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(en) Canada, A&S*, Upping the Anti #1 - 'Revolution as a New Beginning': an Interview with Grace Lee Boggs - part 1 of 2.

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 19 Apr 2005 09:34:52 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
http://ainfos.ca/ http://ainfos.ca/index24.html

For over 60 years Grace Lee Boggs has been thinking about and
working towards making social change. Along with her late husband,
the African-American writer and activist Jimmy Boggs (1919-1993),
she has been centrally involved in numerous grassroots organizations
including the Johnston-Forest Tendency, Correspondence, the
National Organization for an American Revolution, the Freedom
Now Party and Detroit Summer. She has worked with and provided
counsel to hundreds of writers and activists including Malcolm X,
Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, CLR James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Kwame
Nkrumah and Stokely Carmichael.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Grace Lee Boggs was born in
1915 in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1940 she received a Ph.D. in
philosophy from Bryn Mawr College. Refusing to settle for an
academic lifestyle, she moved to Chicago to join the movement as a
tenants rights activist. In subsequent years she moved to Detroit and
become a leading member of socialist, Black, and Asian liberation
struggles. In 1973 she co-authored with James Boggs the book
Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century and in 1998, she
published her autobiography Living For Change. Now in her 90th
year she writes a weekly column for the Michigan Citizen,
participates in the organization Detroit Summer, and otherwise
remains an active member of the Detroit community. Today, Grace
works with the Boggs Center, a non-profit community organization
based in Detroit’s Eastside which was founded in 1995 by friends
and associates of Grace and Jimmy to honor and continue their
legacy as movement activists and theoreticians. The webpage of the
Boggs Center can be accessed at http://www.boggscenter.org. Grace
was interviewed by Adrian Harewood and Tom Keefer on July 22,
2003 at her home in Detroit, Michigan. For a transcript of the
complete interview please go to http://auto_sol.tao.ca. We will be
publishing the second part of the interview in the September 2005
edition of Upping the Anti.

Upping The Anti: In your autobiography you talk about the
decimation of the working class in Detroit through automation and
mass layoffs. Do you think the US working class is disappearing, or is
it being re-created in the high-tech and service industry?

Grace Lee Boggs: The information industry is being increasingly
exported. The computer scene is going to India. The manufacturing
working class has been replaced to some degree by the information
industry working class, because that work can also be exported. The
work that can’t be exported is the work around public utilities
and services such as schools which affect the local population.

Most people think that jobs are the answer to racism, to poverty, etc.
We have to understand that jobs no longer play the role they did in
periods of scarcity. We need to measure the worth of a human being
in very different ways, and we don’t know how to do that yet. We
don’t have the philosophy for it yet. We are coming from a period
of Cartesian concepts of the separation of body and mind to a whole
new era of uncertainty. This brings with it a different concept of
reality, and a new potential for change. We are at a very different
place, and we have to change our whole mindset.

A beautiful place to start doing that is Detroit because Detroit is a
wasteland. We are the products of rapid industrialization. In the first
half of the twentieth century people came to Detroit to marvel at the
Ford Rouge plant where there were 120,000 workers under a single
roof during World War II. The strikes and sit-downs during the 1930s
looked like they were Marx’s Capital coming to life. It was just
amazing! And now technological developments and the export of
jobs overseas have turned the city into a wasteland. So what do we
do? Do we dream of bringing back industry? Or do we recognize that,
to be a human being, you have to have a different relationship with
the earth, a different relationship with your fellow citizens, a different
relationship between country and city. So many changes need to take
place. How do we translate that into struggle? Into organizing?

UTA: But on a global scale isn’t the industrial working class

GLB: That is one way you can look at it. Or you can look at how
globalization is affecting workers and villagers in India, for example,
how it is destroying the environment and increasing inequality. They
begin thinking about another way of life, another way of development
that doesn’t mimic the patterns of capitalist development we
have gone through in the West. That is how we need to think. I
don’t think we can just accept globalization and its continuing
expansion. We have to wonder how globalization has affected how
people think. How does this experience help us organize?

UTA: Is there a distinction between the kind of grassroots organizing
that you do and the more traditional revolutionary organizing which
focuses on the taking of political power?

GLB: Marx thought that workers needed to take state power. He
thought that capitalists were too competitive to do what was
necessary to create the material conditions for communism. So he
called for workers’ power, state power, and Lenin did much the
same thing.

