Grace Lee Boggs, founding member of the Johnson-Forest Tendency (where her party name was Ria Stone), has died at the age of 100 in Detroit. She was born on June 27, 1915 and passed away today, October 5, 2015
Here's the obituary in the Detroit Free Press.
When she was 96 I saw her at an event, entitled "Building the Next American Revolution: A Celebration and Tribute to Grace Lee Boggs," in March of 2012 at the Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco's Chinatown, where she gave a passionate speech. The huge room was packed with San Francisco's political establishment, including city supervisors: two were Chinese-American (one of whom represents my district and considers himself a Marxist), three were Chicano, and other was Korean-American (the progressive caucus at City Hall). Yet Grace was the most radical speaker there -- and probably among the most articulate advocates of revolutionary change in the whole room.
I don't remember much of the fluff in the introductory comments before she spoke, but it was typical glad-handing compliments and statements about how deeply Grace influenced these politicos when they were college activists (which I found only partially believable). These supervisors praised Grace as an "American revolutionary," then showed the emptiness of that when they declared March 3rd "Grace Lee Boggs Day" in San Francisco by a city proclamation.
Grace talked about things that no one else did, namely:
- 1. class struggle
- 2. Hegel's philosophical insights, but in a totally accessible way
- 3. the usefulness of Marx's critique of political economy as a tool for revolution
Since I first read about the Johnson-Forest tendency in Harry Cleaver's Reading Capital Politically, I've always had a respect for Grace, CLR James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Marty Glaberman, James ex-wife Constance Webb, Si Owens (Charles Denby's real name, author of Indignant Heart). But I'd grown skeptical of the slavish idolatry the contemporary News & Letters group for Dunayevskay. Also, reading Constance Webb's memoir, Not Without Love, I saw a side of the group that's worthy of the tawdriest soap opera. But hearing a 96-year-old correct the sycophantic -- and social democratic -- comments of her presenters was truly refreshing. Additionally, I heard on the radio an interview she'd done the day before in Berkeley with Angela Davis. Grace actually interrupted Davis to point out that some of her ideas were reformist nonsense. I guess being a nonagenarian has its perks.
Additionally, in the late 1930s Grace and Dunayevskaya found some interesting texts in German collections of Marx's works. They started translating them, using a typewriter and making carbon copies. They were the first ever English-language translations of what we now call the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
Grace Lee Boggs, who took her surname from her long-deceased black autoworker-revolutionary militant husband Jimmy Boggs, will be sorely missed.
So I say, Grace Lee Boggs—presente!