|I want to talk about love this month not because the corporate holiday is coming up but because it is a little summed-up experience that has a big impact on our movement. I draw here from both theory and practice. I am in no way an expert on dating or love, with my limited experience of it, but my mother always said that the people who struggle make the best teachers. She was talking about math as an example, not the struggle, but I think you can apply it to both. In either case, I think I might make a good teacher.Revolutionaries need love is the point here and we need to share love with other in our circle in good principled ways. Of course the conditions we live under — hegemony, oppression, patriarchy — affect all of this. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes, or Lenin’s if you prefer…
How Revolutionaries Did It: Historical Perspective
Of course we do not know much about many of the old school revolutionary leaders’ relationships, like Marx or Lenin, because their political work was the focus. What we do know is that women played a strong role in the political work, both in support of their revolutionary lovers and often as leaders in their own right. I would venture to guess that these women helped to develop the political thought of their lovers, since many of them served as their editors and were directly involved in revolutionary organizing.
Most revolutionaries know that Karl Marx was married to Jenny Von Westphalen, an educated daughter of a baron. They lived in poverty and had seven children. Only three of them survived childhood. Dude, please tell me that Marx was not a deadbeat dad! Of course Friedrich Engels was playing sugar daddy at the time. Jenny was the editor of Karl’s books.
“Secret lovers, that’s what we are…”
Vladimir Lenin a player? Lenin may be someone to draw from in terms of What is to be Done? in order to build a working-class revolutionary strategy, but I’m not sure about his qualifications in terms of relationships.
First married in 1898 to Nadezhda Krupskaya, who he met while in exile, Lenin was later rumored to have had an affair with Inessa Armand while he was exiled in France. Perhaps we can cut him some slack, since being in exile sucks and one tends to get lonely.
Nadezhda Krupskaya. So sexy when she’s angry! (Wikimedia Commons)
These women in Lenin’s life were bad-ass socialist fighters and both took strong stands on women’s rights. In 1917, along with Clara Zetkin, they both pressured Russian officials to sanction International Women’s Day. Did Lenin already have these ideas about women’s rights and women’s role in the movement, or did these women influence him?Nadezhda, his wife, was a writer, educator and Secretary of the Bolshevik Faction of the Social Democratic Party, advisor to Lenin, and later the Secretary to the Board of Iskra. Read more on the role of women in Nadezhda’s preface to The Emancipation of Women in The Writings of V.I. Lenin.
Inessa Armand. It’s not her fault she’s a hottie! (Marxist Internet Archive Gallery)
Inessa, the rumored lover, was the Secretary for the Committee of Foreign Organizations, established to coordinate all Bolshevik groups in Western Europe.So, I don’t think I’m gonna find the great example of revolutionary love here. Also, I don’t want to only think of love as monogamous romantic relationships. Let’s get into the real juicies.
Where Is the Love?
In general, in the US we live in a culture that lacks love, that lacks community. We need to pay attention to love and our treatment of each other as a group, not because I’m advocating for another “peace and love, baby!” type of movement, but because of the hegemonic culture that we live under in the United States.
I love Antonio Gramsci!
The political ideology of capitalism is in every part of this culture, including the ways we relate to each other. The way it plays out is through our not looking out for each other, not sharing what’s going on in our lives, and prioritizing our individual needs and desires over the community’s needs. For the last point, I’m talking on a personal level. It doesn’t count if you are working very hard on your mass work, and you say, “I do this work because I love my community,” and then you don’t ever call your mother. (Revolutionary mothers everywhere are gonna love me!) Maybe you generally like your mother, and she’s not some homophobic, right-wing Christian. Then you really have no excuse! In my book, you are a backward individualist.It comes down to the fact that we still view our relationships in a patriarchal and/or individualist way. In a lot of cases, folks are relying on one partner for support, and when that doesn’t work out you’re just S.O.L. (shit outta luck).
I don’t really want to live in a big dirty co-op house and have to make decisions collectively about every little thing, adding on one more weekly meeting to my schedule. I also don’t want to rely on just one person for support who’s probably just as fucked up as I am and may not be able to deal with my shit too.