If you’re living in a Third World country, you see the capitalists
putting their money into hotels, into bars, into all sorts of consumer
things instead of into the means of production. And so the tendency
is to think, “we need to start with the state.” But in
revolutionary struggles throughout the twentieth century, we’ve
seen that state power, viewed as a way to empower workers, ends up
disempowering them. So we have to begin thinking differently. The
old concept used to be: first we make the political revolution and then
the cultural revolution. Now we have to think about how the cultural
revolution can empower people differently, and create forms of dual

Some folks call it a new civil society. As Bush’s power begins to
disintegrate (which it’s bound to do with all the contradictions
that are involved), there’s a new power emerging that already has
new values, that is already participatory. It is a very different scenario.

We have to think in much more cultural terms, which we didn’t
do in the past. For Lenin, the cultural revolution that was to come
after the taking of state power had mainly to do with literacy. But we
have to think about culture in a very different way because we live in
this society of abundance, consumerism and materialism.

UTA: How else should we be thinking of it?

GLB: Well, for example, all of the identity movements of the 1960s
and 1970s and so forth have given us a sense that culture has
something to do with relationships between people. The ecology
movement has taught us that culture has to do with our relations to
the earth. And now the whole business of 9/11 has made us realize
that culture depends on our relationship to other societies--the rest of
the world. So we have a very different concept of culture and what it
means to be a human being than we had in the past.

UTA: Lenin offered the model of the centralized vanguard party that
stands at the forefront of the masses and seizes state power, and I
think most people would agree that it’s not a useful model for
today. But there are also many non-Leninist revolutionary traditions,
such as the traditions of Council Communism reflected in your book
Facing Reality. Does the conception that you had of workers councils
still apply today?

GLB: Let me start by saying that I don’t own Facing Reality. In
fact, I disown Facing Reality. Facing Reality was written in 1957
following the Hungarian Revolution, mainly by CLR and Selma
James. CLR was ecstatic about the Hungarian Revolution, even
though it was destroyed almost immediately. Just to have it emerge
for a few days to him was proof that Marx had been correct, which in
my opinion is not the way to make revolutions. I think too many
radicals use events to demonstrate the validity of their ideas, rather
than as challenges to further our thinking.

CLR James asked me to come to London to work with him on the
Hungarian Revolution and Facing Reality, and I went. But what was
very much in my mind at the time were the new concepts of
leadership that came out of such things as the Montgomery Bus
Boycott, the Highlander School (where Rosa Parks went), the local
National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, and
the Women’s Council, led by Joanne Robinson, who circulated
leaflets calling for the bus boycott.

Though it wasn’t what you would call a vanguard party, there
was leadership. And, importantly, it was emerging from the
necessities of the situation and the local people. The people
themselves decided that they would walk rather than ride. Out of this
emerged the possibility of people being transformed through struggle.
Martin Luther King was able to articulate all that. Out of the
Montgomery Bus Boycott came all the other movements.

I think we have a way of looking statically at leadership and workers,
of putting everything in boxes instead of looking at the complexity of
living history, and at how many different forms of leadership emerge
to create movements. Static ways of conceiving revolution came out
of the 19th century and culminated in the Chinese Revolution of
1949, and they are now outmoded. The Montgomery Bus Boycott
initiated a new era of movement-building that has become a new way
of transforming society.

UTA: How does movement-building deal with the state?

GLB: There is an anarchist movement emerging among young
people in the United States which is a very different kind of
anarchism from European anarchism in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. It doesn’t emerge so much from theories of
the state, but is more about how to empower people. It is based upon
the concept of empowerment rather than the concept of power.
Power is very much a nineteenth century concept. The concept of
empowerment is a movement concept. It’s the way by which
individuals become conscious that their experiences are social
experiences and that there is power in consciousness-raising and
acting together. I don’t think we know everything about it yet
because it’s very recent. It’s only been forty years. But I
think we need to understand that divide between the revolutions of
the first half of the 20th century and the movement-building of the
second half.

UTA: Can you speak more about the rise of this anarchist
movement? Are you referring to the events since Seattle and the
anti-globalization movement?

