Original publication: maoism.ru
Translation: Alice Malone

Make Way for Winged Eros! (1923)

56 minutes | English Pусский | The Soviet Union

Subtitled “A Letter to Working Youth.” Published in Young Guard, No. 3. C. 111-124, 1923. Footnotes by Kollontai unless otherwise noted.


Love as a social and psychological force

You ask me, my young comrade, what role does proletarian ideology give to “love”? Perhaps you are concerned that labour youth are presently “more preoccupied with love and all sorts of related questions” than with the larger tasks facing the workers’ state. If so (it is difficult for me to judge it from afar), then let’s look for an explanation for this phenomenon, so that we may find an answer to that first question: what role does love play in the ideology of the working class?

There can be no doubt that Soviet Russia has entered a new phase of civil war: the revolutionary front is now the struggle between two ideologies, two cultures — bourgeois and proletarian. The incompatibility of these two ideologies becomes clearer and clearer, and the contrast between the two fundamentally different cultures grows sharper and sharper.

Together with the victory of communist principles and ideals in the field of politics and economics, a revolution must inevitably take place in the outlook, in the emotions, and in the inner world of working people. A new attitude to life, to society, to labour, to art, to the “rules of life” (i.e., morality) is already emerging. These rules of life include, as an integral part, sexual relationships. This revolution on the emotional front completes the great shift in the thinking of humanity brought about by the five-year existence of our workers’ state.

But the fiercer the struggle between the two ideologies, the more ground it battles over, the more inevitably humanity is confronted with the “mysteries of life,” mysteries which only the ideology of the working class can satisfactorily unravel.

Among such problems is the question you raise: the question of love. In other words, the question of romantic and sexual relationships — a mystery as old as human society itself. At different stages of its historical development, mankind has approached this puzzle in different ways. Though the keys to its solution change, the riddle remains. These keys depend on the era, on the classes in power, on the “spirit of the age” — that is, on culture.

In Russia, during recent years of aggravated civil war and struggle against devastation, there had been little interest in the nature of this mystery. The men and women of the working classes were in the grip of other emotions, passions and experiences. Who in those years would seriously reckon with love’s sorrows and agonies, when each of us walked in the shadow of death, when it was a question of whether victory would belong to the revolution and to progress or to counter-revolution and reaction? Faced with the turmoil of revolution, tender-winged Eros (the god of love) fled from the world. There was neither the time nor the spare inner strength for love’s joys and tortures. Such is the law of conservation of humanity’s social and psychological energy. As a whole, this energy is always directed toward the most urgent aims of the historical moment. For a time, the need that guided this energy was the uncomplicated voice of nature — the biological instinct of reproduction, sexual attraction. Men and women came together and parted easily, much more easily than before. We came together without much commitment and parted without tears or regret. [1]

While prostitution disappeared, there was an increase in sexual relationships unadorned by love and without mutual obligations, driven by the naked instinct of reproduction. This fact frightened some people. But in fact, in those years, relationships could not have been otherwise. Pre-existing relationships continued; those tried and true friendships were rendered all the more precious by the seriousness of the moment. New relationships would arise, in the midst of work, to satisfy a purely biological need that both parties were in a hurry to be rid of, so that it would not interfere with their primary focus: their work for the revolution.

The naked instinct of reproduction arises easily but is soon spent; “Wingless Eros” — sexual relationships without mental and spiritual bonds — absorbs less energy than the demanding “Winged Eros” — love woven from the finest strands of every kind of emotion. Wingless Eros does not give rise to sleepless nights, does not soften the will, does not entangle the rational workings of the mind. It was impossible for a class of fighters to fall under the sway of Winged Eros at a moment when the clarion call of revolution was sounding. In those days, it was inexpedient to waste the mental energies of the members of the struggling collective on efforts that did not directly serve the revolution. The love underlying pair bonding, a commitment between two individuals, requires a tremendous expenditure of emotional energy. Meanwhile, in building a new life, the working class aimed to spend judiciously not only its material wealth, but also the mental and emotional energy of each person of the collective. That is why, at the moment of the heightened revolutionary struggle, the overpowering Winged Eros was replaced by the undemanding, instinctive Wingless Eros.

But now the picture is changing. The Soviet Republic, and with it the whole of labouring humanity, is entering a period of temporary and comparative calm. Now, we begin the difficult work of understanding and assimilating what has been conquered, achieved, and created. The proletariat, the builder of new ways of living, must be able to draw a lesson for itself from every social and emotional phenomenon, to understand these phenomena, to grasp them and subjugate them, and then to fashion from them weapons of self-defense for the working class. Only by embracing not only the laws governing the creation of material wealth but also the laws governing inner psychological life, can the proletariat arm itself to the teeth against the decaying bourgeois world. Only then is it possible for labouring mankind to be victorious not only on the military and labour front, but also on the spiritual and cultural front.

