Marxist Theory of Homosexuality

Part III: The Future

Bob Nowlan

April 1993

Revision History
Revision 1April 1993
The Alternative Orange. April 1993 Vol. 2 No. 6 (Syracuse University)
Revision 2September 16, 2000
DocBook XML (DocBk XML V3.1.3) from original.

What direction might marxist theory of homosexuality pursue in the foreseeable future? Marxist theory of homosexuality is principally concerned to explain the formation and constitution of homosexuality within and between concrete social formations by explaining how these homosexualities operate, through what forms, in what kinds of relations, and as part of what kinds of systems and processes. Therefore, future Marxist theory of homosexuality will certainly be concerned to assist in understanding the conditions which make possible, the forces which give rise to, the ends which are advanced by, and the interests which are served through heterosexist repression of homosexuality and homophobic oppression of gays and lesbians in fin-de-siecle late capitalism. This future Marxist theory of homosexuality will likewise certainly be concerned to assist in understanding what can and should be done effectively to fight back against and successfully to overcome this repression and oppression, in particular by critically assessing the strengths and weaknesses of current forms of gay and lesbian resistance and opposition to heterosexism and homophobia. And yet, Marxist theory of homosexuality must, as Marxist theory, always be concerned with more than this as well: it must be concerned with a critical evaluation of the contribution that gay and lesbian resistance and opposition to heterosexism and homophobia is making and can make towards general sexual emancipation through general social transformation. Ultimately this means assessing the contribution gay and lesbian resistance and opposition to heterosexism and homophobia is making and can make towards the revolutionary socialist transformation of capitalism into communism.

David Fernbach is one of the very few Marxists who has hitherto attempted such an assessment in a serious way, and no one else has yet to offer a more extensive account than Fernbach of the potential contribution of gay liberation to the transformation of capitalism into communism. Because of this, Fernbach’s The Spiral Path: a Gay Contribution to Human Survival (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1981) is still the principal forerunner of work Marxist theory of homosexuality must aim to do. Even ten years after the publication of The Spiral Path, Fernbach is still the most important predecessor — and thereby is still an indispensable point of departure — for the development of Marxist theory of gay and lesbian (homo)social and (homo)sexual identity, community, culture, and struggle of and for liberation. Because Fernbach is so seminally important, I will offer my contribution to the future of Marxist theory of homosexuality by way of a critical examination and reflection upon the principal arguments Fernbach advances in The Spiral Path.

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Fernbach’s foremost political commitment from the beginning of his book is clearly to revolutionary social transformation that will enable the realization of communism. Fernbach defines communism as “a unified humanity consciously determining its social institutions and its direction of development,” (7) “a society organized according to the principles of reason,” (209) a society founded upon “an equal claim to happiness, and to the material and cultural wherewithal that is a precondition for happiness,” (209) and a society in which this unity, reason, and equality is “the expression of love. . .the only way love can <truly> prevail.” (209) Fernbach argues, moreover, that the struggle for communism is more urgent today than ever before as the whole of human society is today threatened with destruction if this struggle does not soon begin to succeed. Fernbach refers here, in particular, to the threat of nuclear and biochemical war and to the impact of ecological destruction. It is “in this new situation,” this situation of life-or-death struggle for the future of humanity, that “the feminist and gay liberation movements also have a special contribution to make, by working to erode the masculine specialization in violence that underpins class society, the state and the endemic warfare between states” (12).

Fernbach draws upon and further elaborates the feminist concept of the “sex-gender system” to address what he describes as “the gender system.” Conventionally, “sex-gender system” is used to mark a fundamental distinction between sex and gender, between “nature and culture, between the human raw material and what human society constructs” (15). According to this model, the sex-gender system accounts for the transformation of the biological category of “sex” into the cultural category of “gender” within historically concrete social formations, and different societies from different historical epochs make use of at least somewhat different sex- gender systems. In all cases, however, according to Fernbach, the creation of “gender” represents the construction of the complex social identities of “man” and “woman” on the basis of a supposed parallel with the biological sex differences of “male” and “female,” and this construction furthermore always operates to establish a rigidly binary division of these social identities and a hierarchically unequal relation between those assigned to the dominant, masculine position and those assigned to the subordinate, feminine position. Because of this, the only truly radical gender politics is that which works towards the ultimate destruction and elimination of gender.

