Christopher Caudwell. Studies in a Dying Culture 1938
The natural human failing is to suppose nothing changes that ideas are eternal, and that what is denoted by a word is as changeless and invariant as the word. Wisdom consists chiefly in learning that those vague gestures towards parts of reality, gestures we call concepts, not only cannot describe the thing indicated, but cannot even point to the same thing, only to something divers et ondoyant flashing to our interested eyes in the process of becoming. The dog subsumes all small running things under the concept ‘prey’. He does not utter it as a word, but still shows the unvarying nature of his concept by a stereotyped action of pursuit. We can see his foolishness, for we have divided prey into rabbits, rats, and cats, even perhaps into individual cats with different habits. But at a higher level of reference we make the same kind of mistake.
We tend to think, for example, that love is something definite and quite clear. If we are romantic poets, novelists or film-goers, we are in danger of picturing it as a kind of Paradisial pit into which we fall. There is no doubt about it, either we are over the edge and deep in, or safe outside it. To the instinct psychologist love is an innate response, i.e. a clearly defined behaviour pattern set off by certain stimuli, just as an automatic model is set going by putting a penny in the slot. To the psychoanalyst, love is a quantity of psychic energy, called libido, as limited and homogenous as a pound of suet, which is parcelled by repressions and inhibition into various channels, returns on itself, is transferred, cathexed and displaced, but is still visualised as the same consistent suet.
But ‘love’ – unless we are to restrict the word to a specialised behaviour pattern dependent on the particular institutions of matrimony and property of our period of history – is man’s name for the emotional element in social relations. All languages and usages seem to agree in this, I love, j'aime, are expressions which may be used both for sexual and social emotions. The Freudian has an explanation for this, which we shall examine in a moment. If our definition of love is correct, it is true that love makes the world go round. But it would be rather truer to say that the society going round as it does, makes love what it is. This is one of those relations like that of knowing and being, which can only be understood in a dialectical manner. Thought guides action, yet it is action which gives birth to consciousness, and so the two separate, struggle, and return on each other, and therefore perpetually develop. Just as human life is being mingled with knowing, society is economic production mingled with love. This seems crude and even ludicrous to anyone accustomed to think of love as ethereal and in the soul, and economic production as base and earthly. But we love with our bodies and we eat and labour with our bodies, and deep love between two persons is generally distinguished from more transient forms of it by this test, that the two want to live together and thereafter function as one economic unit of society. As between the two, we know from biology that love, in its sexual form, appears before social economic production. But we also know that economic production in its primary individual form of metabolism, necessarily appears before love, for it is the essence of life. In the primitive cell metabolism exists before love has come into being. The cells at first multiply by fission, as a kind of surplus anabolism, and do not come together either in colonies (social behaviour) or fused in pairs for propagation (sexual behaviour). But because metabolism in the very dawn of life’s history precedes the relation of love, it does not follow that love is a chance iridescence on life’s surface. Metabolism, in the yet not fully understood affinity it demands among its protein molecules, already contains at a material level the rudiments of what men came to name Eros. Love must be implicit in matter.
Both popular and philosophic thought has recognised these deep foundations of love. Popular thought has given the same name to the affective tie that binds man and woman sexually, man and man in friendship, and parents and child in family relationships. A king’s love for his people, a disciple’s love for his teacher, an animal’s love for its young and its master, have all been included in the one category in spite of obvious differences. It is no accident that all the great religions which have moved men’s minds have spoken so much of love. Religions always drew their value and their power from their symbolisation of unconscious social relations, and, since social relations are mediated by love, it is always about love that religion is essentially talking when it utters fantasies about God, salvation, Heaven, Hell and grace. The mystics’ claim God is love, and the hymn of St. Paul to love, are accurate statements of the valuable common content of all religions which in the past have been social forces. The Trinity, the cherubims, the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and the Communion of the Saints do not exist, and it did not really matter to men whether they existed, for in the past men have been content with Yahweh and Sheol, Buddha and Nirvana, Baal and Gilgamesh. What does matter to men is the emotional element in social relations, which these myths symbolise, and which makes man in each generation what he is. This emotion is not separate from but springs out of the economic basis of these relations, which thus determine religion. Man’s quality in each age is determined by his emotional and technological relations, and these are not separate but part of the one social process.
