Grace Lee Boggs & The Maccabean Theater

Activist, feminist, and ultimately a poet of creative non-violence. The narrative ebbs and flows, capturing the imagination with lyricism ,substance and form;  the cacophony of empty rhetoric relegated to the recycle bin. Its a critique against racism, militarism and materialism poetically unfolding, stanza after stanza as a convincing paen against the culture of violence, in favor of an aesthetic not clearly understood, but markedly different in its diversity and infinity. Its the creativity and not the craft that makes Grace Lee Boggs such an artist ; she who shuns the symbol, the archetype, the iconography of any and  all labels that could limit her poetic license . Like the Maccabees in their time, Boggs’ s story is a revolt against the crushing forces of Hellenization, the obliteration of intuition,  the subjugation of women and the principle of divide and conquer.

”However, I didn’t discover the concept of feminism until I was a teenager and read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Women and Economics.” Females, Gilman explained, are little better than prostitutes. From childhood on, they are socialized to get what they want, e.g. new dolls or new clothes, by sitting on their father’s laps and tickling him under the chin. ” ( Grace Lee Boggs)

The Hellenism of the modern age, its wedge politics of division, an concomitant policies of homogenization, globalization and commodification remain, with little variation, the same substantial issues the Maccabees were faced with in their insurrection against the Romans. ; a policy of benign multiculturalism siphoning intuition, diversity and creativity.It was clearly more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King and ended in destruction and slavery.

” Western industrial society began with the witchhunts of the 16th and 17th century which not only expropriated the land from the peasants but also replaced the intuitive knowledge of women with the Scientific Rationalism of Bacon and Descartes, robbing us of our “souls” by creating a sharp dichotomy between ourselves and reality and thus legitimizing our desecration and exploitation of one another and of Nature.” Boggs poetry is based on the end of the industrial age and the challenge of not pursuing economic development. We are all ”native people” prone to accepting worthless trinkets and alcohol, a metaphor for linear and pyramidal acceptance, in exchange for innate rights and freedoms. Its an assertion outside the power structure where instead of producing wealth and individual careers, there is transformation of community.

”However, World War IV, the war in which the whole world is now engaged, is a new kind of war, an ongoing and total war, the war of “The Empire of Money” against Humanity. The Empire of Money seeks “to impose the logic and practice of capital” on everything, to turn every living thing, the Earth, our communities and all our human relationships into commodities to be bought and sold on the market. It seeks to destroy everything that human beings have created: cultures, languages, memories, ideas, dreams, love and respect for one another. It even destroys the material basis for the nation-state which western societies created in the 19th century to protect us, if only marginally, from the forces of money.”

Grace Lee Boggs, portrait by Robert Shetterly

Grace Lee Boggs, portrait by Robert Shetterly


“Rebellions tend to be negative, to denounce and expose the enemy without providing a positive vision of a new future…A revolution is not just for the purpose of correcting past injustices, a revolution involves a projection of man/woman into the future…It begins with projecting the notion of a more human human being, i.e. a human being who is more advanced in the specific qualities which only human beings have – creativity, consciousness and self-consciousness, a sense of political and social responsibility.”….The absence of this philosophical/spiritual dimension in the Black Power struggles of the 1960s helps to explain why these struggles ended up in the opportunism, drug abuse, and interpersonal violence…”  ( Grace Lee Boggs,Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century)

Initially, Boggs identified much more closely with Malcom X than Martin Luther King Jr. “Like most black power activists, I tended to view King’s concepts of non-violence and Beloved Community as somewhat naïve and sentimental,” But in 1967, when race violence gripped the city of Detroit and elsewhere in the nation, Boggs began to see what was missing in the Black Power movement and look toward the example of King as a more effective template for cultural revolution, and away from elements of revenge and vengeance. Much of the discussion centred around how in the last three years of his life King called for a revolution in values against the triple threats of Racism, Materialism and Militarism.

nd(this)" href="">Stattler, Machabeusze

Stattler, Machabeusze


The question Boggs poses are :Why do most King celebrations back away from or ignore this message? Is it because he was going where most Americans don’t want to go ? So, that there was almost a sigh of relief when he was assassinated? ”All we need to do is look around us and seehow much over the past 15-20 years we black folks have decided (consciously or not) to fight racism by seeking for equal opportunity or a fair share in the nation’s militarism and materialism. In other words, we have chosen to fight against one of the triple threats by joining the other two”. (Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero. Orbis 1996).

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks



The Maccabean theater, was the example of their usurpation and reappropriation of their equality, but only by compromising through military engagement and their share of the economic meat, similar to the trap  King outlined. A Preordination to   failure. King meant that engagement in the scheme connoted bourgeois entitlement and dehumanized submission.Little is known about “the Maccabean Theater”, buts its lesson as an art form, reality drama and consummate aesthetic of violence is worth noting. Violence against the Hellenists was widespread and Maccabean fighters began rounding up Hellenists on a stage, forcing them to act out rituals, utter prayers, and prepare offerings. As the captive Hellenists acted as they were told to, the Maccabees would shoot arrows and throw spears at the actors. They grew in popularity and became more  intricate and detailed. The forced reenactment of rituals evolved into the forced reenactment of histories and mythologies. Thus was the “Maccabean Theater” born, a theater of sentencing, a theater of judgment and execution. Public spectacle and active audience participation.

Nicolas Poussin,1638, Destruction of Solomon's Temple

Nicolas Poussin,1638, Destruction of Solomon's Temple



”With the liberated Jewish state and the decline of heretical crimes, the Maccabean Theater became less about killing the actors and more about letting the better actors live. Crowds began sparing the better performers before killing off the inferior ones. Once the Romans took over, even the hands-on killing started to cease, as the Roman state usurped the state’s judicial power of execution, and death by stoning made a rollicking comeback among smaller religious courts. By then, the performance rituals forsook plots and stories, to become a kind of holiday variety show, where the most popular captive criminal act would be spared execution.” The articulation of revolution as theater is much more sublime with Grace Lee Boggs and the role of public actors on the same type of stage, be they Obama or Kennedy or King has in the past met the same fate of the Hellenists who missed a beat while dancing to a different drum.

”And what we tried to do is explain that a rebellion is righteous, because it’s the protest by a people against injustice, because of unrighteous situation, but it’s not enough. You have to go beyond rebellion. And it was amazing, it– a turning point in my life, because until that time, I had not made a distinction between a rebellion and revolution. And it forced us to begin thinking, what– what does a revolution mean? How does it relate to evolution?…I don’t expect moral arguments to take hold with the powers-that-be. They are in their positions of power. They are part of the system. They are part of the problem.” ( Grace Lee Boggs )

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Art History/Antiquity/Anthropology, Miscellaneous, Modern Arts/Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.