The concept of love is often left out of conversations about economics, political construction or theories of value. Conversely, discussions of economic planning and policy often exclude ideas of love. Humans’ aspirations to be cared for and loved are left conceptually separate from our aspirations for a better world where we are all safe, clothed, fed, sheltered and fulfilled.
Students at GW – a politically active community – should not lose sight of the place love takes in their activism. In his groundbreaking 2020 book “The Communism of Love,” Richard Gilman-Opalsky, a political scientist at the University of Illinois Springfield, reimagines love as a political concept that can help inform how we organize ourselves and our resources. GW’s student activists, who I believe truly aspire to better the lives of people that have been marginalized by those in political and economic power, would benefit from evaluating how centering love in their mission can help actualize a better tomorrow.
Gilman-Opalsky writes that love is the practice of relating to one another in a way that is incompatible with the structures of power that dictate what is valuable and what is not – namely, capital. Capital is the primary driving force for deciding what is valuable (i.e profitable), subverting the potential of other frameworks like social necessity, social happiness and the prevalence of community, to be tools for determining what we should do with ourselves and our resources. The capitalist form of assessing value is then antithetical to a system of valuation based on principles of love and solidarity.
The conditions created by our economic system in the pursuit of the accumulation of capital are not conditions conducive to a structural prevalence of love. Much like laws of physics determine how we interact with our surroundings capital operates under certain laws of motion that insist on the individualization, privatization, and commodification of the person. Competitive work and class environments and the constraint of the 40-hour work week necessarily produce feelings of alienation, or feelings of separateness from one another. Gilman-Opalsky leaves the reader with the clear understanding that love entails ridding of the tendency to weather our emotions, experiences and difficulties alone. What this means is that we must abandon a political ethic of asocial self-interest for one of radical empathy for love to prevail on a structural level. Love cannot prevail unless we destroy, as Opalsky says, “the false and fatal opposition of each person to everyone else.”
Gilman-Opalsky arrives at the deduction that love is inherently anti-capitalist and revolutionary. He writes that love functions as a “connective tissue” that strengthens the bonds between ourselves and those around us, simultaneously working against the laws of motion of capital that insist on keeping us individual. By feeling a sense of responsibility for the welfare of others, students can not only identify community issues but build solidarity by pushing for initiatives like mutual aid or unionization.
In directing the reader to what the political implications of practicing love are, Gilman-Opalsky introduces a discussion of the role of love in revolt. Invoking Stonewall, the Egyptian Bread Riots of 1977, the Zapatista rebellion, the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter and others, Gilman-Opalsky identifies the politically powerful nature of these movements as being rooted in “a community of lovers that does not and cannot abide by the rules and values of existing political power.” By radically choosing to love one another and care for one another’s material reality to such an extent that one is willing to stand in solidarity with another against a political power that has and can ensure their destruction, one has practiced a beautiful and revolutionary thing.
“The Communism of Love” centers a fundamentality that is often taken for granted in GW’s politically active culture. Gilman-Opalsky’s scholarly work is important everywhere, but especially important in a community like GW’s where many of us have aspirations to dedicate our careers to policy making, legislative action, and activism.
That is why I recommend so emphatically that those same people at GW and beyond who want to do good in the world, allow themselves to critically interrogate whether the structures they care to work under and for can ever create the conditions for a loving tomorrow. And if one buys the argument that they can’t, then we should work on the establishment of a community of lovers.
Karina Ochoa Berkley, a junior majoring in political science and philosophy, is an opinions columnist and the assistant copy editor.