In order to begin to struggle towards this supersession of gender it is necessary to recognize that gender is socially constructed and not naturally predetermined. In fact, as Fernbach admits, different cultures have constructed and continue to construct different (even very different) kinds of gender identities and relations. In addition, those assigned to subordinate gender positions have rebelled and continue to rebel against their subordination in ways which have made and continue to make a substantial difference in limiting the horizons of possibility for the re construction of gender hierarchies. The successes of the contemporary feminist movement are the clearest testimony to the fact that gender hierarchies can be successfully resisted, disrupted, and subverted by pressure from below — from those identified with the “subordinate” gender position of “woman.” Therefore, it should be clear that no particular arrangement of gender identities and relations can be simply natural — and this means, furthermore, that no particular sex/gender system must remain eternally inevitable and unalterable.

Fernbach’s principal concern in his discussion of the social construction of gender is to establish the basis for the explanation he then proceeds to outline of the nature and significance of gay and lesbian homosexuality. Fernbach spends a great deal of time in both his first chapter, “The Gender System,” and in his second chapter, “Homosexuality and Gayness,” attempting to show how “gay people are oppressed by our inability — or refusal — to be ‘proper’ women or men”: Gay homosexuality is, according to Fernbach, not only a particular, but also, even more importantly, an advanced — that is a radically progressive — form of the development of homosexuality which, “unlike the prevalent forms of homosexuality met with in other societies, or even some marginal forms found in our own, is incompatible with the gender definitions of femininity and masculinity” (18). Gay men and women are rebels against the gender system and as such form a potential advance guard in the struggle to eradicate the gender system and gender differences altogether. “Instead of two radically different types of human being, feminine women and masculine men, with this distinction involving a very definite relationship of oppression in the bargain,” a post-gender society would enable all human beings to “combine the positive aspects attributed at present to one sex or the other alone, and jettison the negative aspects”:

Both women and men could be sensitive and caring and both could be emotionally independent and technically competent. Love would be a relationship between equals, rather than between dominant and subordinate. (20)

Fernbach further argues it is possible to specify “the objective forces at work” in advanced capitalist society which are already “pressing in this direction,” (47) and these can be recognized in all those areas where the objective need for a strict sexual division of labor is now no longer socially necessary but, in fact, where its perpetuation represents a fetter to the further progressive development of humanity and even to the continued viability — the continued profitability — of capitalism: the decline of the traditional patriarchal family, the massive movement of women into the full-time paid labor force, the capitalist penetration into and takeover of ever more and more of the pre- capitalist and semi-capitalist household economy, the development and dissemination of modern birth control and the liberation of sexuality from necessary association with reproduction all contribute towards enabling the emergence of a greatly expanded — a far more extensive — sexual culture, a sexual culture focused directly upon the fulfillment of sexual desire and the enrichment of sexual interaction. The emergence of this kind of sexual culture provides one of the indispensable objective preconditions for the beginning of the development of a truly human sexuality: A sexuality founded upon the genuinely free, equal, and voluntary sexual association of human beings.

In order to press forward these objective tendencies towards the eradication of gender and to prevent their cooptation in the service of reactionary interests — chiefly capitalist commodification and reifying dehumanization of sexual prolificacy in a sexual culture of alienated sexual relations among alienated sexual beings — it is necessary, Fernbach argues, to intervene in the process of the formation and constitution of gender and sexual subjectivities from the very beginning and throughout the course of the development and transformation of these subjectivities. This means not only “that girls and boys be brought up in a non-gendered way,” (51) but also that it is necessary to insist upon “making homosexuality as universal a human relationship as heterosexuality” (52). Fernbach further explains that this does not simply mean that men must become more “womanly” and women more “manly” and that all human beings must become “bisexual,” but instead that women and men must meet not half-way, “but at a point that is more on the traditional feminine side,” and, even more than this, that:

In order to even begin to struggle effectively against male supremacy, it is necessary to stop defining oneself as heterosexual. For women, the permanent option of lesbianism, preferably backed up by some practical experience of lesbian relationships, has proven essential, if they are not to get constantly pulled back into precisely what they are struggling against.