GLB: The anti-globalization movement came out of the movements
of the 60s and 70s. Starhawk, whose consciousness comes out of the
women’s movement, had a lot to do with the organizing of
affinity groups. It’s a very different consciousness from the
Marxist-Leninist stuff, which is very patriarchal and Newtonian.
After 9/11, for example, Starhawk said that when you hold big,
national demonstrations, you should break them into small groups so
that people can talk and relate to one another. She also has this whole
idea of affinity groups doing their own decision-making. That’s a
much more decentralized, democratic scenario.

There’s also this concept of creating a civil society. All kinds of
people, including academics who don’t call themselves
anarchists, are talking about that sort of thing. They use the
Philippine People Power I and People Power II as examples. People
Power II took place in 2001 when thousands of Filipinos held a
demonstration to protest against the corrupt government of President
Joseph Estrada. Out of the demonstration and the different groups
that had assembled, they elected a committee which started meeting
monthly and then weekly. When the committee called for everyone to
assemble, two million people came together in the square and
Estrada had to step down. That’s very different from the way
most people think about political revolution.

UTA: There seem to be a number of successful examples where
mass mobilizations were organized democratically on a grassroots
basis but then it seems that capital is able to absorb these efforts by
making token surface changes that don’t challenge property

GLB: That’s the hardest thing to change. I remember that when
I became a radical, what made me a radical was the decision to get
rid of capitalism. We never thought through what it meant to “get
rid of capitalism.” But our language showed that we were
thinking we could rub it out the way you rub something off the
blackboard and replace it with a socialism that would emerge from
the working class as Marx described it in Capital.

UTA: In Facing Reality, you speak of building new institutions and
creating a new society within the old one through mutual aid and
solidarity. Are these methods of self-help and organization capable of
transforming the system, or do they just ameliorate certain
people’s conditions while other people face the might of military
repression or genocide?

GLB: It seems to me that like CLR James, you are asking these
questions out of ideology instead of real history. In Facing Reality,
CLR was basing himself on the concept of the invading socialist
society, on Marx’s “Historical Tendency of Capitalist
Accumulation” in Capital, in which there is the famous
paragraph about how the proletariat is organized and disciplined by
the process of capitalist production itself, so all that is necessary is for
it to emerge is to bust the integument of capitalism. I don’t think
most people realize the degree to which that scenario, which seemed
to be coming to life in 1938 when CLR arrived in the US was the
basis of CLR’s revolutionary thinking. I remember how he would
declaim passages like, “The proletariat is revolutionary or it is
nothing.” What is the meaning of the word “is” in that
sentence? It’s like defining what is real by your definitions. So if
someone says “the proletariat is disappearing,” or “the
proletariat is reactionary” (which we know it has been; you just
have to look at the US working class in relation to the Vietnam War),
you deny that they’re talking about the “proletariat”
because Marx said “the proletariat is revolutionary or it is

It’s that kind of circular thinking that was very much in the
thinking of CLR and to some degree in Marx. Marx was writing in
the British Museum; he was not experiencing all the contradictions
that emerge in reality. I remember falling in love with what Marx said
about the Paris Commune being “the political form at last
discovered to resolve the economic conditions of the proletariat.”
I remember how it opened up my mind when I first read it. But since
then I have thought to myself that the Paris Commune took place in
1870 in France in a war between the French and the Germans.
It’s not impossible that a model like that will emerge out of the
Iraq war, but to think it’s going to take on the same form as the
Paris Commune is a kind of thinking that we should rid ourselves of.
It involves taking a model that happened in historical reality, and
gauging your perspectives for the future on that model when you
know that history is always changing.

It’s simplistic thinking which I realize is very attractive to young
people. You’re at a time in life when you want things to be
simple, to be able to say, “yes, that is what the world is like.”
But that’s not the way the world is. The world is changing all the
time. That’s the first principle of dialectics.

CLR wrote Notes on Dialectics, in which he savaged Trotsky for
getting stuck in the concept of nationalization as the essence of
revolution because that is what happened in the Russian Revolution.
Trotsky, he said, had ignored Hegel’s main contribution to
dialectical thinking, that you shouldn’t get stuck in fixed
concepts. But then CLR did the same thing! I presented a paper last
year called “Beyond Scientific Socialism” at a National
Labour History Conference on a panel with four people who had
worked very closely with CLR James’ circle of associates. I said
that CLR always criticized the fixed notions of everybody else,
especially Trotsky, but never questioned his own fixed notions in
regards to Marxism. He never, never, never, though he lived 100
years later, questioned Marx’s paragraph about the working class
in his chapter on the “Historical Tendency of Capitalist
Accumulation” in Capital. While the working class was
constantly changing, CLR was still holding fast to Marx’s idea of
the working class organized and disciplined by the process of
production itself.

