Capital and Love

Posted: June 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

In 2013, I put this article together for the local Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics reading group to discuss. I’m posting it now so that it can be included as an accessible source in the forthcoming Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics book, to be published next year (2020). More information on the Love book project and other Love group activities can be found here – https://www.facebook.com/love2017.org/

In this article, I will examine some of the ways in which the theories, practices and desires for love are channeled into capitalist production and accumulation, exploring capitalist strategies to suppress, undermine, utilise and exploit the love of the multitude (I use the terms ‘proletariat’ and ‘multitude’ interchangeably, to describe the class that struggles against capital and produces communism. The multitude is brought into existence through collective struggle against capital and for freedom, democracy, peace and love). In some of my other writing I have emphasised the love of the multitude and how it exceeds and escapes capital. I argue that love cannot be measured, valued nor contained by capital and that it is created as a common wealth which composes the proletariat and creates communism.

Love exists only through the affective labour of the multitude and some of my work grapples with the importance and value of affective labour to capital and its significance to the development of communism.  In explaining affective labour, Hardt and Negri (2000a: 292 – 293; 2004: 110) have included the “creation and manipulation of affect”; “maternal work”; “service with a smile”; the work of those who care for the earth; producing relationships; and communication and cooperation within the family and the community. They say that affective labour “is best understood by beginning from what feminist analyses of “women’s work” have called “labour in the bodily mode” and that it produces “social networks, forms of community”, as well  as feelings “of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, or passion”.

For example, certain lines of feminist inquiry and practice, setting out from an analysis of the gender division of labour, have brought into focus the different forms of affective labour, caring labour, and kin work that have traditionally been defined as women’s work. These studies have clearly demonstrated the ways in which such forms of activity produce social networks and produce society itself. As a result of these efforts, today such value creating practices can and must be recognised as labour (Hardt and Negri: 1994: 8).

Love therefore is a form of affective labour, as it produces the common and subjectivities, “a sense of connectedness or community” (Hardt: 1999: 96) and it can “construct a commonality amongst subjects” and “the commonality of a desire” (Negri: 1999b: 85) and “a new society” (Hardt and Negri: 2004: 352).

Through affective labour, people function both as instruments of capital and live as social beings, affirming themselves and others by actively producing the power of love to satisfy human needs and desires. Affective labour expresses interconnectedness and involves the transaction of goods and services meeting material and emotional needs. Affective labour is undertaken out of empathy, compassion, obligation, affection, affinity and for wages. It reproduces the social relations of capitalism and constructs social relations alternative to those of capital. Much of the multitude’s labour is free of charge, part of an intricate and long-established web of human relationships in which “the production of social relations, human life, social assets and values, is as essential to the survival of most [people] as wage labour” (Donaldson: 2006: 8).

Erich Fromm (1960: 22) relies on the work of Spinoza to explain the difference between active and passive affects. Active affects are products of freedom and agency, whereas passive affects are products of domination and ignorance. For Fromm (1960: 22), love is “the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion. Love is an activity, not a passive affect”. For many (e.g. Dalla Costa: 2008; Finch and Groves: 1983: 3; hooks: 2000a: 183; Ruddick: 1989) love is work, or comes through work. As Sara Ruddick (1989: 49) explains, even the loving relation of mothering is work. This recognition of love as work, as an activity, points to the importance of self-organisation, self-actualisation and self-valorisation. The work of love is crucial to freedom, revolution and the creation of communism. blog pic 2

The multitude’s acts of love are affective labour, part of the immaterial labour of the multitude. “Love – in the production of affective networks, schemes of cooperation, and social subjectivities – is an economic power” (Hardt and Negri: 2009: 180). Hardt and Negri (2000a: 53) recognise that immaterial labour “occupies an increasingly central position in both the schema of capitalist production and the composition of the multitude”.  While continuing to use the term, they realise that immaterial labour is an ambiguous term and that biopolitical labour may be a better way of conceiving of the labour that “creates not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself” (Hardt and Negri: 2004: 109).  For Hardt and Negri, there are both capitalist and communist tendencies to immaterial labour, on the one hand there is the subsumption of life to work for capital and on the other the production of the multitude through networks based on communication, collaboration and affective relationships. Struggles over affective labour intensify the antagonism between labour and capital and the resistance of the multitude to capitalist domination. These struggles increasingly involve attempts by capital to capture the independent networks of co-operation through which the multitude produces communism and love.