The Freudian position is that all emotional relations are simply variations of sexual love, cheated of their aim. That is why men call all varieties of tender relations ‘love’ because they are simply modified sexuality or diverted libido. Tenderness is inhibited sexuality. Although this view is attractive as a simplification, it is based on confused thinking. It assumes that there is a clear goal, sexual intercourse, and any love that does not achieve this goal is in some sense thwarted. This, however, presupposes something with this goal clearly in mind, and unless we believe in a god of love, this can only be the lover. But by definition the psyche whose inhibited sexuality is supposed to become love, is unconscious of the real goal. Take the example of infantile sexuality, an important part of Freud’s theory of love. How can infantile affections be thwarted sexual love? On the one hand the infant, with no experience of sexual intercourse, cannot desire it consciously, and he cannot desire it unconsciously, i.e. somatically, because he has not the organs or reflexes for achieving sexual intercourse. Without the appropriate reflexes, sexual intercourse cannot exist for the unconscious. Its love therefore is of another kind – childish love. It is true that childish love is associated with zones many of which afterwards become sexually erotic, but that is only to say that man is material, that he has a body, and that this is used for contacts with other bodies. His contacts with other members of the world must be real physical contacts – mainly tactile when he is an infant, afterwards also visual and aural. Childish love is not thwarted sexual love, for the child neither knows sexual intercourse as an aim, nor is capable of it. It is childish love. That childish love is later to become sexual love is a truism. ‘Thwarting’ begs the question. Suppose, instead, Freud had said that infantile love was ‘modified’ adult love. We should at once have seen the fallacy. On the contrary it is adult sexual love which is ‘modified’ infantile love. It includes the more primitive behaviour pattern, but, as Freud admits, integrates it in a much more elaborate and powerful new system, due to the coming into being of the reflexes associated with sexual intercourse, the secondary sexual hormone, and all the qualitative changes in psychic orientation and content associated with puberty. Therefore Freud is standing love’s development on its head. It would be precisely as accurate to regard the baby’s body as a thwarted or inhibited adult body, as to regard the baby’s affective life as that of a ‘polymorphous perverse’ adult.
In the same way the relation of a patent to an infant is not sexual love thwarted or inhibited. Sexual love is a behaviour-response, including a desire for sexual intercourse, evoked by certain stimuli. The infant is not a stimulus for this. It is very doubtful if the infant is primarily the stimulus for instinctive parental love at all. The phenomenon of ‘false’ pregnancy among bitches seems to prove the reverse. These animals develop after heat, in certain circumstances, maternal behaviour and emotion, without having become actually pregnant. To suppose that their maternal love is thwarted sexual love towards a non-existent puppy is to make psychology a comic opera. The parental love behaviour pattern varies widely from the sexual.
Again, the normal relations of friendship between persons of the same sex, in all their variety, from lasting and intimate friendship to a tenderness we feel for someone we have never seen merely because he is a fellow-countryman or a fellow-creature in distress, form a group of distinctive behaviour-patterns. It is unscientific to regard these as kinds of thwarted or inhibited sexual love. Indeed to do so robs the quite clear concept of sexual perversion of any meaning. In homosexuality or zoophily the sexual behaviour-emotion pattern is directed to abnormal objects, and is necessarily modified thereby. But if all tenderness for persons of one’s own sex or animals, is simply the sexual pattern of behaviour modified by the novel circumstances, what is the difference? How can we distinguish between friendship and perversion? The error is due to a misunderstanding of what the instinct really is. An instinct is a certain innate behaviour-pattern or chain of reflexes, conditioned or modified by experience. The word love as commonly used, includes such modified behaviour-patterns as delight in other peoples’ presence, sensibility to one person rather than another, generosity towards them, desire to see them, and various other forms of affectionate behaviour which psychologists can only describe aridly and formally. It includes also the desire for sexual intercourse. Only behaviour-patterns is of which this last is a component should be called sexual love, and to suppose that all the other forms of friendliness contain a suppressed desire for sexual intercourse, which is roughly the Freudian position, is to adopt the plan of the White Knight-
... to dye one’s whiskers green.
And then to use so large a fan
That they will not be seen.