Jimmy Boggs wrote a pamphlet called But What About the Workers?
in 1974 when everybody could see the amount of competition, of
bourgeoisification that was taking place among the working class,
particularly in America following World War II. At the time it looked
like this country could do anything its heart desired. There was all
this abundance, and labour organizing was all about getting more of
this abundance for the workers. CLR was no longer in the US and he
wasn’t wondering, as we were, whether conditions had changed
to such a degree that the working class was no longer a radical force
for social change, and that conditions had become more complex
than Marx could have imagined in 1867.

UTA: How do you account for the fact that at this moment there are
more auto-workers in South Korea than there were industrial workers
in the entire world when Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto?

GLB: I am not interested in making the Korean revolution. My task is
to make the American Revolution! There are all sorts of
contradictions emerging in South Korea which the Koreans have to
grapple with. I have to deal with the American working class, and I
have to look back at what I have thought and written about the
American working class. Shortly after World War II, I contributed to
a pamphlet called The American Worker. Under the name Ria Stone,
which was my party name at the time, I wrote the theoretical section,
re-stating Marx’s ideas on the working class. As I look back at it
now, I realize that what I wrote came completely out of books, and
not out of real experience. It is true that World War II was a
tremendous experience for everybody in this country. People in
plants and in the military learned so much from one another. It was
as if Marx’s working class was coming to life as it had in the
1930s. But shortly thereafter, things began to change.

If you ask me questions about the South Korean workers, are you
doing that because you are interested in making the South Korean
revolution or because you feel it’s necessary to continue
justifying and validating Marx? I don’t think revolutions should
be about validating ideas that were written by somebody who was
living at another time and in another place. That’s too
fundamentalist, and is why people talk about Marxism as a kind of
religion. If you become a Marxist, you should become a Marxist for
the purpose of making the revolution. You should not become a
Marxist for the purpose of validating Marx!

UTA: Why do you think that you evolved and CLR James did not?

GLB: I think one of the main reasons I changed is because, after
1953, I had this experience of actually being part of the Black
community, actually working in a day-to-day fashion with people in
the community, with workers.

If I had lived in New York, if I had gone on living in Union Square, I
probably wouldn’t have changed. I came to Detroit because CLR
and Raya Dunayevskaya, the real leaders of the Johnson-Forest
Tendency, had decided that we had to go beyond Marx in a certain
sense and identify what we saw as new social forces: women, Blacks,
rank and file workers, and young people. We had already anticipated
going beyond Marx’s scenario. So it is possible that if CLR had
remained in the United States, he might have begun functioning on
that basis. But for reasons not of his own making, he lost the
opportunity to have that experience. And he might never have been
able to experience it anyway because he was not really native or
indigenous to the movement here. Moreover, as long as he was here
and didn’t have citizenship, he had to function in a very small
group. It’s very difficult to come from outside, and be able to
appreciate the organic development of a movement. I was very lucky
that I married Jimmy Boggs, very lucky that the Black Power
Movement emerged around the time that I had already settled into
the Black community, so I could become a very integral part of it and
therefore be in a position to evaluate what I had done and what I had

UTA: Along with the cultural revolution that you’ve talked
about, particularly in your articles relating to Martin Luther King, you
seem to suggest the need for a personal transformation. You suggest
that we need to be constantly evaluating ourselves and that we must,
first of all, come to terms with who we are as individuals. Perhaps
you could expand on that?

GLB: I recently made a speech called, “We Are All Works in
Progress.” I love that concept of works in progress. I’m very
fortunate that I have experienced sixty years of activism, and can see
the progress that I have and have not made! I’m not sure why I
was fortunate enough to be able to change and to keep changing as
reality has changed.