When affective labour is waged labour it can be extremely alienating, as what is sold by the wage labourers and commanded by their client and/or boss is the workers’ ability to make human relationships. Capital seeks to control all means of producing social wealth and attempts to exploit all blog pic 3social cooperation. Capitalism tries to subsume and exploit love and integrate it through commodification and social management while preventing the extension of its communist potentials. Loving relationships have been undermined through the development of property as the basis of human relations and it is important to examine the ways in which the theories, practices and desire for love are channelled into capitalist production and accumulation.

Capital has developed sophisticated strategies for suppressing, commodifying, managing and exploiting love. According to Bojesen and Muhr (2008: 79-85), contemporary Human Resource Management “has become subject to a code of love” to ensure emotional commitment from “the passionate self-managing employee”. ‘Care’ for the employee involves encouraging love as a resource that can be subsumed, exploited and consumed by the employer. The company “wants to own you; absorb you, direct you to its needs – all in the name of love”. “Love has become a growing business enterprise” and consultancy firms sell “love packages” teaching companies how to develop a “Loving Life”, “Loving Management” and a “Loving Culture”. Capital increasingly expects an “emphasis and self-reflexivity on social relations, communication and affects” (De Angelis: 2007: 169), policing and directing affective labour to gain a competitive advantage over others.

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The constitution of affective labour as capital involves the production and management of capitalist subjectivities, the work of self-controlling emotions and feelings, and the use of love as a form of capitalist biopower. The editors of the Australian Institute of Management publication, Love @ Work, propose “serious conversations about love and humanity” to galvanise management and workers by encouraging them “to love their work, love their co-workers and love themselves” (Barker: 2006: viii, 7). In the same publication, management experts discuss: love as “a leadership tool” which can “strengthen the corporate heart, build profits and create social good” (Cairnes: 2006: 19); the importance of workers’ growing “love affair with their jobs”; and how bosses can “seduce their employees to give their hearts and minds to the office” (Fox and Trinca: 2006: 105-106). Fox and Trinca (2006: 116) explain that “organisations co-opt the language of love to bind people to the job and increase productivity”, spruiking “workplace democracy, greater freedom, openness and treating people well”, while disguising the brutal reality of poor working conditions and “more pressure to ratchet up productivity from fewer workers”.

To manage and manipulate relationships capitalist management techniques and instruments aimed at subsuming love intervene in and encroach on the social networks of the multitude. For instance, because social networks are integral to production, the use by workers of social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, is now recognised by many managers as good for business, as an employee’s social network and their affective relationships are potentially valuable to corporations because a person’s social network can be used to sell products and to promote corporate values. Fox and Trinca (2006: 106 and 108) discuss how many, especially young, workers successfully mesh “their nine-to-five activities with their after-work networking and social activities” and “play out elements of their domestic lives” in the workplace, often utilising technology to maintain and develop personal relationships, connections and community. While social networks have a dual potential, as values for capital or values for the multitude, they are often used by capital to police and imprison the multitude’s affective labour, through the creation and management of capitalist subjectivities.

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Capital diverts to its advantage love and desires and struggles for love, so as to impose capitalist discipline and decompose the proletariat. Capital carves into the gift economy and utilises peoples’ love for each other to build team work, team solidarity and work morale. Human Resource Management techniques such as Total Quality Management endeavour to totally integrate peoples’ innovative potential and social relationships into capitalist production. Hochschild (2003) shows how companies and institutions manage the feelings and actions of workers, teaching affective labourers to suppress their own feelings and desires and to police the affective labour of others. Capital seeks to control and manage affective labour, throughout the social factory, attempting to elicit love for capital, turning peoples’ capacity for love into an instrument of accumulation, a resource and a power for capital.

