Today we’ll be discussing:
Make Way for Winged Eros - Alexandra Kollontai
Today’s discussion is:
I’m reading the copy from Marxists.org:
These are some ideas to address while considering this work. None of them are essential, and any of your own thoughts are very much welcome! I’ll be adding my own thoughts later today.
What seems to be the main point of this work? What question is Kollontai trying to answer?
What has she missed? Is she wrong about anything?
Did anything surprise you?
Is this work applicable outside of the conditions of the early USSR?
Is this really a “nonessential” or would it be good for any communist to read it?
The next book will be:
I haven’t gotten my copy yet, so those discussions may change once I see how long it is.
I’d appreciate a line on a free e-copy if you’ve got one. I’ll probably purchase it here: https://www.commonnotions.org/red-media
If you would like to suggest the next title please put in a separate comment with the words “submission suggestion”. I think the highest voted title should win.
Books should be:
Thanks for your time! :)
This is a Dengist community in favor of Bashar al-Assad with no information that can lead to the arrest of Hillary Clinton, our fellow liberal and queen. This community is not ironic. We are Marxists-Leninists.
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@firstname.lastname@example.org I found the PDF. It’s a little difficult to find. It’s under the Political Ed section of therednation.org, under Environmental Justice.
Here’s a direct link: https://therednation.org/environmental-justice/ – look under ‘Articles: The Red Deal’.
I’ve had a quick look and the PDF doesn’t quite match the book, as follows.
So if one were to read the three PDFs or the book, I think they would get the same information. But they might not get it in the same order.
The parts are:
The ‘other material’ (from the book’s appendix or the start of the PDFs) includes:
So for a reading group, to ensure people with the book or PDFs can talk about the same material, it makes sense to focus on Parts I, II, or III, then advise readers to read what they can of the other material. Does that make sense?
Hi! Thank you so much for finding an e-copy! I was hoping to have mine by now, but I think shipping will take a little longer.
I think it makes sense to split this into 3 discussions, 1 for each part. We can talk about part 1 on Wednesday!
Perfect. At risk of fetishising a commodity, it’s a gorgeous book, too.
This was an interesting read. I’m glad I read it, but I’ve got kind of mixed feelings on the work as a whole.
The question Kollontai seems to be asking is “what place proletarian ideology gives love?”. She clarifies later that she considers love an “important psychological and social factor, which society has always instinctively organized in its interests”.
The implicit question seems to be “how has and will the concept of love change as we build this new society?”. Written in 1923 (100 years ago!), just after the revolution and civil war, the question of how this society would grow must have been huge!
Kollontai spends almost a third of the work on “historical notes”. I found this section very frustrating. There are no sources, and it’s clear that she’s making very sweeping statements off of a few Roman myths and a little information on Western European feudal traditions. The most surprising claims I found were:
“in fact, for the first time in the history humanity it received a certain recognition” (on love between the sexes in the feudal age)
and “emotional conflicts grew and multiplied, and found their expression in the new form of literature - the novel”. I don’t think I agree that novels are unique to the bourgeois revolutions of Western Europe.
I found the work powerfully emotional and persuasive, but I’m not sure if it’s meant to be emotionally persuasive or factually persuasive. It works very well on the one regard, and I find it very frustrating as a factual work. If this had been in “Caliban and the Witch” it would’ve had 8 pages of sources!
The final section on “love-comradeship” has some very touching points. She talks about the proletariat developing love and solidarity for each other on a class basis. This development of love will necessarily move away from a “bourgeois property-holding” form. I especially like the quotes:
“The ideal of love-comradeship is necessary to the proletariat in the important and difficult period of the struggle for and the consolidation of the dictatorship. But there is no doubt that with the realization of communist society love will acquire a transformed and unprecedented aspect”
“What will be the nature of this transformed Eros? Not even the boldest fantasy is capable of providing the answer to this question”
The writing in this is lovely, and I think any of us can benefit from considering how our society and interpersonal relationships will change with the advent of communism. I am glad I read it!
The lack of sources is frustrating.
The references to the classics also made me wonder… If she were a twenty-first century reactionary, I’d challenge her on the following quote:
If we see all those Greek and Roman pots as evidence of ‘love’, Kolontai could be read as rejecting evidence of homosexuality and calling it ‘friendship’ to avoid having to discuss it. As it is, she does not seem to be saying that homosexual love did not exist but that this kind of love, even heterosexual, was less important than friendship. I’m unsure what to think about this.
And speaking of friendship, that material could be expanded. It would be nice to see some more analysis of how friendship is treated in capitalism. I think you’re right. This message gets a bit lost in the political rhetoric about revolutionaries being the ones with solidarity, etc.
I thought the same!
I’m glad you prompted me to read it, still. But there are parts that Kolontai would (I hope) write differently if she were writing today.
This was a good one. Not what I expected at all. In sum, it’s an historical materialist analysis of the political economic foundations of ‘love’. But that makes it sound dry and technical, which it certainly is not.