During the Black Power Movement, I was what many people
regarded as one of the best organizers in Detroit. I essentially
organized the Michigan Freedom Now Party and helped get it on the
ballot, which no other group in this country was able to do. In almost
every city they tried to launch a Freedom Now Party. We were the
only ones who did it, and we did it in part because I was the
coordinator. I was also the main organizer of the Grassroots
Leadership Conference to which Malcolm X made his famous
speech. I was able to do this in part because of the skills in organizing
that I had developed during the period that I was in the Marxist
organizations who were very good at this sort of thing. Also, the
circumstances were very ripe, and I was in contact with people who
wanted to see this happen, and who were in a position to make it
happen. So when the Detroit rebellion exploded in 1967, even though
Jimmy and I were out of the city, we were considered among the six
people responsible for it. I didn’t make the rebellion happen, but
some of the things that I had done in the 1960s were part of what
helped people see that they needed to erupt in some way. So it gave
me a lot to think about.

Up until 1967 I had never thought that you had to distinguish
between a rebellion and a revolution, because in the thinking of
Marxists all you had to do was get the oppressed angry and in
motion, and they would sweep away the existing structures and that
would bring a new society into existence.

After the rebellions, I realized I had almost transferred that concept of
the working class to Black people, to the Black social force. And then
I looked around me and this Black force that had exploded were the
kids down the street – people I knew, with all their contradictions
and weaknesses. What was going to make them revolutionary? I
began to see the fundamental weaknesses in the concept of
“debordement” in Marxism-Leninism, that all you need to do
is mobilize people, get them angry enough to sweep away the old
society and bring in the new.

It wasn’t going to happen that way. It was obvious that we
needed to do a lot more work, do a lot more thinking about what
constitutes a revolution, and how it’s distinguished from a
rebellion. A rebellion does not sustain itself. People who start out as
rebels, thinking that they can do everything, end up by begging those
in power to give them more. I realized how far short of a revolution a
rebellion is! Once we began thinking about what constitutes a
revolution, there was still the question of how you bring it about.
How do people begin embracing new values, creating the new
infrastructure, and practicing the new relationships that are necessary
for revolutionary social change?

Instead of the old binary polarization between reform and revolution,
we had to grapple with what brings about transformation. Immanuel
Wallerstein says that 1968 brought to an end the political thinking
that had dominated Western society since the French Revolution.
The French Revolution had made it clear that the people at the
bottom needed to be considered. Out of that recognition came the
politics of Conservatives who decided that “we’re not going
to let them push us around” and also that of the Liberals and the
Socialists, both of whom wanted the state to make reforms that
would ameliorate the conditions of the poor. After 1968, Wallerstein
said we had to begin thinking differently. The divisions that now
matter are not the old ones between reform and revolution, whether
you change slowly or rapidly. We now have to begin the long, difficult
job of rethinking what it is we have to do.

I don’t say that everyone has to do this rethinking. But anybody
who has been serious about the Marxist-Leninist tradition needs to
do it. Other people will keep doing what they find necessary
depending on where they are at historically. They don’t have to
get rid of all that baggage. But those of us who have been part of the
movement, and who took it seriously, need to do some rethinking.
And it’s not easy to do.

When you talked about South Korea, I was reminded of that kind of
thinking. You’re trying to hold onto an ideology that
encompasses all of reality so that everything that happens can be
seen as a sort of validation for what you think. And that was very
much the way we radicals thought. We were always looking for

What we need to do is examine that idea very, very carefully. First of
all, I think that the concept of the future as unknown and as
dependent on what we do in the present is something that we have to
keep very close to our hearts. We have to see revolution as a new
beginning, and see ourselves as participants and as creators, as
opposed to forecasters, of the future. Rebecca Solnit has written a
beautiful article on this, quoting Virginia Woolf. During the very dark
days of the First World War, Woolf wrote that hope must be held
onto because the future is inscrutable. Not that it’s dark,
necessarily, but that it is inscrutable, unknown. It’s important to
think that way if you’re going to be a revolutionist. You have to
believe that what you do has meaning because it creates something
that previously did not exist, and was not known or even thought
about. You have to be very careful that what you do does not replicate
the past. There are so many historical examples of regimes, brought
into being by what we consider revolutionary actions, which ended up
replicating the institutions they replaced.

