Robin Kelley, "Finding the Strength to Love and Dream"

Finding the Strength to Love and Dream

By Robin D.G. Kelley, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 7, 2002

Like most of my comrades active in the early days of the Reagan era, I
turned to Marxism for the same reasons I looked to the third world. The
misery of the proletariat (lumpen and otherwise) proved less interesting
and less urgent than the promise of revolution. I was attracted to
"small-c" communism because, in theory, it sought to harness technology to
solve human needs, give us less work and more leisure, and free us all to
create, invent, explore, love, relax, and enjoy life without want of the
basic necessities of life.

I fell in love with the young Marx of The German Ideology and The Communist
Manifesto, the visionary Marx who predicted the abolition of all
exploitative institutions. I followed young Marx, via the late English
historian Edward P. Thompson, to those romantic renegade socialists, like
William Morris, who wanted to break with all vestiges of capitalist
production and rationalization. Morris was less concerned with socialist
efficiency than with transforming social relations and constructing new,
free, democratic communities built on, as Thompson put it, "the ethic of
cooperation, the energies of love."There are very few contemporary political spaces where the energies of love
and imagination are understood and respected as powerful social forces.

The socialists, utopian and scientific, had little to say about that, so my
search for an even more elaborate, complete dream of freedom forced me to
take a more imaginative turn. Thanks to many wonderful chance encounters, I
discovered Surrealism, not so much in the writings and doings of André
Breton or Louis Aragon or other leaders of the Surrealist movement that
emerged in Paris after World War I, but under my nose, so to speak, buried
in the rich, black soil of Afro-diasporic culture.

In it I found a most miraculous weapon with no birth date, no expiration
date, no trademark. I traced the Marvelous from the ancient practices of
maroon societies and shamanism back to the future, to the metropoles of
Europe, to the blues people of North America, to the colonized and
semicolonized world that produced the likes of Aimé and Suzanne Césaire and
Wifredo Lam. The Surrealists not only taught me that any serious motion
toward freedom must begin in the mind, but they also have given us some of
the most imaginative, expansive, and playful dreams of a new world I have
ever known. Contrary to popular belief, Surrealism is not an aesthetic
doctrine but an international revolutionary movement concerned with the
emancipation of thought. Members of the Surrealist Group in Madrid, for
example, see their work as an intervention in life rather than as
literature, a protracted battle against all forms of oppression that aims
to replace "suspicion, fear, and anger with curiosity, adventure, and
desire." The Surrealists are talking about total transformation of society,
not just granting aggrieved populations greater political and economic
power. They are speaking of new social relationships, new ways of living
and interacting, new attitudes toward work and leisure and community.

In that respect, they share much with radical feminists, whose
revolutionary vision has extended into every aspect of social life. Radical
feminists have taught us that there is nothing natural or inevitable about
gender roles, male dominance, the overrepresentation of men in positions of
power, or the tendency of men to use violence as a means to resolve
conflict. Radical feminists of color, in particular, have revealed how
race, gender, and class work together to subordinate most of society and
complicate easy notions of universal sisterhood or biological arguments
that establish men as the universal enemy.

Like all the other movements that caught my attention, radical feminism, as
well as the ideas emerging out of the lesbian and gay movements, proved
attractive not simply for their critiques but also for their freedom dreams.

Black intellectuals associated with each of those movements not only
imagined a different future, but, in many instances, their emancipatory
vision proved more radical and inclusive than what their compatriots
proposed. Those renegade black intellectuals/ activists/artists challenged
and reshaped communism, Surrealism, and radical feminism, and in so doing
produced brilliant theoretical insights that might have pushed the
movements in new directions. In most cases, however, the critical visions
of black radicals were held at bay, if not completely marginalized.

My purpose is to reopen a very old conversation about what kind of world we
want to struggle for. I am not addressing those traditional leftists who
have traded in their dreams for orthodoxy and sectarianism. Most of those
folks are hopeless, I'm sad to say. And they will be the first to dismiss
me as utopian, idealistic, and romantic. Instead, I'm speaking to anyone
bold enough still to dream, especially young people who are growing up in
what the critic Henry Giroux perceptively calls "the culture of cynicism"
-- young people whose dreams have been utterly co-opted by the marketplace.

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