Man, like all animals, is a creature whose innate behaviour-patterns are modified by experience, usually for ‘the better’, that is, so as to deal more expertly with reality. This process is called learning. We learn with our love responses as with others. To call this process inhibition or repression inverts the process of evolution.
Of course, sexual and friendly behaviour responses are very closely connected, and each pattern contains component parts common to both. But since one body, with one central nervous system, is common to all of one organism’s behaviour, it is obvious that all its behaviour-patterns must contain a large number of common components. Running may, for example, in any animal, figure as part of sexual behaviour or as part of self-preservation (fear) behaviour. It does not follow that one instinct is the other, modified, repressed or inhibited.
As soon as we rid our mind of mythological entities of these separate instincts, like distinct souls, planted in the animal or human breast, we will be clearer on this point.
In the ‘instincts’, the savage soul – the little manikin dwelling in the marionette body and pulling the strings – has returned to psychology. With Freud this manikin, under the name of libido or eternal Eros, figures in the strangest way as a kind of symbolisation of bourgeois conceptions of liberty, like Rousseau’s natural man. The unfortunate libido is exploited and oppressed and chained in the cruellest way by the structure of society and in its torments gives birth to all sociological and ideological phenomena. All this is simply a return to the old ‘natural philosophy’ conception of an indwelling vital force, with eternal desires and aims of its own.
This conception leads Freud to suppose that whatever a thing becomes, it remains the same thing inhibited or sublimated. This is to deny change. If soil becomes a rose, it is not just soil inhibited and sublimated. It is certainly still composed of the same elements, but it is also a rose, with its own character and qualities and laws. Even here Freud makes another error. If what is derived from a thing is nothing but that thing, we should not say that social relations are nothing but sexual relations; we should say that sexual love is nothing but social relations. In evolution primitive social relations precede primitive sexual relations if the following considerations are correct:
It is generally supposed that ontogenesis corresponds on the whole to phylogenesis. Before the infant achieves sexual love, it first experiences the simple metabolic relation between mother and foetus, in which sexual love cannot be said to enter, for here there are no erotogenous zones. This is an economic relation between mother and child. The next step is infantile love, with erotogenous zones but not distinctively sexual behaviour. Finally, in the crisis of adolescence, the distinctive sexual reflexes appear. It will be argued that the sexual congress of ovum and spermatozoon precedes these stages. But these are protozoic relations, and man is metazoic. In the metazoa, sexual relations come after the simpler social relations of genesis and nurture.
In any case the same holds good of protozoa. The precedent condition of the congress of ovum and spermatozoon is the production of ova and spermatozoa. This is an asexual process and is part of the internal asexual economy of the cells of the body, bound together in a metabolism which is plainly economic. The relations of the primary sex cells are therefore asexual before they are sexual. But this is so with all protozoa, even those that do not become mctazoa. Asexual relations between them always precede sexual, which grow out of them as a kind of late differentiation. Indeed this must plainly be the case. Before multiplication can proceed by sexual congress, there must be multiplication by fission, for you cannot, mathematically, get many out of one by fusion. Fission must come first, and fission demands a surplus anabolism which of itself implies a primitive economic basis. These considerations show clearly that, on the ‘nothing but’ basis, sexual love is nothing but social relations. But, of course, the nothing but reduction is invalid. Sexual love is in mankind something more than the innate response that produces fusion between male and female cells. Social relations in humanity are something more than the metabolism that coordinates the cells of a metazoan, or a volvex colony. Passionate love and social altruism are the results of long periods of historical change, and the change is real, it is not just the old eternal entities wearing masks. But like a modern Parmenides, the instinct psychologist seems reluctant to recognise the reality of ‘becoming’.
The simpler relations between cells, as evidenced in the ordinary metazoan body or the aggregations of asexual protozoa known as colonies, are primitive social or economic relations and form the basis from which human society’s productive relations and forces have flowered. But it does not follow that they are the ‘same thing’ carried out in different media. They are what they are, subject to their own distinctive laws. What the individual body has in common with society is this: the relations between the cells of the human body are economic, there is division of labour, central control, exchange of products, and so forth. The one subordinates its interests, when required, to the whole. As in all socio-economic relations, the cells achieve more in unison than they do separately. But the body is subject to biological, society to sociological laws.