As long as heterosexuality is accepted as the norm, and homosexuality admitted only for the gay minority, any love between ‘brothers’ can only be secondary to the rivalry that divides them at a deeper level. . .Homosexuality, love between people who are alike, is decisively distinct from heterosexuality in its transitive character, i.e. the structural feature that two people who are lovers of a third can themselves also, in principle, be lovers. This provides an indispensable mediation, and is an absolute precondition if rivalry and hate are to be ended.

It is not enough then, for men to redefine themselves as non-violent and brothers. As long as the gender system is not abolished, and the heterosexual norm as part of it, they are only repressing the rival and the warrior within themselves, denying the existence of these, rather than even beginning to change their being. The only place where the brotherhood proclaimed by the communist utopia has begun to take root, therefore, is in the gay liberation movement, in parallel with the sisterhood in the women’s movement which similarly acknowledges its erotic component. It is in this sense that ‘the women’s movement and the gay liberation movement. . .have taken over and are developing the positive achievements of the counter-culture’. . .

The communist society can accordingly be anticipated in a small way here and now, and indeed must be so, as a demonstration that human beings really can change, really can overcome the competition and struggle to dominate, the survival of the fittest, that reactionaries have always proclaimed is an eternal part of the human condition. But communism involves not just the abolition of class, but equally of the gender system that underlies this, with its masculine specialization in violence, domination of men over women, and institutionalized heterosexuality. And if the ideas of communism are to be spread by force of example, then communists must show today how it is also possible to begin to live and relate in a way unstructured by gender. (180-181)

It is in this light that Fernbach can support and advance the argument of the British Gay Liberation Front of the early 1970s that

Gay shows the way. In some ways we are already more advanced than straight people. We are already outside of the family and we have already, in part at least, rejected the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ roles society has designed for us. In a society dominated by the sexist culture it is very difficult, if not impossible, for heterosexual men and women to escape their rigid gender-role structuring and the roles of oppressor and oppressed. But gay men don’t need to oppress women in order to fulfill their own psycho-sexual needs, and gay women don’t have to relate sexuality to the male oppressor, so that at this moment in time, the freest and most equal relationships are most likely to be between homosexuals.

This brings us to one of the central points Fernbach emphasizes — and which he explains more precisely and clearly than many others — and that is the distinction between gay and “non-gay” (or “pre-gay”) modes of homosexuality (and homosociality). As Fernbach indicates,

Normal homosexuality is the diametrical opposite of gayness. Homosexuality between normal men is structured by the gender system, and can take a stable form only as a relationship between dominant and subordinate modelled on that between man and woman. Gayness, on the other hand, comes into being in objective opposition to the gender system, as a deviant form, and the more it escapes the vicious influences of the gendered society around it, the more it takes a form that is inherently egalitarian. (75)

Fernbach elaborates on this point further in a quite striking way: “to define yourself as gay. . .even in the minimal sense of accepting the judgement of the environing society that there is something different about you, is to recognize that your homosexuality has something different about it that is radically incompatible with the prevalent normality — that you are ‘bent’, ‘queer’ i.e. in no way a ‘proper’ man.” In fact, “gay men. . .really are effeminate” (83). Gayness is a function of “a deviance from the gendered system that is anchored in our personalities in the course of childhood experience, and the choice to build our lives around the homosexual preference that this induces” (85). According to Fernbach, even those gay men that seem to be quite masculine, and cultivate seemingly very “macho” forms of expression and communication of their homosexuality are still, by and large, more “effeminate” — more feminine — than most straight men. Even such a “masculine gay man” is “unprepared for the inter-male struggle for dominance” that accepting and conforming to the conventional heterosexual norm requires, and he is especially unable ever to view women first and last as simply “objects to fuck” (87). Moreover, even the masculine gay man “reduces himself” to the status of a woman in his readiness to fall in love with his peers among his fellow men — and it is important, moreover, to recognize that he is ready to fall totally in love; ready to seek out a total, and especially physical, expression and communication of attraction and desire; and ready to make himself dependent upon and vulnerable to the other, an extremely “un-masculine” position, and an extremely difficult and precarious position for anyone who is produced to be a “man” in a patriarchal sexist and heterosexist culture.

