by Matt Stannard
October 11, 2020
” . . . the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him [sic] a need.” ~Karl Marx, Private Property and Communism
Maybe the shaping of our love-needs is a micro-instantiation of our entire regime of private property and colonialism, our personal primitive accumulations as our sources of traumatic seizures and losses, violent encounters, making some of us need multiple others to love us, and others need the exclusivity of one partner to call (to name, claim surety of) one’s own. In any case, none of it is clean. Polyamory even with the “ethical” designation still risks all kinds of power assertions and unspoken rewards and deprivations, while monogamy can go from liberating to coercive as easily as a gust of wind can slam a door.
In other words, if there is a disagreement between poly and mono advocates, I don’t think one side or the other can ever have moral high ground. Our needs may be met by multiple partners or one; the point is to abolish hierarchy. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t advocate–and particularly that critics of monogamy shouldn’t speak out on how monogamy carries the concept of property and “mirrors capitalism’s deficiencies.”
We know that, in the broadest senses, the fulfillment of human needs is a collective project. People express their emotional and sexual needs in different ways, and the necessity of a collective response can be expressed by those able to express. Gracie Brett describes the thought process, and the desire process, in the form of a question grounded in socialist theory and a kind of ethical curiosity: “I questioned why we are socially limited to one partner, when we could probably fulfill each other’s sexual, emotional, and other desires more comprehensively as a collective project.”
Gracie argues that since we have been “conditioned to not share in other facets of life” monogamy becomes an extension of this hegemony–an enclosure, like the enclosure of the Commons. I get it and I feel a strong attraction to that metaphor, but it’s not quite on point, or at least there’s a lot of work to be done in re-describing the construction of the partner-subject in order to envision the socialization of intimate relationships. Again, and regardless of whether it reproduces capitalism, monogamy may also fulfill a deep yearning not to have one’s intimate bits scattered or subject to a working group vote.
As Zoe Belinsky writes in an essay that anyone interested in these questions should read, “our relationships with each other are a part of our means of producing the world” which makes them “valid objects of communist political critique, ones that ought to be acted on, clarified, critically assessed, and mobilized as a resource for material practice.” Socialism is the movement toward elimination of material hierarchy in every sphere of life. If relationship exclusivity deprives one of a need that would better be fulfilled under a paradigm of collectivism, then exclusivity reinforces a hierarchy, even if it’s a microhierarchy (and it is not just that anyway). So the call to “abolish” monogamy doesn’t mean to forbid it, but only to say that the choice of one partner should not be seen as a default–and to emphasize how collectivizing and democratizing relationships can happen. The question is what can non-exploitatively meet our needs.
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Art: Untitled First Abstract Watercolor (1913) by Wassily Kandinsky, at the Art History Project