Love and revolution

Many will call me an adventurer – and that I am, only one of a different sort – one of those who risks his skin to prove his truths...I have loved you very much, only I haven’t known how to express my affection. I am extremely rigid in my actions, and I think that sometimes you didn’t understand me. It hasn’t been easy to understand me. Nevertheless, please take me at my word today…An abrazo (hug) from your obstinate and prodigal son. -- Che Guevara, March 31,1965

By John Rainford

October 22, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Che Guevara wrote the above in a farewell letter to his parents in Argentina following his decision to lead a group of Cuban revolutionaries on a mission to the Congo to assist the Congolese Liberation Movement. The letter was written in Havana prior to his secret departure. It wasn’t sent until October 1965 when news of his leaving was made public. Shortly before his departure, his mother, Celia de la Serna de la Llosa, knowing she was ill, had asked to see him. But, as Che wrote, “it hadn’t been possible for me to go, as preparations for my trip were already far advanced.” It was a letter his mother never read. She died on May 19 1965. The lonely day in the Congo when he received the news of his mother’s death was said to be the saddest of his life.1

Che Guevara had a profound love for his family, even though he struggled to express it to his parents. His love of ‘living humanity’ was as equally profound as it was eloquently expressed. In March 12 1965, an article of Che Guevara’s, From Algiers to Marcha, was published in Montevideo, Uruguay. It was here that his famous words about love and revolution first appeared:

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings 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 say “daddy”; their wives, too, must be part of the general sacrifice of their lives in order to take the revolution to its destiny. The circle of their friends is limited to the circle of comrades in the revolution. There is no life outside it.

In these circumstances one must have a large dose of humanity, a large dose of a sense of justice and truth in order to avoid dogmatic extremes, cold scholasticism, or an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity is transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.2

Apologising to your parents for not knowing how to express your love for them during the difficult time of adolescence would seem to be an act of love in itself. It is, perhaps, something that many have felt. All the more so if it wasn’t said before the untimely death of a parent. But if expressing a love of humanity was risking ridicule in 1965, it soon became associated with rebellion.

On 14 January 1967, some two years after Che’s essay appeared, there was a Human-Be-In at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, where 25,000 people celebrated love and peace and looked forward to the coming Summer of Love. Che was executed in Bolivia on 9 October 1967. Less than a fortnight later, 75,000 peace protesters surrounded the Pentagon, sticking daisies down the gun barrels of guarding soldiers and proclaiming that ‘Che lives.’ The slogan of the times was ‘Make Love, Not War’. It was accompanied by the resurgence of a movement for ‘Free Love.’

Free love in history: the early years

The Free Love movement is inseparable from the long and continuing struggle for the liberation of women. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (1791) was instrumental in promoting and popularising the idea of basic human rights unleashed by the French Revolution. On August 26 1789, the French National Assembly voted for a ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of its Citizens’ whose first article stated: ‘Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights.’ These rights were declared to be ‘liberty, property, security and resistance of oppression.’3 In post-revolutionary France the ‘Rights of Man’ excluded women, and ‘Citizens’ was an equally gender exclusive term. The playwright Olympe de Gouges who prominently objected to this discriminatory exclusion and, in 1791, published The Rights of Women demanding their extension, was guillotined in 1793 for the treasonable offence of demanding government by plebiscite.4

As it turned out, women in France, alongside those in Italy and Japan, would have to wait until after the Second World War to get the vote. In Switzerland, women did not receive the vote at the federal level until 1971, and it took a Federal Court decision before women’s suffrage was introduced in the Canon of Appenzell Innerrhaden in 1990.

The history of the Free Love tradition is also inseparable from the social philosophy of anarchism which rests on the belief that the full potential of human beings can only be realised through a free society. A free society is made up of free and equal individuals who are at liberty to come together in voluntary association. In this way, the social arrangements of association would be non-hierarchical and free from any form of domination or imposed political authority. Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) first introduced the word ‘anarchism’ into the political vocabulary. He was, however, anti-feminist –“if one compares sex with sex, women are inferior.”5 The English writer and novelist, William Godwin (1756-1863) not only has a stronger claim to being the author of the first distinct set of anarchist principles but was also a proponent of Free Love ideals. He had a relationship with the English feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1758), who, along with many in the Free Love movement of the late 18th century, rejected marriage (in which women became men’s property as a matter of law) as a form of bondage. Both Wollstonecraft and Godwin wrote on Free Love throughout their lives. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published Vindication of the Rights of Woman and after her death William Godwin published Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Although they were both opposed to marriage they decided to marry a few days before Mary Wollstonecraft’s death from complications following the birth of their child Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Also an ardent supporter of Free Love and the writer to whom we owe the novel Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin married the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. His writing in support of Free Love includes the essay, On Love:

What is Love? Ask him who lives, what is living; ask him who adores, what is God.

Thou demands what is Love. It is that powerful attraction towards all we conceive or fear, or hope beyond ourselves, when we find within our own thoughts the chasm of an insufficient void, and seek to awaken in all things that are, a community with what we experience within ourselves. If we reason, we would be understood; if we imagine, we would that the airy children of our brain were born anew within others; if we feel, we would that another’s nerves should vibrate to our own, that the beams of their eyes should kindle at once and mix and melt into our own; that lips of motionless ice should not reply to lips quivering and burning with the heart’s best blood. This is Love. This is the bond and sanction which connects not only man with man, but with everything which exists.