Fernbach elaborates upon these points further in identifying the specific differences between gay and non-gay men — and between gay and non-gay forms of “manliness”:

It is only possible to understand the gay phenomenon, i.e. ourselves and all that we do, if we are prepared to accept that gayness precisely does break down boundaries, and to jettison once and for all any attempt to present ourselves either as basically ‘all woman’ or ‘all man’. Gay men are unquestionably biologically male, and accept ourselves as such, and on the strength of the fact society has also treated us as boys and subsequently as men, no matter how untypical our experience in the family may have been. But compared with the masculine norm, we are all unquestionably effeminate. . . .

But if there is no rigid boundary line between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ individuals, whether coinciding or not with the division of biological sex, it is also impossible to reduce the division between gay and straight to one of effeminacy and non-effeminacy. Gay men are not the only category of effeminates <among men>. . .There are a minority of soft heterosexuals, and a possibly larger minority of ‘over-compensators’, who play such an important part in our oppression as queer-bashers. . .

The male-to-female transsexual, paradoxically, is a further case of effeminacy that will not recognize itself as such. . .The transsexual and the queer- basher might appear poles apart, yet both of them have their lives distorted by the rigid barriers that the gender system strives to impose, and the transsexual represses with equal violence the idea that he might actually be queer.

Finally, the division, between gay and straight, even as arising from a conscious choice, should not be seen as absolute, nor simply reduced to that between heterosexuality and a deviant homosexuality. . . . (89-91)

Fernbach proceeds to develop this last point even further as he argues that already we “can see the divisions between gay and straight eventually breaking down,” although he is careful to make clear that, like with the overcoming of gender differences between man and woman, this breaking down of divisions between gay and straight is not going to happen by gay and straight meeting half-way:

But because straight, by definition, is consonant with the gender system, the ground on which we shall gradually converge with our heterosexual brothers is on our side of the fence. If they are serious about undermining masculinity, then they must accept the fact of their own deviance as defined by the existing order, and as long as they resist the idea (and the reality) of homosexuality, we can only see this as a deep-seated allegiance to the masculine gender that belies their professions of anti-sexism.

We, for our part, refuse to accept that we are permanently set apart as the minority. This is a static view of the situation; viewed dynamically, we are the thin end of a wedge. . . .

Gayness is the wedge that splits open the gender system, in which feminine women and masculine men fit together in the sexual division of labour: A double wedge in fact, as the rejection of heterosexuality and all it implies proceeds in parallel among both women and men. In this sense it is by no means ridiculous to speak of a ‘gay revolution’. . .Nor is it simply ‘gay chauvinism’ to say, as GLF said. . .that gay is better than straight. All that is wrong here is that gay is simply the immediate next step, not the final goal. ‘Gay shows the way’, as the London GLF Manifesto put it, and gayness is a tremendous force against the gender system. But as more and more people follow our lead and the gender system crumbles, we shall have to redefine ourselves, no longer as a deviant minority but as the new majority, able to relate among ourselves both within and across the biological division of sex, and having only pity for the stubborn minority who still cling for a while to the traditional faith. (199-200)

As Fernbach explains, this argument is supported by the fact that “the dominant and distinctive characteristic of the gay relationship” — or at least the “truly gay relationship” — is “its radical equality” (95). According to Fernbach, “it was one of the greatest contributions of GLF to the gay movement, and to the communist movement in general, to say”:

We intend to work for the replacement of the family unit with its rigid gender-role pattern by new organic units such as the commune, where the development of children becomes the shared responsibility of a larger group of people who live together. . .We intend to start working out our contribution to these new (gender-free) models now, by creating an alternative gay culture free from sexism, and by setting up gay communes. When our communes are firmly established, we plan to let children grow up in them. (204)

“Straightness” is ultimately antithetical to this communist ideal; not only will the proletariat have to supplant the bourgeoisie as the dominant class but also gayness will have to supplant straightness as the dominant form of organization of sexual interaction, identity, community, and culture in the period of revolutionary socialist reconstruction and transition from capitalism to communism: Under communism the division of society into distinct socio-economic classes and into groups of people with “gay” versus “straight” “sexual orientations” and “sexual preferences” will both ultimately be superseded. As Fernbach explains:

