The Radical Power of Relationship

Vincenzo Maria Di Mino
Independent scholar - chercheur indépendant
25 mai 2022

Gilman-Opalsky, Richard, The Communism of Love. An Inquiry into the poverty of Exchange Value. Chico: AK Press, 2021.

Today it is a common trait, both of antagonist social movements and of the theoretical discourses they produce, to focus on the different forms of social relations, on their current conditions and on their possible and future transformations. Reflecting on the political dimension of struggles, in fact, involves the questioning of a whole series of habitus, behaviors and established social structures, and makes necessary, therefore, the production of new devices of subjectivation, rooted in the ethos and desires of subjectivity. The core of this political project, in fact, lies in the richness and strength of the relationships produced within and against the social milieu, and therefore in a renewed concept of Love, which designates new forms of antagonism against the state and capitalist apparatus. Sinking one’s gaze and hands into the richness that these affective bonds unravel, one can design different escape routes from the one-dimensional neoliberal ideology, and fully appreciate all the experiments of life-in-common beyond the modular discipline of the State and the Market. A very interesting theoretical perspective on these issues is provided by American philosopher Richard Gilman-Opalsky in his book entitled The Communism of Love. Starting from the two concepts used in the title, the author builds an engaging and fascinating theoretical framework, in order to reveal how the fundamental core of any communist planning is the proliferation of relations between subjects antagonistic with respect to the microsocial structures of capitalism. Gilman-Opalsky chooses a specific political and discursive positioning that is indicated by his book’s subtitle: An inquiry into the poverty of exchange value. Here is revealed the purpose of this research, that is the elaboration of some programmatic points to deconstruct the prevailing concept of Love and give autonomous institutional strength to these experiments. The book consists of 8 chapters, which explore through different points of view the relationship between communism and love. Gilman-Opalsky intersects philosophical genealogy and psychoanalytic theory, drawing from the most varied and disparate sources: from Marx and revolutionary Marxism to feminism, to the sociology of the ‘crisis’ of the German area, to end with the contemporary radical thought. The rich and impressive theoretical structure of the book cannot be reduced to a simple linear description. The following will address schematically three points of reading and analysis that are at the core of the book: the first concerns love as the glue between singularity and collectivity, as the element of the constitution of the social community; the second concerns the psychoanalytical analysis between love and social liberation, also filtered through the contribution of feminism, and the conceptual passepartout of liquidity; the third analytical key is that of the strategies based on the concept of “insurgent love”, which recapitulates and multiplies the themes addressed in the previous chapters, and which tries to penetrate the trenches of capitalist society through the strategy of within and against.

The Communism of Love’s first three chapters are interested in the relationship between love and social community, and form the book’s first angle of reading. Gilman-Opalsky focuses on the centrality of the concept of Gemeinwesen, the Marxian “real community” opposed to the two forms of social alienation, the one deriving from work and the one reproduced by capitalist social relations. The author highlights the connections that can exist between disalienated subjectivities, community and desire, through a subterranean, irreducible continuity of relationships, which exceed the devices and the different modalities that shape the exchange value. The first core of this rhizome is starting from the concept of desire, precisely at the origins of the debate on this topic in the heart of the Platonic dialogues. The figure of Diotima, in the Platonic conceptual universe, expresses the multiplicity of desire, its ambiguity, being an element of rupture and trauma, able to generate lack and need within the relational dialectic while, at the same time, representing the excess that characterizes the union of bodies. Desire, in this sense, is a process of subjectivation that, as the last Foucault underlined, is both parrhesiastic, that is, aimed at antagonism towards power through the word of truth that can be performed through bodies, and ethopoietic, centered on practical knowledge produced by ethics through the same subjective transformations (Foucault, 2009). In this context, figures of revolutionary communist love, such as Jenny Marx, Rosa Luxemburg or Alexandra Kollontai, and figures of rebellion in history, such as Spartacus, are of great importance, both theoretically and practically. In these characters, the author finds the equation between love and the revolutionary experience, as materialization of the desire for total transformation even in the affective and sentimental field. By questioning norms, genders and social stratifications, the revolutionary practice transforms the affective dimension itself. Marxist feminist thinker Kollontai uses the metaphor of the Winged Eros to represent the difference between communism understood as a form of government, and communism understood as a matrix of new forms of life and, by extension, of freedom.