Now that the revolution in Russia has proved victorious and strengthened its position, now that the atmosphere of revolutionary combat has ceased to consume men and women wholly and unreservedly, tender Winged Eros, driven temporarily into the thorns of neglect, begins again to assert his rights. He frowns at daredevilish Wingless Eros — the instinct to reproduce, unadorned by love’s charms. Wingless Eros ceases to fulfill the soul’s needs. There is an accumulation of excess emotional energy that modern people — even members of the working class — do not yet know how to apply to the emotional life of the collective. This excess energy of the soul seeks an outlet in love experiences. The many-stringed lyre of the god of love with kaleidoscopic wings drowns out the one-stringed voice of Wingless Eros… Women and men now come together not only to momentarily satisfy their sexual instincts, as during the years of the revolution, but are rediscovering “love affairs,” learning again all the torments and all the mutual joys of falling in love.

The life of the Soviet Republic is undoubtedly affected by the burgeoning mental and spiritual demands of the people: the desire for knowledge, the passion for scientific questions, for art, for theater. This shift towards the realization of the spiritual riches of humanity inevitably encompasses the sphere of love experiences. There is an awakened interest in the psychology of gender, in the mystery of love. Everyone is touched by this part of life in one way or another. One notes with surprise that those responsible workers, who in previous years read only the editorials of Pravda or protocols and reports, now bury their noses in books of fiction that praise Winged Eros....

What does this mean? Is it a reactionary regression? A symptom of the beginning of the decline of revolutionary creativity? Nothing of the sort! It is time to rid ourselves of the hypocrisy of bourgeois thought. It is time to openly recognize that love is not only a biological force but also a social force. Love is a deeply social emotion. At all stages of the development of human society, love has been included as an integral part of the spiritual culture of a given society, though in different forms and by different practices. Even the bourgeoisie, although it saw love as a “private affair,” was able to steer love in a direction that served its class interests by shaping society’s mores.

To an even greater extent, working class ideology must take into account the importance of love as a force that can be directed — like any other psychological or social phenomenon — to the benefit of the collective. Love is not a “private” phenomenon at all. It is not a matter of just two loving “hearts.” Love’s ability to unite the collective is evident from the fact that at all stages of its historical development, mankind has established norms and rules that determine under what conditions and when love is “legitimate” (i.e., when it meets the interests of a given collective) and when it is “sinful” or criminal (i.e., when it contradicts the objectives of a given society).

Historical background

Primitive communities and tribal society

Since the earliest stages of its social existence, mankind has regulated not only sex, but love itself.

In primitive communities, morality elevated love for one’s blood relations above all other loves. A clan would disapprove of a woman who would sacrifice herself for her beloved husband; it would instead venerate feelings of brotherly or sisterly affection. Ancient Greek legends tells of Antigone, who risked her life to bury the body of her dead brother, which made her, in the eyes of her contemporaries, a heroine. Modern bourgeois society would look at such an act on the part of a sister (not a wife) only as “a curiosity.”

In tribal society, when the state was still in its embryonic stage, the form of love most honoured was friendship between two members of the same tribe. Emerging from a clan society bound by blood ties, it was crucial for this new social collective to bind its members with spiritual and emotional ties. The most appropriate form of love for this purpose was not the love of Eros, but friendship-love. The interests of the collective demanded the growth and accumulation of emotional bonds between members of the tribe, between the organizers and the defenders of the tribe and the state. [2] Friendship-love was extolled and considered more virtuous than the love between spouses. Castor and Pollux were famous not for their service to their fatherland, but for their loyalty to each other and their unwavering friendship. [3] “Friendship” (or its semblance) compelled a spouse who loved his wife to offer her body to a favourite friend or to a guest with whom friendship was desired.

In antiquity, friendship, particularly that friendship-love that elicits “loyalty to the grave,” was elevated to a civic virtue. Love in the modern sense of the word did not play a role, and barely attracted the attention of poets and playwrights of that era. The dominant ideology of the time considered love to be a narrowly personal experience outside of society’s purview; marriage was built on a foundation of reason, not love. Love was just one of many amusements; it was a luxury that could be afforded by a citizen who had fulfilled all his duties to the state. While bourgeois ideology values the “ability to love,” provided it confines itself to the limits set down by bourgeois morality, the ancient world did not consider this emotion in determining human virtues and merits. Only friendship-love was valued. A man who performed acts of great bravery, risking himself for the sake of a friend, was honoured as a hero, his actions deemed “morally virtuous.” On the contrary, a man who risked himself for the woman he loved earned only condemnation, or even contempt. Legend portrays Paris’s love for the beautiful Helen as a delusion, the consequence of which — the Trojan War — was a universal “disaster.”

The morality of antiquity did not encourage the sort of romantic love that inspired acts of bravery — that form of love that would become so highly regarded in the feudal era. Only in friendship could the ancient world find the emotional bonds necessary to bind many members of a tribe together, to provide stability for this budding form of society. In contrast, at later stages of social development, friendship ceases to be considered a moral virtue. In bourgeois society, built on principles of individualism and fierce competition, friendship has no place in morality. The age of capitalism regards friendship as a manifestation of “sentimentality,” a completely unnecessary weakness of spirit, a hinderance to the tasks of the bourgeois class. Friendship becomes an object of ridicule. Castor and Pollux in modern-day New York City or London would evoke only a condescending smirk. Nor did feudal society recognize friendship as a virtue that should be nurtured and encouraged in people.