A potential rivalry is involved in any sexual relationship that is more than casual. Yet the exclusion of homosexuality rules out any element of mediation such as a transitive network of relationships provides. Even when straight men are allied by common work, kinship or belief, they are still underneath it all enemy brothers, and it is legendary how competition over women turns brotherhood into hate. Even when not immediately realized, this potential always lurks just beneath the surface, dividing men from one another and thus helping perpetuate the law of violence — indeed it is the first precondition for masculine hierarchy. If men are to love one another, as all great religions have taught, it must be possible for us to love one another in the full, sexual sense; as long as this is tabooed, inter-male competition can never be dissolved.

What perpetuates this vicious competition, of course, is not the practice of heterosexuality, but the non-practice of homosexuality. It would disappear if the gender system were abolished, and human beings could relate to one another irrespective of biological sex, i.e. both homosexually and heterosexually, with the family accordingly replaced by a form of commune. But in this case, the resultant ‘bisexuality’ would be clearly established on the terms of homosexuality, or rather gayness. It would be a sexuality between essentially similar individuals, rather than essentially dissimilar, thus ‘homo-sexual’ rather than ‘hetero-sexual’. Gay relationships today, therefore, for all their distortion by the gender system around us, can in the best of cases prefigure the communist sexuality of the future, an order in which love does not automatically establish alongside itself a relationship of rivalry and hate, but can assume an altogether more inclusive form. (93)

Fernbach’s Spiral Path attempts to advance the vision first articulated by the great pioneer of the modern gay liberation movement, Edward Carpenter, who almost a century ago now first communicated the imagined possibility that gayness could be a radically progressive advance guard in the struggle to realize communism:

It is possible that the Uranian spirit may lead to something like a general enthusiasm of Humanity, and that the Uranian people may be destined to form the advance guard of that great movement which will one day transform the common life by substituting the bond of personal affection and compassion for the monetary, legal and other external ties which now control and confine society. Such a part of course we cannot expect the Uranians to play unless the capacity for their kind of attachment also exists — though in a germinal and underdeveloped state — in the breast of mankind at large. And modern thought and investigation are clearly tending that way — to confirm that it does so exist. . .(The Intermediate Sex, London: Allen and Unwin, 1916, 68)

What Carpenter envisions is a future egalitarian and liberated society in which we will find all human beings living as

Comrades together, equal in intelligence and adventure, trusting without concealment, loving without shame but with discrimination and continence towards a perfect passion. (Towards Democracy, London: Allen and Unwin, 1916, 69)

Fernbach thus offers a visionary articulation of how gay and lesbian liberation not only can and must “show the way” forward towards an emancipated sexual culture, but also, even more than this, of how “gayness” is, in its most advanced forms, already superior to straight in the anticipation of this prospective future. Fernbach advances what seems, in striking contrast with the hesitancies and qualifications of contemporary queer theorizations of the ultimate ends of radical sexual politics, the remarkably strong contention that straight men and women should strive to become gay (or at least “as gay as they possibly can be”), and, in fact, that they must do so if the struggle to supersede gender and thereby to eradicate the fundamental basis for constructing the oppressive domination of men over women is to succeed. Fernbach’s argument suggests that it is necessary moreover to remake the dominant culture not only of sexual relations but also of all interpersonal relations of attraction and desire, intimacy and affection, friendship and love, and solidarity and camaraderie gay in order to hope to remake these interpersonal relations into the kinds of relations where free and voluntary association among equals becomes the norm and no longer merely an exception to the norm. Gay relations can anticipate and more than anticipate help educate straights in the way forward towards the creation of intimate interpersonal relations which are genuinely egalitarian, mutually enabling, deeply supportive, richly sustaining, and truly loving. “Gayness” therefore, at its most radically progressive, represents an indispensable means of resistance and opposition to the alienation and reification — and the cynicism and brutality — which pervades late capitalist interpersonal relations, including, especially, late capitalist interpersonal relations of attraction and desire, intimacy and affection, love and friendship, and solidarity and camaraderie. Extending Fernbach’s argument, the establishment of a radically progressive gay and lesbian culture of intimacy and desire as the dominant such culture of intimacy and desire would make it possible for human beings to relate to each other in all kinds of close interpersonal relations primarily as ends and not merely as means, primarily as subjects and not merely as objects, primarily as complex and dynamic totalities rather than as mere roles and functions, and primarily as unique, vitally constituent, and practically inseparable parts of each other’s constantly growing and developing self-identities rather than as merely external, discretely discontinuous, disconnected individuals who are easily disposed of and readily replaced.

