A Goodbye to Comrade Joseph 'Lil Joe' Johnson
September 3, 2021
Lil Joe (r) and I at Kent State University, August, 2011
What Friedrich Engels wrote about Karl Marx, that he "stood higher, saw further, and took a wider and a quicker view than all the rest of us", I would say, also applied to Comrade Joseph 'Lil Joe' Johnson.
Joe died on June 5th 2021.
Lil Joe was a serious, intelligent, knowledgeable, thoughtful, sensitive, level-headed well rounded and patient human being and it was a real privilege to meet and know and work with him. Lil Joe was a dedicated revolutionary far ahead of me in understanding societies and revolutionary theory.
I met Lil Joe in the early 1990's on a Los Angeles city bus although, for many months before that, I'd been checking out the socialist working class based propaganda he'd been leaving in alleyways, at bus stops, building walls, etc. around the Pico-Union, MacArthur Park area of L.A. We formed a strong bond because of our mutual study of Marxism, class struggle, Free Jazz and especially the music of John Coltrane, the sciences generally, etc.
From the very first time I met Lil Joe, he was singularly focused, both theoretical and in practice, on class struggle, proletarian conscientization and worker's in the US building a working-class based political party to "win the battle of democracy". Whether Joe was at a political meeting, on a bus, watching a film or at a taco truck he was analysing and practicing, fixed on political organisation and social revolution. Joe was focused on humanity getting beyond it's infancy in regards to social relations, transcending class divisions and exploitation, abolishing wage labour, money, profits, etc. that are results of capitalist relations of social production, appropriation and distribution. Joe understood and utilised marxist tools to make sense of human history and present. That, in the class struggle marxist tools of social analysis are the most powerful tools in the working class' theoretical toolbox.
From Lil Joe I learned many intimate details of the times and events of the 1960's and 1970's from one who was a conscious and active participant ('Lil Joe from Compton') of the working class left. Joe was the exact person I'd longed to meet in terms of questions concerning Marxism in particular.
Joe could make sense of the major social events that defined those times of social movement in the US and elsewhere because he was an active participant, including the Anti Vietnam War Movement, the historical roots, formation and ideology of the Black Panther Party, the Hippies, etc. Joe, with his encyclopedic knowledge turned me on to and educated me on many different interrelated things including pre-Socratic philosophy, western philosophy in general and Enlightenment philosophers in particular, anthropology and cultural materialism, and we studied many new things together including General Relativity, quantum mechanics and Big Bang cosmology, always in the context of and in relation to combating reaction, and analysing the social situations obtaining at the times.
Lil Joe was a proletarian internationalist of the Marxist revolutionary left and was not at all religious or superstitious but a dialectical materialist who opposed and fought against capitalist imperialism and it's bourgeois ideological positions, as well as political opportunism, race based politics, and sectarianism within the left.
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