In this blog, Gargi Bhattacharyya writes on the state of being for a revolutionary in 2020. Inspired by a younger comrade admitting to heartbreak arising from the business of trying to make something better in the world, and a group of comrades discussing the irritations of over-certainty, of dogmatism, of the whole ugly landscape of left ‘slebs’ and online point-scoring. Through this landscape, she points to perhaps, what younger comrades need to hear.
Heartbreak is at the heart of all revolutionary consciousness. How can it not be? Who can imagine another world unless they already have been broken apart by the world we are in?
The heartbreak ripples along underneath and beside the other less dramatic business of political life. A meeting here, a picket there. Something to draft, something to collect, something to deliver. A statement to sign, a hand to hold. Speeches. And more speeches. And still more speeches. A falling out. An election. A split (or two or three) and the odd mourning of denouncing former comrades. And, of course, some more speeches.
But alongside all of that, the relentless busyness that buoys us along, there is always heartbreak. Perhaps we all know that this is the thing we are running from, the thing that must not be said, lest we all break apart completely. No-one devotes the time and the energies and the sheer bloodymindedness that we do unless running from something.
I am calling this something heartbreak because I feel the ache in my chest and the sense of standing at the edge of an abyss and the loss upon loss of the truly heartbroken. And when I feel it, the grief of my own life, the small but devastating losses of any life, the terrible costs of our humanness – all of that ripples out to join the oceans of grief of others. Some others might think of this as a form, a more expansive form, of class consciousness. Let me suggest, only in part to annoy, that to be heartbroken is the true class consciousness of racial capitalism.
Heartbreak is the moment when we see our pain as only a moment in the battle between the will to live and love and the will to destroy.
Heartbreak is when we commune with those who have been broken apart by state violence and we understand that this violence is also meant for us.
Heartbreak is when we realise that there is no remedy, no repair, no way back and nothing to fix this. That whatever comes next these histories and presents of violence cannot be put right. That the destiny of the heartbroken is to wish something better and completely new for those who come next.
Because it is only we, the heartbroken, who can truly battle and long for a world where no-one ever feels like this again.
The jouissance of solidarity
The brokenheartedness of revolutionary consciousness requires a redirection towards the collective. Perhaps some gather here in search of solace. Others simply for distraction. Others still looking for meaning, for a new quest, for something to cancel out their sense of lack. What they have in common is the understanding, often barely articulated, that pain must be turned outwards. That survival, if possible at all, must be in togetherness. Of course, people also guard themselves as they can or must. We also move in and out of the spaces of self-medication, anger and despair. Fall in and out of love and bed with the wrong people. Push away those who nourish, pull close those who harm. Mess things up again and again, but still somehow get up to try once more.
But, at the same time, brokenheartedness thins our skins so we become open to others. The boundaries between us can seem to dissolve, just momentarily. Your pain becomes my pain becomes our pain and the extent of us and the pains we are carrying and the long, long way back and the traces across oceans, across centuries, across my street and across your kitchen, all of it overwhelms. I’m awash with it all and I can’t remember me. Too late to find myself, because I have already merged into all of you.
And in a version of the most ancient of stories, the rush into a kind of oblivion leads to a form of ecstasy. In its best everyday forms, the drudgery of political work becomes a falling in love and we are, once again, entranced by each other. Sometimes we reach a little further, enraptured by the jouissance of losing ourselves. Who we were – which identity or which faction, which analysis or which mis/gendering, which skin, which god, which acronym – fades away in the face of who we could be together. And then together doesn’t even make sense anymore, because in the world we are dreaming and making, there is no me and you, there is only us. Just us forever. And it feels like nothing on earth. Nothing on earth yet.
Gargi Bhattacharyya is Professor of Sociology at University of East London. She is the co-author of the forthcoming Empire’s Endgame: Racism and the British State (Pluto, 2021), as the author of Rethinking Racial Capitalism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), Dangerous Brown Men (Zed, 2008) and Traffick (Pluto, 2005).