Valentines Day is here again. The shops are full of cards decorated with pink hearts and fluffy doggies. Inside there are syrupy lyrics, sweet nothings.
Imagine a different kind of card being sent to you by your secret admirer. It has a photograph of a great feminist on it. Alexandra Kollontai for example. Inside, your admirer has written a very serious message, a quotation from Kollontai. “We should try to find in the problems of and the attitude to sexual relationships, and in the psychology of love, the embryo of a new developing and inevitably victorious ‘proletarian’ culture.”
You’d maybe think he’d gone off his head, trying to be a better feminist that you who had sent him a pink heart and a sugared rhyme.
Whatever happened you’d almost certainly be amazed because we’re used to symbols of romance, the love songs, the hearts, the poems, the flowers, and why not?
Arguments rage about love, it’s a source of endless conflict
That’s why we’ve chosen to print some thoughts about love this month.
A MANY SPLENDOURED THING?
‘Show some emotion’
Pop songs burst ‘love’ into our lives every minute. But if you tell someone you love them, they are more likely to be frightened than flattered. Our whole language bends away from such heady concepts as love.
You have to be ‘cool’, ‘groovey’, ‘together’, – be anything, but not spontaneous, passionate, wild or impulsive. Convention suffocates our most dynamic feelings.
‘Show some emotion’ pleased Joan Armatrading urging us to be big enough to laugh and show the world when our souls are dancing with happiness.
And she’s right.
Those who shy away from emotions like love and call for self control assume that passion is something that is weak enough to be controlled.
But love’s not like that. Love is not merely a poem, or a song or a photograph.
Love is living, present and vital, changing and motivating human beings. Love is energy and laughter and joy. It is emotions spinning like Catherine heels. It is selfish and it is generous.
Love is emotional.
Emotions are creative. Love is creative. Robots calculate, animals lust. The human ability to love distinguishes us from both. Love is a driving emotion.
Yet the language we use to describe emotion is somehow condemnatory. People who show anger, pleasure or pain are called ‘heavy’ and pressured to supress their emotions and to protect other people from them.
There is nothing wrong with putting your heart where your hormones are – and enjoying it. And there is nothing wrong with yielding to your wildest fantasies. Any fantasy you didn’t yield to was probably not worth having anyway.
Love doesn’t last forever. And it never lasts as long as you want it to. That is maybe as well because it is exhausting as well as exhilarating. But the outrageous joy of love should never be denied or supressed.
Love is subversive. Love is powerful.
With it we can change ourselves, change the world and build socialism for each other. Without it we are just lumps of mobile protoplasm fighting for the biggest slice of the cake.
Let there be love
‘Modern man has no time to “love”. In a society based on competition where the battle for existence is fierce and everyone is involved in a race for profit, for a career, or just for a crust of bread, there is no room left for the cult of demanding and fragile Eros.’
Alexandra Kollontai wrote this in 1919. She saw the problems of erotic and romantic love as being rooted in the social and economic relations of men and woman. It was through socialism that she envisaged the possibility of love becoming not a matter of pain but ‘a great creative force…which develops and enriches the psyche…’
It simply isn’t wise to say that love doesn’t exist. It clearly does, is alive but not very well. It is bankrupt. We question it and rage at it and say it doesn’t exist because hideous crimes are committed in the name of love, crimes of possession, of jealousy, the man spirited emprisonment of one ‘lover’ by another. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that ‘One can never possess the spring in which one’s thirst is quenched.’ Maybe if we can internalise the idea, then we can begin to relinquish our self destructive urge to possess and begin to reclaim love not as swoon, possession or mainia but a conscious act, ‘indeed the only way to grasp the innermost core of personality.’ (Germaine Greer)
To say that love doesn’t exist, is to turn our backs on the struggle to create ‘a world we can bear out of the desert we inhabit’ (Kate Millet). To accept that it exists and has the potential to be beautiful and not lethal, is to be a militant in the struggle for a love that allows lovers to give each other freedom within love, not captivity.
‘Assuredly there are certain forms of the sexual adventure which will be lost in the world of tomorrow. But this does not mean that love, happiness, poetry, dreams, will be banished from it.’
Simoe de Beauvoir is one of love’s most acute critics, she recognises its power to mutilate women, but she at no point undercuts its potential.
Socialists, feminists, all radical thinkers are in danger of killing anything which Is old and traditional in crude anger. They are the losers.