As I look around, though, (I’m about to turn the big 3-0) everyone seems to be gettin’ coupled up, movin’ in together, having unity or commitment ceremonies or whatever, never to be seen again! Okay, I’m a little dramatic. A little…
Creating a loving community may seem like a foreign idea, because it is a foreign idea — most of the world doesn’t live the closed-up lives that we do! I’m not a Luddite, but right now I’m surrounded by people in a café mostly not interacting with each other at all! We are all either listening to our iPods or working on our laptops.
Take into consideration that I’m in San Francisco with a different set of conditions. Hopefully there are some regional differences in people’s experience with loving communities in other parts of the US. In addition, there are folks who are practicing their traditional cultures and resisting the hegemonic culture.
Inside or Outside Dating Strategy?
I’m not a complete hater. I do think there is a place for romantic love, bitter and jaded as I am. For revolutionaries, we have some considerations to make — inside or outside strategy?
Does the person have to be a hard-core Marxist-Leninist for you to love them, or is anarchist, or simply anti-capitalist, enough? Really, though, you probably know most of the folks in your revolutionary tradition. Which is why rebuilding the left and working toward larger revolutionary organization that includes the social movement left and the organized left may also help with your dating pool. For more info on this concept, check out Freedom Road’s new strategy.
Do you need someone who understands the difficulties and isolation of being red-baited, or would you prefer someone whose life is not consumed by revolutionary work but who maybe just doesn’t like oppression? Or maybe you believe that we don’t choose who we fall in love with, it just happens. Are you secretly crushed-out on George W? Ewwwww, get a hold of yourself!
Well, if it’s romantic love you’re looking for, my advice is two-fold. For folks who want to date inside your revolutionary circles, try doing other things besides meetings, rallies, study groups with your comrades. If it’s outside your revolutionary circles that you’re looking, it would also be good for you to have more of balance in your life and get into a hobby or extracurricular activity with other folks — I recommend theater. Folks are always hooking up in theater groups! Also, your partnered comrades might make good matchmakers. They have a tendency to live vicariously through single people. Just be clear with them about what you are looking for.
Now That We Found Love What Are We Gonna Do With It?
Once you find loving relationships, either from community or from romantic relationships, remember that we live under a system of oppression and all of this can easily play out in our relationships both internally and externally – in patriarchy, gender binaries, heterosexism, homophobia, and racism to name a few. Many of us came to this work because of the oppression we have faced, and that pain may still be there for us individually.
Since these dynamics are in every part of our society, it is not unnatural that they could also slip into our personal relationship, as well intentioned as we may be. When dealing with conflict among comrades, I recommend reminding oneself of what the person’s intention is in the conflict.
Sometimes we get in the mode of thinking of our comrades as the enemy when they do something that hurts us. We may even treat them worse than those in charge of the system we are trying to fight and spend more time fighting them than we do the people who are in power. What we can do is reflect on that and try to support our comrades in individual change as well as social change.
Some people apply practical tools to dealing with relationship conflict and interpersonal dynamics — tools such as criticism/self-criticism or developing “community agreements” like the ones folks develop in their mass base groups. Within the Maoist practice of criticism/self-criticism it is often said that you criticize the work not the individual, and in this case I do think you could expand it to your practice within a relationship. There are some helpful tools Mao could offer you and your lover, such as “no investigation, no right to speak.”
The important thing to remember in all cases is that the person is someone you love or once loved. They are probably not intending to take power from the people or cause oppression (though they may be doing so). Please be very kind to each other even as you raise your criticisms in a principled way.
I have seen the breakup of relationships ruin organizations. If we don’t have good ways to deal with our individual pain, our individual dealings with oppression, we will have difficulties building a movement that is truly mass. The building of a movement starts with one-on-one relationships. Lead with your heart.
Claire Tran ( \n email@example.com ) is looking for someone who: enjoys dancing cumbia, wants to collaborate on revolutionary film-making and is very kind. She is a member of the National Executive Committee of Freedom Road, a youth organizer, a cultural worker and a cutie.