The sexual cells appear on the scene at puberty, when the metazoan body has been a social entity for some time. Sexuality is therefore a kind of luxury, appearing at a late date, as a special modification of social-economic relations. Sexual love is a modified economic relation. Altruism, for example, is not, when exhibited socially, the result of an identification of one’s self with the loved one, and therefore a special form of sexual love, as Freud suggests. Altruism, in its primitive and basic form of the sacrifice of one individual for others, appears long before sexual love, as part of the economic process of metabolism in the cells of the human body, unconnected with sexuality. But conscious altruism in a human being is not just the unconscious ‘self-sacrifice’ of a white corpuscle. It is a new quality, based on an old quantity. And sexual love is a new quality, differentiated out of the simpler socio-economic relations that preceded it.
Differentiation implies a difference. Although sexual love as a late development of socio-economic relations, gathers up within itself the qualities of its basis, it also contains something distinctively new. Sexual love is not a luxury, existing only for itself, but it returns again into the social relations from which it sprang, making them different to what they were. And, so changed, they in turn feed more richly the new thing rooted in them. Both reflect light on each other, for it is plain that sexual love, basically a chain of simple spinal reflexes, as shown by experiments on decerebrate guinea-pigs, has in humanity attracted to itself a number of economic relations and become enriched by them. The act of sexual intercourse need not involve this interweaving of relations, and in the lower organisms does not. Sexual intercourse need not be intertwined with the relations involved in the rearing of young, as in human family life, nor in the relations involved in earning one’s living, keeping house, and making friends, as in human marriage. But because it is so intertwined, it is like a source of warmth irradiating these relations, and these in turn become fuel which feed it and bring about its enrichment and growth. The whole forms an elaborate system, part of the tapestry of society, and the richer pattern resulting from the mutual interweaving indicates that the Freudian conception of social relations as modified sexual love inverts the process of becoming.
The evolution of sexuality was of vital significance in the history of organisms. Primitive metabolic relations, such as those obtaining between the cells of metazoan bodies, are marked by a totalitarian ruthlessness in which the individual, as such, does not exist. The individual cell is completely subordinated to the organism as a whole. This is necessarily the case, because the cell is not yet an individual in its own right, but simply a part of the parent cell which has become differentiated and detached. This involves an almost exact likeness to the parent cell, so that such cells, as long as they continue to be capable of fission, have a kind of immortality, the children being almost exactly the same as the parents. It is also correspondingly difficult for the new to come into being. Generation after generation repeats the same pattern. All defects are reproduced. The parent cell has eaten sour grapes, and therefore the grandchildren’s teeth are necessarily set on edge.
The coming of sexuality breaks the stale routine of habit. It is therefore the genesis of individuality within the ambit of society. Something distinctively new now comes into being, because the child will no longer resemble either parent exactly but, by combining a selection of the genes from both, will be someone different from either. Moreover, each child, with a different selection of genes, will be slightly different, and thus bad qualities may be weeded out by natural selection. Not all the children’s teeth are set on edge. The range of qualities in the offspring is increased. Some, it is true, will be far worse than the offspring of an asexual parent, for they will unite the defects of both parents, but others will be better, and natural selection will have a wider range of varieties to work on. It is as if good has come into the world by the generation of evil, and if we take seriously the identity of opposites, must not this be the case?
At the same time death has come into the world. Love, the giver of individuality, is also the giver of death, the antithesis of personality That is why the life-instinct and the death-instinct, Eros and Thanatos, seem so closely united, not as Freud thought because they are specific instincts, but because death defines love. The immortality of primitive cells, secured by simple fission, vanishes when they conjugate and spawn. The parents now live in their children only in a provisional half-hearted manner.
This is a kind of price that life pays for greater difference, for becoming life as we understand it. For greater richness and complexity, hastening the hand of time, we pay the priceless coin of Death. To their children, no longer simple buds of themselves, the individual cells can bequeath more abundant life and greater differentiation but only by sinking half their genetic share in them and giving up their near immortality. Only with this advent of sexual love and real death can one talk about ‘personalities’ and ‘individuals'; other cells are buds. The birth of a new personality demands the death of the old. This ‘I’ that dies is created by death.
