by John Spritzler
March 29, 2014
Dave Stratman died today, at the age of 69, of leukemia, leaving behind his devoted wife, Sally, children Robin and Justin and five grandchildren. The greatest of all testimonials to the wonderful, kind, generous and hope-inspiring person that Dave was, is the amazing and truly inspiring degree to which all of Dave's family and many friends did so much to surround Dave in his final year of life with loving care, often at great sacrifice.
Dave's incredible book, We CAN Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life, changed my life profoundly. Like Dave, I was involved with a Marxist-Leninist organization in the 1970s in an effort to make a more equal and democratic world. And like Dave, I discovered that Marxism did not work--it did not inspire people to fight for a better world. But unlike Dave, I didn't discover that the problem wasn't ordinary people but rather Marxism's very wrong understanding of them, and its consequent very wrong understanding of the real meaning of class conflict. Because of my lack of understanding this, I spent the decade of the 1980s feeling hopeless about the possibility of real change, not to mention revolution.
Dave, in contrast, listened to and observed ordinary working class people in Boston when he was a candidate for School Committee as part of an integrated organization--Better Education Together--during the racial conflict the ruling elite whipped up in 1974-6 with a deliberately obnoxious busing plan they proclaimed to be the only way to integrate the schools. These working class people--white and black--told Dave, and showed him by their actions--that his Marxist view of ordinary people was flat out wrong. Dave saw that the values by which working class people tried to shape the little corner of the world over which they had any control--equality and concern for one another--were the opposite of capitalist values of inequality and domination and competition, that contrary to Marxism these people were not "dehumanized by capitalism," that class conflict was about which values should shape all of society, and that the role of a revolutionary is not, as the Marxists believe, to change people's values, but rather to give them confidence in the rightness of the values they already have, and help them see that they are not alone in having values that are implicitly revolutionary and that ought to shape all of society.
At the time Dave published his book, in 1991, I only knew Dave as an acquaintance whom I would occasionally run into in the supermarket at which we both did our grocery shopping. On one such occasion Dave asked me if I would like a copy of his book. He told me the title, and I thought, "Who does this guy think he is, the new Lenin?" But to be polite I took a copy and read it.
To my amazement, I found the book absolutely eye-opening. It literally changed my life. It gave me hope that yes, we really CAN change the world, because most people want it to be changed to be much more equal and democratic.
Dave and I began what would become more than twenty years of working together to try to figure out how to implement the insight in his book. We eventually created the website--NewDemocracyWorld.org--as part of that effort. The people at PDRBoston.org (myself and others) are now implementing Dave's insight.
We've lost Dave, and I've lost my best friend; but the insight Dave gained from the people of Boston, which he made explicit and from which he derived revolutionary significance, remains with us. We are using this insight to change the world. Whatever success people have in making a more equal and democratic world will owe a huge debt to Dave Stratman.