Feudal society

Feudal domination relied on the strict observance of the interests of the noble family or clan. Virtues were determined not so much by the mutual relations of the members of the society of that time as by the obligations of a member of the clan to the clan and to its traditions. Marriage was entirely determined by the interests of the family, and a young man (a young woman had no say at all) who chose a wife contrary to these interests was severely condemned. In feudal times, the individual who elevated personal feelings and desires above the interests of the family was a “sinner.” According to feudal morality, love and marriage didn’t have to coincide at all.

Nevertheless, feudalism did not fully neglect love; in fact it was during these centuries that love received for the first time a recognition of its significance to the state. At first glance, it seems strange that love was recognized precisely in this age of the strictest asceticism, of coarse and brutal mores, in an age of violence and of rule by violence. But the reasons for this recognition become clear if we take a closer look at why love became a socially legitimate and even desirable phenomenon in this society.

Love, in certain cases and under certain circumstances, can be an engine that drives a person in love to perform acts the likes of which he would be incapable in a different, less exalted and uplifted state of mind. In the military arena, chivalry elevated virtues that were exacting and yet purely individual: fearlessness, bravery, endurance, etc. In that era, battles were decided not so much by the organization of an army as by the individual qualities of its participants. [4] A knight in love with an elusive lady found it easier to perform brave feats, like risking his life in duels and combat, if he did it in her name. The enamored knight was driven by the desire to “distinguish himself” in order to win the favour of his beloved lady.

While chivalric ideology recognized love as a powerful force with great utility to the state, it nevertheless kept love within certain constraints. It was not the love between spouses that kept the lords in their castles nor the ladies in their terems. [5] Love’s social role was honoured, sung by poets, only when it came to a knight in love with another man’s wife, stoking in him militaristic and heroic ambitions. The more inaccessible the woman, the more the knight had to cultivate in himself the virtues that were valued by his social class: fearlessness, endurance, perseverance, courage.

The elusive lady that played this role was usually one of the least accessible women: the wife of the lord, or the queen. Only a love unquenched by carnal satisfaction could spur the knight to the valiant exploits required of him. [6] These love-inspired acts of bravery were considered virtuous, and worthy of emulation. Knights almost never chose an unwed woman as the object of their adoration. No matter how improbable due to differences in social standing, the love between a knight and an unwed maiden could lead to marriage, and marriage inevitably removed this psychological engine that drove the knight to daring exploits. Feudal morality couldn’t permit this. And so chivalry harnessed two seemingly opposed virtues: falling in love, and sexual restraint. In their zeal to purify love from everything carnal, to turn love into an abstract feeling completely detached from its “sinful” biological basis, knights attained the ugliest perversions: they chose as the objects of their desires women they had never met, or swore themselves to the “virgin Mary”, the mother of God. (With such conflicting morality, there was nowhere else to go…).

Feudal ideology saw in love a steroid that could strengthen the qualities needed in knights; the adoration of the knight for an elusive lady served the interests of the class in power, and this defined the view of love in the heyday of feudalism. The knight who wouldn’t hesitate to exile his wife to a convent or execute her for adultery would be flattered if another knight chose her as the object of his abstract affection. [7]

But while it praised and magnified spiritual love, feudal morality did not at all demand that love should determine legal marriage or sexual relationships. Love is one thing, marriage is another. Feudal ideology dissected these two concepts. [8] It was not until the rise of bourgeois morality in the 14th and 15th centuries that love and marriage were united. This is why, in the medieval era, despite valorizing sublime and abstract love, the norms of relationships between men and women were unthinkably crude. Sex, whether within or outside of marriage, was deprived of the emotion and inspiration imbued by love, and turned into an act of plain biology. [9]

The Church outwardly waged war on debauchery, but by preaching abstract and elusive love while vilifying practical and physical love, it encouraged crude, animalistic relationships between men and women. A knight would carry around a token of his elusive lady’s favour, compose the most tender poems in her honour, and risk his life only to catch a glimpse of her smile, and then calmly rape a servant woman or order his steward to bring him the most beautiful peasant woman for his enjoyment. Noble ladies, for their part, did not pass up the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh with troubadours and pageboys — in spite of the contempt of the aristocrat for their servants. [10]

Bourgeois society

With the emergence of the bourgeois class, a new moral ideal of love began to form to better serve the interests of this class. Bourgeois ideology upholds above all the rights of the individual, and with it, the right of the body — so violated in feudal morality. Where chivalry separated marriage and love, bourgeois morality dictated that couples should choose to enter into marriage based on mutual attraction. In practice, of course, the bourgeoisie often cast aside this moral commandment for a more lucrative opportunity, but the recognition of love as the basis for marriage has deep roots in this ideology.

