In In Praise of Love, Alain Badiou defined love as a form of “minimal communism [where] the real subject of a love is the becoming of the couple and not the mere satisfaction of the individuals that are its component parts.”(1) Earlier in the book, Badiou provided a more elegant statement, associating the act of loving to “learn[ing] that you can experience the world on the basis of difference and not only in terms of identity.”(2) I find it urgent to recuperate this statement, not only because we are now in February but also because, given today’s ideological climate where socialism, among other alternatives to capitalism, is decried, a pairing of “love” and “communism” can strike many as odd, even off.
While evidently not at par with the hype surrounding Christmas and New Year, the one surrounding Valentine’s Day (not yet worthwhile to say “season”) is considerably not far behind. Proliferating flowers, chocolates, stuffed toys, and condoms for sale, or on sale during this time evince this hype. As my father quips, and I am sure many would agree, Valentine’s Day has just been turned into an occasion for money-making.
Love and romance have been commercialized—whether through popular films, musical concerts or food and dining. These cultural forms endorse not just consumerism but also specific views about love—one that privileges the couple over other forms of companionship or collectivity. Thus, construed as having a romantic partner, what love overcomes is just singlehood (often despised, as revealed by the familiar “Single ka pa rin” question during gatherings—equally unsettling those receiving the question). Effaced is the possibility of understanding love as involving more than two people, one that overcomes typical diagnosis for modern times—terrifying loneliness, incapacitating isolation.
Yet it is this second, possible sense of love which can lead us to a broader understanding of what it means and how to love, and what are the conditions that bring forth this deep need to be loved, to not be alone. From here, a capitalist critique can emerge, eventually paving the way for the possibilities opened by communism. Packaged as an antidote to loneliness and its permutations—singlehood, individualism, isolation—love and the need for it can be better grasped in tandem with the historical conditions which called for it.
The rise of capitalism in the 19th century and its intensification in the 20th saw the intersecting phenomena of rapid urbanization, industrial growth and technological advance. On the flipside of these rosy designations are less cheery developments: the often-violent displacement of people from their (agricultural/indigenous/communal) lands and increased isolation, anomie and competition in cities, coupled with less natural connections aided by technology. Related to this is the simultaneous surfacing of unsustainability in human relationships not just with one another but also with nature, with the stuff that makes living possible. John Bellamy Foster spoke of the rise in the 1950s of ethnoecology and the attendant increased interest in “traditional environmental knowledge.”(3) Here, subsistence is conceptualized according to “the long-term relationship between community and land base”,(4) what must be sustained is not just community ties, but in relation to it, the land where such ties are nourished, and where living conditions are reproduced. Pushed by the rise of capitalism, the decline of community life has in turn, reinforced the isolation of individuals.
That is one possible interpretation as to why love, narrowly typified by romantic couples, has gain dominance, with singlehood its dreaded converse. Yet the broader, more communistic sense of love I am advocating here, still needs to be distinguished from a kind of love that is broad because it is too abstract, claiming to be universal. This is the “love of humanity” that Mao lambasts in his Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art: “Love as an idea is a product of objective practice. Fundamentally, we do not start from ideas but from objective practice. … As for the so-called love of humanity, there has been no such all-inclusive love since humanity was divided into classes. All the ruling classes of the past were fond of advocating it, and so were so-called sages and wise men, but nobody has ever really practiced it, because it is impossible in class society.” This idea of abstract, general love—alongside its ‘smaller’ versions such as the one captured in a TV station’s #FamilyIsLove—is peddled, and pedestalled as if to shroud and sidestep the larger tensions in society, a feel-good balm that is worthless unless translated into collective ways not just of living, but of recreating our world.
This is how I make sense of Badiou’s preference of the perspective provided by difference rather than identity. We see and live in the world not just following our own logic and beliefs, even to the point of self-righteousness or close-mindedness. Rather, we apprehend and act in the world following different and multiple viewpoints and experiences, struggling with one another and ideally coalescing in the service of shared pathways and goals. As the minimal form of communism, love takes place in the sense of opening oneself to another person, another individual. But it is also such radical decision between two people which rehearses the potentiality of a larger project: love infusing the relationships of several people, of a collection of individuals, committing to the same objectives, and working together, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till their deaths do their part,” to actualize those objectives.