In its appearance, none the less, sexual love is selfish. Sexual cells reject the colonial and social tie of asexual reproduction in favour of an intimate exclusive tie between two of them alone. They are luxurious cells, playing no part in the economic production of the metazoan body. And, similarly, in social life sexual love has a selfish aspect. The lovers turn away from the community; their demand is to be alone, to be by themselves, to enjoy each other. Thus sexual love appears as a dissolving power in society.
The social asexual cell is strictly subordinated to the plan of the organism. It works tirelessly, secreting or vibrating or dying for the good of the community. Beside it the sexual cell seems, in the community, like the selfish hedonist beside the devoted hardworking celibate. The sexual cell is responding with all its being to something which allures merely by the satisfaction it gives to the individual. Love, even in its other-regarding aspect, seems a kind of giant selfishness projected on the beloved. But this is not the whole truth. This same selfish cell brings to birth something which is unknown before – individuality. The cell, temporarily released from the from the iron plan of organic metabolism by the invention of sexuality, is by this act enriched in behaviour. It is the beginning of that individuation which in man leads to consciousness. The sexual behaviour brings a new pattern into life. On the one hand the sexual cells, ignoring the demands of society are thereby led to enrich and complicate their self-hood. More importantly, this very sexual partnership involves eventually the annihilation of both personalities in the birth of the new individualities, whose characters will be formed from a selection of the genes of both parents, and therefore different from either. The self-sacrificing cell enjoys the possibility of a perpetual immortality as a reward for its self-sacrifice. The sexual cell buys its one brief hour of glorious life, for an age without a name, and yet, by that very death and life, it has given rise to the potentialities of individualism.
This, however, is too anthropomorphic a way of looking at it. As long as asexuality prevails, it is not possible to talk about individuality at all. Are the leaves of one tree individual? No, they are part of the one tree. In the same way the cells of the metazoan body are all part of each other though spatially separate. They are formed from each other by simple fission. Therefore neither the question of self-sacrifice nor immortality arise. The asexual cell has no self to sacrifice and immortality is meaningless except in the sense that all matter is immortal. Immortality is meaningless without personal immortality, and the asexual cell has no personality.
Immortality is not a superior kind of mortality, a life protracted to infinity, an endless personal survival. It is the primitive state from which both mortality and personality arose. If the concept of life to us is almost meaningless except as the life of an individual, we must say that death gave rise to life; both are aspects of the same movement of differentiation. All craving for immortality, so human and so understandable, is yet a craving for a regression, for a return to primitive unconscious being, to shift off ourselves the heavy responsibilities of consciousness, love and individuality. All conceptions of immortality as endless survivals of personalities walking about in familiar surroundings strike the mind with a strange sense of unreality. The only conceptions of immortality which seem reasonable, even if impossible, are the Buddhist and Hindoo conceptions of immortality as a merging of oneself into the absolute, Nirvana, a beingless primitive sleep. And this is what immortality is, a return to the blind unconscious regression of primitive being, back farther still to the timelessness of immortal matter. Because life, faced with any difficult situation, always tends to wish to relapse to a solution achieved at an earlier stage of development, this concept of immortality makes an appeal to man particularly in periods of inferiority or depression.
This concern with immortality is not so much a fear of death as a special kind of defeatist resignation to it, as in late Egypt and the Oriental mystery cults. A faint belief or complete disbelief in immortality, so far from begetting a resignation to death, necessarily produces a vigorous dislike of it. All beaten, depressed and terrified people, all slave and expropriated classes, turn to another immortal timeless life for consolation. Biological immortality, splitting into personality and death, generates two opposites which repel each other; the more full and abundant our life, the more we are repelled by death, and this repulsion, so painful, is yet productive of pleasure, for it forces us to cram our now valued lives full of richness and complexity, to seize great armfuls of time and action, to achieve and conquer and love and suffer before we die. Death, the negation of life, thus generates it. All spring, all youth, all health yields its peculiar and rich savour just because of this, that they go:
And at my back I always hear,
Time’s winged chariot hastening near.
Human society is distinguished from the simple metabolic society of somatic cells because it is more than metabolic, it is also individualistic. The individual, apparently opposed to society, yet gives society its inner driving power, and society by its internal development itself brings about the individuation of its units.