It is in this sense that Fernbach enables imagination of a radically progressive gay and lesbian liberation movement assuming the role of vanguard in the transformation of relations, practices, institutions, and discourses of (social and sexual) intimacy and desire as a relatively autonomous and yet vitally constituent part of the revolutionary socialist transformation of the whole of capitalism, of capitalist society, and of capitalist culture into a whole new communism, communist society, and communist culture. Fernbach anticipates the social transformation which must proceed beyond proletarian seizure of the capitalist state and proletarian expropriation of capitalist control of social production in order for the transition from capitalism to communism to succeed. Fernbach’s vision of communism requires the revolutionary transformation and transcendence of capitalist modes of subjectivity and of interpersonal relations such that the realization of communism will depend upon the invention of an entirely and radically new kind of human being.

This new communist human being will be of a kind that would seem to us, if we could encounter such a being, as intrinsically both masculine and feminine, as seemingly both a man and a woman, and because of this, this new kind of human being will be in fact, really neither masculine or feminine, neither man nor woman but instead something new, something of a character that will have superseded the usefulness — in fact the meaningfulness — of such divisions and demarcations. In any event, this new communist human being would probably not seem in all respects equally masculine and feminine to us, equally a man and a woman, but, in fact, would more likely seem, at least in the area of close interpersonal relations, relations of social and sexual intimacy and desire, to be more feminine than masculine, and to be more “like a woman” than “like a man.” In addition, not only would this future communist human being seem to be what we would describe as “bisexual,” but also this new communist human being would likely seem to us, in general, to be far more gay than straight, and especially in the way that this communist human being engaged in relations of intimacy and affection, attraction and desire, camaraderie and solidarity, friendship and love.

In order to prevent such an anticipation of a prospective future communist human being from seeming a mere fantastic indulgence — and at best a far distant future possibility — it is necessary to decide whether or not it is possible to begin to struggle towards the accomplishment of this possibility by working with the materials at hand in present late capitalist society. What Fernbach’s argument suggests to us is that we can struggle forward not only by attempting to destroy and replace what capitalism establishes, but also by making use of what capitalism provides. Moreover, this means not only appropriating from within capitalism whatever we can as tools and weapons of disruption and subversion of capitalist hegemony, but also seeking to develop anticipatory prototypes, albeit always necessarily partial and limited, of communist individual and collective subjectivities and cultures: i.e. proto-communist individual and collective subjectivities and proto-communist relations, practices, institutions, and discourses, including proto-communist sexual subjectivities and proto-communist relations, practices, institutions, and discourses of intimacy and desire. And this means that a radically progressive — and ultimately a truly revolutionary — gay culture can — and should strive to — become an emergent proto-communist sexual culture, and as such a revolutionary sexual culture contest and oppose —in the struggle to succeed and supersede — straight culture as the dominant sexual culture in late capitalism today — rather than accepting and conforming to straight models within gay ghettos. Of course, disruption and subversion must remain preeminent concerns under conditions of capitalist hegemony, and yet it is possible to begin to prepare the way forward — and in doing so to contribute to the compulsion for so moving forward — towards the future point in which it will be necessary to remake the dominant sexual culture and to produce new modes of subjectivity adequate for an emancipated sexual culture within an emancipated society.

It is at this eventual point in the revolutionary socialist transition from capitalism to communism that real progress towards the ultimate elimination of the need for recognition of division between gay and straight will depend first upon gay supplanting straight as both the dominant mode of sexual subjectivity and as the dominant form of sexual culture. In this regard, it is possible to extend Fernbach’s argument to imagine that the prospective place of gayness in the revolutionary socialist transition to communism will be analogous to that of the dictatorship of the proletariat in which the proletariat must first become the dominant class in order to establish the basis upon which the proletariat can lead the movement of revolutionary social transformation that will gradually altogether eliminate the interests invested in and the needs dependent upon the maintenance of class divisions. As with the revolutionary socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, a revolutionary socialist gay and lesbian liberation movement can only fully emancipate gays and lesbians by setting in motion the processes of broader transformation that will lead to the elimination of the basis — the real objective interests at stake and the real objective need for — continuing to construct and define, divide and rank categories of human begins according to differences of gender and sexual orientation.