Just as the anarchist movement claims antecedents in ancient Greece and Rome, so too does the Free Love tradition that rejects marriage also point to precedent. The leading theoretician of the avowedly Marxist German Social Democratic Workers’ Party, Karl Kautsky, was among many writing in the late 19th century of the number of societies in the Middle Ages that rejected marriage.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) became a leading figure in the anarchist movement whose critique of the state as an inappropriate institution to act as a guarantor of women’s freedom added an important feminist dimension to anarchist theory. Besides being incarcerated for three years for allegedly inciting New York’s unemployed to riot and conspiring to obstruct the military draft, she was also deprived of her liberty in 1916 for distributing what the state regarded as ‘obscene birth control literature’ while campaigning for women’s rights to control their own bodies.6 Together with the Japanese anarchist Osugi Sakae, she promoted Free Love in Japan.

Free Love was also championed by some of the mid 19th century Utopian Socialists including the Frenchman Charles Fourier (1772-1837) who advocated a scheme of social cooperation that would be ideally based on small communities, from 400 to 2000 strong, predominantly engaged in agriculture. He also thought that social organisation should be based on finding ways in which to satisfy natural human desires rather than attempting to curb them. Thought to have been the first person to use the term ‘feminist,’ he was a long time supporter of Free Love. According to Frederick Engels: “ Fourier is not only a critic; his imperturbably serene nature makes him a satirist … Sill more masterly is his criticism of the bourgeois forms of the relations between the sexes, and the position of woman in bourgeois society. He was the first to declare that in any given society the degree of woman’s emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation.”7 He never married because he held that bourgeois marriage was offensive to women’s human rights.

After the International Workingmen’s Association (the First International) was formed in 1864, it quickly came to be dominated by Marx, Engels and their communist followers. They didn’t have it all their own way though, with the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) a constant opponent. When Marx and Engels got rid of Bakunin’s interference by dispatching the International to oblivion in New York in 1872 it was headed by Victoria Woodhull who was an advocate of Free Love as a matter of right: 8

Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. 9

Following the Russian Revolution in 1917 Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952) became People’s Commissar for Social Welfare and an advocate for women’s rights. She was a firm believer in Free Love who held that “sexuality is a human instinct as natural as hunger or thirst.” Lenin had a different view. According to the German Marxist, Clara Zetkin (1857-1933), who is credited with organising the first International Women’s Day in 1911, he opposed Free Love as “a veiled respect for bourgeois morality” and, for good measure, attacked the young militant Viennese communist, Ruth Fischer, for championing the project.10

The 1960s

When I think of revolution I want to make love – Paris, May 1968.

The Free Love tradition re-emerged with the US ‘Beat Generation’ of the 1950s and 1960s led by the writers Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) -- ‘be in love with your life-every minute of it,’11 -- William Burroughs (1914-1967) and the poet Alan Ginsberg (1926-1997). The latter two also marked the distinctive appearance of gay male advocates of Free Love. It was carried on by the Hippie movement which came from the San Francisco beats who had moved into the Haight-Ashbury district of the city in the early 1960s. The mainstream press pejoratively called them ‘beatniks’ – youths who were more middle-class and less degenerate than the original beats and whose drug of choice was cannabis rather than the amphetamines of the earlier beats. They were considered subversive and as threatening as Soviet Sputniks. “Hip,’ a slang word from the earlier days of opium smoking, was also used to describe African-Americans who were wise enough to abandon the cotton fields of the south for the cities of the north. In beat parlance, to be ‘in the know’ was to be ‘hip’ which was turned, again pejoratively, into ‘hippie’ by a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, Herb Caen.12

In the 1960s, the Vietnam War met the coming of age of the post WWII generation in the US, and it was opposition to the war that brought the hippies and the Left together. It was a combustible mix for an emerging youth culture governed by a gerontocracy, most of whom had had left their own youth behind them in the 1914-18 War. ‘The personal is the political’ became a slogan of the new feminism as personal liberation and social liberation went hand in hand. Free Love and radical politics fused together alongside three drugs in particular. The first was the oral contraceptive pill which became available from1960. This triumph of science allowed women to take charge of their own fertility in what appeared to be the safest and simplest way yet devised (an earlier generation of antibiotics, unknown before the Second World War, removed another major risk by making sexually transferable diseases easily curable). The Catholic Church’s misogynist injunction to declare its use sinful, against the express wishes of Catholic women in the US, merely served to erode its moral authority.13

The other two drugs were hardly new. Cannabis had been cultivated and consumed for some 10,000 years and Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD or Acid) was first produced in the Sandoz laboratory in Basle, Switzerland, in 1918. What was new was the rate of consumption in the 1960s and beyond.

Between 1965 and 1967 the number of arrests for use and possession of cannabis by US military personnel in Vietnam increased by more than 2,500 per cent. In 1969, 22 per cent of US college students were regular users of cannabis and five years later the figure was greater than 50 per cent. More than one quarter of 18-25 year olds were regular users in 1972. By 1977, this had increased to more than one-third and 60 per cent of this age group had tried the drug at least once. During the same period, consumption increased from 7 per cent to 17 per cent in the 12-17 age group. As to LSD, it is estimated that four million people turned on with acid in the late 1960s. Seventy per cent of them were in their late teens and early twenties and a great many of them had at least some involvement in radical politics.14 The President of the Students for a Democratic Society, Carl Oglesby, thought there was a link between dropping acid and rebelling against authority:

It’s not necessarily that the actual content of the LSD experience contributed to politically radical or revolutionary consciousness, it was just that the experience shared the structural characteristics of political rebellion, and resonated those changes so that the two became independent prongs of an over-arching transcending rebellion that took in the person and the state at the same time.15

He had a point. There seemed to be acid anarchists everywhere. Arthur Kleps (1928-1999) gave up his day job as a psychologist and founded a psychedelic church, the Neo-American Boo Hoo Church, whose congregation used LSD (as well as peyote and cannabis) as a sacrament and took legal action to have the practice observed as a basic human right. He claimed that “Marxism is the opiate of the unstoned classes.” The Anarchist Cookbook included a recipe for Molotov cocktails alongside a recipe for LSD. The San Francisco Diggers, the Yippies, the Weathermen, the Jesse James Gang and the Up Against the Wall Motherfucker Collective with their acid armed consciousness manifesto were joined by a number of other radical groups that included Puerto Rican and Hispanic groups as well as the American Indian Movement and the Gay Liberation Front. In 1968 a group of young US women launched their first demonstration against the ‘Miss America’ pageant in the name of Women’s Liberation.