Under the feudal system, the family was strongly linked by the traditions of nobility and birth. Marriage was virtually indissoluble: the dictates of the church, the unlimited authority of the family patriarch, the strength of cultural traditions, and royal decree all held sway over the married couple.

In the bourgeois system, families are formed not on the basis of co-ownership of patrimonial wealth, but for the accumulation of capital. The family became a custodian of wealth. In order to accumulate capital faster, the family resources acquired by the husband needed to be spent shrewdly by his wife, and so woman needed to be not only a “good housewife” but a real helper and friend of her husband.

In the capitalist system, family success depended on the mutual cooperation of all its members, who had a joint interest in accumulation of wealth. But this cooperation could be made more effective the closer the emotional bonds between spouses and between children and parents.

And so the new economic system, emerging at the turning of the 14th century to the 15th century, gave birth to a new ideology. The concepts of love and marriage gradually changed. Martin Luther and all the various thinkers and figures of the centuries of the Renaissance and Reformation [11] understood perfectly the social power that lies in the feeling of love. Recognizing that the security of the family — this economic unit that formed the basis of the bourgeois system — required emotional ties, the revolutionary ideologists of this rising class put forward a new moral ideal of love: a love that united once more carnal desire and connection of souls. The reformers attacked the celibacy of the clergy and ridiculed the abstract, elusive love of the knight that held him in a constant state of desire with no hope for satisfying his carnal urges. These figures of the Reformation, the ideologues of the bourgeoise, recognized the legitimacy of the healthy demands of the body. The feudal world dissected love into a plain act of biology (intercourse with a spouse or with concubines) and a sublime, spiritual love (the abstract ardor of a knight for an elusive lady). The ideals of the bourgeoisie defined love so as to include both physical attraction and heartfelt affection. Whereas the feudal ideal separated love from marriage, the bourgeoisie linked them together: it made marriage and love conceptually harmonious. In practice, of course, the bourgeoisie constantly deviated from its own ideal. But while in feudalism the question of whether two individuals entered into marriage out of mutual inclination was never even raised, bourgeois morality demanded that even marriages of calculated convenience be given the veneer of mutual affection.

Vestigial remains of feudal traditions and attitudes towards marriage survive to this day, coexisting alongside bourgeois morality. Royal families and the higher ranks of the aristocracy still live according to these traditions. In their social class, it is considered ridiculous and even shameful to marry for love. Young princes and princesses must obey the marching orders of a dying tradition by joining their lives forever with a spouse they do not love in marriages of political convenience. History is filled with dramas like that of the unhappy son of Louis XV, who stood at the altar for his second marriage with his face still stained with the tears shed for his beloved deceased first wife.

The same subordination of marriage to considerations of kin and economy exists in the peasantry. The peasant family, unlike the bourgeois family, is above all an economic labour unit, a unit of production. The peasant family is so firmly held together by the cooperative labour required for subsistence that emotional bonds play a secondary role. For the medieval artisan, love was also irrelevant to marriage. In the artisanal workshop, the family was also the unit of production and held together by the same economic labour logic that binds the peasant family. The ideal of a marriage rooted in love begins in the bourgeois class only when the family transforms from a unit of of production to a unit of consumption, and serves as the custodian of accumulated capital.

But while bourgeois morality fiercely defended the rights of two loving hearts to enter into union — even against the traditions of the family [12] — and ridiculed the asceticism and abstract ardour of the feudal era, it nevertheless constrained love within limited boundaries. Love is only “legitimate” in marriage. Love that takes place outside of legal marriage is immoral. This system of values was dictated, of course, by economic considerations: the desire to prevent the dissipation of capital among “illegitimate” children. Bourgeois morality is based on the desire to concentrate capital, not distribute it more broadly. The bourgeois ideal is a married couple jointly striving to increase the wealth of their family unit separate from society. Where the interests of family and society conflict, bourgeois morality rules in favour of the family. (For example, consider the sympathy of bourgeois morality for the man who deserts the army or the businessman who ruins his business partners for the sake of his family.) The thriftily innovative bourgeoisie sought to also capitalize on love, turning this feeling into a catalyst for marriage, into the glue that held the family together.

Of course, love couldn’t fit within the confines of bourgeois ideology. The resulting contradictions emerged and proliferated, and were reflected in a new kind of literature, another invention of the bourgeoisie: the novel. Sometimes, love escaped the narrow bounds permitted to it, manifesting itself either in non-marital relationships or extra-marital relationships (adultery), both of which were condemned by bourgeois morality but practiced by the bourgeoisie.

The bourgeois ideal of love does not serve the needs of the largest segment of the population: the working class. Nor does it correspond to the life of the working intelligentsia. Hence, in countries where capitalism is most developed, there is intense interest in solving that centuries-old mystery: how should we support love so that it promotes the happiness of the couple and serves the needs of the collective?

The working youth of Soviet Russia are tackling this same question. I hope this brief historical survey has helped you, my young comrade, to understand that love is not at all a “private matter,” as it seems at first sight. Love is a valuable psychological and social force that society has always leveraged in its own interests. It is now the task of the workers, armed with the scientific method of Marxism and humanity’s historical experience, to answer: what is the ideal of love that serves the interests of the proletarian class in its struggle for domination?

