Changing Concepts of Revolution By Grace Lee Boggs


Changing Concepts  of Revolution

By Grace Lee Boggs

 In 1941, inspired by the success of the March on Washington movement led by black labor leader A.Philip Randolph, I decided to join the radical movement.

 At the time the concept (or paradigm) of revolution generally accepted inside and outside the radical movement came from  the 1917 Revolution in Russia. Not only the oppressed but millions of others around the world had been inspired when the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin, had been able to take state power because it had mobilized the workers and the peasants and organized them into Soviets around the demand for “Bread, Peace and Land.” 

 Raising our/their fists, we/they sang “Tis the final conflict/Let each stand in his place/The international party will lead the human race!”


Even then (more than 70 years ago),  there was huge disagreement inside and outside the radical movement over  whether the Soviet Union was still a workers state.  This disagreement sometimes  even took the form of physical struggle, e.g. between Stalinists and Trotskyists at New York ‘s City College.

           Yet before his death,  Lenin himself, increasingly troubled by the growing  bureaucracy of the Soviet state, had tried to warn his comrades and  the world that the revolution he had led was not the final word.  

             But no new paradigm  was available to take its place. Few people knew that a new one was being created inside one of Mussolini’s prisons by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937).

             Gramsci, a philosophic activist,  recognized that we must open ourselves up to new concepts and strategies of revolution because concentration on taking state power had created the opportunity and the danger of the revolutionary party becoming a prisoner of the state.

              The time had come  for a profound change in revolutionary strategy

            *from the assault on power structures (a war of momentum) to the patient construction of power from below;

            *from single subjects (workers, women, blacks et al) to multiple subjects

(e.g. grassroots Detroiters)

            *from Verticalist to Horizontal praxis,  i.e.,  from the Politics of Control to the Politics of Alliance.

          This is the revolutionary strategy that a new generation of radicals has been been developing since the 1960s, especially since the rise of globalization.

           The best known are the Zapatistas.  On January 1. 1994, when NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) went into effect, armed Zapatistas took power in  several Mexican cities but immediate]y abandoned them  in  order to go among the people to create  new infrastructures and spaces for democratic struggle patiently,  from below.

          In 1965 Dr. King recognized that with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the urban rebellion in Watts, the protest stage of the black struggle was over. The time had come to create new structures in our relationships with one another and with the rest of the world.

                So in his anti-Vietnam war speech in April 1967, MLK called for a radical revolution of values not only against racism but against materialism and militarism and for building a person-oriented rather than a thing-oriented society.

           Before he could give programmatic form to this radical revolution, King was assassinated in 1968.

             In Detroit the Boggs Center assumed this responsibility.  The 1967 Detroit rebellion had brought a black man, Coleman Young , to power in the Mayor’s office because white power could no longer maintain law and order. But Young’s support  of the destruction of Poletown to build the GM plant and  of a casino industry to provide jobs demonstrated that he was now a prisoner of the system.

              So  we  had to do  Visionary Organizing to provide an alternative.  We  founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural, intergenerational youth program to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up.  This in turn gave wings to Detroit’s fast growing urban agricultural movement.

            I hope that this column  on Changing Concepts of Revolution will challenge the many activists who have watched my recent conversation on Revolution with Angela Davis to read and reflect on the works of Antonio Gramsci. He died more than 70 years ago. But his time has come.


Correction; in last week’s column on our visit to the Bay Area, I neglected to point out  that the Chinese Progressive Association was the main sponsor of the  fabulous March 3 celebration in the Chinatown Cultural Center. THANK YOU!!!!                                                                          


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