I’ll break up my comments, because I have some long notes for this article.
Kolontai starts by explaining that during the Soviet revolution, love changed. Prostitution almost disappeared because everyone was having sex with everyone. People were too exhausted to have monogamous love-relationships. They just had temporary relationships. Physical ‘wingless eros’ was easier to deal with than emotional ‘winged eros’.
Once the revolution was secure, the situation changed. Kolontai connects love and relationships to the creation of a proletarian state and culture:
I interpret this as also suggesting that as love and relationships will develop while the bourgeois state is replaced with a DotP, so love and relationships will change again as a socialist state nears communism.
In the meantime, as the people settle into normalcy, their unspent love energies need a new output. They have the time for fuller relationships now.
“Interest is aroused in the question of the psychology of sex, the mystery of love. Everyone to some extent is having to face up to questions of personal life. One notes with surprise that party workers who in previous years had time only for Pravda editorials and minutes and reports are reading fiction books in which winged Eros is lauded.”
This puts a whole new spin on Lenin’s, What is to be Done? Who knew he was talking about party workers reading erotica on party time!? Jokes aside, Kolontai rejects this as “a reactionary step[, a] symptom of the beginning of the decline of revolutionary creativity[.]” She argues that revolutionaries must rid themselves of the “hypocrisy of bourgeois thought.”
Love is powerful, natural, biological, and social. It’s incredible to see 1920s revolutionary thinkers write more advanced theory than modern academics. If you’ve read around disability, for example, you’ll see that modern writers struggle to see disability from multiple angles. The dominant views involve biological, physiological, medical, or environmental models of disability. Sometimes a combination of these. Unless the writer is radical, they tend to reject a social/political economic model, unless it’s watered-down with one of the others. Bio-social, for instance, which still insists that biology is as much to blame as social relations. My point is, Kolontai applies a multifaceted approach to love, as having several factors, each of which must be examined in it’s connection to the whole:
The second section is titled ‘Historical notes’. Kolontai begins with classics.
Love is owed to blood relatives first. Antigone ‘risked her life to bury …’ her brother, a strange thing from a bourgeois perspective, which puts the husband above the brother.
The state was embryonic. It was
Women were excluded from social life and could not have friendship. Friendship was for men, and valued above marital love. Indeed, friendship was valued over specific actions in stories, even if those actions were for the tribe. This is reminding me of the opening to Pat Baker’s The Silence of the Girls.
It would be interesting to compare Kolontai’s writing with Engel’s Origin of the Family and to consider whether Kolontai had access to or read a copy. Are the two works compatible? What were Kolontai’s sources for making her claims?
Engels worked with a summary from Marx, who extracted crucial insights from Ancient Society written by Lewis Morgan, ‘so rich in content an so badly written’.
There were four editions of Engel’s work by 1891, the first published in Switzerland in 1884, but no English translation till 1902. The first to be published in England was printed in 1940, a translation of a 1934 edition from Moscow. I’m unsure when it would have been published in Russian, but Kolontai could have read a German version. From the preface to the first edition:
The idea being that the discovery of indigenous Americans in various stages of development allowed Morgan to see how different societies dealt with ‘families’ and property (e.g. inheritance). By this time, Europe was mostly homogenous, and only allowed the direct observation of families in bourgeois or feudal organisations. This is just a brief sketch to see if it sparks any interesting questions to ask about ‘Winged Eros’.
Comrade, you consistently come through with great insights! I especially like your comparison with Engels. I wonder if Kollontai was exposed to it?
If she had not read this book from Engel’s, is she working with the problematic sources and interpretations that contain “insoluble riddles of earliest Greek, Roman and German history”. If so, on the one hand, it’s remarkable that she still derived an historical materialist analysis that isn’t too far from some of Engel’s points.
On the other hand, that might explain some of her more troublesome assumptions: working with flawed sources, she’s accepted some bourgeois ideas, e.g. that all societies were similarly patriarchal, etc. So she’s reinterpreting history and rejecting the bourgeois framework, but at the same time kind of accepting a lot of the bourgeois framework from pre-history up to the revolution.
This is a problem for all revolutionaries writing still today. We can’t fully shed bourgeois notions until we’ve lived without them. These vestiges will whither away along with the state. Similar to the way that bourgeois theory took a couple of hundred years to develop, and even now we hear pro-feudal assumptions and rhetoric.
I don’t think this results in any/many deep flaws in ‘Winged Eros’, mainly because I don’t think Kolontai is presenting this as a definitive account. She’s giving a rough sketch of love through the ages in the frame of a novel perspective, and making some proposals for young revolutionaries who, by the sounds of it, are wondering what it was all for if they’ve won the revolution but lost the power to make meaningful love connections.
The feudal noble family
Love in feudal times was not a priority for marriage. Marriage was a means of securing class privilege. He who (Kolontai explains it would not be ‘she’) decides to marry for love, outside their rank, would be a sinner. But love was materially useful. When victory in war relied on individual prowess:
Her argument is becoming more explicit now: love was subordinate to class interests and has a class character.