Insect society here contrasts with human. There has been a regression to a relative immortality. The workers have all been desexualised. They have lost their individuality and regressed almost to the status of somatic cells. The strange rapport between members of a hive or formicary is not surprising when we think of them as virtually all parts of the one body, daughter cells of the queen. But this same regression and de-individuation produces stagnation as compared with human society. All powers of change and individualism are concentrated in the genetic change of the few sexual members. It is therefore a slow change. Insect societies have almost ceased to live. Immune from the changing and yet living hand of time, they have achieved some of the dull immortality of the diamond.
In human society, however, the endless war between individual and economic relations, between love and metabolism, is the source of endless social advance. Sexuality, because it gave rise to individuality, also helped to give rise to consciousness. Metabolism (or productive forces) changes from age to age, and this change imposes a tension upon productive relations. But this strife, extending throughout society, is felt in a characteristic form in the sphere of man’s feeling, in his consciousness, for consciousness is basically affective. It is felt as if outside forces in society are starving or thwarting men’s emotional lives, as if life is becoming glamourless or cruel. For the productive relations are social relations and conscious tenderness is generated in them.
Sexual love itself is continually enriched and changed by economic relations, at the same time as economic relations gain new warmth and complexity from love. To every stage of economic development corresponds a richer, subtler, more sensitive behaviour-pattern associated with sexual love. To bourgeois culture belongs passionate love, to feudal romantic or chivalrous love, and to slave-owning Greek culture Platonic love.
To our generation the association of economic relations with sexual love seems arbitrary, not because our idea of love is too rich but because our notion of economic relations is too bourgeois. Bourgeois civilisation has reduced social relations to the cash nexus. They have become emptied of affection. To a psychologist, the whole world seems suffering from a starvation of love, and this need appears in a compensatory and pathological form as neurosis, hate, perversion, and unrest.
Even to-day, in those few economic relations which still survive in a pre-bourgeois form, we can see tenderness as the essence of the relation. The commodity fetishism which sees in a relation between men only a relation between things has not yet dried it up. The economic relation of the mother to her foetus, of the child to the parent and vice versa, retains its primitive form to show this clearly. We can see fainter traces in the relation of master to pupil, of governess to child, household servant to master or mistress, and the few surviving examples of a feudal relation between master and man.
Where can this tenderness be found in the characteristically bourgeois relations our culture substitutes for them – the relations of capitalist and labourer; hotel servant and guest; company promoter and shareholder; correspondence-course writer and mug? This tenderness, expelled from all other relations, is collected and utilised to-day in a vague mystical manner as the binding force for the one social relation of ‘being in the same State’. This is a genuine social relation, that of being in the fabric of coercion exploited by one ruling class, but it is not one which in its named form is likely to produce tenderness. It is therefore necessary to substitute for the naked relation a fictional one – a fictitious race a wonderful happy family, or a dummy King or Leader whose wisdom and statesmanship and character are regarded as semi-divine, even where his position is constitutionally that of a rubber stamp. By this means a powerful ‘participation mystique’ is secured. As Fascism and Nazism show, the more violent the exploitation, the more ardent and mythological the patriotism; the more heartless and unemotional the relations, the more the parade of hypocritical feeling. This is characteristic of developed bourgeois relations. In primitive relations among a group, as the researches of anthropologists show, economic production is inextricably interwoven with social affection. Between tribes, between chief and subject, or between different members of a group, the economic relation figures as an exchange of gifts, as a tribute of affection in the literal sense. It is the love that goes with the gifts, which is the giving, is the vital economic thing. Many primitive transactions which to the early bourgeois observer seemed to be bourgeois exchange, that is, the getting of as much as possible for as little as possible, are now, by more searching observers, discovered to be the very opposite, each side trying to embarrass the other by a superfluity of gifts. The Melanesian’s pride is found to be in his having contributed more yams than anyone else to his maternal uncle or chief. At the potlatch, the North American Indian demonstrates his social value by impoverishing himself. This conception of economic relation as tender relation, and a fit medium for generosity and altruism, appears in barbaric and even feudal relations. We must not idealise them, or imagine that simple savage tenderness is the same as the more developed, subtle and sophisticated emotion we feel. But it is equally wrong, by wresting and straining the facts, to give a bourgeois cynical interpretation to the different primitive economic relations of agriculture, hunting and land tenure among the primitive African, American and Oceanic races.
