Paul Messersmith-Glavin and Hillary Lazar: Love and Rage – The Eros Effect and Spontaneous Combustion

Institute for Anarchist Studies, March 16, 2021

“Today the fight for life, the fight for Eros, is the political fight.”

(Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, 1966)

“Eros is historically shaped but eternally emergent. Love binds us together, gives us the courage to make history, to stare down our fears . . . and gives us the nerve to be resolute . . . and thus (is) an essential aid in the fight for a better world.”

(George Katsiaficas, “From Hebert Marcuse’s ‘Political Eros’ to the Eros Effect,” 2017)

There are moments in history when revolutionary fire seems to ignite the world’s imagination and protests erupt from one country to the next. The democratic revolutions of 1848 that inspired Bakunin and Marx. The countercultural youth rebellions, antiwar demonstrations, and Black Power movements of 1968. The alter-globalization movement that began with the Zapatistas in 1994, wound through mass mobilizations in places such as Seattle, Washington in 1999 and Genoa, Italy in 2001, all culminating in 2003 with one of the largest global protests in history against the imminent US invasion of Iraq. And of course, more recently, the mobilizations of 2011, including the Arab Spring, Spanish Indignados, and Occupy movements, which eventually reached every corner of the world. In fact, it is arguable that we are now in another period of revolt with a huge upwelling of protests—from the 26 million who took to the streets on behalf of racial justice here in the US last summer to the recent farmers’ rebellion and massive general strike in India some 250 million strong.

For those of us seeking to understand the dynamics of revolution and resistance, this necessarily raises the questions of why and how this happens when it does. Movement scholars have offered any number of thoughts on this, including George Katsiaficas’ “eros effect,” which builds on Herbert Marcuse’s ideas of “political eros” and emphasizes the critical role of human connection and the erotic dimensions to political activism. However, unlike other sociological concepts such as “diffusion,” “snowballing,” “contagion,” and the “Domino Theory,” all of which emphasize the spread of movements, for Katsiaficas, the key concern is accounting for the “spontaneity” and “simultaneity” of protests during these periods of mobilization.

The eros effect also provides insight into the very nature of our political experiences by giving language and meaning to that intoxicating feeling of connection, love, euphoria, and potential that one experiences when engaged together in the fight for collective liberation. Indeed, for many of us, it is in these moments when we feel most free, empowered, and connected to others through intimate solidarity, or what can be considered an erotics of political action. Not only does this expand our sense of what is feasible and desirable, but our understanding of who we are in the world and how we relate to each other as well. No doubt, this is part of what keeps us coming back—both for the allure of that heady feeling and because it’s what transforms us into committed activists, bound to our comrades in struggle over the long haul, anticipating the next upsurge.

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