UTA: What was interesting about the anti-war movement that
developed in response to the recent US invasion of Iraq was not only
the size of the demonstrations, but also their global character. One
thing some organizers talked about was that it was not really the
already organized activists who were responsible for bringing out
millions of people on February 15th, 2003 in what was the largest
worldwide protest in history. They said that the true organizers of the
event were the Bush and Blair governments.

GLB: In the old radical days, we used to argue about “what was
the cause?” as if there could be only one cause, and if you
deviated from naming that single cause, somehow you were
betraying the movement. Now we know that the causes of the
anti-war movement were extremely complex. Bush had a whole lot
to do with it. If he hadn’t provoked the movement, we would be
in a much more difficult position. My contribution to the anti-war
movement is the column I wrote titled, “Don’t Leave It All to
Dennis,” referring to Dennis Kucinich who is by far the most
progressive candidate in the Democratic Party.

UTA: He’s the congressman from Ohio?

GLB: Yes. I spent a weekend with him at a retreat last year. At 31,
Dennis was the “Boy Mayor” of Cleveland, Ohio. He pledged
in his campaign that he would not privatize the utilities. Under
pressure as Mayor to give in, he refused and was not re-elected. So
he had to start all over again and build himself up through state
elections to finally becoming a congressperson. He is a product of the
Mid-West working class. His roots are steelworkers and miners and
he’s of Eastern European ancestry. That’s one of the reasons
I like him. We need someone from the working class to emerge as a
national figure with a vision. The working class has taken such damn
beatings over the years. Kucinich represents the most visionary and
progressive program, but we should not leave it all to him. We should
begin getting as many groups together as we can to create a kind of
dual power structure that ties the anti-war movement to local
struggles, taking advantage of the fact that the people who are
participating in today’s anti-war movement are very local.
Neighbours are going to national anti-war demonstrations together.
They are making conscious efforts to hold local demonstrations side
by side with national ones. So I’m meeting with a group of local
people and we’re going to talk about that. To me, politics means
trying to achieve something in a fluid situation and not to be boxed

You probably know that the Green Party met in Washington D.C. a
couple of days ago and apparently the majority of the group have
determined that they are going to run a candidate. I think we should
make a distinction between this period, the period that leads up to the
Democratic primary, and the period after the Democratic primary.
First of all, we have no idea what will happen to Bush. He’s
digging himself into a very deep hole. There are a whole lot of
unknowns in this next period but we have to decide what to do now. I
voted for Nader in the last election, partly because the Democrats
were going to win Michigan anyway.

These are very concrete questions. The tendency of Marxists has
been to deal with elections abstractly because we didn’t really
believe elections made a difference. In the Socialist Workers Party
and the Workers’ Party, we used to run candidates because we
viewed elections as an opportunity to get out our message. But I
don’t think that’s the way people grow - by conversion to the
ideas of a few people. They have to go through their experiences and
be engaged in struggles. Those are some things I have had to learn.

UTA: There’s a very poignant moment in your book Living for
Change – it seems to be an epiphany for you – when you meet
James Boggs and he teaches you the importance of “loving
America enough to change it.” For you, at the time, the idea of
even voting was anathema, it wasn’t something that you did. In
your most recent pamphlet you talk about how “we must be the
change.” Perhaps you can talk about those two ideas, “loving
America enough to change it,” and the notion that “we have
to be the change.”

GLB: Jimmy once said, “that’s the narrowness of a lot of
radicals; they say they hate this lousy country. I love this country not
only because my ancestors’ blood is in the soil but for the
potential of what it can become.”

When I was a radical in the Marxist-Leninist sense, I was an
outsider. I really moved from place to place. I don’t know how
many times I moved while I was in New York. I was a student in
New York, and in Philadelphia. I went to Chicago and then back to
New York. I lived in California for a while. I was very transient in a
way that radicals tend to be. They go, so to speak, where the action
is, or where the party wants them to go. What I found when I came to
Detroit was that Jimmy belonged to a community. It was a
community that had been transplanted almost intact from the little
town of Marion Junction, Alabama, where he was born. For him,
voting was a question of citizenship. I never knew for whom he voted,
but he always voted because he carried around this idea that he had a
societal responsibility. It’s a very different concept from that of
radicals. Radicals don’t take responsibility for this society
because it is a capitalist society, an enemy society. They never learn
what it is to practice politics and be responsible, even for their own
neighbourhoods. So the way they behave in neighbourhoods is
scandalous. They don’t realize how this really estranges them
from people in the community.