Michael Rossman, an activist in the Berkely Free Speech Movement, described the effect of smoking cannabis at the time:

When a young person took his first puff of psychoactive smoke, he also drew in the psychoactive culture as a whole, the entire matrix of law and association surrounding the drug, its induction and transaction. One inhaled a certain way of dressing, talking, acting, certain attitudes. One became a youth criminal against the State.16

As two of the more prominent chroniclers of the times, Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, put it:

That dope was fun and illegal made the experience all the more exciting. The toking ritual drew people together in a unique way, so that they felt as if they were part of a loose tribe. Who you got high with was as important as what you got high on, for you shared parts of yourself along with the smoke. There was a natural intimacy about toking up with friends that facilitated the revelation of hitherto hidden facets of personality. As a mild relaxant that also enhanced awareness, pot was frequently smoked in conjunction with some other activity, such as reading, listening to music or making love. The decidedly sensual effects of marijuana often put people on a different timetable. Getting stoned was a reprieve from dead time, school time, television time, punch-the-clock time, and that was what made the drug so attractive.17

As to LSD, the CIA was on to it as a way of exploiting sex for espionage purposes in the 1950s. The agent George Hunter White set up safe houses complete with two-way mirrors in San Francisco. Women prostitutes were paid to bring men back to these CIA-financed bordellos where they were given drinks laced with acid while White sat on a portable toilet behind the two-way mirrors, sipping martinis and taking notes while he kept careful watch on proceedings. The experiment ran from 1955 to 1963. Displaying an uncommon sense of humour, the CIA named it Operation Midnight Climax.18

One group in 1960s US that didn’t take to the acid experience in a big way was African-Americans. This was a time when their resistance to oppression erupted in a series of violent clashes. In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jnr, in what was surely one of the most moving speeches ever given in English, ‘had a dream’ that one day his four little children would be judged by the content of their character and not by the colour of their skin. Less than three weeks later, four young girls were murdered when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where they were worshiping was blown up by white supremacists. In the Watts district of Los Angeles in August 1965, African-American resentment over poor housing, lack of education opportunities, police violence and unemployment finally erupted. In the riots that followed, 34 were killed, more than 1000 were injured and nearly 4000 were arrested. It took 16,000 police and National Guards to restore an uneasy peace. Six months before the Watts riots, Malcolm X, the ‘black shining prince of African-American manhood’ was shot dead in Harlem. His body was riddled with more than 20 bullets -- just to make sure. Malcolm X was the first prominent African-American leader to speak out against the Vietnam War. He highlighted the fact that it was a war waged by white America but fought by African-Americans. In 1965-66 the casualty rate for African-Americans was double that of whites. In 1967, while 64 per cent of eligible African-Americans were drafted into the war, only 31 per cent of eligible whites were. In 1966, just four months before the Human-Be-In at the Golden Gate Park, it took 12,000 Californian National Guards to quell the riots in the African-American districts of San Francisco. A curfew was imposed, more than 350 were arrested and 51 were injured. African-Americans didn’t live in Haight-Ashbury because residential racial segregation confined them to the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighbourhood and the Fillmore district. What for some was intended as a summer of peace and love was for others a long year of violent confrontation. There were African-American uprisings in 128 US cities in the first nine months of 1967.

The answer to this massive and escalating assault wasn’t to be found in acid trips or flower power; it was to be found in an organisation set up in October 1966 by Huey P Newton and Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence. As well as providing armed self-defence, the Black Panthers also provided free medical centres, free legal centres and free breakfasts for school children. At its peak, it had 45 chapters and branch organisation throughout the country, and its newspaper had a circulation of a quarter of a million. Like other radical groups that included the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the auto plants in Detroit, the Black Panthers were prepared to meet violence with violence. What they got was more violence. Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Angela Davis were all jailed on trumped-up charges. The Panthers were infiltrated, intimidated, incarcerated, arrested and assassinated. In 1969 alone, 27 Panthers were killed and 749 jailed.19

The Democratic National Convention that was held in late August 1968 followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jnr in April and the murder of Senator Robert Kennedy in June. The Yippies (Youth International Party) were among those who organised an anti-war rally in the city which the Yippies declared a ‘Festival of Life.’ But when 10,000 protestors were met by 23,000 baton-wielding National Guardsmen, tear gas and mace, it became known as a ‘police riot’ after being identified as such in an official report. The mixed-up confusion of National Guardsmen confronted with love and flower power in 1967 gave way to savage, indiscriminate brutality in 1968. The state sanctioned violence that had been largely reserved for African-Americans was now neutral as to race and gender. The Vietnam War didn’t end until 1975. By this time, many hippies had left mainstream life behind and gone to construct a life of love and peace in communes on the periphery.