Capitalism’s commodification of love is powerful and effective. Within capitalist social relations people are commodities and are encouraged to consider and treat each other as such. “When greedy consumption is the order of the day, dehumanisation becomes acceptable. Then, treating people like objects is not only acceptable but is required behaviour. It’s the culture of exchange, the tyranny of marketplace values” (hooks: 2000a: 115). The use by the mass media and consumer culture of love to sell commodities, has made it appear hollow, as people are encouraged to find emotional satisfaction in private experiences linked to consumption. Capitalism strips love of its best aspects and repackages it as a set of product choices. Advertising “turns lovers into things and things into lovers” not only promising that if you “buy this you will be loved” but “buy this and it will love you” (Kilbourne: 1999: 27, 81). As capitalist culture tries to divide and separate the multitude, it represents love as centred on ownership and control, teaching people to treat each other as possessions, commodities and competitors. In this way, capitalism tries to retard and detach loving social connections, to limit people’s desires to those that serve capital. blog pic 5

As capitalism works to subsume every part of people’s lives, love has clearly become an important target. In his book, Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts (2004: 36), the CEO of leading global advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, argues that “[t]he social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new, emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love”. He (Roberts: 2004: 74) understands that “[l]ove is about action” and this means the corporations he works for require “meaningful” relationships that they foster by embracing consumers and communities and by “inspiring love”. This corporate strategy hopes to cultivate a close emotional connection between consumers and brands. Roberts and the companies that employ him believe that if consumers can be convinced that corporations are interested in love, and that corporations care about them, they will reciprocate and love corporations and their products. Blog pic 6

Advertising is often considered as motivational, getting us to work harder to be able to afford the commodities and lifestyles advertised. Many people’s lives are dominated by consumption, debt and working harder to buy more, leading to rapidly rising levels of stress, anxiety and depression. None-the-less, sociological surveys consistently show that, rather than commodities, what people value most are their social relationships with family, friends, lovers and peers. Attempting to subsume love, capital endeavours to capture people’s imaginations and to exploit their desires. As capitalism fosters lovelessness, it offers to satisfy the desire for love with commodities and alienated relationships, producing capitalist subjectivities for capitalist commodities and capitalist commodities for capitalist subjectivities. Discussing the use in advertising of “the general fear of not being loved”, Erich Fromm (1973) explains how commodities are marketed as a way of gaining love; how, by the purchase of some product, consumers will be able to be loved; that love is dependent on a commodity; and that it is “not human power, human effort, not being” but commodities, that create love. When love becomes a commodity or the promise of a commodity, the desire for love is channelled into consumerism. The threat of love to capital is diffused and the meaning of love is reduced to crass commercialism. On one hand, people are swamped by images of perfect couples and fed the idea that someone will come to save them with love and make everything all right. On the other, they are constantly reminded that relationships have a use-by-date. Capitalism uses built in obsolescence, a short limit on the life of commodities, to boost consumption and profits. In the same way, people’s relationships are marketed, and often perceived, as another accessory with a short-term use value, based on self-gratification, performance and competition. blog pic 8blog pic 9

bell hooks (2000a: xxvii) argues that “lovelessness is more common than love” and explores lovelessness as both a consequence and a cause of family breakdown and dysfunction, abuse, addiction, loneliness, isolation, rampant greed, consumerism and narcissism. She explains that “[k]eeping people in a constant state of lack, in perpetual desire, strengthens the marketplace economy. Lovelessness is a boon to consumerism” (hooks: 2000a: 47). hooks agrees with Fromm (1960: 83) that in capitalist society love is relatively rare, “that its place is taken by a number of forms of pseudo-love which are in reality so many forms of the disintegration of love”. However, while it is clear that the commodification of labour and the suppression of freely associated labour corrupts love and suppresses the desires of the multitude for more than material possessions, work for capital and alienated relationships, the multitude is much more than the common experience of capitalist subjectivities. Capitalism poisons lives with a concentration on ownership, consumption and competition, undermining loving relationships. But, alongside the system’s violence and destruction, exploitation and oppression, there are continuing struggles over who has power over social relations, social cooperation and labour, over whether love is destroyed, suppressed or harnessed to strengthen the power of capital or used to build and extend proletarian power.

