Embracing an Ethic of Love: A Radical Path to Revolution in a World of Exploited and Divided Workers

The question of love, far from being naive, is the measure of a ‘great revolutionary moment.’ Therefore, it is our task to go beyond the depressingly narcissistic culture of our time and ask: How, in the age of economic-ecological crisis, are the labor of love and social transformation related? In her contribution to the “Allied Grounds” text series, researcher Muskaan Jagadish Khemani urges us to launch an inquiry.


Loving one another is central to radical revolution. In his address “Where Do We Go From Here?”, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed “I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems.” Love was central to his revolutionary framework in the civil rights movement; in the era of climate crisis, a societal embrace of love will enable the necessary revolution to occur.

Artwork: Colnate Group (cc by nc)

The practice of love affirms that love is beyond a fleeting feeling, beyond the common notion of love as romantic. Rather, it affirms that love is present in all aspects of life to grow one’s own soul and the soul of another. It is a radical, revolutionary, uniting act that requires choice and work.

bell hooks encourages us to embrace a love ethic, which means “that we utilize all dimensions of love – ‘care, commitment, trust, responsibility, respect, and knowledge’– in our everyday lives.” Doing so augments our sense of living by emphasizing mutual respect and compassion for all. Love can be practiced in every aspect of our life, in self-growth, interpersonal interactions, and even work.

Love at work?

What would love at work look like? In the era of climate crisis, a culture of change driven by an ethic of love would affirm universal basic services for all. Universal basic services, especially food, shelter, health care, and education, enable people to live fully and freely by affirming and supporting their existence.

But an ethic of love, which would provide the crucial foundation for this, is not prevalent in today’s world. Instead, cultures that promote power are dominant. They are fostered by the socialization of capitalism and the legacy and reverberations of global colonialism. Dominant power cultures encourage competitive and scarcity mindsets where there is not enough to go around. Thus, the masses (of exploited workers) are called upon to, and increasingly do, engage in a constant struggle for resources.

Emphasizing the common good and struggling against systems of domination would mean radically changing the pervasive systems of production. Implementing an ethic of love by emphasizing mutual respect and compassion in our production systems would enable a world where basic universal services exist for all, not just the few. Moving away from a system based on competitiveness to one based on mutual respect is what makes climate justice possible: nothing less than a fundamental restructuring of the tenants of our society.

Love is the common denominator of this process. Not love as an object of romantic fantasy or a ‘feeling’ reserved for those close to you. Rather, love is an ongoing choice that seeks a type of union different from national unity and closer to a community of solidarity. M. Scott Peck brilliantly articulates that, ‘love is as love does.’ It produces what is put into it, and that holds true when applied to the means of production.

Universal basic services

A model in which producing people contribute to and benefit from shared surplus value would, in practice, be inseparable from an ethic of love. Production would take place within the community, and the results of production would stay within the community – from food grown on community farms, to housing built by residents, to affordable health services provided for and by community workers.

Mutual respect for each other’s existence would inform the distribution of resources and labor, and result in a network of mutual support. It might look like the creation of a community cooperative where a portion of people’s earnings went into a collective fund that ensured that all community members had health care, education, food, and shelter. In a tangible sense, people would feel connected to their results and see the fruits of their labor.

The production process would take place within a community, unlike the current labor system, with many workers providing essential basic services to communities outside their own. Their labor results in intangible outcomes for their own lives or those in their community. In addition, the current labor practice of people toiling, working, and striving for results is often not enough for people to survive at the most basic level – access to healthy food, affordable and equitable health care, and education are not present in many people’s lives. Especially not for our most ‘essential workers,’ who tend to be paid the least to keep our necessary societal systems functioning.

Politicizing community

Embracing a love ethic in our current capitalist society means claiming universal basic services for all, not for the few and the same. Capitalism promotes the well-being of a minority at the expense of the majority and is based on the exploitation of the working masses. It exploits and fuels fabricated chauvinistic differences that manifest themselves in xenophobia, sexism, racism, and imperialism, while dialectically promoting the homogeneity and uniformity that enable the united ‘we’ of nationalism.

In our modern societies, the search for communion has been superseded by sameness. Nation-states, which are the primary units of global order, require a collective identity (nation) tied to a political unit of power (state). This violent process relies on the homogenization of identities, resulting in violence to eliminate the “other,” those who do not fit into the nation-state’s agenda: India’s and Pakistan’s independence and partition, Israel’s creation and the Nakba, the United States and the genocide of Native Americans, among many others. Manufacturing an ethnic or religious majority, and creating a minority in the process, is the process of building a nation-state.

Our global world order was built through a violent and alienating processes called colonialism and capitalism, and most of our current nation-states and the relationships between them are structurally shaped by them. For more than 100 years, nation-states have been based on the premise that people are artificially different from each other, moving further and further away from mutual love, respect, and understanding. But is there no other way?

Imagine a state without a nation, built on accepting and valuing others instead of seeking power by artificially and forcibly uniting them. Imagine work that was healing because it provided the security of a comfortable livelihood for all. Restoring the practice of solidarity through an ethic of love can move society beyond a fixation on the individual to community care.

Connecting labor and climate struggles

Capitalism, nationalism, classism, and other systems of domination thrive on the pervasive lovelessness in society because they emphasize sameness, the individual over the collective, or the collective as unity personified by an individual – ‘the dictator,’ ‘the savior,’ ‘the avenger.’ Affirming that all individuals deserve a roof over their heads and comfort during dramatically changing weather patterns and extreme climatic events, consistent food and nutrition, access to health care for physical and mental well-being, and educational facilities to learn critical thinking, empathy, and how the world works, is radical. It is a radical act because it embraces the collective not as prefabricated unity but as multiplicity.

As bell hooks notes, “without an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or the other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination imperialism, sexism, racism, classism.

The climate crisis, as a social crisis, is dependent on the systems of capitalism that promote endless growth to achieve production benefits (profits), creating a society that is unjust and unsustainable. This framing places short-term individualistic gain above the longer-term collective good. The fight against this system, which extracts excessively from the environment and people in the pursuit of endless economic growth, leading to worsening environmental and social conditions, challenges us, exploited and divided workers around the world, to converge environmental and social justice struggles. And these interconnected struggles demand an ethic of love.

Note from the editors: This article is a contribution to the Berliner Gazette’s “Allied Grounds” text series; its German version is available here. You can find more contents on the English-language “Allied Grounds” website. Have a look here: https://allied-grounds.berlinergazette.de

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