Held annually on the Saturday before Valentine's Day, the Red Party at Verso's Brooklyn office has become a ritual. At the Third Annual Red Party last Saturday, McKenzie Wark presented a tribute to the vision behind the pro-communism, anti-Valentine's Day party.
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So its Valentine’s Day weekend. You can already see the young straight couples. The boy holding the girl’s hand; the girl holding the genetically engineered long-stem rose. I feel like walking up to them and shouting: listen, I’m an old person so I know. This is never going to work! But then whatever does work out? Be monogamous, be polyamorous, be fuckbuddies, be alone with your cat. Being a human mammal is messy no matter what you do. Let’s face it, our species-being has issues. So whew are love, rituals, roses and the color red.
Let’s start with a proverb: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Are you fucking kidding me? Love means always having to say you are sorry. Even when you don’t mean it. Trust me on this, I have been married to the same human for seventeen years. You may know the wonderful Christen Clifford, who is off in Florida while I look after the kids this Valentine’s Day weekend. She is there to work on a book about rape culture. I’ll just let that one sink in….
I don’t know, maybe we want to love another person because we feel we are weird and strange and it’s a relief to have another person think you’re Ok. And then, if you stick together long enough with that other person, after a while everyone thinks both of you are weird and strange. So Christen, if you are out there, I just want you to know: that’s my taco. And blue kettle.
Has anyone been to a wedding where somebody read First Corinthians? If not, you will. It goes like this: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Again, are you fucking kidding me? This needs an update. If ever you have to do a reading at a wedding, do Last Corinthians, which goes like this… : “Love is herpes, love is debt. It does not give a shit. There will be boasting, pride, envy, anger and selfies. And it keeps a spreadsheet of all wrongs.”
But let’s not get too carried away with this line of thought. The cynic is just an optimist embarrassed about their enthusiasm. Cynics try to hide their loves as if it was porn. Let’s acknowledge that love is an ideology, but there’s no getting out of ideology. The best one can do is reshape it to make a less painful and hurtful life.
So let’s make up our own Saint Valentine’s Day myths and rituals. It turns out Saint Valentine is mostly myth. There’s eleven Saint Valentines. It’s a common Latin name meaning ‘strong.’ So let’s make up our own, putting new flesh and blood on the old martyr bones.
Here’s the marrow of the thing: Saint Valentine’s day is about the restoration of sight. It is about the refusal to betray. It is about loving who is near rather than warring with what is far. And, since it replaced the pagan feast of Lupercalia, it is about fertility and wearing sheepskins. Or for the vegans among us: perhaps we could eviscerate teddy-bears and wear their pelts. Could be popular with the furries, too.
So let us restore our sight. Let us stay loyal to our comrades. Let us not hate who is far but love who is near. Just remember to use protection or its updated equivalent: the block function on social media.
Too bad we can’t give each other real roses. “Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet, and so are you.” That needs an update too, yes? How about: “Roses are red. Violets are blue. And both grow just fine, in the right grade of poo.” There’s no roses to pick without soil to grow them. Getting beyond this business of just loving selected other humans means loving the world. But not in the first-love, new-love, romantic way at all. We need to be with the world like old married people or old friends or better yet old comrades. With all the friction and the habits, but still and all. Still showing up for the grand old cause.
Roses used to be one of the emblems of socialism. We want bread, but we want roses too! We want the good life, and not just for our immediate kin, but for our kith, for those others around us, human and not. We want bread and roses for actual beings we know, not some idealized other. And let’s not forget that roses have thorns, too. A rose by any other name will still rip your flesh off. And maybe you’re into that, but careful on approach. Speaking of thorns, let’s keep our hated of the ruling class sharp and clean.
Red is the color of my first love, the working class. I joined the party of the working class at sixteen. I did what every petit-bourgeois son or daughter should do: I betrayed my class. That is now nearly forty years ago. So I have no illusions about our relationship, labor and me. And yet as with most first loves I will never forget and never give up that love.
Let me just say this about the working class. The working class are not anybody’s subject. Subjectivity is a thing invented by psychoanalysis to make bourgeois lives seem interesting. Labor is not a kind of subjectivity; it is an unkind objectivity. One gives one’s time to making things for the boss and becomes one of the bosses’ things. To be labor is to be part flesh, part machine, part commodity, part spectacle. It’s to be actually less and potentially more than the sum of those parts.
We’re not going to make much progress if we expect everyone to be good bourgeois subjects first before we let them join our party. Because the good subject, whose love is patient and kind and does not envy, is the stuff of Christian fairytales. Only God is like that, and He is dead. We are not fallen angels; we are just aspirational mammals. Let’s start by feeling the pain of others, of which we may know nothing.
But let’s be clear: we have to fight not only exploitation but also oppression, and racism and imperialism and sexism and misogyny and transphobia and homophobia and all the rest, and all together, all at the same time. All I am saying is not to expect to change people’s hearts and minds first. As Rimbaud said, we need to “change life!” Let’s change how we live, any and every way we can. Kind thoughts comes from the good life, not the other way around.
What is so quaint about Saint Valentine’s Day is that it is about maybe three passions at best: romance and sex and mortgages. But as Fourier already knew, we have twelve passions, most of which we hardly know how to feel. It’s in the labor, the struggle, the art and the science of making the good life together, of being comrades together, that we find the ways to mesh our passions with each other, to affirm each other, to begin to think and feel how we can make the good life together without scapegoats and sacrificial victims.
So let’s have a red party. A party that can grow bit by bit to include anyone. Are there any Hemocyanins in the house? No? Hemocyanin blood really is green. Their blood uses copper rather than iron to transport oxygen. But I see you lot are not mollusks or scorpions or crustaceans. You look like mammals to me. And our mammal blood is red. Even if you are color blind, your blood is still red to others. Let’s fly the red flag and wear the red bandana, for a lot of reasons, but first because for us it’s the color of blood, which is the color of life, and life is the color of love.
The red flag is the flag of life, of labor. It was the flag of the Christian martyrs, and it is the flag of the martyrs of organized labor, in our ongoing struggle against capital and against fascism. As the song says: “The people’s flag is deepest red, and oft it shrouds our martyred dead.” But let’s not get too carried away with that sentiment either. It can get a bit too butch. The red flag is the flag of blood but it is also the flag of lipstick. It’s the flag of our queer femme artifice and sensual pleasure, too.
Red is the taste of tomatoes, juicy and ripe on a summer day. Red is the texture of rust, of the things made by labors of love and labors of labor, which oxidize like blood in the sun. Red is the color of sun, of energy, warming the planet, warming it too much now, so let’s care about that too. It’s the color of things far bigger than our little mammal concerns.
The red flag is the color of menstruation. Which may mean: well this is a body that can still make life. Or: well, thank the gods this body didn’t just make life. That body will be the one deciding when or if it does. If you’re not feeling any of these reds, then choose another. Red is also the color of the blues. Let’s have a rainbow flag made up of all the shades of red. Including infra-red, visible only to the xeno-feminists, with their cyborg eyes.
And so every year, let’s have a red party for all the reds. Let all the reds be our comrades. Who are our comrades? Our comrades are those who try to be human together with us, without expecting miracles. Our comrades are those who stick around even when we are losing. Our comrades are the ones with whom we face the same dangers and with who we face difference joys.
And so, a toast: to love and life, to bread and roses, to blood and rust and sun! To the red party!
McKenzie Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto, Gamer Theory, 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International and The Beach Beneath the Street, and Molecular Red among other books. He teaches at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York City. His book General Intellects: Twenty-One Thinkers for the Twentry First Century, is forthcoming in May 2017.