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In his essay, For Love or Money, Michael Hardt (2011) considers some of Marx’s views on love in relation to money and property. In his Economic and Political Manuscripts, Marx argues that money corrupts social relations by displacing being with having. Money “distracts us from our being in society and the world but also and more importantly . . . causes us to neglect the development of our senses and our powers to create social bonds.” Posing love on the same level as money, Marx explores how the exchange of money distorts our relationships to each other and the world, where-as “love can be exchanged only for love” in both intimate human relations and in organising society (Hardt: 2011: 679). However, Hardt criticises Marx’s comparison of love and money as it “diminishes the power of love . . . insofar as it leads Marx to consider love only in terms of exchange.” “Considering love only in terms of exchange undermines an understanding of love as a power that generates social bonds. What is most important about love  . . . is not what it can be traded for, but what it can do and how it can transform us.” blog pic 11

Hardt (2011: 681) prefers Marx’s comparison of love and property, where “Love . . . is not merely set free by the abolition of private property. It must be created anew, and this new love must fill the social role that property does now. It must have the power . . . to generate social bonds and organise social relationships.” As Hardt explains, “Communism can thus be conceived as the creation of a new love . . . by increasing our power to create and maintain relations with each other and the world.” While I agree with Hardt regarding Marx’s comparison of love and property, their emphasis of ‘new love’ seems to suggest that communism/love does not yet exist. This neglects previous and contemporary manifestations of communism/love, overestimating the power of capital and underestimating the continuity of proletarian power.

Hardt, Negri and Marx put forward contradictory views in relation to love and its subsumption by capital. Yet, at times they recognise that the proletariat’s love exceeds and escapes capitalist capture. In discussing the Paris Commune, Marx (1977a: 241) explains that capital is incapable of destroying the “international bond” of the proletariat and that “its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class”. Clashes around affective labour show that while capitalist subsumption can capture some of the value created by love, this is contested, for love is outside capital and cannot be completely subsumed. The dynamism of proletarian power is inseparable from the power of the mind and body to affect and be affected, to love and be loved. Capital cannot capture this capacity to love and be loved because it is a product of communist social relations, re/produced and manifested outside capital.

The multitude produces affective relationships which capital attempts to subsume. Since love is an unrecuperable autonomous excess that continually threatens capital, capitalism is forced by this proletarian power to advance strategies to subsume love and decompose the loving movements of the multitude. Capital tries to use love to reproduce capital but the multitude’s love always exceeds capital and produces communism, obstructing capitalist accumulation. The love of the multitude re/produces alternative qualities of labour, labours of love, that capital is unable to subsume. As Emma Goldman (1911) pointed out when discussing free love, “all the millions in the world have failed to buy love . . . all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love . . . [and all the] armies could not conquer love”. However, capitalist accumulation can exploit love and destroy love. A constant antagonism exists between capitalist valorisation and proletarian self-valorisation arising from the multitude’s needs and desires for caring and nurturing and the system’s strategies to destroy, suppress, capture, control and exploit these needs and desires. Capital relies on the sociality of labour, on loving relations, while it simultaneously uses violence and repression to impose commodification and exploitation, trying to protect itself from communism.

Love is a communist power and capitalism is faced with the problem of suppressing and subsuming it, while managing and relying on its power. Although capital recognises the importance of the value produced outside of the wage relation, and how profitable its capture can be, the caring practices of the wageblog pic 12d and unwaged remain undervalued. This is because love is beyond capitalist measure and affective labour cannot be adequately valued by capital. The strategies and techniques used by capital to capture love cannot negate the positive effects of the multitude’s labour nor can capital erase the revolutionary potential of the power of love. Capital relies on the limitation and channelling of the affective labour of the multitude, but it cannot completely control or smother love. The multitude is so powerful that capital depends on harnessing its love and the stifling of this love deepens systemic crisis.

Continual efforts by capital to break the collaboration, solidarity and cooperation of the multitude are integral to the counter-revolution against the common, loving subjectivities and the mobilisation of self-valorised labour. Businesses and governments undermine the basis of love and utilise it for the purpose of gaining profit through exploitation. The imposition of capitalist value through violence and the ruthless economy of sweatshops, digital assembly lines, relocations, short-term contracts and managed anxiety, erode and block social connections and relationships. At the same time, the reliance of capital on the love of the multitude, for its own re/production, mystifies and disguises subordination, exploitation and the creation of ‘pseudo-love’.