The second reading concerns chapters 4, 5 and 6, which discuss the relationship between Critical Theory and psychoanalytic praxis, the effects of patriarchy on love relationships in all its different variants, and the material, ethical and psychological dependence of subjectivity on market structures and commodities. In this sense, the effect of the fetishism generated by commodities (and by the intensification of monetary/financial abstractions) also spills over onto the affective and emotional side, transforming love into commodity. In addition to the subjective fragility generated by risk and the “liquidity” of social relations, in the words of Bauman, characterized by fragility, volatility and intermittence, comes into account a “digitalization” of relations, the transformation of relationships into predictable and programmable algorithms. In addition, the biopolitical ramifications of the commodity are inscribed in the already existing matrices of exclusion and domination based on race and gender, so as to make “white patriarchalism” the hegemonic affective machine, transforming whiteness into the only possible loving space, the only one capable of maintaining stable structures of domination. In the same field, Berardi has shown how the capitalist construction of (heteropatriarchal) love is aimed at its spectacular and consumerist diffusion, in order to serve as an element of social legitimation of liberal hegemony (Berardi, 2017). In order to escape the total valorization of capital, Stiegler, quoted by Gilman-Opalsky, proposes a “pharmacology of affects”, a renewed ecology of relationships and of the common production of meaning for new practices of collective action (Stiegler, 2010). These practices can be produced starting from the materiality and contradictions of the social milieu, and, by rediscovering the affective dimension of the collective, they can give rise to new processes capable of bringing out common affections and potentialities, and thus constitute other forms of being together starting from what is common to all individuals. Indeed, of great importance to the author are the experiences of the margin, as discussed by some feminist authors, those experiences, situated at the intersection of networks of domination, that transform their affective resistance into counter-hegemonic collective praxis.

The last key to interpretation is the imaginative design of the material forms that this communism of love can and must take, within and against the social milieu. The insurgent love, for Gilman-Opalsky, is primarily the force capable of destroying social and emotional alienation. The for love-love for dialectic, at this point, is the political core of collective ethopoiesis, the device of subjectivation through which radical forms of love find their own space of material expression and create their own political autonomy. Love, in fact, is a partial movement that can circumscribe the field of friendship, a collective movement that permeates the entire network of friendship relations. In this sense, it can and must become a revolutionary force, implementing affective and political counter-conducts, feeding movements and riots, contributing to the production of autonomous spaces. To sum up, this revolutionary dimension of love can be implemented by building antagonistic affective networks, constructing spaces based on use-value, sharing, “communization”, and constituting bottom-up decision-making spaces in which to express collective counter-power. Such proposals, moreover, can be connected to the “abolitionist” practices used by intersectional, feminist and anti-racist movements to corrode from within the colonialist foundations of emergent democracy, while affirming the power of multiplicity, of minority desires.

Designing the communism of love from the margins, in conclusion, means practicing the concrete force of differences and desires. Bodies and passions become explosive elements in anti-capitalist conflicts, building spaces of real freedom inside this collapsed society. Let us return to one of the themes mentioned at the beginning, that of the Marxian “real community”. In the Grundrisse, a revolutionary laboratory still of fresh relevance, Marx speaks of the “social individual” as the product of revolutionary transformation, a subject who is both a product of the common social root, and of singularity, the product of a process of differentiation. Today, after a two-year period of pandemic and terrible social emergencies, rethinking this revolutionary figure means rethinking the concepts of use and care as elements of new social ties. Use, in this sense, can be reconfigured as a juridical form detached from the mechanisms of property, and aimed instead at the collective dimension of acting and producing. But, by virtue of the themes analyzed by Gilman-Opalsky, are both concepts not, at the end, different practices of communist love?

This interesting book, in fact, allows readers to take stock of the actuality of these forms of love, and lets them at the same time imagine the utopia of a world free from the poverty of exploitation It should invite them to transform their own singular experience in contact with the multitude of other desiring singularities: being-against, being-for and being-together can be the necessary figures for new collective practices of transformation. The author, with a long, erudite and positioned detour, leads readers and scholars on the path of revolution through bodies, desires, affections and passions. In biopolitical terms, the book invites the rediscovery (and obviously to the active and militant participation) of life and collective lives as elements with which to imagine and produce possible (and necessary) alternatives to the present asphyxia generated by crises, emergencies and wars. New pedagogies of love, freed from the constraints of capitalist fetishism, are possible only by releasing the potential of the connections between singularity and collectivity, between pleasure and desire, between affection and political antagonism. What emerges through this book, finally, is an ethical and political necessity: the valorization of singular and collective experience, in the face of the dynamics of separation and simulation of material reality. In this sense, communist desire and love desire become valuable weapons of liberation processes.


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Stiegler, Bernard. Ce qui fait que la vie vaut la peine d’être vécue. De la pharmacologie. Paris: Flammarion, 2010.