From the January-February 2017 issue of News & Letters
The recent movie Loving, on the struggle of a racially mixed married couple in Virginia in the 1960s, may seem a world apart from the need to work out anew Karl Marx’s revolutionary philosophy in these retrogressive times. Consider, however, the enduring significance of the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, that overthrew Virginia’s laws against racial intermarriage. It was a critical precedent for the 2013 Supreme Court decision overturning a ban on same sex marriage. The 2013 decision is a reflection of the continuing expansion of freedom that comes from the depths of society and the revolt against its rules governing home and family life, including now bathrooms and gender identification.
The norms of family life are part of everyday life activity that pre-dates capitalism. Marx’s concept of freedom emerged in contrast to alienated labor under capitalism, where one’s ability to labor is sold as a commodity, becoming a mere means to life. However, Marx’s revolution in permanence is the realization of freedom in all aspects of everyday life activity where he singled out as most fundamental the man/woman relation.
Loving should be seen just to revisit some important history, like the dramatic moment when Virginia police charge, Gestapo-like, into the Lovings’ bedroom to drag African-American Mildred Loving off to jail. Her white husband, Richard Loving, is a hard-working bricklayer who takes great pride in taking care of his family and finds joy spending time with them. He takes little notice of the big events unfolding around him, like the huge civil rights marches, including the 1963 March on Washington, and doesn’t want to turn his life into a public event. A Life magazine photographer is able to charm himself into the family for a moment and catches the Lovings relaxing at home in what became an iconic photo.
Mildred Loving writes for help to the Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He passes her letter on to the American Civil Liberties Union, where a young ACLU lawyer is excited about finding an ideal test case to argue before the Supreme Court. When the lawyer asks Mr. Loving what he’d like to tell the judges, he says, “Tell them I love my wife.” He won’t attend the hearing, so neither does Mildred Loving, even though she sees their struggle as much bigger than their immediate family.
Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence is of social revolution, in distinction from the political, legal arena and the “point of view… of the state, of an abstract whole, which exists only through separation from real life…” The movement in the human community is constantly overcoming barriers to needing and mutually recognizing the other as one who freely chooses and directs their everyday life activity.
For me, the message of Loving for today is: fight like hell when politics and the state interfere with that movement in the human community, but never confuse the legal fight, that spectacle, for reality and for staying human.