Revolutionary Love

08

Leaping into Love

Loving is a social process. The ways we love – our practices of loving, our ideas about love, our behaviour towards our beloved – are thoroughly shaped by the relational webs in which we carry them out and by the societies in which we are embedded. Loving is thus also political; dominant narratives sculpt our ideals of love: how it ought to look and feel, who should be the recipient of our love, where the loving should lead, and in which ways one should (and should not) love.

While these dominant conceptions feel absolute to most people whose loving they subliminally guide, they are by no means inevitable. As societal systems have changed over time, ideas regarding love, too, have evolved. Like other elements of hegemonic ideology, they tend to serve the interests of ruling classes and legitimize structural inequalities. This is no different in modern “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal”[1] society, where, inter alia, absolute property rights, market transactions, coercive competition, and the supremacy of rationality over emotionality and spirituality are echoed throughout our ways of relating interpersonally.

What a tragic irony that our socialization of loving upholds systems of oppression – for even as it does that, the elicited experiences and bonds also provide an oasis of comfort to the living in a society based on myriad forms of alienation. Those who have engaged in loving know that it births and nurtures euphoria, intimacy, care, purpose, and collectivity. To love and be loved is to feel with your whole being the possibility of other worlds. It is in these glimmers that the necessary struggle for the liberation of love from its prison as a tool of capitalist domination radiates.

Nevertheless, it is a daunting task to question and uproot the socializations that inform our worldview and behavior. Even if we know those roots to be systemically toxic, they are familiar; the rich soil of our souls has settled firmly around them, and it is hard to not fear inward collapse if their support were to be gone. But that trepidation assumes, of course, that the uprooting leaves behind empty spaces… How, then, could it become not a process of loss but of producing nourishing mulch for the much-needed new? This is the task of the revolutionary lover: to cultivate the seedlings of other ways of being, relating, and loving.

Amidst such vast undertakings of deconstructive creation, it can be comforting to know you are not the first, and certainly not the only, to be engrossed by these ponderings. While the topic of love has been mentioned by numerous revolutionaries – often cited as their source of inspiration – the empirical and theoretical explorations of bad-ass Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai (1872–1952) are where I find the most consoling empowerment. It is her thought to which I now turn.

In her 1923 article, Make way for Winged Eros: A Letter to Working Youth, Kollontai reflects on the evolving and complex nature of love as a social phenomenon. Written amid the aftermath of the October Revolution of 1917 and the Red Army victory in the brutal civil war that followed, Kollontai turns to building and sustaining a society of working-class solidarity. Such a solidarity must, she posits, go beyond the people’s recognition of their shared material interests; it must encompass and foster loving interpersonal bonds between them. In doing this, Kollontai urges us not shy away from love’s complexity, but to embrace it. From the tenderness between a parent and child, to the mutual admiration of infatuated lovers, to the passionate interdependence of friendship, love can be felt and shared between people in limitless combinations of emotional, intellectual, and physical expressions. For Kollontai, the more these diverse forms of loving between members of the collective are nurtured, the stronger the solidarity amongst the collective will be.

In capitalist society, however, where the principle of private property has disfigured our ideals of love, its “many faces and aspects” become problematic. Kollontai illuminates how this manifests in our modes of interpersonal loving: “Bourgeois ideology has insisted that love, mutual love, gives the right to the absolute and indivisible possession of the beloved person.” She disparages the resulting glorification of monogamous romantic relationships on a cultural and societal level, as well as the concomitant subjugation of other types of love, of other relationship structures, and, above all, of the lovers’ commitment to the wellbeing of the collective. The isolating exclusivity inherent to this “all embracing love” and the bourgeois morality through which it is enforced are antithetical to the interests and emancipation of working and oppressed people.

So, what ideal of love should take its place? How can we cultivate, celebrate, and collectivize love’s complexity and set free its revolutionary potential? For this, too, Kollontai has a monumentally precious offering: love-comradeship. This way of relating entails the reciprocal recognition of each other as whole and equal human beings, whom one encounters with active compassion, tenderness, and generosity, but over whose heart, mind, and body one does not have ownership.

In contrast to the bourgeois ideal of love, as we embrace the expression of “sensitivity, responsiveness and the desire to help others not only in relation to the chosen one but in relation to all the members of the collective,” relationships of various forms and flavors are given room and legitimacy to blossom. Among them, romantic and sexual intimacy remain central human interactions but are neither intrinsically superior to other types nor should they serve to confine and control but to “multiply human happiness.”

Kollontai allows herself to muse that altered relational structures can give rise to novel modes of exercising relational agency; new loving activities, creativities, and ways of emoting can take shape. Divorced from notions of property, one can savor another’s presence as a present of their conscious decision-making rather than their fulfillment of obligations to rigid, cultural constructions. By together eschewing the zero-sum hegemony that asserts we must lose if another gains, that we must suffer if another experiences pleasure, we work to abolish the artificial emotional scarcity that fuels our competitive anxiety, our possessiveness, and our fear of abandonment and isolation. As we decenter our individual selves, we can recognize our intimate interconnectedness. We learn to feel and enact our love as a social process – as a collective endeavor for liberation.

I do not mean to say this process is easy or painless. Revolutionary love is an expansive force, pushing us to grow, to transform, to trust, to climb, to let go. There is no skirting around the edges; it goes to the roots of how and why we love. And if you do not engage in the continual, active process of expanding yourself, it can turn inwards, locating and pinching your deepest insecurities. This expansion requires radical vulnerability, and that can be fucking terrifying. But to open and even partly dissolve yourself into collective solidarity is among the most beautiful experiences we can have in this life; if nothing else, it is always worth struggling for.

To struggle, you need comrades. For comrades, you must love. To love, you must leap.

  1. [1] bell hooks, 2004. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, New York: Atria Books.

  2. Inea is an aspiring peasant revolutionary currently living, loving, and leaping in Barcelona. In political struggle and personal life alike, Inea draws great inspiration from Alexandra Kollontai’s intrepid creativity and relentless dedication to collective liberation.

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