I’ve been cruising through Grace Lee Boggs’ autobiography, Living for Change. I’m not huge into autobiographies, but her book is less about who she is and more about why she wants what she wants for us.
The book is trained on the struggle. Here is the first paragraph:
“I was born above my father’s Chinese American restaurant in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, on June 27 1915. When I cried, the waiters used to say, ‘Leave her on the hillside to die. She’s only a girl.’ Later they told me this as a kind of joke. But for me, even as a child, it was no laughing matter. Early on, it gave me an inkling that all is not right with this world. It also made me wonder whether going back to China was such a good idea.”
And it just goes from there, for DECADES. You see how her inkling is cultivated by luck, mentors, and studious labor. She appreciates in a charming way how people hold contradictions, e.g., she is both greatly indebted to and impressed by CLR James, and also found him increasingly petulant and self-absorbed in a way that got in the way of his scholarship and action.
A few bits stand out:
1) The black union activists in Detroit were black union activists. For decades, Jim Boggs works a full shift at Chrysler, gets home to write an article, go to a meeting, organize an action, then get up the next morning at 5 to go back to work.
2) You see the contingency of the Black Liberation struggle in America. It’s all really dicey. In the early 50s, it seems that we could just as easily be under some man’s thumb for another 200 years.
3) I find Chapter Six, Beyond Rebellion, to be the most enjoyable. She and her husband James had just gotten back to Detroit after the ’67 rebellion, and they were still trying to process the significance of it. How do you move from a rebellion to a revolution that changes the way people relate to each other?
They figured that they have to break with Marx. They interpret Marx as arguing that capitalist production disciplines and socializes workers for political action, and all the revolutionary leader has to do is expose the workers to the exploitation of their circumstances, and the workers will know what to do with their anger. In contrast, Boggs argues that you actually have to train workers as organizers and theoreticians, so that they transform themselves, and in transforming themselves into creative, responsible, disciplined political thinkers and actors, very little of which they will learn merely by working on the line, they will be able to act in accordance with their own revolutionary political vision that integrates all of the aspects of their human life, with an eye towards respecting humanity. In other words, we need workers who are trained in making moral and political choices.
Boggs’ goal for a worker-led democracy was that every worker be transformed into someone whom the community could depend on for theoretical and practical leadership.
It’s a good book. Political philosophers and theorists should read it. Her comportment is so spare and sincere. There is just not a lot of extra nonsense and defensiveness. It’s two hundred pages of a woman organizing and working and reading and speaking her way through the struggle.
That’s all for now.
I have some other knitting to do, but I’m going to post a Funky Academic video on marriage within a few weeks.