Or, in other words, what role should love play in society?

Comradely love

The new communist society is built on the principle of solidarity. But what is solidarity? It is not only a consciousness of common interests, but depends also on the intellectual and emotional bonds between members of the collective. A social system built on solidarity and cooperation requires a highly developed culture of love; or, in other words, the members of this society must be capable of empathy. Without the presence of these feelings, solidarity cannot be strong. For this reason, proletarian ideology teaches the members of the working class to be attentive to the sufferings and needs of their comrades, and how to develop a deep, heartfelt awareness of one’s connection to other members of the collective. These warm emotions — empathy, responsiveness, compassion — are all facets of love. Not love in the narrow, sexual and romantic sense, but in the broad sense of the word.

Love is an emotion that unites, and therefore it has the power to organize society. That love is a binding force was understood clearly and applied effectively by the bourgeoisie. To strengthen the family unit, bourgeois morality elevated the ideal of “conjugal love”; to be a “good family man” was an important and valuable quality.

The proletariat cannot ignore the psychological and social role that love — love in both senses of the word — can and must play in strengthening not the family unit but the collective unit.

What is the proletariat’s ideal of love? What emotions and experiences are relationships between men and women based on in proletarian morality?

We have already traced together, my young comrade, how each epoch has its own ideal of love, how each class shapes moral notions of love according to its own interests. At each stage of cultural development, the experiences of the human soul grow richer, and the delicate hues of Eros’ wings are repainted in new colours characteristic of the era. With successive stages of economic and cultural development, the meaning of “love” changes: some shades of love become brighter, while others fade away.

Over the millennia of human history, love has grown from a simple biological instinct — the desire to reproduce, common to creatures high and low — to a complex experience of the soul, an experience that continuously gathers new emotional and intellectual facets. [13] [14] Love has evolved from a biological phenomenon into a psychological and social force.

Shaped by economic and cultural development, the biological instinct of reproduction that determined the relationship between men and women in the early days of human history has been transformed in two diametrically opposed directions. In one direction, healthy sexual attraction born of reproductive instinct has, under the pressure of ugly socioeconomic relationships, become twisted into unhealthy lust. Sexual intercourse has become a goal in and of itself, just another hedonistic pleasure. A man does not unite with a woman because wholesome sexual desire has powerfully drawn him to her in particular, but instead seeks out any woman, with the aim of sexually satisfying himself through her. It is this distorted relationship that prostitution is built upon. If this twisted liaison does not produce the arousal expected, a person satiated only by sexual excess may resort to all sorts of perversions.

The healthy sexual drive underlying love is diverted off course, in the direction of unhealthy carnal lust.

In the other direction, over the course of human history, physical attraction has been layered with an elaborate weave of emotional experiences. Love in its present form is a complex state of the soul, which has long been detached from its original source — the biological instinct of reproduction — and often contradicts it. Love is a composite; it is made up out of friendship, passion, maternal tenderness, amorousness, consonance of souls, compassion, adoration, comfort and many, many other shades of feelings and experiences. It is increasingly difficult, given all these nuances of love, to identify a direct link between the voice of Wingless Eros (sexual attraction) and Winged Eros (sexual attraction in harmony with emotional connection). The love of friendship, the love for a cause or an ideal, the impersonal love for a collective — all these phenomena testify to the extent to which the feeling of love has broken away from its biological origins, to the extent it has become an experience of the soul.

But it’s not enough. Often there is a screaming contradiction between the various ways love manifests, and out of these contradictions, a struggle begins. Love for the “beloved cause” (not just for the cause, but specifically for the “beloved” one), or for the collective, may come into conflict with the love for a romantic partner or for a child. [15] Friendship-love conflicts with passionate love. The former love is characterized by the consonance of souls, the latter is built on the consonance of bodies.

Love has become multifaceted and multitudinous. The many shades of emotion that have developed over the millennia of human existence cannot all be encompassed by the word “love”: it is too general, and therefore inaccurate. [16]

Under the domination of bourgeois ideology, the multifacted nature of love created many irresolvable heartaches. Since the end of the 19th century, the many-sidedness of love has become a favourite theme of novelists with an interest in psychology. These thoughtful representatives of bourgeois culture were preoccupied with and perplexed by the “mystery” of love for two, or even three, individuals. This complexity of the soul, this duality of feelings, was examined by the Russian writer Alexander Herzen in his novel Who is to Blame?[17] Chernyshevsky tackled this same problem in his own social critique, What Is to Be Done?[18] The duality of feeling, the splitting of love, was dwelt upon by the greatest writers of Scandinavia — Hamsun, Ibsen, Björnsson [19], Geierstam. French fiction writers of the last century have also returned to it over and over again: Romain Rolland, who is close to communism in spirit, and Maeterlinck, who is far from it. [20] This complex problem, this “mystery” of love, was not just of intellectual curiosity but also of personal, practical relevance for masters of poetry like Goethe and Byron, that brave pioneer of relationships between the sexes George Sand [21], and many other great thinkers and public figures. Indeed, the author of Who is to Blame?, Herzen, learned of this mystery of love from his own experience. [22] Tormented by the mystery of the many-sided nature of love, many small-minded people vainly seek the key to this contradiction within the limits of bourgeois thought. Meanwhile, the key is in the hands of the proletariat. Only the ideology and way of living of the new, communist society can unravel this complex emotional knot.

