS FOR CHANGING REALITIES edited
What is the Truth?
“We can only deal with these questions when we understand that
ideas themselves are not permanent. Ideas which were once solutions
become barriers to advance at another stage of development. There
is no such thing as “the truth.”
To clarify the question of “the truth,” we must first make a
distinction between three categories which are usually linked
218 James and Grace Lee Boggs
together as “truth.” They are scientific truth, factual truth, and the
ideas called “truths” which are actually convictions held by people
as to what it means to be human.
First, it is clear that science has discovered many valuable facts
about physical realities. Yet someday, someone is going to discover
that something even in this sphere (for example, that the speed of
light by which everything is measured) is, in an Einsteinian sense,
relative, and then all scientific facts will have to be re-evaluated.
Next there is the category which Hannah Arendt has called
“factual truth” in her important essay “Truth and Politics.” Factual
truth involves statements about events and circumstances which
have occurred or are occurring to human beings. The opposite of
factual truth is not error or illusion or opinion, but the falsehood or
lie, either of commission or omission, i.e., the deliberate attempt to
deceive. Lying even in trivial matters reveals the arrogant belief that
facts are deniable or can be made “inoperative.” Hence the
inevitable degeneration of any individual, nation, or organization
which has a careless attitude to factual truth.
Finally, there is the category of truths which has to do with the
nature of man/woman. Is Man the son of God? This is the sort of
thing people argue over. In this sphere there are no absolutes. Yet for
hundreds of years, most people, and not only religious people, have
believed in “the truth.”
The concept that all truths which deal with human identity are
relative and not absolute is indispensable to the revolutionist. In
order to make a revolution, you have to discard the notion that
anything one has previously regarded as truth about human beings is
necessarily true. Revolution is an effort to discover or to create truth,
not to prove what is true. It is hard to Persuade most radicals of this.
You question their personalities if you question what they live by.
Being a revolutionist for them is living by certain truths, rather than
discovering or creating new truths. The New Left–as distinguished
from the Old Left–started out by trying to discover rather than
prove. But they were empirical and pragmatic in the extreme. The
Old Left had a body of ideas which the masses of people are
supposed to prove for them. So they are happy, gratified, satisfied
whenever the masses do something to prove what they already
believe. All this has nothing to do with being a revolutionist.
Revolutionists do not believe in absolute truth but they do have
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strong convictions, thoughts which move them. How can you have
strong convictions which possess and move you, and yet develop
them in relation to struggle, to practice, and to developing reality?
The highest level of human creativity is the constant developing and
advancing of your vision. But this is a dialectical process, involving a
creative relation with reality, which is very different from syllogistic
thinking. Syllogistic thinking is a way of proving a statement rather
than a way of advancing a vision (e.g., “All men are mortal, Socrates
is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal” is a syllogism).
Vision is more than thought. Vision adds to the rational process of
thought all the instincts, intuitions, and other untapped qualities in
people. That is why vision can’t be analyzed in the way that thought
In the attempt to grasp what vision is, we approach the realization
that a human being is infinitely more complicated than we have been
ready to recognize. The more complicated human beings are, the
harder it is to organize, to dominate, to use them. What has
distinguished great creative individuals from all others is that they
have been willing to accept the challenge of the complicated nature
of a human being. Maybe that is why there have been only about two
thousand great individuals in five thousand years. Some people are
defeated by this complexity; some are illuminated by it; some are
challenged by it. This complexity tells us that the evolution of
hunankind is still going on and will continue to go on. The nature of
man/woman, our human identity, is still being discovered, still being
So when we are asked “What is truth?” we must make clear that
there is no such thing as truth. There are different kinds of truth.
There are truths which are really scientific facts, used for technical
purposes. There is factual truth, or truth-telling as opposed to lying.
And then there are truths which are really convictions, having to do
with human beings, with change, with development, with values.
Convictions are relative, not absolute.
That they are relative means that they are extremely important. It
is hard for people to accept this because in the Western intellectual
tradition, absolute truth has come down to us as a Positive goal to be
striven toward, while relative truths have come down as “merely
relative,” and therefore, by implication, mean, material, negative.
This started with Plate, whose anti-mass bias was clear. It was
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extended by Christianity (to save the souls of the meek and humble).
Then science gave it new life. Therefore, it is hard to get people to
understand that truths are constantly being created, and that this
creativity is in fact the greatest achievement of humanity. We tend
to speak of ideas as “only relative” or “merely relative” implying that
what is relative doesn’t matter too much because it is not fixed, as if
only fixed truths were important.
A constant evolution takes place in our concepts, in truths. God
was a concept created by human beings. The first gods that men and
women created were closer to nature because at the time people
lived closer to nature. As we progressively departed from nature,
beginning to master nature for the first time within the last few
hundred years, we created other, more complicated gods. As we
were enhanced in one direction, we were dulled and diminished in
another. This is the contradiction, the duality in man/woman. When
we crossed “the threshold of reflection,” in Chardin’s phrase, we
began to discover things about our own developing nature. We may
think that we have discovered the final truth about the nature of
human beings, and therefore we know who and what man/woman is.
But we don’t. The nature of a human being, present as well as future,
is infinitely more complicated than we have permitted ourselves to
recognize or to express.
A revolution is to create new truths about human beings and
society. There is no proof really that the road you are taking is the
“true” one. You have to make it true. Revolution creates new bases
of tensions, new unities which will split again into new dualities.”
more… order REVOLUTION AND EVOLUTION
IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
JAMES AND GRACE LEE BOGGS