The bourgeois conception of love combined ‘the spiritual and physical’. During this time, platonic love (as between a knight and unattainable lover), and friendship, began to be derided. They could not survive as virtues in a system built on competition and individualism. Love was only needed to keep the family unit together, as the basic social unit in capitalism. Love became a pillar of marriage (contrary to within feudalism, where marriage was simply a means of uniting and protecting family wealth).
In capitalism, the family did not guard inherited wealth, but was a unit for accumulating wealth. It would be easy to misinterpret Kolontai, here, as suggesting a clean break between feudalism and capitalism. Immanuel Wallerstein, elsewhere (in Historical Capitalism), argues against such a break, showing how feudal families married into bourgeois families and transformed themselves into capitalists. Modern monarchs are an example of what the undiluted result looks like in all its garish detail. Kolontai seems to me to accept a similar logic, but it’s subtle.
Feudalism and Capitalism
I’m unsure what ‘it’ refers to. I think she is arguing that the family is chiefly an economic labour unit in peasant society. She explains the family was also a productive unit in the guild system, too. In contrast, the family is primarily a ‘consumer unit’ and ‘a vehicle for the preservation of accumulated capital’.
Im reminded of Marta Russell’s Capitalism and Disability, which argues that ‘disability’ is a capitalist conception; although physically and mentally impaired people would have faced societal barriers in feudal times, the community/family units would have been much more accommodating than capitalists in providing what today we call ‘reasonable adjustments’.
In feudalism, the ‘disabled’ workers would be related or at least part of the same community, so welcomed into the work to the extent possible. I wonder what Kolontai would say about this, about how the feudal conception of love would have fed into the involvement of everyone in the socially-necessary labour.
The feudal conception of love also reminds me of an argument for communism, a response to anti-communists who claim greed is part of human nature. The family unit shows this not the be the case. Communism/socialism merely extends the family ties to the broader community (almost a return to a pre-feudal concept of love).
Putting it in these words may show something about Kolontai’s method. As her argument unfolds, I’m starting to see a ‘negation of the negation’: love changes form throughout different political economies, but will/can return to a more developed form of the love that held together kinship communities or those under ‘tribal rule’.
I’ll suggest here – and see if others (dis)agree – that the family, and its related notions of love, changed during Keynesianism, neoliberalism, and are changing again through ‘platform capitalism’. What I mean is, that it seems to me that love is becoming increasingly transactional. Couples (even if married) are increasingly likely to keep their finances separate. Such marriages do not fit Kolontai’s idea of married families being a unit of accumulating capital. The family as a ‘consumer unit’ has taken the upper hand. So the dialectic has shifted as capitalism has developed.
Edit: on further reflection I’m wondering if Kolontai does appreciate this difference. She’s focuses on the bourgeois class. She also hints that working class love conflicted with bourgeois class love. If the family were a successful unit for accumulating capital, everyone would be bourgeois by now. Which implies that working class families might have hoped marriage to bring wealth accumulation as economic security, but this is only a dream for many. But marriage could produce a unit for consumption, early on in capitalism. In this sense bourgeois love-marriage promises economic security and denies any collective responsibility for that economic security. Hence the ideological aspects Kolontai discusses. But really, for the lower classes, bourgeois love-marriage was only ever about creating consumer units.
Kolontai writes some rather beautiful ideas in the third part of the essay, on ‘Love-comradeship’:
I like this idea and feel like it could underpin a Marxist concept of a ‘politics of care’. We need to build:
This is a rejection of what Kolontai scathingly describes of love in capitalism:
Only the working class have the power to unite ‘physical attraction’ and ‘emotional warmth’. Her dialectic framing takes shape subtly.
She is clear, because she reiterates it, that purely physical love, ‘wingless eros’ (if I’m reading her correctly), ‘contradicts the interests of the working class.’ It can be excessive, exhausting, ‘impoverishes the soul, hindering the development and strengthening of inner bonds and positive emotions.’
I find this curious because it seems to accept that women are less willing participants in wingless eros love than are men. I’m unsure what to think of this. It seems to fall back on patriarchal concepts and a problematic, heterosexual man/woman dichotomy. I don’t think she’s trying to do that. Maybe she’s trying to criticise these concepts and imply, instead, that in socialism/communism, love can be recognised as something else. But that’s not explicit.
Obviously, she was writing decades before broader LGBT liberation (which is still unfortunately incomplete), which may point to the problem. She does, rather promisingly argue that ‘Inequality between the sexes and the dependence of women on men will disappear without trace’.
She proposes three principles of love:
Given these statements, I think we can infer that (at least some) early Soviets foresaw a sexually liberated future as well as a gender-liberated future. The terminology is not quite there, but one could interpret Kolontai as setting up the logical premises for a society that respects LGBT rights and respects monogamy as well as polygamy. Does anyone see the same thing ‘in’ the text?
Edit: fixed missing quotation marks from numbered list.