Love in times of prosperity

In 1946, 50,000 RAF personnel in India and other Far East outposts of the British Empire went on strike (officially recorded as a mutiny). It was a dispute fuelled by dissent over living and working conditions as well as the slow rate of demobilisation, and similar disputes had occurred at the end of the First World War. But it was also concerned with dissident sections of Britain’s armed forces, led by Communists and Trotskyites, choosing the grounds that they would battle on. Resisting fascist aggression was certainly worth fighting, and even dying for, but subjugating ‘colonials’ was another matter entirely.20 The Second World War was fought for a demonstrable cause. For the victors its end had to mark a new beginning –the building of a better society. There could be no return to pre 1939 normality. Those who fought and suffered in the war would never again accept a repeat of the Great Depression. As to what a better society might look like, the signs erected on the northern coalfields of England gave a broad hint, ‘These pits now belong to the people.’21 In the US there was also considerable pressure for a fairer distribution of wealth. Of the 12 million who enlisted for war, 3.5 million were unionists and organised labour could claim 25 per cent of the 64 million in the workforce in 1945 when the war economy was scaled back and unemployment grew to 4 million. In 1945 and 1946 there were more strikes than there had previously been in all US labour history. The 3.5 million strikers in 1945 increased to 5 million in 1946. By then, some of the strikers were in uniform.22

The initial legislative response to this growing militancy came in the form of the Employment Act of 1946 that, in theory at least, committed the government to Keynesian counter-cyclical policies aimed at maximising employment. However, hostage to contradictory policy that also used the discipline of unemployment to moderate wage increases, US unemployment never fell below 4.5 per cent in the 1950’ and 1960s.23

The full employment economies of Europe faired much better under the Keynesian mixed economy than in the US where ‘military Keynesianism’ triumphed. During the 1950s unemployment levels in Western Europe averaged 2.9 per cent. In the 1960s they fell to just 1.5 per cent.24

But full employment capitalism ended before the Vietnam War did as post-war prosperity gave way to crisis. And it was the cost of the war, financed by increased deficits that made a significant contribution to it. In 1971, the US deficit almost doubled from that of the previous year to US$23 billion. This was accompanied by an increase in both unemployment and inflation, giving rise to the new phenomenon of ‘stagflation.’25

In the same year, the terms of trade favourable to OECD-member countries against developing countries turned in favour of the primary producers. Just prior to this in Western Europe, a wave of strikes influenced by the student revolts of 1968 resulted in significant wage increases. In the following three years, prices of primary products (not including energy) increased by 159 per cent. In November 1973, the OPEC cartel quadrupled oil prices. The net effect of these events was an annual inflation rate in OECD countries of 15 per cent in early 1974. By the second half of the year, the western economies were in serious recession with OECD unemployment increasing by 7 million in 1974-5.26 From this point on, the cost of controlling inflation would be paid for by an increasing number of unemployed and underemployed.

Neoliberal economics, which first came into the world drenched in the blood of thousands of Chileans in 1973, began to gain traction elsewhere. In May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of Britain and in the US Ronald Reagan’s presidency began in January 1981. Neoliberals to their bootstraps, Reagan maintained that “people will stay free when enterprise remains free.” Thatcher declared “there is no society, only individuals.” The post-war consensus of Conservatism and Social Democracy gave way to neoliberal theocracy. In many countries it was the parties of Social Democracy that led the way –Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany prominent among them. When they didn’t lead they were enthusiastic followers who disingenuously dressed-up the doctrine. Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ was neoliberalism with a new face and a toothy smile. ‘Greed is good’ replaced peace and love in popular discourse. Post-war gains were rapidly reversed. The share of national income going to labour fell dramatically while that going to capital increased to unprecedented levels. In Australia, $2.7 trillion has been transferred from wages to profits since 1975. Consumer capitalism could only prosper thanks to finance capital profiting from easy access to debt.

In an era of neoliberal hegemony, welfare expenditure that helped contain social unrest came to be resented by sections of the working class whose taxes helped to fund it. (In 1990, 15 countries that included Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy and the US, spent a mean 51 per cent of their expenditure on housing, social security, welfare and health – a 3 per cent increase on 1972 levels).27 By the last decade of the 20th century even the expression ‘working class’ was sliding out of the lexicon. It was replaced by ‘underclass’, a sinister echo of the 19th century reference to the undeserving poor, known then as the ‘residuum’- the lowest stratum or dregs of the population.28 In early 1974, in an attempt to head off criticism of increased unemployment benefits in safe ALP seats, the Labor minister Clyde Cameron attacked ‘dole bludgers.’ It was an expression seized on by his conservative opponents and still used today to demonise the unemployed.29

In the quarter of a century following 1945, cyclical economic crises all but disappeared. With the victory of neoliberalism came a cycle of crises that followed each other at a greater pace than those that Marx and Engels identified in the 19th century, and which led them to confidently predict that they would bring about the destruction of the system that engendered them. The major recession of the mid 1970s was repeated in the early 1980s, late 1980s and early 1990s. The US stock market crash of 1987 was followed by a ‘savings and loans’ crisis that continued until the early 1990s. Away from the rich world, across Africa, Western Asia and Latin America, the 1980s were an economic catastrophe. Japan’s economy stagnated throughout the 1990s. Towards the end of this decade there was an Asian financial crisis. The new millennium arrived with the crash. Recovery from this slump was aided by a reduction in US interest rates from 6 per cent in January 2001 to 1 per cent in mid 2003. This fuelled a housing bubble which, thanks to the proliferation and opaque packaging of exotic financial products, led directly to the greatest slump since the Great Depression, the ongoing Global Financial Crisis that began in October 2008.

Towards a unifying politics of love

Resistance to neoliberalism emerged in the 1990s in the region where its dehumanising effects were first felt, Latin America. Leftist governments have come to power in a number of countries across the region -- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela prominent among them. They owe their success to the pressure exerted by militant and highly diverse social movements -- environmental groups, indigenous movements, landless peasant associations, radical student associations and women’s and sexual rights organisations. At the same time, these movements are often as wary of governments as they are of the state in general. The Zapatistas in Mexico will not stand for any political office sanctioned by the state. The Movement of Landless Rural Workers in Brazil (MST) refuses to compromise on its demands and maintains its militant actions to achieve them no matter which political party wins office.30

Their diversity makes it impossible to analyse them from a traditional class-based Marxist perspective. Instead, the frame of reference adopted in the most recent and comprehensive account of their history and possible future trajectory is taken from the work of the post-Marxist philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The authors of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions cite Hardt and Negri’s work to provide an explanation of these diverse movements:

Some of the basic traditional models of political activism, class struggle, and revolutionary organisation have today become outdated and useless … such sequences of revolutionary activity are unimaginable today, and instead the experience of insurrection is being rediscovered, so to speak, in the flesh of the multitude … the global recomposition of social classes, the hegemony of immaterial labour, the forms of decision-making based on network structures all radically change the conditions of any revolutionary process.31

Hardt and Negri locate these new forms of struggle with the first generation of social movements organised around identity politics in the 1970s and 1980s. The ‘multitude’ recognises the diversity of the groups involved, while rejecting the classical Marxist view that the industrial working class is the vanguard force of a revolutionary movement whose victory over capitalism is inevitable. How could this not be so in a country like Bolivia where, as early as 1988, 70 per cent of the country’s urban workforce was located in the informal economy where successful participation is dependent on kinship networks? 32

Hardt and Negri write of the capacity of the multitude to transform social relations in political acts of love. Venezuela’s ‘socialism of the 21st century’ has been described by Hugo Chavez as “based in solidarity, in fraternity, in love, in justice, in liberty, and in equality.” Echoing Che Guevara, Chavez declared that “the revolutionary acts with love for human beings and for life, not hate.”

At a time of unprecedented neoliberal hegemony, the multitude’s politics of love is said to be powering revolutionary social development and change. Tom Nairn, the Scottish political theorist of nationalism, asserts that the multitude should not be confused with the working class, or any ethnic and national group, “It seems to mean humanity in general” which we get to by replacing both Marxism and neoliberalism with the philosophy of Spinoza (1633-1677) in search of a ‘love ethic.’33

Spinoza and the trajectory of Western Marxism

Marx’s historical materialism was a theory for interpreting the world that would eventually change it. Capitalism didn’t stand still with the publication of Marx’s Capital or the Bolshevik revolution, or with Stalinist domination of the world communist movement. It went through a series of what Engels might have termed evolutions that, beginning from the Stalinist ascendancy in 1924, stretched through the Great Depression and all the way to the domination of free-market ideology. Along the way, its death was prematurely announced on more than one occasion. From the 1920s, Marx’s more immediate successors largely failed to analyse these changes because the straitjacket of Stalinism, which extended far beyond the USSR, meant that any important critique of capitalist development was the exclusive domain of the Communist International in Moscow. Honourable exceptions that had the courage to free themselves from such constraints, the Hungarian George Lukacs and Karl Korsch in Germany, were treated as heretics. They were either excommunicated (Korsch) or threatened with excommunication and thereafter marginalised (Lukacs). The most outstanding of them all, Antonio Gramsci in Italy, only managed to escape a confrontation with Stalinism because of his isolation in an Italian prison cell which resulted in his death in 1937.34

In these circumstances, Western Marxism managed to turn Marx’s own movement – from philosophy to politics to economics – into a circular one that found itself firmly back in the discipline of philosophy. Marxist theory, philosophically rummaging rather than practically changing, became separated from working class struggle which it then struggled to understand from its eventual vantage point in the academy. Workers too would struggle to even follow the language of this academic discourse, politely described as a “highly technical idiom.”35

Prominent among these academics was Louis Althusser (1918-1990), a professor of philosophy in Paris whose peculiar esotericism of Marxist theory came with a “sybilline rhetoric of elusion.” In his resort to earlier philosophical authority Althusser assigned Spinoza as ancestor to Marx, and it is directly from Spinoza that his novel concepts of Marxism are drawn.36 In Reading Capital he held that, “Spinoza’s philosophy introduced an unprecedented theoretical revolution in the history of philosophy, probably the greatest philosophical revolution of all time.”

Althusser wasn’t the first Marxist theoretician to discover revolutionary revelations in Spinoza. Georgy Plekhanov (1856-1918) who helped to establish the Group for the Emancipation of Labour and was elected to the first editorial board of Iskra as well as the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party believed that Marxism was a ‘variety” of Spinozism. Given that there is no evidence of Marx being influenced by Spinoza, what might be taken from his philosophy that is relevant today?

The ethics of Spinoza

The multitude, and those of like passions with the multitude, I ask not to read my book; nay, I would rather that they should utterly neglect it, than they should misinterpret it after there wont. -- Spinoza

Spinoza’s family came to 17th century Holland from Spain in order to escape the Inquisition, but even in relatively tolerant Holland his philosophy caused him some trouble. Although he was born a Jew, the Jewish community excommunicated him in 1656 for heresy. Christian theologians attacked his Tractacus Theologico-Politicus (1670) because of its radical views on the Bible and the work was banned in 1674. In this Treatise on Theology and Politics he holds that in a state of nature there is no right or wrong, as wrong consists in disobeying the law. He believes that the sovereign can do no wrong, and is at one with Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), from whom his political theory is mainly derived, that the Church should be entirely subordinate to the state. He is opposed to all rebellion, including rebellion against bad government. His major work, the Ethics, was published after he died at the age of 43 from pulmonary tuberculosis.37

Spinoza’ Ethics begins with metaphysics, goes on to the psychology of the passions and the will, and then sets out an ethic. The metaphysics and psychology comes from Descartes and Hobbes but the ethics is original, albeit mainly concerned with religion and virtue: “hatred is increased by being reciprocated, and can on the other hand be destroyed by love. Hatred which is completely vanquished by love, passes into love; and love is therefore greater, than if hatred had not preceded it.” As the English philosopher and great admirer of Spinoza, Bertrand Russell, says, “I wish I could accept this, but I cannot …so long as the wicked have power, it is not much use assuring them that you do not hate them, since they will attribute your words to the wrong motive. And you cannot deprive them of power by non-resistance.”38

For Russell, Spinoza is the most loveable of all the great philosophers, perhaps because he practiced what he preached; at all times courteous and reasonable, he was never known to fall into the heat and anger that his ethic condemned. Loveable he may well be, but it didn’t stop Russell’s criticism of his metaphysics, “the whole of his metaphysics is impossible to accept; it is incompatible with modern logic and with scientific method. Facts have to be discovered by observation, not by reasoning; when we successfully infer the future, we do so by means of principles which are not logically necessary, but are suggested by empirical data. And the concept of substance (that the world as a whole is a single substance, none of whose parts are logically capable of existing alone), upon which Spinoza relies, is one which neither science nor philosophy can now accept.”39

Nairn makes a similar point in his review of Multitude -- if the outlook for global democratisation is as good as Hardt and Negri maintain, then surely a more empirical, matter-of-fact tone would suffice?

