“Today I believe in the possibility of love; that is why I endeavor to trace its imperfections, its perversions.” — Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks
“Love without risk is an impossibility, like war without death.”
― Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love
Love is a somewhat weird topic for me to discuss, at least openly. It isn’t because I don’t feel love, or haven’t loved other people, but too much when it is talked about, especially politically, it too often sounds like cheap sentimentalism, or creepy eroticism. Perhaps it is my hard atheism, my stoicism, or my Marxian influence which eschews empty moralism, but I am wary of the notion of ‘love as politics’. Love can be a system of ethics that can inform one’s politics, but it cannot be a politics, because politics is division by definition, and you aren’t going to love everybody. You are going to encounter people in politics who you are going to intensely dislike, who are enemies that must be defeated. In addition, I have always been averse to the Christian conception of love, which always seemed to be rather sickly, and somewhat hypocritical, particularly with the preaching of hell by the Nazarine. Where’s the love in that?
Despite these careful reservations, thinking about this question reminds me of a rather inspiring quote from Che Guevara:
At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality. Perhaps it is one of the great dramas of the leader that he or she must combine a passionate spirit with a cold intelligence and make painful decisions without flinching. Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, of the most sacred causes, and make it one and indivisible. They cannot descend, with small doses of daily affection, to the level where ordinary people put their love into practice.
The leaders of the revolution have children just beginning to talk, who are not learning to call their fathers by name; wives, from whom they have to be separated as part of the general sacrifice of their lives to bring the revolution to its fulfilment; the circle of their friends is limited strictly to the number of fellow revolutionists. There is no life outside of the revolution.
In these circumstances one must have a great deal of humanity and a strong sense of justice and truth in order not to fall into extreme dogmatism and cold scholasticism, into isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.
Now I used to be a fan of El Che (or the romantic image of him to be more accurate), when I was younger and in the infancy of my relationship with Marxism and socialism. To me, he represented the perfect fusion of a man of action and a man of ideas (the same reason why I admired Leon Trotsky), a man who combined an almost biblical level of hatred of oppression and exploitation with a deep love of his fellow man. Alas, I realised that his actions did not reflect his rhetoric and the romanticism withered away, though I still find him to be a fascinating character.
Nevertheless, this quote does still touch me till this day. Those of us who are concerned with social transformation are ultimately, even if we don’t make a big show of it, motivated by a deep feeling of love. But this “love of living humanity” that Guevara describes, must be translated into concrete deeds in order for it to mean something. Justice is what love looks like in public, as the saying goes. Socrates loved wisdom in the abstract, but never loved any concrete human beings, which is why he supposedly never shed a tear.
Revolutionary love is a form of death. You have to learn how to die before you learn how to love.
Which leads on to the relationship between love and power. Many parts of the Left is afraid of power. It confuses the critique of the exercise of power with a total and absolute aversion of it. I am not afraid of power. I am not even afraid of violence, if the situation necessitates it, if it means reducing greater violence. Any movement that is serious about revolution and changing society will have to deal with power, because I have faith in the power and capacity of human beings to quite possible change our mode of existence, and liberate ourselves from the structures of domination and exploitation that currently rule us.
Love and power need not be mutually exclusive, as Martin Luther King explains:
“One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
When I talk about love, I am most certainly love of humanity is an imperfect way of describing having a radical empathy for your brothers and sisters in the human race. Love at its best can be one of the subversive things one can do, particularly now in our increasingly Hamlet like culture. Engaging in the fallible quest for love means opting for a deep integrity, rather than a cheap popularity, since we have enough of that nowadays. This cheap popularity is, in the words of Cornel West, to be “well adjusted to injustice”, it is to be indifferent to suffering. This is not the ‘popularity’ humanists ought to be interested in. When Bob Marley sang ‘One Love’ I hear a hymn to humanity, a paen to the oneness and unity of the human race. But this will not truly exist about under the conditions of our wretched world. True love, in the deepest and most authentic way one can imagine, can only really occur under the conditions of freedom and equality. It is through struggle that love can really become ripe.
I guess what I am really saying is: we need to re-invent love.