We speak here of the many-sided nature of love, of the complexities of Winged Eros, but do not confuse this with polygamous Wingless Eros, in which a person has sexual intercourse with many partners with whom they do not share an emotional connection. Wingless Eros, particularly the polygamous variety, may give rise to any number of harmful consequences (physical exhaustion, venereal disease, etc.), but does not result in emotional dilemmas. Emotional dilemmas begin when love is present in all its many shades and forms. For example, a woman finds her soul to be in harmony with a man who shares her thoughts and aspirations, while she is irrestibly physically attracted to another. Or, a man might feel a protective tenderness and empathy for one woman, while in another woman, he finds support and understanding for his intellectual aspirations. To whom should these troubled lovers give the fullness of Winged Eros? And, if their souls are made whole by these varied love experiences, why should these lovers choose between both partners, thus tearing apart — mutilating — their souls?

In bourgeois society, multi-sided love inevitably leads to suffering. This culture, based on the institution of property, has nurtured in people the belief that love must also be based on the principle of property. Bourgeois ideology insists that love — and mutual love at that — entails the right to absolute and indivisible possession of the heart of the loved one. Such exclusivity in the ideal of love arose naturally from the bourgeois institution of marriage, and from the bourgeois ideal of the “all-consuming” love between spouses. Does the ideal of exclusive love serve the needs of the working class? Is it not, on the contrary, important and desirable that the people form more bonds, richer bonds, with each other? Is it not the ability of our souls to become interwoven with the souls of many others that will bind together the social and labour collective? The more these emotional threads stitch together soul and soul, heart and heart, mind and mind, the more deeply solidarity is implanted in the collective, and the more easily the proletarian ideals of comradeship and unity are realized.

Exclusivity in love, like “all-consuming” love, cannot be the ideal that defines love in working class ideology. On the contrary, the proletariat acknowledges the multifaceted and multitudinous nature of Winged Eros that so fills the bourgeoisie with hypocritical horror and moral indignation. The proletariat seeks to direct this phenomenon, which arises from complex social conditions, in a direction that serves the needs of the class struggle, towards the goal of building a communist society.

Love’s many-sidedness does not conflict with the interests of the proletariat. Quite the opposite: it fosters that love between men and women that is already crystallizing deep in the hearts of the working class. Namely, comradely love.

Ancient humans valued love in the form of affection for one’s kin (love of siblings, love of parents). Ancient tribal societies placed love-friendship above all else. The feudal world idealized the abstract, elusive love of the knight, a love detached from both marriage and satisfaction of the flesh. Bourgeois morality held as an ideal the love between a law-abiding married couple.

The ideal of proletarian love, derived from cooperation and solidarity between members of the working class, is naturally different in form and content from the concepts of love of other cultural eras. But what is comradely love? Will the harsh ideology of the working class, forged in the militant atmosphere of struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, ruthlessly banish the tender flutters of Winged Eros? No, not at all! Far from abolishing Winged Eros, proletarian ideology clears the path for recognizing love as a psychological and social force.

The hypocritical morality of bourgeois culture callously plucked the feathers from Eros’ kaleidoscopic wings, commanding Eros to attend only to the couples that bourgeois law recognized. Beyond the bounds of marriage, bourgeois ideology allowed only stripped-down Wingless Eros: the momentary carnal urges in the form of bought (prostitution) or stolen (adultery) pleasures.

Proletarian ideology, to the extent it has already crystallized, explicitly rejects the mould into which love has been forced. It makes no difference to the tasks of the working class whether love takes the form of a long and formalized union or the form of a transient bond. Working class ideology places no formal boundaries on love. But at the same time, working class ideology is thoughtful about the nature of love. And because of this thoughtfulness, working class ideology will be stricter and more ruthless in its persecution of Wingless Eros — lust, prostitution’s one-sided satisfaction of the flesh, the twisting of sex into a hedonistic goal in and of itself — than bourgeois morality has been. Wingless Eros conflicts with the interests of the working class. First, it inevitably leads to excesses and therefore bodily exhaustion, which saps society of labour resources. Second, it impoverishes the soul by hindering the development of emotional bonds and empathy. Third, Wingless Eros is usually propped up by unequal rights between men and women — it takes advantage of women’s dependence on men, and thrives on men’s self-indulgence and insensitivity — which undoubtedly blocks the development of comradely bonds. Winged Eros is quite the opposite.