Foucault and ethics

Freedom is the ontological condition of ethics. But ethics that is the considered form that freedom takes when it is informed by reflection.40

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was one of the most important French thinkers of the 20th century. A prominent intellectual and prolific author, he was also a militant activist involved in campaigns for prisoners, dissidents and gay people. His starting point for ethics is with the Ancient Greeks:

The Greeks problematized their freedom, and the freedom of their people, as an ethical problem. But ethical in the sense in which the Greeks understood it: ethos was a way of being and behaviour. It was a mode of being for the subject, along with a certain way of acting, a way visible to others. A person’s ethos was evident in his clothing, appearance, gait, in the calm with which he responded to every event, and so on. For the Greeks, this was the concrete form of freedom; this was the way they problematized their freedom … I don’t think that a shift Is needed for freedom to be conceived as ethos … But extensive work by the self on the self is required for this practice of freedom to take shape in an ethos that is good, beautiful, honourable, estimable, memorable, and exemplary.41

Foucault also maintained that care of the self involved care for others. In this sense, the care of the self is always ethical, and ethical in itself. The care of the self always aims for the well-being of others; it aims to manage the power that exists in all relationships, but to manage it in a non- authoritarian way. A care of the self, in thinking of itself, thinks of others.

Reaching back beyond Marx to Spinoza in search of justification for a global resistance cemented by love can lead to an odd style of religiosity coupled with a tendency to embrace the absolute, “empowerment through faith, via spiritual transport.”42 We should instead begin where Marx began – with the Ancient Greeks that were the subject of his doctoral investigation into philosophy that led him to eventually conclude, ‘philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” This is Foucault’s starting point. It is here that a love ethic which avoids narcissism can be found.

What is love anyway?

The Oxford Thesaurus lists 78 synonyms for the noun love -- affinity, care, rapport, harmony, brotherhood, sisterhood and fellow-feeling among them. The Macquarie Dictionary has six different categories of love embracing romantic love, love of close family and friends, a strong predilection or liking for anything as in a ‘love of books’ and the benevolent affection of God. The Ancient Greeks could find three categories of love, eros (romantic love), philia (reciprocal love between friends), and agape (caring for and seeking the best for others), although it must be remembered that while they had books they did not have the benefit of love’s commodification that allows for love of chocolate and AFL football.

Marx’s writings on love are short, reminiscent of his promised treatment of class in Capital, five tantalising paragraphs in Volume 3 followed by the disappointment of Engel’s parenthetic note, “At this point the manuscript breaks off.” Nevertheless, Marx did write of different kinds of love. In 1835, in his second graduation essay from Trier Gymnasium, “The Union of the Faithful with Christ,” Marx was writing of how, through love of Christ, “we turn our hearts at the same time to our brothers.” In the Excerpt Notes of 1844, Marx brought Feuerbach’s ethical humanism, love, as well as the idea of alienation, into economic relationships. If production was not for possession and profit it would affirm individuality and provide that mutuality in which “I would be affirmed in your thought as well as your love.”43 In his Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State he refers to family love, “for the soul of the family exists for itself as love.” Criticising primogeniture, he wrote of parental love for children, “whom they love equally” and again of family love and “ethical life” which includes, “love as the moving spirit and the real law governing the family.” In Excerpts of James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy Marx wrote of unalienated labour as the free expression of human nature based on love and mutual affirmation. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts he writes of how money transforms, “love into hate, hate into love.”44

How individuals might want to define love would seem to be a matter for individuals themselves. If categorising love, or seeking an ‘essence’ of love helps in understanding love then that is what individuals will do. In any event, while the imposition of a particular definition is impossible, the relation of love to hate seems Manichean. They appear to stand alone as opposites, a dialectical synthesis forever absent. Constructing a politics of love, however, would seem to demand some common ground as to meaning. If Nairn is correct and ‘multitude’ means humanity in general, caring for humanity and seeking the best for them (agape) appears to be the obvious starting point.

Resistance to oppression has a long history. Anarchists have long championed resistance at the labour process by ‘go slow’ tactics and industrial sabotage. Individuals seem capable of finding ingenious ways in which to get back some of the surplus value accrued by the exploitation of their employers. There is also a natural impulse of solidarity that Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) theorised in his book Mutual Aid (1911). In The Enigma of Capital, David Harvey writes of the importance of the various groups opposing capitalist exploitation,

[A] broad wing of opposition arises out of anarchist, autonomists and grassroots organisations (GROs.) There is, however, a common antipathy to negotiation with state power and an emphasis upon civil society as the sphere where change can be accomplished. The self-organising powers of people in the daily situations in which they live has to be the basis for any anti-capitalist alternative But …the effectiveness of these movements is limited by their reluctance to scale-up their activism into organisational forms capable of confronting global problems. The presumption that local action is the only meaningful level of change and that anything that smacks of hierarchy is anti-revolutionary and self-defeating when it comes to larger questions. Yet these movements are unquestionably providing a widespread base for experimentation with anti-capitalist policies.45