In all the distinctive bourgeois relations, it is characteristic that tenderness is completely expelled, because tenderness can only exist between men, and in capitalism all relations appear to be between a man and a commodity.
The relation of the guildsman to his journeyman, the slave-owner to his plantation slave, the lord to his serf, the king to his subjects, was a relation between man and man, and although it was a relation, not of co-operation but of domination and submission, of exploiter and exploited, it was a human relation. It was unpleasantly like the relation of a man and his dog, but at least it was tender. How can even that much consideration enter into the relations of a group of shareholders to the employees of a limited liability company? Or between Indian coolies and British tea drinkers? Or between a bourgeois bureaucracy and the proletariat?
In bourgeois relations the sole recognised legal social relation among adults is the contract, considered as damnifiable in cash. Nothing can be enforced upon a man but the payment of money; even marriage can be escaped from by a suitable cash compensation. Man is completely free except for the payment of money. That is the overt character of bourgeois relations. Secretly it is different, for society can only be a relation between men, not between man and a thing, not even between man and cash. Bourgeois society thinks that is the relation on which it turns, but, as Marx showed, in bourgeois society it is still a relation between men, between exploiters and exploited. It is the vehicle of a specific type of exploitation. The bourgeois dream is that by substituting this relation to a thing for feudal slave-owning or primitive relations between men, man becomes completely free. But this is an illusion. Since man only becomes free through social relations, this means that the bourgeois shuts his eyes to facts. For conscious planned social relations he substitutes unconscious unplanned social relations which, like all unconscious forces, work blindly and disastrously.
None the less, the bourgeois was determined to believe that the market was the only social relation between man and man. This meant that he must refuse to believe that love was an integral part of a social relation. He repressed this tenderness from his social consciousness. In its final form this becomes the treason of man to his capacity for love, the appearance of love in the form of neurosis, hate, and fantasy, which the psycho-analysts discover everywhere in bourgeois man. In one sense the Married Woman’s Property Act was a charter of freedom for women. In another sense it was merely a charter of bourgeois repression, a recognition that the economic relations between husband and wife were no longer tender but merely cash.
In their early stages bourgeois relations, by intensifying individualism, give a special heightening to sexual love. Before they crystallise out as relations to cash, bourgeois social relations simply seem to express man’s demand for freedom from obsolete social bonds, and this demand for individuality is then a progressive force. Sexual love now takes on, as clearly see, in art, a special value as the expression par excellence of individuality. We have the emergence of that characteristic achievement of bourgeois culture, passionate love, conceived as both romantic and sensual, whereas neither Greek nor mediŠval culture could conceive romantic and sensual love except as exclusive opposites. Passionate love contributes new overtones to feeling and conscious life. Moreover, this demand for individuality was also enriching other forms of love, as long as it was revolutionary and creative. It gave men a new tenderness towards each other, conceived as a tenderness of each other’s liberty, of each other’s personal worth. Thus bourgeois culture in its spring-time gave birth to passionate sexual love, and a tenderness for the ‘liberty’ – the individual outline – of other members of society. Both these are genuine enrichments, which civilisation cannot now lose.