Of course, Wingless Eros and Winged Eros are both based on sexual attraction, but those qualities of the soul that are awakened by Winged Eros are those same properties that are required for the builders of a new society: empathy, compassion, the desire to help each other. Bourgeois ideology demanded that these qualities should only be directed towards one single person, their chosen partner. Proletarian ideology strives to awaken and nurture these qualities in all people. These qualities manifest not only in fellowship with one chosen partner but in fellowship with all members of the collective.

The proletariat is not concerned with what shades and patterns prevail in Winged Eros: the tender tones of love, the hot hues of passion, or the community and consonance of the soul. The only thing that matters is that, among all these shades, love must include those emotional elements that develop and strengthen comradely love. Mutual recognition of rights, mutual recognition of individuality, mutual support, thoughtful and active responsiveness to each other’s needs, shared aspirations — these are the ideals of comradely love, forged by proletarian ideology to replace bourgeois morality’s obsolete ideal of exclusive, “all-consuming” conjugal love.

Comradely love is the ideal the proletariat needs in this crucial and challenging period of the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is no doubt that, with the realization of a communist society, Winged Eros will appear in a new, unknowable transformation. By that time, the emotional bonds between all members of the new society will have grown and strengthened, the capacity for love will have risen, and comradely love will become the engine of activity that competition and egotistical love were for the bourgeois system. Collectivism of spirit will triumph over individualistic self-sufficiency. The cold isolation of bourgeois culture, from which people sought refuge in the form of love and marriage, will disappear; diverse emotional bonds will form, interconnecting people with each other. Public sentiment will shift towards collective growth, and the inequality between men and women will vanish, footprints in the sands of time.

In this new and collective society, characterized by joyful unity and comradely love, Eros will assume its place of honour as an experience that heightens human happiness. What will this new transformed Eros look like? The wildest imagination is incapable of capturing his image. But one thing is clear: the more tightly the new humanity is bound by solidarity, the stronger its emotional connection in all aspects of life — creativity, communication — and the less remove there will be for love in the present sense of the word. This modern conception of love is always sinful: it absorbs the thoughts and feelings of “loving hearts” but in a way that sets the couple apart from the collective. This isolation of the couple from the collective — in which the interests, tasks, and aspirations of all members are densely intertwined — will become not only unnecessary, but inconceivable. In this new world, the relationship between men and women will be defined by wholesome and free attraction, on Transformed Eros.

But for now, we are on the cusp of two cultures. And at this critical juncture, fraught with heated battles between these two worlds across all fronts, the proletariat urgently wishes to begin investing in the cultivation of these empathetic bonds. At this time, the moral ideal defining relationships is not the naked instinct of sex, but multifaceted love and comradeship. To meet the demands of the emerging proletarian morality, the new ideal of love must be founded on three basic principles:

  • Equality in relationships (an end to male self-indulgence and slavish subsumption of female individuality in love).
  • Mutual recognition of the rights of the other and of the fact that one cannot claim ownership of the heart and soul of the other (an end to the bourgeois culture of ownership).
  • Comradely empathy, the ability to listen to and understand the inner workings of the soul of a beloved person (an end to the bourgeois culture’s expectation that only women should be sensitive in this way).

In proclaiming the rights of Winged Eros, proletarian ideology also subordinates the love between two members of a collective to the more powerful emotion of love-duty to the collective. No matter how strong and numerous the emotional threads that bind two individuals together, the bonds of these individuals with the whole collective must be even stronger and more numerous, more vital. Bourgeois morality demanded: everything for the one you love. The morality of the proletariat demands: everything for the collective.

But I hear you objecting, my young friend. “Of course, comradely love will become the ideal of the working class. But won’t this ideal, this new yardstick of morality, also put a leash on love again? Will this not crush and mangle the tender, quivering wings of Eros? By freeing love from the shackles of bourgeois morality, are we not enslaving it with new chains?”

Yes, my young friend, you are right. Discarding bourgeois “morality,” the proletariat develops its own morality, its own rules for loving relationships, which better serves the tasks of the working class. In doing so, it leads the emotions of the members of its class along a certain path. In this way, it could be said it confines love, or shackles it. Eros’ wings bear the marks of the bourgeois culture that nourished it; the proletariat must pluck out these feathers. But it would be short-sighted to regret that the working class will also leave its stamp on love, since this enables the alignment of the emotions of love with the tasks of the working class. In place of the old feathers of Eros’ wings, the new ideology of the proletariat will grow new feathers of a beauty, strength, and radiance never seen before. Do not forget, my young friend, that as the economic and cultural base of society changes, love inevitably transforms with it.

The blind demands of “all-consuming” passion, the sense of ownership and the egotistical desire to permanently attach a loved one to oneself, the self-indulgence of men and the criminal denial of the self of women — these parts of “love” will disappear, allowing the growth of other valuable aspects of love. Instead, we will have respect for the individuality of the other, consideration of the rights of others, empathy, the desire to express love not only in kisses and hugs but also in the co-ordination of action, in the unity of mind, in joint creativity.

The task of proletarian ideology is not to expel Eros from social life, but to fill his quiver with the arrows of the new society so that he may instruct us according to the new, powerful psychological force: comradely love.