Love in the time of late capitalism

Besides identifying a fractured working class – intellectual labourers, the old manual working class, and the outcasts (unemployed, chronically underemployed, the homeless) – each of which is played off against the other, Slavoj Zizek maintains that staying faithful to the Idea of Communism involves locating it in real historical antagonisms which give it a practical urgency. He can find four antagonisms powerful enough to prevent global capitalism’s indefinite reproduction: ecological catastrophe: the inappropriateness of the notion of private property for so called ‘intellectual property’; the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (in bio-genetics especially) and new forms of apartheid that separate the Excluded from the Included.46

He might have added a fourth, unregulated derivative trading that has the capacity to bring the world’s financial system to a shuddering halt. In mid 2008, the outstanding notional amount of financial derivatives was estimated at US$684 trillion by the Bank for International Settlements. Betting on interest rates and foreign exchange rates accounted for some US$513 trillion: credit default swaps more than US$60 trillion and collateral debt obligations and other exotic instruments over US$90 trillion. By comparison, world GDP stood at US$50 trillion. Derivatives operate in a global Over-The-Counter (OTC) market that is almost entirely without scrutiny or oversight. Derivative trades are not listed on any exchanges; not available for public scrutiny; not subject to a clearing system and rarely appear on external balance sheets. Ian Stewart, Emeritus Professor of mathematics at Warwick University describes derivatives as “investment in investments, bets about bets.” He likens their claim to provide a rational way of pricing financial contracts when they still have time to run with buying or selling a bet on a horse halfway through the race. His assessment in 2007 was that the international finance system was trading derivatives valued at one quadrillion (one million billion) US dollars. This is 10 times the total worth (adjusted for inflation) of all global manufacturing products made in the preceding 100 years.47

On top of this, a minimum of 3 per cent compound growth which is both empirically and conventionally accepted as necessary to the satisfactory functioning of capital is simply unsustainable.48

According to the available science, the first of Zizek’s antagonisms, ecological catastrophe, is already unfolding. Irreversible climate change is not only a threat for the future; it is the reality of the present. In the extremely unlikely event that countries adopted the most ambitious emission reduction targets they have proposed, the global average temperature will still rise by between 3C and 4C by the end of the century. In mid 2009, the first comprehensive study of the human impact of climate change was released by the Global Humanitarian Forum. It found that climate change was already affecting 300 million people and responsible for 300,000 deaths each year. Almost all the deaths and 90 per cent of the economic losses were borne by developing countries. Zizek’s Excluded are already the most affected, but the Included cannot escape the effects of climate change. Air pollution in Europe now reduces the average life expectancy of Bucharest residents by two years, those of Paris by six months.49

It is worth remembering that when Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto that the written history of all hitherto existing society was the history of class struggle, they asserted that this history leads us to two possible results from the uninterrupted fight between these rival forces. The first is a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large; the second, “the common ruin of the contending classes.”

Fetters on the future

Correct revolutionary theory assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement. -- Lenin

In Anarchism and other Essays (1911), Emma Goldman relates how, on thousands of occasions, she had been asked why she did not spell out how things would operate under Anarchism. She replied, “Because I believe that Anarchism cannot consistently impose an iron-clad program or method on the future. The things every new generation has to fight, and which it can least overcome, are the burdens of the past, which hold us all in a net. Anarchism, at least as I understand it, leaves posterity free to develop its own particular systems, in harmony with its needs. Our most vivid imagination cannot foresee the potentialities of a race set free from external constraints. How, then, can one assume to map out a line of conduct for those to come? We, who pay dearly for every breath of pure fresh air, must guard against the tendency to fetter the future.”50

A century on, the burdens of past capitalist production methods that have conquered the world from the time of the industrial revolution now hold us in a net that threatens the supply of pure fresh. It is the inescapable fetter on the future.

The authors of Turbulent Transitions argue that the rise of 21st socialism in Latin America must be located in the context of the collapse of the traditional socialist project:

In rejecting authoritarianism, bureaucratic centralised planning, state capitalism, and the lack of democracy, it has distanced itself from those traits so common to the failed projects of the twentieth century. A critical attribute of twenty-first socialism is that is built by social movements and by people from below; it does not arise from government fiats or nor from self-defined vanguard parties. By transforming circumstances, the people transform themselves. Moreover, twenty-first century socialism is rooted in democratic processes and procedures. It is notable that the three countries that have raised the banner of socialism – Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador – have all used the ballot box extensively to advance their policies and efforts to transform their societies.51

David Harvey argues that it is impossible for an anti-capitalist order to be constructed without seizing state power and radically reworking it.52 How might it be possible to fashion anti-capitalist structures that act independently from the state, that challenge the state and enables those to come to map out a future line of conduct?

For Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), an enduring lesson of the French Revolution was the way in which revolutionary intellectuals captured the imagination of the masses by establishing a mythical ideal state that all could work for prior to 1789 – one based on the Rights of Man.53 If anti-capitalist revolutionaries are unable to capture the imagination of the great mass of humanity (the multitude) in coming together in solidarity (love) to avoid ecological catastrophe, the future looks distinctly dystopian. The social movements in Bolivia, the largest of which is the United Union of Farm Workers, are already leading the way. They are the moving force behind the ‘Law of Mother Earth’ which establishes 11 new rights for nature including the right to pure water and clean air and the right not to be polluted.

In 1842 Marx wrote, “The fate which a question of the time has in common with every question justified by its content, and therefore rational, is that the question, not the answer constitutes the main difficulty.”54 The relevant question of our time has been posed by Terry Eagleton, “One question that therefore arises is how long would it take us to unlearn the ingrained habits of pathological productivity, which after a while acquires a well-nigh unstoppable momentum of its own. Do we have enough time – will an already crippled and wounded Nature give us enough time – for this massive re-education of the senses, the body, the psyche, the dispositions of desire itself? The bleak alternative to action now is the questionable hope he also expressed, “that on the other side of some inconceivable disaster … men and women are forced by material circumstances into sharing solidarity with each other.”55

[John Rainford is a member of the Socialist Alliance. With thanks to the Reading Love collective at the University of Wollongong organised by Alexander Brown.]