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Many of the transformations in work practices, including intensification, casualisation, precarity, flexibility, nomadism and speed-ups, have detrimentally affected the capacity of the multitude to engage in affective labour for capital and the multitude. People who become physically and emotionally distanced from each other, often don’t have the time, money, resources and social support to sustain strong connections and loving relationships. Instead lovelessness, competition, isolation, estrangement, stress, individual and social breakdowns erode the basis of love and impede the work of love.  Capital consumes affective labour, driving social activity through alienation, commodification, acquisition, consumption and self-indulgence. It promotes a selfish culture in which things matter more than people and where the passion to connect is replaced by the passion to possess.  In the process, as the demand for affective labour increases, capital actually undermines the ability of people to re/produce this labour.

Social re/production increasingly comes up against the destructive praxes of capitalism.  Capitalism is anti-love, constantly and violently erecting barriers and obstacles to love. Capital erodes the social fabric of love which it requires for social re/production and cooperation, violently destroying social relationships by incessantly producing poverty, hunger, war, the destruction of people, communities and the environment. This systemic assault atomises the social networks of the multitude and separates relationships, families and friendships along the lines of gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, religion, nationality and culture. As Shiva (1992: 8-9) has noted

Integration as understood by global capitalist patriarchy is leading to disintegration because it is generating economic, social and cultural insecurities faster than people can identify the roots of these insecurities. Feeling the besieged ‘other’ in the global playing field of the market, and not being able to identify that field, members of diverse communities turn against each other, identifying their neighbours as the ‘other’ that poses a threat to their well-being and survival.

Capitalist labour often involves violence to the psyche as well as to the body and for many millions this work is little more than a life sentence or a living death. Still, researchers like Hochschild (2003) show how people resist, subvert, refuse and rebel against attempts to limit and manage their love and to fuse them with capital. She explains that when capital uses and sells acts of love, these acts are in fact often pretence; not genuine loving and caring ‘from the heart’, but acting. In order to reclaim the managed heart, people produce inventive and often invisible ways to avoid, resist and subvert efforts to capture and control them. Instead they find ways of self-organising and mobilising their love against capital and its state forms. Capital continues to try to pull affective labour into its domain but the proletariat powerfully resists by deploying various forms of work refusal and self-valorisation as loving defences against capitalist exploitation and accumulation. These human strikes, where the multitude withdraws affective labour from capital, entail both an individual and a collective rupture with capital. They build relations of commonality and praxes that construct communism through the self-organisation of love.

Nick Southall

Sources

Barker, C., 2006, ‘Preface’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp. vii-ix.

Bojesen, A., and Muhr, S., 2008, ‘In the Name of Love: Let’s Remember Desire’, ephemera, Volume 8, Number 1, pp.79-93.

Cairnes, M., 2006, ‘Returning Love to the Corporate Heart’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), 2006, Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp.15-44.

Dalla Costa, M., 2008, The Work of Love: Unpaid Housework, Poverty and Sexual Violence at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Autonomedia, New York.

De Angelis. M., 2007, The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capital, Pluto Press, London.

Donaldson, M., 2006, ‘The Working Class’, Class: History, Formations and Conceptualisations Workshop, University of Wollongong, Wollongong.

Finch, J. and Groves, D. (eds.), 1983, A Labour of Love: Women, Work and Caring, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

Fox, C. and Trinca, H., 2006, ‘Still Better Than Sex: Loving Our Work More Than Ever’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp. 103–120.

Fromm, E., 1960, The Art of Loving, Allen and Unwin, London.

Fromm, E., 1973, ‘You and the Commercial’, CBS News, April 26.

Goldman, E., 1911, Marriage and Love, Mother Earth Publishing, New York.

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Hardt, M., 2011, ‘For Love or Money’, Cultural Anthropology, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp. 676 – 682.

Hochschild, A., 2003, The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling, University of California Press, Berkeley.

hooks, b., 2000a, All About Love: New Visions, HarperCollins, New York.

Kilbourne, J., 1999, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, Simon and Schuster, New York.

Marx, K., 1977a, ‘The Civil War in France’, in Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels Selected Works, Volume Two, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp. 172-244.

Negri, A., 1999b, ‘Value and Effect’, Boundary 2, Volume 26, Number 2, pp. 77-88.

Roberts, K., 2004, Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, Murdoch Books, Sydney.

Ruddick, S., 1989, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, Beacon Press, Boston.

Shiva, V., 1992, ‘Women, Ecology and Health: Rebuilding Connections’, Development Dialogue, Available URL: http://www.dhf.uu.se/pdffiler/92_1_2/92_1-2_2.pdf ,

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