Now, my young friend, I hope it is clear to you that this growing interest in matters of love among the working youth is not a symptom of “decadence.” You can see for yourself the role love plays not only in the ideology of the proletariat, but in the community of young workers.

[1] “…And so unreal our happiness, / We part with little grief or pain.” — Mikhail Lermontov, Agreement (1841). [web] — A. M. 

[2] Of course, it was friendships between men that were of primary importance; friendship between women played no role in social life and the maintenance of the tribe. 

[3] In Ancient Greek mythology, Zeus gifted Pollux with immortal life on Mount Olympus, but Pollux insisted on sharing this gift with Castor, and so the twins alternated each day between Olympus and the Underworld. — A. M. 

[4] Or, more precisely: the organization of the army required high individual qualities of the individual fighters, since almost all battles were hand-to-hand fights. 

[5] Terems were segregated living quarters for women of the aristocratic class. As in other feudal societies, the women of the upper classes of Russia lived highly controlled lives secluded from men outside their immediate families. See The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin (1700s) for a compelling account of the secluded lives of women in feudal China. — A. M. 

[6] Of course, in practice, knights were not only spurred by love, but also by thirst for robbery and profit. 

[7] See, for example, the practice of cicisbeismo in 18th-19th century Italy. 

[8] In the 12th century, in the court of Marie of France, Countess of Champagne, noble women organized a “court of love” to rule on disputes between knights and ladies or answer questions about love. A nobleman solicited the Countess’ opinion on whether true love could exist within a marriage. In a letter, she responded with the findings of her court: “We declare and we hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other. For lovers give each other everything freely, under no compulsion of necessity, but married people are in duty bound to give in to each other’s desires and deny themselves to each other in nothing. (…) Therefore let this our verdict, pronounced with great moderation and supported by the opinion of a great many ladies, be to you firm and indubitable truth.” — The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus (c. 1190), Seventh Dialogue. [p. 106-107 in 1941 translation by John Jay Parry — A. M.]. [web] 

[9] Sexual relations within a marriage “beyond what are inspired by the desire for offspring or the payment of the marriage debt” were also seen as sinful. Indeed, the “too ardent [married] lover” was considered “an adulterer with his own wife.” Ibid. p103. — A. M. 

[10] Alexis de Tocqueville remarked on the “contempt” held by the ancien regime for the poor: “One is reminded of Madame de Duchatelet, who (…) had no objection to undress before her servants, as she was not convinced that valets were men.” The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856) [web] — A. M. 

[11] 15th-16th centuries. 

[12] Romeo and Juliet (1597) is both a celebration and a cautionary tale. — A. M. 

[13] Another natural and biological source of love is motherhood, the instinctive care of one’s child. Intertwining and intersecting with each other, these two instincts create together a natural basis for social development and, with the right social support, of complex experiences of love. 

[14] One intersection of these biological sources of love is at the molecular level: sexual activity, childbirth and lactation all cause the release of the hormone oxytocin. — A. M. 

[15] This conflict is not uncommon, especially for women in today’s transitional era. 

[16] Our new society will have to find new words to express the manifold shades of emotional experiences that can only be approximated by such terms as love, passion, infatuation, amorousness, friendship. Such ossified concepts and vague definitions do not convey all the tones in between these experiences, all the complex patterns arising from the combinations of these feelings. 

[17] Alexander Herzen was a very influential Russian revolutionary socialist. His only novel, Who is to Blame? (1847), centers around a love triangle and ends in tragedy. The question posed in the title is left unanswered because, the novel suggests, the question is unanswerable: the institutions of society (marriage, autocracy, serfdom, “illegitimate” birth, education, sexism), fate, chance, and all characters involved play a role in the final outcome. — A. M. 

[18] Chernyshevsky’s 1863 novel also revolves around a love triangle, but one that ends happily. Vera’s first marriage is one of respect and compassion, but not one of “consonance of souls.” She falls in love a second time and discovers a more profound love, breaking her first lover’s heart. They both come to understand the errors in love they made, and he, too, falls in love again. The two couples become close friends and neighbours. See Why Read Chernyshevsky? for more on the author’s social commentary and the way Vera influenced those involved in the Russian Revolution. [web] — A. M. 

[19] Lame Hulda (1858). 

[20] Aglavaine and Sélysette (1897). 

[21] A popular and prolific 19th century French author. Married, she had many affairs, including at least one with a woman. Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? is in part a response to her 1834 novel, Jacques. Both novels center around love triangles and uphold the right of women to romantic fulfillment, but Sand’s love triangle resolves tragically, while Chernyshevsky’s love triangle ends in romantic fulfillment for all parties. Chernyshevsky also argues that women’s emancipation necessitates not just freedom of love but also economic independence, a theme absent in Jacques. — A. M. 

[22] Russian censors banned the use of Herzen’s name due to his political activities as an émigré. To circumvent this restriction, writers would often refer to him as “the author of Who is to Blame?.” Although his name was no longer censored, perhaps Kollontai is giving a nod to this convention. — A. M.