UTA: Can you elaborate on that?

GLB: I often talk about how Jimmy would go out every morning and
clean the corner. He would pick up all the litter on the corner. When
the gutters backed up because of heavy rain, he would be the first one
out there to clean the gutters. He felt that he was a citizen of his
block, of his city, of his country. And I had never thought that way
because radicals don’t think that way. We’re outsiders. We
cherish our “outsiderness.” I’ve come to believe that you
cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless
you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it. I
didn’t know that until I met Jimmy. That’s why I had never

A couple of years ago I was at this retreat with Vincent and Rosemary
Harding. Vincent has been extremely eloquent on this subject,
quoting Langston Hughes; “America never was America to me,
and yet I swear this oath, America will be!” And I now think that
way. Suppose I only said that Detroit’s devastation is the result of
capitalist de-industrialization – exporting all the jobs. So what we
have to do is get rid of capitalism. But meanwhile, I don’t do
anything about Detroit. How could I live here and not do anything
about Detroit? How could I talk to young people about their lives and
what they should be doing, if all I said is that we have to get rid of this
monster who has de-industrialized and devastated and depopulated
us. What kind of revolutionary message would that be? This is not
something that most radicals understand.

UTA: What do you think about Malcolm X’s comments about
“Americanness,” and about how he was not an American and
didn’t want to be considered one? Do you think that in a country
built on slavery and on the genocide of indigenous people, we really
need to be reclaiming “Americanness,” or do we need
something that’s completely different?

GLB: When you say “something that’s completely
different,” where are you going to locate it? On the moon? There
are so many questions involved here. First of all, there has always
been a separatist tendency in the Black struggle, which was acted out
to a certain degree in the 1960s and 1970s. Counterposing separation
to integration was a tremendous part of the struggle of the 1960s.
People took and struggled over opposing positions, just as DuBois
and Booker T. had done earlier in the century. Because we had this
struggle in the 1960s, the perspective of separation was tested, and it
is unlikely that we need to go through the separation versus
integration struggle again.

The second thing we have to recognize is that Malcolm was changing
and undergoing incredible changes. I don’t known if you have
seen a book by Jan Carew called Ghosts in Our Blood. In December
of 1964 and January of 1965 Malcolm stayed at Carew’s house in
London, and the two had long talks. Malcolm told Carew that he
didn’t know where he was or where he was going politically, and
that he was still searching. He knew he didn’t want to be around
the Communist party, but he felt that what was going on in Cuba was
very important. After his break with the Nation of Islam, some people
said that Malcolm should have come and spent a year with Jimmy
and me to get some grounding. Here was this guy who had made this
tremendous leap toward the ideas of the Nation of Islam while in
prison, had spent years speaking for Elijah and organizing for the
Nation, and was now on his own.

UTA: You tried to recruit him for the Freedom Now Party.

GLB: In September 1964, Milton Henry and I called him in Egypt
and asked him whether he would run for U.S. Senator on the
Freedom Now Party ticket. He declined. In the spring of 1964, some
of us had met with him in Harlem and invited him to come work with
us in Detroit. But he had a long way to go, and he wanted to be more
on his own, especially after the ideological and organizational
rigidities of the Nation. Malcolm was a wonderful guy, but you have
to understand that he only had a very short time, only a little more
than a year, between his suspension from the Nation in November of
1963 and his assassination in February 1965. During that time he
made all these trips to Africa and the trip to Mecca to find out what
he thought.

UTA: What do you think is his legacy? What does Malcolm X teach
us today?

GLB: The test of revolutionary leadership is the ability to change with
the times. Malcolm passed that test very well. I can’t begin to tell
you how unhappy it made me when, following his assassination,
fourteen and sixteen year olds would get up at meetings and say,
“Malcolm said, by all means necessary!” as if that was all
Malcolm stood for. Malcolm was a person who kept growing and
developing. He was a terrific organizer; he was very, very scrupulous
about being on time; he was very gentle. So to limit him to the
“by all means necessary” statement is very unfair to him and
also limits the person who only sees this side of Malcolm.

The second and final part of this interview will run in our next issue.
* A&S - Autonomy & Solidarity is an anticapitalist antiauthoritarian
revolutionary network in Canada.]

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