1 William Galvez, Che in Africa: Che Guevara’s Congo Diary. Ocean Press, Melbourne, 1999. pp. 81-2.

2 Che Guevara, Socialism and Man in Cuba.

3 Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner (Ed) Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (Watts& Co., London. 1910), pp.53-4.

4 Colin Jones, The Cambridge Illustrated History of France (Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.1999), p. 181. William Doyle, History of the French Revolution (Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1989), p. 420.

5 George Woodcock, Pierre Joseph Proudhon: A Biographical Study (Routledge& Keagan Paul. London. 1956), p. 34.

6 Bonnie Haaland, Emma Goldman: Sexuality and the Impurity of the State (Black Rose Books, Montreal. 1993), pp. xi-xii.

7 Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (International Publishers, New York. 1989) p. 39.

8 See Francis Wheen, Karl Marx (Fourth Estate, London. 1999) pp. 337, 344.

9 And the Truth Shall Make You Free. 1871. htpp://

10 Clara Zetkin, ‘Reminiscences of Lenin’ in They Knew Lenin; Reminiscences of Foreign Contemporaries (Moscow, 1968) p. 28

11 Belief& Technique for Modern Prose: List of Essentials.1958.

12 John Rainford, Consuming Pleasures (Fremantle Press, Fremantle. 2009) p. 183.

13 The Second Vatican Council -- 1962-65- led to the Papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae (of human life) which prohibited use of the birth control pill by Catholic women despite a mass campaign waged by US women laity.

14 Jerome L. Himmelstein, The Strange Career of Marijuana (Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut. 1983) p. 4. Richard Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion (Wiedenfeld& Nicholson, London, 2001) pp. 340, 343. Martin A. Lee& Bruce Shlain, acid dreams: The complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, The Sixties, And Beyond. (Pan Books, London, 2001) pp. 196, 229.

15 Lee and Shlain, op. cit pp. 133, 228-9.

16 Ibid p. 129.

17 Ibid pp. 129-130.

18 Ibid p. 32.

19 Manning Marable and Leith Mullings, Freedom: A Photographic History of the African American Struggle, Part IV: 1954-1975: We Shall Overcome (Phaidon Press, London and New York, 2002).

20 David Childs, Britain Since 1945. A Political History. (Routledge. London, 1997), pp. 21-2.

21 Martin Walker, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World. (Fourth Estate. London, 1993), p. vi. Eric Hobsbawn, Age of Extremes, (Abacus. London, 2000) pp. 160-1.

22 Herman Van Der Wee. Prosperity And Upheaval. The World Economy 1945-1980. (Penguin Books. Middlesex.1987) pp.29, 36-7. Richard O. Boyer, Herbert M. Morais, Labor’s Untold Story (UE, Pittsburgh, 2003) pp. 332-3, 344.

23 Van Der Wee, op. cit pp. 73-4, 77, 302-3.

24 Hobsbawn, op. cit. pp. 261. Van Der Wee, op cit. pp. 43-4, 258.

25 John Kenneth Galbraith, Money: Whence it came, where it went. (Penguin Books, London, 1995) pp. 288-90. Van Der Wee, op. cit. pp.69-70.

26 Van Der Wee, pp. 56, 81-5.

27 Hobsbawn, op. cit p.408.

28 Ibid, pp. 284, 302-10, 340.

29 Barry Hughes, Exit Full Employment (Angus&Robertson, Sydney, 1980) p.51.

30 Roger Burbach, Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions (Zed Books, London, 2013) pp. 13. 25.

31 Ibid, p. 24.

32 Ibid, p. 81.

33 Tom Nairn, ‘Make for the Boondocks,’ London Review of Books, 2005.

34 Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (NLB. London, 1977) pp. 29-32.

35 Ibid, pp. 52-53, 95-96.

36 Ibid, pp.54, 60-64.

37 Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1989) pp. 552-3.

38 Ibid, pp. 561-2.

39 Russell, op.cit. p. 560.

40 ‘The ethics of the concern of the self as a practice of freedom’ transcript of interview with Michel Foucault, January 20 1984. In Michel Foucault, Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Edited by Paul Rabinow (Penguin Books, London, 1994) pp. 281-301.

41 Ibid p. 286

42 Nairn, op. cit.

43 Loyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat, Writings of the young Marx on Philosophy and Society (Anchor Books, New York, 1967) pp. 3, 281.

44 Karl Marx Early Writings (Penguin Books, London, 1992) pp. 65, 140, 166-9, 259-278, 378.

45 David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital (Profile Books, London, 2011) pp. 254-5.

46 Slavoj Zizek, ‘How to begin from the Beginning’ in Costas Douzinas & Slavoj Zizek (Eds) The Idea of Communism (Verso, London, 2010).

47 Ian Stewart, ‘The irresponsible equation.’ Guardian Weekly 24.02.12.

48 Harvey, op. cit. pp.274-5.

49 Reported in The Guardian Weekly, 5-11 June 2009, 11.03.11.

50 In Alix Kate Shulman (Ed) Red Emma Speaks (Bookwise Australia, Sydney, 2000) p. 31.

51Burbach, et al, op.cit p. 4.

52 Harvey, op. cit p. 256.

53 La Citta Futura, 1917. In Alastair Davidson, Antonio Gramsci: The Man, His Ideas. (Australian Left Review Publications, 1968) p.11.

54 Karl Marx and Frederic Engels, Collected Works, Volume 1 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975) pp. 182-3.

55 Terry Eagleton, ‘Communism: Lear or Gonzalo?” In Costas Douzinas & Slavoj Zizek op. cit.