‘Christianity gave eroticism its savour of sin when it endowed the human female with a soul: if society restores her sovereign individuality to woman, it will not thereby destroy the power of love’s embrace to move the heart…In sexuality will always be materialised the tension the joy, the frustration and the triumph of existence. To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her.’ (Simone de Beauvoir)
‘It is time to teach woman to treat love as a step, as a way of finding her true ‘I’, her true self and not as her whole existence. Let her learn to come through an emotional conflict as a man does, with a stronger spirit and not broken wings…here is already hope, the new woman is emerging for whom love is not the only thing in her life.’ (Alexandra Kollontai)
Whatever havoc love may have wreaked the point is not to kill it, not to see it as a lethal weapon, but to give it a future by understanding it and celebrating it.
I believe in romantic love, why? I have experienced it, and enjoyed every moment of it. I once looked into blue eyes and fell madly in love. Fortunately the feeling was mutual HOW was it romantic? How different from say, just fancying each other? Maybe it wasn’t. Only it transformed us, we were beautiful, never tired, everything was easy, we were alive, funny, strong. We used to walk around the city all night, talking, or close and quiet.
Fried egg sandwiches at the all night coffee stall, listening to the same LP for hours, going out at dawn. Making love on a convertible couch that tipped up and rolled us onto the floor. Taking days off, loving, eating, his vain attempts to show me how to fence. Meeting at lunchtime, not going back to work. At parties, cheating in postmans knock. Sitting in the car in winter, until we got so cold we would have to leave each other. Rushing through each day, towards each other. The weekend on the Isle of Wight, the weather was foul, we hired a rowboat and it sank.
Hurrying back to our lodgings, drying each other, going to bed. Our romantic love stayed for two years, there is no time limit on love, so for me those two years of romantic love were enough.
What is this thing called love?
You might as well say ‘what is this thing called god’ and the answer to both questions is – nothing, neither exist but most people believe they do.
We are encouraged in this belief by an intricate web of ideology, literature and mustic which mentio love all the time (just start thinking of pop songs…) but keen them removed from our normal lives, perpetuate a mystique and encourage us to believe in the inexplicable.
As Marxists, we should be keen to provide explanations; we believe there is an explanation for everything (even if it is not obvious) and this includes relationships between people, which under capitalism are pretty limited.
People cannot explain what they mean by love when asked – which is just as well for them, as it seems to mean all things to all women, in which case it’s a pretty useless expression if you never know what the other person means, you know they don’t know what they mean and you don’t know what you mean yourself.
To me, all concepts of love are romanticised – applied to humans and inaminate objects alike. Is love of one’s country the same as love of one’s children the same as love of one’s sexual partner (“lover” – you’d think it had nothing to do with sex!) They are also possessive, whether applied to food, clothes, books, music or other possessions, including people.
In order to begin to relate to people properly (which is basically why we’re in the business as socialists) we have to unlearn set responses with which we are imbued, and the concept of love serves only to cloud how people do relate to each other by perpetuating the idea of an irresistible force which takes over our feelings.
Love between human brings, whether between consenting adults or in families (where you can’t even chooise – you’re presented with people supposed to love) is exclusive and anti-social – if others are included, it’s not so intense, not so real.
Fortunately human being are still very much social animals, and although society is organised to restrict our caring to a claustrophobically small number of people we are still capable of identifying with and caring for people who have little to do with us.
In socialism, we will be able to express these wider feelings of concern, with other people in a more practical way. We will have far more honest, open relationships, we will relate in ways we cannot imagine now, but most important we will know what we are doing.
Love has nothing to do with it – it is a mystifying buffer against the nasty world of now – we wont need it when we’re changed for the better in society as a whole.
Train without rails
Della and her girlfriend Kim, talked for hours about what love means in a lesbian relationship. They had spent eight hours trying to write down what they felt and ended up in tears in a kebab house in the middle of the night.
‘We talked about it so much went in so many circles, that in the end we decided we didn’t even love each other after all.’
Della looked as if she was going to start crying again.
‘But I think we couldn’t talk about it because we are in love. We couldn’t define it and we thought we had to’ rejoined Kim, putting her arm round Della. They laughed ruefully. Kim said,
‘I wrote down a list of differences between heterosexual and homosexual love and came to the conclusion that there aren’t that many differences.’
‘I came to the conclusion that there are differences,’ said Della.
