- Critical Legacies
Progressive social activists since at least the 1960s have sought ways to tie the tail of neoliberal global capitalism to on-the-ground local struggles for justice and economic equality. For at least as long, American studies scholars have sought to make good on George Lipsitz's mission statement for the field that "[t]he creation of American studies had everything to do with the cultural and intellectual spaces opened up by the mass movements of the 1930s." Luckily for both parties, help is on the way. Iconic ninety-five-year-old Asian American cultural worker and Detroit legend Grace Lee Boggs has published a new manifesto of what she calls "sustainable activism" for the twenty-first century that serves as both a sequel to her seventy year career of political agitation and an organic series of meditations on the relationship of social movement theory to political practice. The book is a revolutionary retrospective to Boggs's participation in some of the twentieth century's greatest social struggles, from anti-capitalist labor movements of the 1940s and 1950s to the Black Power Movement to contemporary urban environmental activism, as well as a radical blueprint for how to carry each of them forward. The book is especially directed to young people, new activists and struggling social movement theorists trying to keep hope alive that, as Boggs puts it in her concluding chapter, "We are the leaders we've been looking for."
University of Michigan Asian American studies and American studies scholar Scott Kurashige is credited by Boggs with helping to conceive, organize, and edit The Next American Revolution, which is arranged as a series of thematically linked essays based on Boggs's earlier speeches and writings. The book's title suggests that readers see it as a companion to two earlier Boggs's books: Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, co-authored in 1974 with her husband and lifelong collaborator, the late James Boggs, and Boggs's influential 1998 autobiography Living For Change. These books reveal how beginning in 1940, Boggs dedicated herself to a life of political writing and local activism unified by a dialectic of what she calls "two-sided transformations, both of ourselves and of our institutions." Boggs developed her political philosophy both in the academy (she took her PhD in philosophy at Bryn Mawr in 1940, an extraordinary achievement for a Chinese American woman at the time) and in her relationship to James Boggs, an African American autoworker who played a key role in organizing shop floor anti-racist solidarity actions in Detroit auto plants. In the 1950s, the Boggses, C.L.R. James, and Russian-born Raya Dunayevskaya formed the Johnson-Forest Tendency, a small Trotskyist-oriented think tank. By the 1960s, Johnson-Forest had disbanded, and the Boggses became the vital wellspring of Detroit's many-headed Black Power Movement. They organized the 1963 Grassroots Leadership Conference where Malcolm X delivered his well-known "Message to the Grassroots" speech and collaborated with Robert F. Williams, the Revolutionary Action Movement and others in creating parameters of black nationalist theory and practice. By the early 1970s, Grace Lee Boggs had also begun writing and speaking on the relationship of feminism to anti-capitalist struggle, and by the 1980s, had assumed a role as a critical voice in Asian American activism in Detroit, inspired in part by the racist murder there of Vincent Chin. By the 1990s, under the influence of figures as diverse as the Zapatistas and Immanuel Wallerstein, Boggs was dedicating her work to local cooperative enterprises meant to save jobs and dignity for a ravished, deindustrializing Detroit.
Synthesizing this body of work and influences into a critical legacy for future generations is the main task of The Next American Revolution. The book is organized into six chapters unified by reflection on successes, shortcomings and unfinished work facing today's progressive activists. Chapter 1, "These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls...