|Revision 1||November 1992|
|The Alternative Orange. November 1992 Vol. 2 No. 2 (Syracuse University)|
|Revision 2||September 10, 2000|
|DocBook XML (DocBk XML V3.1.3) from original.|
Part I: The Past
In last year’s edition of The Alternative Orange, my comrade Mark Wood and I sketched out the rudiments of what we argued should provide the foundation for a marxist theory of homosexuality and of gay and lesbian life and liberation. We began “Marxism, Socialism, and the Politics of Gay and Lesbian Liberation” with the following contentions:
The struggle for gay and lesbian liberation has the potential to become a significant force in the ongoing struggle to transform capitalism into communism. The most advanced — the most radical — sections of the gay and lesbian liberation movement represent the potential vanguard of the struggle for sexual emancipation in the socialist transition from capitalism to communism. This does not mean that gay and lesbian liberation can or should replace the proletariat as the vanguard of the whole movement of revolutionary struggle and transformation of capitalism into socialism and communism; instead, it means that gay and lesbian liberation can and should become a vanguard within, and as a relatively autonomous part of, the larger proletarian vanguard as this proletarian vanguard carries out the larger task of reconstructing all of social reality in the total movement of revolutionary transformation from capitalism to communism. As such a vanguard within a vanguard, the gay and lesbian liberation movement can become more than a mere addendum to or appendage of the struggle for socialism and communism and can make a substantial contribution to the determination of both the form and the content of the revolutionary transformation of capitalist society and culture into communist society and culture: contributing to the reimagination and reinvention of socialism and communism by (re)shaping principle and program (including long-term, medium-term, and short-term objectives) as well as organization, strategy and tactics.
The necessary theoretical precondition for this transformation of radical gay and lesbian liberation into revolutionary socialist gay and lesbian liberation is the development of an accurate understanding of the inner connections among homophobia, heterosexism, and capitalism. Only by identifying the specific chain of mediations which links the oppression of homosexuals in capitalist society with the capitalist mode of production itself will it be possible to understand 1. why homosexuality poses such a serious threat to the continued reproduction and maintenance of capitalism that complete acceptance and toleration of homosexuality will always be impossible within capitalism, and 2. why the grounds for building a society in which sexuality is truly liberated can only be achieved through the abolition of capitalism and the development of communism.
In support of these contentions we then sought to accomplish the following three objectives:
1. To explain homophobia as a crucial dimension of heterosexism, heterosexism as in turn a necessary superstructural condition for the reproduction and maintenance of patriarchal sexism, and the importance of heterosexism and patriarchal sexism in the reproduction and maintenance of capitalist relations of production.
2. To contribute to the development of a marxist theory of homosexuality that locates gay and lesbian liberation in the context of the struggle to create a realm of freedom which is rooted in yet supercedes mere necessity, and, in doing so, to demonstrate why it is necessary to unite struggles for gay and lesbian liberation with the struggle for socialism and communism.
3. To argue that complete freedom of sexual association for gays and lesbians can and ought to function as a significant measure of the degree to which gender has been abolished as a socially significant category (superceding a gendered division of labor) and human beings have progressed towards the creation of a truly free (a communist) society.
Our work so far is only the very beginning of what needs to be done to develop marxist theory in this area: this work remains in need of extensive refinement, expansion, and development by many others as well as ourselves. What makes this task particularly challenging is the inadequacy of marxist theory of homosexuality and of gay and lesbian life and liberation to date. Marxism has the potential to provide a very significant and useful contribution, and yet this potential remains virtually entirely that at this point in time: potential.
In this series of three essays, I will explore the past, present, and prospective future direction of marxist theory of homosexuality and of gay and lesbian liberation, accounting for the weaknesses as well as the strengths of marxist theoretical work to date and suggesting what marxist theory has to offer in opposition to contemporary post-marxist — queer — theory of homosexuality and gay and lesbian life and liberation which is of urgent importance to the broad struggle for human sexual — and social — emancipation.
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To date, marxist theory of homosexuality and of gay and lesbian life and liberation has been developed largely indirectly, as little more than a corollary — and usually this a relatively minor corollary — of work concerned primarily with other objects. At the same time, of course, many others — non-marxists — have worked much more directly and extensively in these areas, generating more substantial theories. These others include many non-marxists whose political commitments nevertheless make their work not only broadly “leftist” but also clearly “socialist.” This, of course, brings the work of these theorists into some kind of proximity with marxism, and yet the conceptions which representatives of this non-marxist socialist left have developed usually remain at least ultimately very different and distant from what would constitute properly marxist conceptions.
What about those who have worked from a position as committed marxists, and who have attempted to articulate an explicitly marxist theory of homosexuality and of gay and lesbian life and liberation ? Few committed marxists have worked in this area and fewer still have expended much more than perfunctory effort. Nonetheless, marxists have had to articulate various theories of homosexuality and of gay and lesbian life and liberation, even if these theories remain largely untheorized, and even if most of these theories do not develop out of any serious — rather than vulgar — use of dialectical and historical materialist precepts and concepts. Marxists have not hesitated to make sense of homosexuality and gay and lesbian life and liberation, even if this sense has not often been very good sense.
♦ ♦ ♦
Marx and Engels did not explicitly address the subject of homosexuality in their work. Some contend that Engels’ passing comment about the “distasteful” practices of the ancient Greeks in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State is an explicit condemnation of homosexual relations while others argue, with I think good reason, that Engels is primarily concerned with the ways in which Greek society divided relations between men and men and men and women such that the latter were subordinated to the former, and the ways in which sexual relations between men and men tended to parallel sexual — and social — relations between men and women with a strict line of division between older and dominant adult males and younger and subordinant youthful males. Engels is, after all, primarily concerned with investigating sexual difference as a basis for class stratification through sexual division of social labor. The fact that homosexuality is not explicitly addressed elsewhere in Engels’ work also belies the contention that Engels was in any way manifestly opposed to — or “disgusted with” — homosexuality. In any event, what is at least clear is that Marx and Engels did not themselves even begin to develop a marxist theory of homosexuality.
♦ ♦ ♦
Early modern advocates of homosexual rights — Magnus Hirschfeld, Max Spohr, and Erik Oberg — enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the marxist-oriented German Social Democratic Party, and many members of this party — including August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Rudolph Hilferding, and Eduard Bernstein — actively supported efforts to decriminalize homosexuality and to educate Germans to accept and tolerate “uranian” men and women. However, as relatively progressive as this position was for the time, such support for decriminalization was still predicated upon the belief that homosexuality is an innate deviation from the norm rather than a socially constructed form of behavior that is part of a sexual continuum from homosexual to heterosexual upon which all men and women are situated and across which all men and women move (to the degrees and within the limits that are prescribed and proscribed by particular social contracts which regulate sexual behavior within the particular societies in which they live). The position which advocates acceptance of and toleration for homosexuality as an inescapable and unpreventable “deviation” from “normal” sexuality fails to grasp the way in which sexuality is intrinsically interconnected with and interdeterminate of gender and thereby fails to grasp the way in which positioning upon and movement across this heterosexual-homosexual continuum is in turn intrinsically interconnected and interdeterminate of positioning upon and movement across man-woman and masculine-feminine continua.
Early marxists tended only to support homosexual rights insofar as they saw this as a humane and liberal course to follow. It was at best paternalistically protective in its relation to what it perceived to be a small and weak minority which could not help but be homosexual because such men and women were victims of a “biological anomaly.” Marxists were not helped in this regard, of course, by the leaders of the homosexual rights movement, as most of these men and women were themselves convinced — and have, up until recently, predominantly continued to be so convinced — that both their own homosexuality and the heterosexuality of the majority were biologically innate conditions, even strictly the products of genetically predetermined “instincts.”
Although freudian psychoanalysis and liberal sexology has tended to argue against the notion that sexual orientation is biologically predetermined, most Western marxists and most Western marxist organizations have tended to follow the pattern established by the early Bolsheviks (under Stalin, conditions changed dramatically for the worse for homosexual men and women in the Soviet Union), and that was to see homosexuality as a kind of inferior “sickness” which is best “cured” through a combination of “enlightened” tolerance of the homosexual with a patient and yet firm “negative intolerance” for homosexuality that was to take the form of active promotion and encouragement of heterosexuality rather than active proscription and punishment of homosexuality. (That this is not, according to contemporary standards, an enlightened position is clear if we note that combining “tolerance of the homosexual” with “intolerance of homosexuality” is the same position as that advocated today by reactionary figures such as Pope John Paul II and reactionary institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church.)
In practice, of course, most “Western” and “Eastern” societies and culture have long been extremely intolerant and in fact actively oppressive of homosexuality, and because of this it is not surprising that the most widely visible practice of homosexuality — and certainly the most widely visible development of anything like a gay identity, community, and culture — has tended to develop among the classes enjoying the greatest personal and social freedom, the upper classes. This has been the case even though the practice of homosexuality has always been equally “natural” and even equally extensive — and even often also widely visible and accepted — among classes serving these upper classes, especially in forms of service which forced men into continual close contact with and deep emotional-psychological and social-physical dependence upon other men — and, in parallel, women into continual close contact with and deep emotional-psychological and social-physical dependence upon other women — in areas such as the school, the military, the foreign service, the frontier, the prison, the factory, and the household. This relative greater visibility of upper class homosexuality, combined with the invisibility of the enormous power exercised by historically and culturally produced social and political interests invested in shaping as well as maintaining strict gender divisions such that “real” men would have to be masculine and “real” women would have to be feminine, has led many marxists to perceive homosexuality as not only (or simply) a “sickness,” but, in fact, as a kind of upper class — and, in particular “bourgeois” — form of “decadence.”
In fact, many marxists (in what was certainly a quite grotesque irony given the genocidal treatment of homosexuals not only within Nazi Germany but also within other similar kinds of fascist, semi-fascist, <proto>fascist and <neo>fascist societies both before and since the Nazis) have even tended to link homosexuality directly with fascism. This only deepened tendencies among marxists and socialists towards at times virulent forms of homophobia. In part because of this, some of the most virulent forms of homophobia have been practiced in the so-called “socialist” nations of the “Second World” (the Stalinist world) where homosexuals have been openly and deliberately persecuted by order of the state and in revolutionary “socialist” societies from the “Third World” such as Cuba, which set up rectification camps for homosexual men and women in the 1970s in order to transform these “social deviants” into “true socialist men and women” and which, up until very recently, quarantined HIV+ men and women, from the moment they were first tested positive, in “sanitariums”.
Even in the “First World,” homophobia among marxists and within marxist socialist organizations has often, at least until recently, run very strong. The Socialist Workers Party in the United States was one of the first — and in fact one of the few — organizations of “the Old Left” immediately to join in active support for Black civil rights and Black nationalism, as well as for Women’s Liberation, struggle against the Vietnam War, and the broad student/youth counter-cultural and sexual liberation movement of the 1960s. And yet, up until the 1970s, homosexuals were barred from membership in the SWP. Even today, the maoist Revolutionary Communist Party continues to bar homosexuals from membership and to condemn gay and lesbian liberation as a merely “bourgeois” form of decadence. Other maoists groups, such as the Maoist International Movement, publisher of MIM Notes, don’t go quite this far, and yet also tend most often towards a very similarly dismissive and denigrating approach to analysis of gay and lesbian politics and culture as merely the aspiration of a “privileged” group for a better “bourgeois” “lifestyle.”
Social democratic and trotskyist and post-trotskyist revolutionary marxist organizations are often more progressive, at least today. Yet even the most advanced “trotskyist” and “post-trotskyist” organizations, such as the Fourth Internationalist Tendency and Solidarity, maintain positions which indicate full “support” of struggles for gay and lesbian “rights” while not taking the time to add much of anything to this mere declaration of support. Even these “advanced” organizations have not yet felt sufficient pressure to take the struggles of gays and lesbians seriously enough to develop an adequate theoretical understanding of the actual and potential significance of gay and lesbian struggle of and for liberation for all men and women, straight as well as gay, especially in relation to anti-capitalist and pro- socialist struggle.
“Progressive” marxists and socialists are “also” opposed to oppression of gays and lesbians and are “also” supportive of efforts for gay and lesbian liberation, and yet this “also” is insufficient to make marxism and socialism particularly compelling to gay and lesbian liberationists. Not only does it mean that such marxists and socialists have little to offer gay and lesbian liberationists (little to compel them to devote much of their time or energy to the work of pressing for and building towards revolutionary socialist transformation), it also means that these marxists and socialists do not recognize that gay and lesbian struggle against oppression and for liberation needs to be a vital — a central and crucial — element within the overall project of revolutionary socialist transformation of capitalism into communism. At the same time, as long as marxists do not recognize this “larger” significance of gay and lesbian liberation, marxists will, by and large, remain content to accept (largely uncritically) non-marxist (and even anti-marxist and post-marxist) theories of homosexuality and of gay and lesbian liberation instead of working to develop genuinely marxist theories, and this will mean that marxists will in practice tend to support not the building of an integrated movement for revolutionary transformation but rather a “rainbow” coalition of eclectically disparate struggles for reform.
♦ ♦ ♦
As Jeff Brown argues in “Marxism and Gay Liberation” (Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, No. 89, October 1991), the previous inadequacies of various individual — and various groups of — marxists in understanding, supporting, and enabling the struggle for gay and lesbian liberation, does not mean that marxism is inherently unable to make a substantial, significant — and indeed invaluable — contribution to this cause: “it just goes to show that science (Marxism in this case) is cumulative, provisional, and never finished” (21). This means “that even people like Lenin and Trotsky, being humans instead of gods, are not omniscient or infallible authorities who were always right on every question” (21). At times even these ‘great men’ “were unable to rise above the general scientific understanding of their time” (21-22). They should therefore be “critically evaluated and dealt with like all other scientists, not slavishly and uncritically worshipped — as is the general practice of sectarians and dogmatists” (22).
As a result of the historical antipathy of much of the revolutionary socialist left to homosexuality and to the earliest efforts in the development of the “modern” (dating from after World War II, and, in particular, from the late 1960s onward) gay and lesbian liberation movement, many within the modern gay and lesbian liberation movement have tended not only to ignore but also completely to dismiss the potential contribution of marxism to gay and lesbian liberation. This has had serious costs not only for marxism but also for gay and lesbian liberation — and, in particular radical gay and lesbian liberation — as well.
The gay and lesbian liberationists whose radicalism was forged as part of the struggles of the New Left of the 1960s already shared a general New Left hostility towards the parties of the Old Left, be they social democratic, stalinist, or trotskyist, and this hostility was itself not only often the result of the slowness and backwardness of many of these Old Left organizations to respond sensitively and progressively to the concerns of the New Left, but also, at least in social democratic Western Europe, the result as well of the extent to which much of the Old Left had itself become part of the ruling establishment. Thus, the relations between the founding generation of the modern gay and lesbian liberation movement and the traditional left already was marked by serious strain.
By the early 1970s distinctive strands of radical gay political activity had emerged, and these, as Bill Marshall indicates, in his essay “Gays and Marxism” (from the 1989 anthology edited by Simon Shepherd and Mick Wallis, Coming On Strong: Gay Politics and Culture, published by Unwin Hyman), chiefly included the following: “an emphasis on the struggle for ‘rights’ of ‘gays’ as an identified sexual (analogous with racial) minority within the status quo of property relations; an emphasis on the fundamentally revolutionary/dissident position of being gay; an emphasis on personal liberation with wider political pretensions — ‘the personal is political’” (259). This created problems for traditional marxism because, Marshall correctly points out, these positions “are clearly inimical to Marxism” insofar as “they lack a global project, whether political (the transformation of class society) or intellectual (a theory of the historical development, and within it, the oppression of gays); and they eschew a call to arms against capitalism” (259).
Of course some elements of this emerging radical gay movement did attempt to establish a dialogue with marxism and it is rightly these elements and their particular problems and limitations in making sense and use of marxism which draw Marshall’s chief attention. Marshall sees the journal Gay Left as representative of these most advanced elements. What Marshall finds in his analysis of Gay Left is that Gay Left’s major theoretical concerns tend to focus upon superstructural phenomena, and in particular upon the question of ideology, to the relative exclusion of infrastructural phenomena. Because of the problematic nature of Gay Left’s understanding of relations between base and superstructures and because of Gay Left’s problematic conception of the nature and significance of ideology, Gay Left tends to criticize and ultimately reject traditional marxism along five principal lines:
1. Traditional marxism is perceived to be functionalist, and this means that it assumes what Jeffrey Weeks characterizes as an over-simplistic “functional fit between the needs of capitalism and the organization of sexuality” (260, quoted from “Capitalism and the Organisation of Sex,” in the Gay Left Collective’s 1980 anthology, Homosexuality, Power, and Politics, published by Alison and Busby in London), and it also means, in its most vulgar and reductionist forms, that traditional marxism betrays a tendency falsely and simplistically to ascribe the oppression of homosexuals under capitalism to an intentional conspiracy of the capitalist class;
2. Traditional marxism is perceived to be economistic, to neglect the ways in which “the economic is mediated through complex social relations, ideological forms, and political practices,” and this is further characterized as a fatal weakness for any attempt at a marxist explanation of gay oppression, “because it is at the ideological level that most of our oppression as gays is expressed, and not on the economic level” (261, quoted from Gay Left, vol. 5, Winter 1977, p. 2);
3. The founding texts of the marxist tradition are seen as assuming that both the current patriarchal sexist division of labor and the norm of compulsory heterosexuality are natural, and, therefore, this means that “there is no concept” within traditional marxism, as Jeffrey Weeks argues, “of the need for conscious struggle to transform interpersonal relations as part of the transformations necessary for the construction of a socialist society” (261-262, quoted from “Where Engels Feared to Tread,” Gay Left, Vol 1, Autumn 1975, p. 3);
4. The history of Soviet marxism, including Bolshevism before Stalin, is perceived to be at best dismissive and uninterested and at worst extremely hateful and repressive of efforts to engage in the revolutionary reconstruction and liberation of relations of gender and sexuality; and
5. Even non-stalinist and non-reformist parties, i.e. trotskyists, who have attempted to address gay liberation in their platforms, refuse to listen seriously or seriously to respect what gay men and lesbian women have to say about gay and lesbian oppression and liberation.
After describing these five directions of divergence, Marshall then attempts to critique Gay Left in each area, attempting to show not only what kinds of problems and limitations these divergences caused for Gay Left but also to explain why these kinds of limitations and divergences did occur. To begin with the first two arguments against marxism advanced by Gay Left, the problem, as Marshall correctly contends, is that “functionalism” and “economism” are here so overextended that “the materialist baby is thrown out with the reductivist bath water” (262). In fact, it is Gay Left which is the most reductivist — of marxism: as Marshall points out, “to say that the vital material production of society itself, its forces and relations, are the ultimate determinant of human existence, society creating consciousness which creates society and so on, is not economism” (263). The upshot of Gay Left’s position is to conflate what are actually forms of mediation and expression of relations (including oppressive relations) of gender and sexuality with what is in fact the essence of these relations. As Marshall elaborates:
What is absent from much Gay Left writing is an interest in the economy itself; and indeed the logic of the Althusserean notion of the relative autonomy of the ideological, particularly for isolated intellectuals, is to see ideology as the main oppression. This assumes that ‘gays’ can only be understood as ‘gays’ and not as gay coalminers, gay teachers, gay unemployed, gay capitalists; indeed, it neglects the way in which class oppression intersects with the oppression of gays (for example, poverty restricting access to the commercial scene, or to resources which might facilitate dealings with the oppressive police apparatus; material constraints contributing to the pain of coming out, through fear of loss of job or accommodation.)
This is not to say that the oppression of homosexuality does not have its own complex and specific history which cannot simply be explained by capitalism. But it is the attention to concrete material conditions, and to the possibility of their transformation, that is the hallmark of the Marxist, however subtle and fascinating the mediations between base and superstructure may be. The anxiety about ‘intentionality’ suggests the assumption that only something with conscious intent can affect history; again, this suppresses the dialectical relationship of social being and consciousness.
The complexities of struggles should not disguise the fact that the realm of ideology requires certain material conditions to prevail. All things being equal, those elements in capitalist society survive that, at the very least, do not threaten its own survival. Thus pre-capitalist ideologies and economies of gender are worked upon, modified, and reinforced in a way which is broadly enabling of capitalist development; the role of unpaid domestic labour in weakening and dividing the working class, the role of the policing of alternative sexualities in the universalization of the nuclear family unit, and so on. Such developments of course contain contradictions which might threaten the existing relations of production; capitalism is both eminently adaptable and eminently unstable. Post 1968 politics of gender have wavered between the possibilities of appropriation or destabilization. (263-264)
Marshall next proceeds to counter the third point of criticism advanced against marxism by Gay Left, that the classic texts of marxism are hopelessly sexist and heterosexist. Marshall begins by pointing out that “whatever Marx and Engels thought about homosexuality is beside the point; what matters is whether their own ‘heterosexism’, as we now call it, structures and limits their analysis of the relation between the history of production and gender roles” (264). As Marshall indicates, this problem does not arise, and in fact, both Marx and Engels are not only well aware of the historically social and cultural “constructedness” of gender and sexual roles and identities, positions and relations, but also are quite sensitive to the importance of relations between these “constructions” and production relations. Engels’ Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State seeks to explain the material forces which have shaped the modern monogamous (bourgeois patriarchal) family, and, as the title of the work suggests, link its development to the emergence of private property, when the patrilineal system replaced mother right in order that the owners of wealth — the men — could pass that wealth onto their offspring and be sure of their paternity: this marked the ‘world-historical defeat of the female sex’ (Engels, 1940, p. 59). The question is, why was it the men who owned property (cattle, tools, hunting instruments) ? The answer clearly lies in a division of labour between the sexes… ‘According to the division of labour within the family at that time, it was man’s part to obtain food and the instruments of labour necessary for that purpose’ (p. 57, my emphasis) …<Engels> is not so transfixed by ‘individual sex-love’ that he does not see its varied durability, and thus he puts forth the basic socialist demand of the easy dissolubility of marriage (p. 89). And, moreover, he shows himself aware of the construction of his own sexual preferences when speculating about future generations: ‘When these people are in the world, they will care precious little about what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and the corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual and that will be the end of it’; and, quoting Morgan, ‘Should the monogamian family in the distant future fail to answer the requirements of society…it is impossible to predict the nature of its successor’ (p. 90). (264-265 and quotes from 1940 Lawrence & Wishart edition of Engels’ Origins of the Family, Private Property, and The State, published in London.)
Marshall finds Engels’ chief weakness to be his underestimation of the degree to which oppressive — patriarchal sexist — gender relations are deeply embedded within the proletarian class as well as that of the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie. Engels, in other words, fails adequately to account for the ways in which “proletarian culture” is formed as a subculture within bourgeois culture, shaped and determined by bourgeois culture and by no means autonomous from or transcending of it. As Marshall proceeds to point out, this was a failure shared later by many — future — stalinist analyses. However, as Marshall again correctly indicates, stalinist marxism is not equivalent with leninist and trotskyist marxism. Both Lenin and Trotsky were well-aware of the complexities and the difficulties of the process of transformation of capitalism and the development of communism in the revolutionary socialist epoch of transition. As Lenin recognized, specifically in relation to the task of overcoming the inequalities intrinsic to a gendered division of labour and the task of socializing child-care, housekeeping, and food preparation, “this struggle will be a long one, and it demands a radical reconstruction both of social technique and of morals” (265, quoted from On Women’s Role in Society, Moscow: Novosti, 1973.) In addressing the question of the persistence not only of gendered division — and hierarchically restrictive and repressive division — of labor, but also the persistence of patriarchal sexist values, attitudes, and general ways of thinking, acting, and interacting, Trotsky in 1925 told the All-Union Conference for the Protection of Mothers and Children that ‘the human psyche does not develop evenly in all its parts. We are living in a political age, a revolutionary age, when working men and women are developing themselves in a struggle, forming themselves above all in a revolutionary political way. And those cells of consciousness where family views and traditions reside, and the attitude of one man to another, to woman, to child, and so on — these cells often remain in the old form. The revolution has not yet worked upon them…therefore we will go on for a long time observing that we are constructing a new industry, a new society, but in the field of personal relations much still remains in the Middle Ages’ (266-267, quoted from Women and the Family, New York: Pathfinder, 1973, pp. 42-43).
As Marshall notes, Trotsky clearly “knows very well that material interventions do not remove sexism overnight,” yet, “unlike much of the post 1960s Left,” Trotsky also “realized that the establishment of certain minimum material conditions was necessary for interpersonal relations to be transformed for everyone” (267). What Marshall’s emphasis here suggests is that the predominance of petit-bourgeois interests and outlooks within much of the gay liberation movement, including its radical sections, leads this movement to formulate principle and program as well as strategy and tactics in a way which is blind to the significance of overcoming class differences both within the gay and lesbian liberation movement and within society at large for gay and lesbian liberation effectively to be secured. Otherwise, privileged gays and lesbians can be “bought off,” managed and contained, marginalized and controlled in a gilded ghetto of increasingly alienated and reified reduction of their interpersonal social and sexual relations to the terms dictated by a cynical and dehumanizing conflation of liberation with commercialism and consumptionism.
Finally, as Marshall argues, not only does Gay Left — and beyond Gay Left, the broader whole of the Gay Left — follow conservative anti-communist Cold War ideology in its readiness, all-too- often, reductively to trivialize marxism, leninism, trotskyism, socialism, and communism by conflating all of these with stalinism, but it also tends to support the ultimately conservative politically trajectory of pseudo-radical “postmodernisms”:
The theories pertaining to ‘homosexuality’ and gender politics which entered departments of literature, film and sociology in British higher education in the early 1970s were very often French: Althusserean Marxism, with its notion of the ‘relative autonomy’ of ideological practices; Lacanian psychoanalysis, which contributed a theory of the construction of the subject to the emphasis on ideology; the historical analyses of Foucault, which investigate the deployment of power in medical, juridical, and sexual discourses, operating partly within Marxist frameworks (the emergence of bourgeois society, in fact the minimum material condition for the discursive phenomena Foucault describes), but rejecting global causalities in favor of an intricate local understanding of the workings of ‘power’. These theoretical sophistications marked a reaction both to a previous Marxist orthodoxy, but also to the non- revolutionary character of the working class. However, a brief excursus into recent French history demonstrates the genesis, and indeed final results, of this shift in a concrete political context. Althussereanism, for example, whose success as a version of Marxist thought is largely due to its willingness to engage with the dominant intellectual preoccupations of the structuralist decade of the 1960s, has to be understood as both a justification to the (concentrated Parisian) world of intellectuals of the centrality of theoretical practice, and, with its removal of active agents from history, as a way of dealing with the French Communist Party’s (PCF’s) fraught relationship with Stalinism.