‘When I first met Kim and fell in love with her, I wasn’t in any doubt about it being love, that wasn’t the problem. But I felt like I was on a train without any rails, there were no rules, no precedents. I felt that I wasn’t allowed to kiss her in public, you know, no necking in corners at parties and I couldn’t tell my mum at first. My Dad thinks lesbians are filthy and he’s out of the picture anyway so I never told him. My mum doesn’t like it but she likes Kim very much now. She confronts the conflict and works through it. At first I felt I needed men to fancy me, but now I don’t.’ Della looked at Kim who continued:
‘This is my first serious relationship, and what I like about it is that there isn’t any competition, and like Della says, there are no rules. No one is the breadwinner, no one is the wife, no one is the husband there’s no family. So we can be more economically equal. That’s a big difference.’
‘The thing about having a family is perhaps the most difficult, the most painful. We can’t have babies, I don’t want us to have anyone else’s babies, and yet we are powerless because we can’t make babies.’ Kim looked at Della and smiled. ‘Think of the good things, Della.
We don’t feel we are in any kind of ghetto, we have lots of heterosexual friends and what’s nice is that we don’t pose a threat to them, people seem to like being with us.’
The more they talked, the more they began to laugh and they ended up with their arms around each other right there in the kebab house breaking all the rules.
The cross we bear
‘I am not the wife you need. I am a person before I am a woman’ Alexander Kollontai, 1922.
All too often, being in love, far from making the sun shine warmer and more brightly in our lives, is a painful,l restrictive process. There are rules for loving which we learn as we grow up.
They are not explicitly taught, we pick them up as we go along. And just as we learn the rules in a very personal way, the punishments for breaking the rules are of a very personal kind. Jealousy, possessiveness, feeling hurt and betrayed are all very individual punishments.
There is a pattern for loving to which we fail to conform at our peril. It is a pattern bounded by legal rules, unlike friendship. The pattern of loving in our society, is best summed up in the image of a cross. The cross bar is made up of a man and a woman (very important) This man and woman are allowed, indeed expected, to have a sexual relationship. At the top are the parents who are supposed to be loved and respected and down below are the children who also supposed to be loved, cared for and brought up in the image of the parents. We are not to love anyone else. The cross (otherwise known as the nuclear family) is a static, unbending structure.
Why do we build these crosses? The reason is not that we all need personal and sexual companionship. If it were simply a question of fulfilling those important needs, there is no reason why the cross would have to have a heterosexual cross bar, nor why it should be a permanent fixture.
No, the reason for the particular formation of the cross is the social and economic function of the nuclear family, which is to assume the responsibility of reproduction under capitalism. The man and woman are expected not only to conceive children, but to look after them and take responsibility for them until the children are old enough to make their own crosses. This economic function of the family is the basis for many of the problems we encounter in the process of ‘loving’ in our lives.
Most people go through the process known as ‘falling in love’, shivers and tingles, sexual attraction and all sorts of emotions which make you feel as if you can’t be without someone. It can be delightful and thoroughly enjoyable. But there are problems and pitfalls – all connected with the cross you are really supposed to be building. That is what ‘falling in love’ is for – to entice each of us into building that damn cross.
As Suzanne Broger pointed out, love is the only equation where 1 + 1 = 1 because the woman equals naught. Women’s lives are totally dominated by the process of reproduction, that’s why love is a woman’s life whereas it is only an episode in a man’s, his role is to function in the outside world of production.
The historic development of sexuality itself has been unequal for men and women. With the rise of private property and inheritance it was necessary for a man to know which children were his, and the only way to do that is to restrict the woman to sex with one man. As a result women are seen as either virgins or prostitutes and female sexual needs are traditionally much less developed than those of men.
We all learn how to satisfy a man, but few of us learn how to satisfy ourselves or how to teach men to. It took the Women’s Liberation Movement to bring the whole question of women’s sexual satisfaction to the fore as a practical requirement of satisfactory sexual relationships.
The inequality of women in relation to men not only affects sexuality, but the whole nature of relationships. Marriage is founded on the woman as a slave to her husband’s and children’s needs. A woman belongs to a man, body and soul.
Your thoughts are not your own even if you get as far as thinking for yourself.
And if a woman’s mind is not her own, still less is her body.
‘Over and over again, the man always tried to impose his ego upon us and adapt us fully to his purposes’. (Kollontai).
Divorce is the way out of an unbearable relationship if you can afford to live apart, but all too often it simply leads to a repetition of the same kind of thing with a man with a different name. To be a single parent or stay single is a tough and lonely road in a society built on the cross.
The right to choose who we love and how we love and the freedom to develop loving relationships is fundamental to our humanity. But to be able to do that, we have to destroy the cross and the society which requires it. After all, who really needs a cross to bear?
(Women’s Voice 38, February 1980)