None the less, the contradiction in bourgeois social relations, that private advantage is common weal, that freedom is sought individually and anti-socially, necessarily revealed its nature in due course. Man cannot exist without relations to other men, and the bourgeois demand that he should do so merely meant that these relations were disguised as a relation to commodities. As this developing relation produced industrial capitalism and the modern bourgeois State, it sucked the tenderness out of all social relations. Ultimately it even affected sexual love itself, and began to take from it the very enrichments sexual love had derived from tender social relations. Passionate bourgeois love is to-day like a flower which is being stripped of its petals one by one. These petals are the patterns of behaviour derived from bourgeois social relations, which had been transferred to sexual love and been transformed and warmed by it, just as the flower’s colourful petals consist of converted green leaves. In the institution of bourgeois marriage, these economic relations – the individual family, the personal income – were warmed by sexual love into something of nobility. True, bourgeois social relations, even when so transformed, retained some of their ugly untender character. The man too often regards love as similar to a bourgeois property relation, as a relation between a man and a thing and not between man and man. The wife was his property for life. She had to be beautiful to gratify his acquisitive instincts; faithful because a man’s property must not alienate itself from him; but he, the owner, can be unfaithful, because he can acquire other property without affecting his present holding. A similar relation imposed itself on the children he had fed and clothed, and therefore paid their wages. They had sold their labour power to him. In Roman slave-owning civilisation, the child’s legal position appears as that of slave to the father, and moreover a slave incapable of manumission. But even slavery is a relation between men. These ugly possessive features of bourgeois social relations always gave bourgeois love a selfish jealous undertone, which the bourgeois, despite the researches of anthropology, considers as instinctive and natural. Private property was not invented by bourgeoisdom. It is a potentiality of man’s nature, or it could never have appeared in bourgeoisdom. But bourgeoisdom was its flowering, its elevation and the prime motive power of social relations; and the flavour accordingly pervades all bourgeois life.
With the exhaustion of bourgeois social relations, bourgeois passionate love begins also to wither before the economic blast. On the one hand marriage has become increasingly expensive It must be put off till late life. That marriage – which for bourgeois culture and particularly for the woman had been the most valued pattern of love behaviour – is to-day only a late and specialised variety of it. Children are increasingly expensive, and the tender social relations associated with them more rarely form part of the standard marriage pattern. From these and other causes that elaborate and complex creation, passionate bourgeois love is more and more being stripped of its corolla and reverting to a primitive form of fugitive sexual intercourse. This, the inevitable consequence of the exhaustion of bourgeois social relations, is denounced as ‘Sin’, the ‘levity of the young’, the ‘breakdown of the institution of marriage’, ‘growing Promiscuity’, ‘the result of birth-control’ and so on. But all this abuse is beside the point. Passionate bourgeois love really prepared its own death. The same causes which caused its flowering in course of time brought about this withering.
To-day love could prepare an appalling indictment of the wrongs and privations that bourgeois social relations have inflicted upon it. The misery of the world is economic, but that does not mean that it is cash. That is a bourgeois error. Just because they are economic, they involve the tenderest and most valued feelings of social man. For the satisfaction of all the rich emotional capabilities and social tenderness of which bourgeois relations have deprived him, man turns vainly to religion, hate, patriotism, fascism, and the sentimentality of films and novels, which paint in imagination loves he cannot experience in life. Because of this he is neurotic, unhappy, sick, liable to the mass-hatreds of war and anti-semitism, to absurd and yet pathetic Royal Jubilee or Funeral enthusiasms and to mad impossible loyalties to Hitlers and Aryan, grandmothers. Because of this life seems to him empty, stale, and unprofitable. Man delights him not, nor woman neither.
Bourgeois social relations, by transforming in this way all tender relations between men to relations to commodities, prepare their own doom. The threads that bind feudal lord to liege, chief to tribe, patriarch to household slave, father to son, because they are tender are strong. But those that bind shareholder to wage-employee, civil servant to taxpayer, and all men to the impersonal market, because they are merely cash and devoid of tender relations, cannot hold. The chief’s laws are understandable. The fiat of a man god is still a personal and affectionate command. But the laws of supply and demand (their substitute in bourgeois culture) are without any power save blind compulsion. To-day it is as if love and economic relations have gathered at two opposite poles. All the unused tenderness of man’s instincts gather at one pole and at the other are economic relations, reduced to bare coercive rights to commodities. This polar segregation is the source of a terrific tension, and will give rise to a vast transformation of bourgeois society. They must, in a revolutionary destruction and construction, return in an each other and fuse in a new synthesis. This is communism.
Thus the forces that produce communism can be viewed from two aspects. From the quantitative aspect, productive forces, which have outgrown bourgeois social relations, burst those fetters. But the fight is fought to an issue in man’s consciousness. Man, the individual, feels the outmoding of these relations, their sloughing by reality, as the death of all that is valuable to him. The demand to bring back to consciousness these vanished values appears as hate for the present and love for the new, the dynamic power of revolution. Emotion bursts from the ground in which it has been repressed with all the force of an explosion. The whole structure of society is shattered. This is a revolution.