In May 1968 in France, the baby-boom generation of university students, politicized by the Vietnam War and the confrontation with the rigid conservatism of Gaullism both in their place of study and in society at large, shook the regime to its foundations. The crisis was all the more acute in that the French working class staged the largest general strike in European history. However, the two movements did not in fact come together. The traditional left-wing parties were either completely bypassed, or, as with the PCF, struggled to defuse the situation and not to be overtaken on its Left. The crisis is thus also an ideological one, in which the Stalinist party, which dominated the culture of the French working class, was exposed and rejected. New demands for autonomy, decentralization, and participation were put on the agenda of the Left. In the years following, these were joined by demands concerning feminist and gay politics, demands that were fundamentally libertarian, individualist and middle class in origin and aspiration. The new Socialist Party under Mitterand eventually became the vehicle in the 1970s for that new agenda, and so the ‘revolution’ of May 1968 was easily appropriated to the reformism of the 1981-6 Socialist government…May 1968 can be seen in one sense as the end of socialism in France, and Mitterand’s historical function as the removal of socialism from the political agenda. The lack of a materialist understanding of the working class, or a truly dialectical theory of ideology, or of a link between intellectuals and workers which a Marxist party might have formed, has led to the current situation: total consensus in political debate around French nationalism (including nuclear testing) and the demands of the market…
This is precisely the trajectory of gay politics. Characteristically, its first expression in France acquired a revolutionary title and project — FHAR (Front Homosexual d’Action Revolutionnaire): the tactic was theatrical direct action rather than a project for power (indeed it possessed no structure at all). Homosexuals were presented as outsiders in history and thus <inherently> revolutionary (FHAR, 1971, p. 69), or heterosexuals were seen as <inherently> oppressors (p. 76) …But FHAR’s main contribution was to that medium-term ideological restructuring of the political left I have described…<and to channeling radicalism into pressures for selective reforms which> arguably do little for the isolated gay man on a working-class estate. They have in fact provoked a demobilization of gay militancy, and a consolidation of gay consumerism (268-270).
Marshall then proceeds to contrast this reformist cooptation of gay radicalism with the example of the Trotskyist Spartacist League in the United States which Marshall notes has consistently taken very seriously the agendas advanced as “the new politics” by the post-1968 New Left “new social movements,” including gay and lesbian liberation, and has unwaveringly assisted in the defense of gays and lesbians against economic, political, and ideological discrimination and persecution, while at the same time criticizing the New Left for tending to limit liberation struggles to enhancement of the depth and breadth of pleasures available in middle-class venues for recreation and leisure. As Marshall notes, the Spartacist League is concerned to transform the whole of society so as to make available the benefits of sexual liberation to all. The Spartacist League, moreover, seeks to enable — and to empower — the gay and lesbian struggle for sexual liberation to make a unique and indispensable contribution towards this revolutionary transformation of the whole of society and the liberation of all within society as a whole. Although not uncritical of the Spartacist League, Marshall suggests their example supports the need for radical gay and lesbian liberationists today to (re)think “its way towards a recognition of the following: global factors, endemic in a capitalist economy, which are obstacles to a sexuality that is plural and governed by choice; the material nature of oppression; the need for unity with other groups, but <principally> via the working class which still exists and still is the largest and most powerful group dispossessed by the status quo; <and> the need for intellectuals to recognize the historically constructed character of their outlook, priorities, and class position” (271-272). As Marshall indicates, questions concerning the fundamental importance of ownership and control, of class, and of transformation of modes of property relations need to be brought into the center of the struggle for gay and lesbian liberation.
Part II: The Present
Part III: The Future
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