Capitalist society teaches us to hate ourselves, to hate each other. There’s nothing about ourselves that we’re actually encouraged to love unless it fits into some ridiculous norms and standards. We’re taught to compete with each other to get what we need and want, we interact largely in depersonalized and disarticulated ways — this kind of interaction is encouraged. At its worse, it’s the kind of opportunism that tells you to get in touch with someone to the extent that you can use them. These attitudes have become a kind of second nature, so that it seems natural (you know how people say that it’s “human nature” to be greedy).
To change capitalist society we have to replace this hatred with love. But that’s not so simple, when the entire society moulds you into this kind of hate, trying to cultivate love is tough. And to try and change this society without a basis in love is tough. You can’t really do one without the other. So how do we go about it?
It begins when we figure out that social reality as it exists is really messed up. When you see oppression and you know that it is incorrect, when your compassion as charity turns into compassion as hatred for the oppressive system — and love for the oppressed. Herbert Marcuse — from whom I get the concept of the second nature — also talks about the “great refusal”. That is, you refuse, you negate, capitalist society. You say no to it in the most radical and unequivocal of ways. That’s necessary for us to be able to move somewhere else, a complete and total rejection.
And from there we have to understand that change can only be collective, because changing one’s self changes nothing but one’s self. Makhdoom says, “hayaat le ke chalo, kayanaat le ke chalo — chalo to saare zamaane ko saath le ke chalo.” We have to work to change society, to engage in collective action — collective struggles against those who would keep it all the way it is, i.e., against the bourgeoisie, the owners of capital. But how do we replace relations of hate with relations of love? The hatred that’s inculcated in us is not simply ideological, but is based on the way that production — how we get the basic necessities of life — is organized in society. We don’t know where our basic necessities of life come from, how they are produced, under what conditions, and we don’t know where they go once they’re done with them.
If we don’t know who the people are who create for us, and for whom we create, how can we ever come to love them or expect them to love us? For all the talk of a world connected like never before, we are in fact alienated like we never have been before.
We need to be able to take over production. That is, we need to produce, and to produce collectively. And to produce for the good of all of humanity, rather than for the pocketbooks of the owners of capital.
Collective creation; a process; it is messy, it will be frustrating, but that’s the point. We have to militate against the self-hatred of our “second nature” from capitalism and move toward negotiating disagreements through love. This is how we manage the individual and the collective. Kind of like Hegel talks about a relationship, where you fight, but that’s not the point, the point is how you manage that fight. Consider the Buddhist ethic, where the point isn’t necessarily to eliminate suffering, but to know how to suffer.
The point here is that socialism is not going to be easy. It’s not going to be, in and of itself, easier than capitalism is now. It will be hard work, and a hard process — not devoid of disagreement. Just like Freud points out that repression is never complete — that is, there’s always a pleasure principle in action; so too will the liberation never be complete. It’s a process. But one where disagreement is managed through, as Che says, “great feelings of love” — eros, a collective and creative passion. Imagination awesomeness.
But the problem is that we can only create something new from the raw materials of what we have right now. So the key is that our collective creation — our deepest imagination — simply can’t be separated from actual struggle. This is the serious contradiction, the serious challenge. Because when we ignore actual struggle, and focus on creating our own little spaces of happiness or whatever, it’s just indulging in our own privilege.
Those “great refusals” along the lines of going out to the “wilderness” and starting a commune — or of sitting there trying to figure out the most ethical way of not eating animals, and buying clothes from environmentally-friendly coops, etc. — are probably just one’s privilege speaking, as well as one’s ignorance of the reality of genocide and stealing the land of the Native Americans (and the labour of African-descent) which allows them to pitch their tent up there and gives them that privilege in the first place. That is to say, there’s really no escape from the totality of capitalism — which includes especially the history of capitalism and its origins (as Marx says, “dripping head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt” — and this is also why racism and colonialism are so basic and important in understanding how we resist oppression today). We might be able to go buy our shirts from self-managed coops, but the vast majority of the working-class buys its stuff from Wal-Mart or Biway because it is cheap. (I’m not knocking “ethical” consumerism here, by no means, I am just saying that it does not translate into a political program — dumpster diving is not a political program.)
We have to reconcile the sense of beauty and creation required of us by the “great refusal” with the dirty and bloody work of dismantling capitalism — to smash and to build at the same time. We have to be able to reconcile love with hate, the individual with the collective, unbounded imagination with firmly grounded pragmatism. The politics of love for the oppressed and exploited is at once the politics of hatred for the oppressor and exploiter. But that hatred is nothing but love unbounded, because we’re only looking to destroy that which destroys. We are only looking to negate the negation.
Only then can liberation be achieved — emancipation.
And it has to be achieved through a beautiful praxis — the smashing of state and capital and the building of something new — all of us, together; the masses, not undifferentiated masses anymore but the people managing their own affairs.
Socialism is the politics of love.