Reflection on Love and Struggle

Robin D.G. Kelley in conversation with Fred Moten

Transcription and commentary by Mike Doan

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How do we build a new future? How central to this work are love and power?

“Love is the answer.” “All you need is love.” “Love trumps hate.” Hopelessly naïve?

        – Love (noun): A sentimental feeling. An intimate, personal, private state of mind. The dullest of the weapons of the weak.

Or, can love become “a material force for change,” as Jimmy used to say?

“Power is the enemy.” “Change the world without taking power.” “Power corrupts, absolutely.” Hopelessly naïve?

       – Power (noun): A repressive, abusive force. The essence of domination and oppression. What they’ve got over us, or we’ve got over them—and we’d rather do without.

Or, is there also power with, the power we build and share together, as Grace used to say?

What, after all, is power? And what’s love got to do with it?

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Transcribed below is part of a conversation featuring Robin D.G. Kelley and Fred Moten. The discussion took place in Toronto on April 3rd, 2017—one day before the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” delivered at New York’s Riverside Church in 1967; also a day before the 49th anniversary of King’s assassination.

Earlier that week, Kelley joined Stephen Ward in Detroit to reflect on the lives and activism of James and Grace Lee Boggs, and on the complicated legacies of Martin and Malcolm. The discussion excerpted below, from April 3rd, takes up many of the same themes and questions…

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Robin D.G. Kelley (1:31:07-1:35:44): “To live together, and renewing the habits of assembly, are really critical…. We assume that somehow mass movements are sources of power, and I think we misunderstand power. And I was trying to talk about this Saturday night, you know, and there was a quote from Dr. King that I was paraphrasing but that I wanted to pull up here, that I think is really important, where he talks about why we shouldn’t be afraid of power.

And he says, you know: ‘You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power; and power, with a denial of love…. Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive; and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. (Yes.) Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.’

Right? So, think about the importance of love as a center for renewing our habits of assembly…. And recognizing that taking power, building power, is not something that we should resist, but we should claim.

We often are on the other side of power: we see power as something we resist, rather than something we take. And I wanna say that because, the other person who is, sort of, a huge influence on many of us is Grace Lee Boggs. And one of the things that she and Jimmy Boggs were working on, was they argued that dialectical materialism, as we knew it, was an epoch that was over. And to replace dialectical materialism they argued for dialectical humanism: that the fundamental struggle is not the class struggle between proletariat and capitalist—especially in an age when automation and other forms were, sort of, transforming the proletariat—but rather, our struggle to become more human, whatever that—and you know, we could debate about that—but the struggle to become more human.

And to become more human, is to basically recognize, you know, what it means, to live with… to live for, about, with… love. To build community, where there’s no outside.

You know, what does that mean? What does that require of us?

And you cannot build, or embrace, a new humanity for the future without actually acknowledging what Fred [Moten] began with, and that is: our planet is in peril, you know?

That to love the planet, and to love each other, and to love life, is not a sentimental love, but agape—that is, love where there is no outside, where you are constantly building community. And it’s filled with tension to do that, it’s a struggle to do that.

But that, to me, is the only way we could build the kind of futurity that you’re talking about. We can’t have a future that’s based on a false utopia—that is, you know, a land of milk and honey. That our future is actually here. We’re already in the future.

The question is, how do we hold on to that vision, that through power and love we could produce a world in which we’re not shaming each other, we’re not beating each other down, we’re not afraid of each other; where we’re not invested in economies that are based on both scale and profit; where we’re not trying to make, sort of, new entrepreneurs as the future, you know, as the only future available—that we’re not reduced to human capital, but human beings, whatever that means?

And that, to me, is really the essence of how to build a new future.”