Friendship as Anti-Capitalism

To become radically anti-capitalist, Aia Newport invites us to prioritise friendships in our daily lives and organising space. Written for Chain Reaction #141.

Two people free-climbing a red-brick wall

Friendship isn’t some ground-breaking new solution to our 21st-century problems but if this column is to talk about the foundations of our lives, friendship is surely one of them. In a world so measured, economised and aimed at extracting profit, friendships allow us to practice relating outside of a capitalist mindset.  

On a fundamental level, connecting with others comes from a need for safety, security and support  – the classic ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’. Yet if this is all we are seeking from fellow humans, we would be satisfied calling our therapist, hiring someone on airtasker to help or ordering uber eats for a hearty soup when we’re feeling sick.  

While friends absolutely provide us with support and a sense of safety, friendship is so much more than that. Friends bring us joy, companionship, solidarity and meaning. They bring us to life, make us laugh, feel loved, show us new perspectives and challenge us to be better.  

The joy we feel in friendships has radical potential for liberation.

Adrienne Maree Brown, a post-nationalist writer, doula, activist and Black feminist, teaches us the power of pleasure activism and “the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy".1 Like Brown, I believe joy is a precondition for liberation, and friendships allow us to tap into this.  

Friends also help us feel less lonely. In a world where capitalists profit off our fear and isolation by selling us products that will supposedly make us happier, leaning into our friendships and feeling the connections we already have can reduce the power of the ruling class. Moreover, the sense of solidarity that comes from friendship can help us face what can be an overwhelming picture of the future and give us reassurance that whatever is coming, we will face it together. 

The giving that exists between friends is also anti-capitalist in the ways it challenges economised interactions.

 

With friends we are drawn to giving to each other out of trust, care and co-operation, rather than the monetised exchanges we see in many other areas of life. We care for our friends’ well-being and so we give without expectation of trade or remuneration. In a capitalist society it has become normalised to approach social interactions with the question, “What can I get from this interaction?” Perhaps with friends we ask, “What can I give?” 

For example, if a friend of mine has had a rough day and I ride over to their place to make them a hearty soup I would have no expectation that they pay me for my time and energy, nor would I expect them to trade anything or come and make me the same soup next time I’m sad (though I might hope they will). The soup was made out of love and the delivery of it was a gift not a transaction.  

The way we give to our friends is inherently anti-capitalist and shifts the motivation for sharing our time, energy and resources from one of personal gain and profit to co-existence, joy, empathy and care.

 Letting the generosity we see in friendships flow into other areas of our lives also has potential to shift us towards less transactional ways of being together. Mutual aid networks are a great example of what can happen when we care for our wider community in the way we care for our friends. 

I’ve recently moved to a new town and found myself living in a long-standing share-house. Some of my housemates have close connections with people living across the road, and even as I was write one of them walks through the backdoor to grab a cake-tin.  

One of my housemates is in his sixties and the two of us quickly bonded. One day he took a friend and I for a bike tour of the town and showed us his favourite buildings and rock walls for climbing while he told us some history of the town. I don’t have many friends who are old enough to be my grandparent, but I’ve found having older friends is so important for creating space where stories, knowledge and life experiences can be passed on.  

The sharing goes both ways – he teaches me history while I teach him about genderqueerness, and we both come to understand each other more, bridging the generational gap. It makes me think, if this gap were bridged more often there might be less misunderstanding and resentment between generations, and lead us to new ways of co-operating.  

In addition, friends see us as more than our capacity for work and appreciate us instead for the joy and solidarity we bring to their lives.

They remind us we are valuable for who we are, not for our productive labour.

Through our friends we come to know ourselves as loveable and worthy of a life free of oppression, rather than a mere cog in the capitalist machine. We heal ourselves and each other in loving and being loved. 

The love we have for our friends encourages us to work through disagreements or tensions with each other. In a capitalist society, people are valued for their discipline and capacity to put their head down and get on with it. In friendships, we make time and space for the tricky conversations. When conflict arises, the connection we’ve built with a friend allows us to trust that we are both coming from a place of care and are invested in reaching a place of understanding. This kind of commitment found in some friendships, helps teach us we can have disagreements, express our needs and be loved.  

Friendships are also (usually) chosen and exist outside of the hetero-patriarchal family structures that support a capitalist economy.

 Strong friendships provide support networks that reach outside of the codes of marriage and family, offering alternative ways of surviving and thriving together. The nuclear family and gender roles have long been tools of the ruling class that uphold the capitalist system and so friendships, along with queer relationships, relationship anarchy and gender justice, can be said to disrupt structures of oppression.  

To share some more of my recent experiences, I’d like to tell you about the wholesome Sunday night dinners I initiated with some friends. I’ve found a lot of joy in planning the food to meet everyone’s dietary requirements, harvesting and shopping for the food, cooking it up for hours, setting some kind of themed table and eating with friends. The whole process feels intentional, and giving to the people I love brings me a lot of joy. 

As well as the food itself, the dinner also acts as an informal round table discussion. It’s a space of networking, debriefing and brainstorming. In no way is the dinner intended to be a political meeting and there’s no agenda – but in simply coming together and connecting, we inevitably talk about social and environmental issues and imagine new worlds. This co-imagining allows us to build shared visions and understand how our ideas align and differ from one another.   

A table laid with colourful bowls of food

The friendship group at these dinners resembles an affinity group and organising core, with an added layer of trust and care that is sometimes lacking in more formal social justice organising. For me, building these relationships with friends first and becoming incidental organisers as a side-effect allows for discussions and actions that really hold us. The conversations are fun and feel sustainable in a way I find typical organising meetings struggle to achieve.

I wonder what organising would look and feel like if we were better able to prioritise friendship and joy in our organising spaces.  

Friendship then is powerful on many levels. It is a sacred joy that shows us how wonderful life can be. It teaches us generosity and co-operation that we can bring to other parts life. It holds us tenderly when we fear for the future and helps us feel less alone. It allows us to imagine and create new realities in ways that feel healing and it is evidence that the connected and caring world we are dreaming of exists already in our every day interactions. 

 

 


Aia (they/them) was born on Wurrundjeri country and is of Scottish, Welsh and English descent. Get in contact at [email protected]


References 

1 Brown, A. M. 2019, Pleasure Activism, AK Press 


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