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Fernbach’s The Spiral Path is a ground breaking text, and it is not only a richly insightful but also a very impressive beginning towards the development of an adequate marxist theory of the struggle for gay and lesbian liberation. Among its chief strengths are the following:

1. Fernbach’s explanations of the nature of relations between sexuality and gender, homosexuality and heterosexuality, straight and gay, and gay and non-gay homosexuality. Fernbach provides an elaboration and development of prior feminist and gay liberationist theoretical categories and connections which enables him to make a powerful and compelling argument for the importance of gayness as contribution to human society at large and to human culture in general, and also for the way in which gayness can and should function as a revolutionary force in leading the way forward towards the supersession of gender and the development of a communist sexual culture.

2. Fernbach’s insistence upon linking gayness to the broadest and most crucial questions of human survival, his insistence on evaluating gayness in terms of its actual and potential contribution towards progress in the revolutionary transformation of human society so as to enable human emancipation, social justice, collective equality, and ecological harmony, and his refusal to accept timid — and conservative — defenses and justifications of gayness as a permanent fringe and of gays as a permanently ghettoized minority who seek only to be granted a minimal acceptance and toleration from an overpowering straight society for the right to pursue their “deviant” lifestyle in parallel and yet very much lesser and unequal — marginal — spaces.

3. Fernbach’s steadfast refusal to apologize for or accept the historical limitations of marxism in making sense of and in supporting the struggle for gay liberation. In fact, Fernbach’s criticisms of marxist orthodoxy represent challenges to develop marxism beyond its inadequacies and his own efforts in theorizing provide useful beginnings for such an effort.

Nevertheless, for all of its strengths and insights, Fernbach’s Spiral Path suffers from a number of serious problems and limitations. As I see it, Fernbach’s principal weaknesses are as follows:

1. Fernbach’s mode of presentation — as well as his mode of inquiry and his mode of interpretation and evaluation — remains very loose and casual; his conclusions tend to follow too uncritically from personal experience and remain in many cases very sketchy and barely more than impressionistic.

2. Even Fernbach’s efforts towards the development and elaboration of precisely theoretical explanations of gender and sexuality, heterosexuality and homosexuality, and of gay and non-gay homosexuality are underdeveloped and often tend to make use of categories borrowed from non-marxist positions in an eclectic and uncritical manner. In many places other categories need to be added and new categories need to be developed to replace what amount to rather crude formulations. For example, Fernbach’s failure to make use of a conception of the construction and movement — and the construction of prescriptions for and proscriptions against movement — of social relations across interlinked continua of man-woman, masculine-feminine, homosocial- homosexual, heterosocial-heterosexual, homosocial-heterosocial, homosexual- heterosexual, and straight-gay harms his ability to explain the complexity of what is progressive and what is not in existing gender and sexual relations. Furthermore, nowhere does Fernbach provide any detailed explanation of what links the social construction of gender and sexual identities and relations either to the essential nature (the essential workings) of capitalism (as a general mode of social production and, on this basis, also a general mode of organization of the totality of social relations) or to the processes by which capitalism is being reproduced and can be transformed.

3. Although Fernbach’s intent is consciously and deliberately narrower than this, his analysis suffers by not drawing clearer and more precise distinctions between gayness and lesbianism, and by tending to focus upon gayness largely to the exclusion of lesbianism. In addition, the contradictions and complexities of the forces which interrupt and interfere with the radically progressive and ultimately revolutionary potential of gayness are not accounted for as adequately as will be necessary in order to show more precisely how to transform gayness so as to realize this potential and how to move from the straight culture of today to the gay culture of tomorrow.

4. Not only is Fernbach very eclectic (and hardly always as dialectical as he would like to think), but also he is unfortunately attracted all-too-often to a kind of incipient mysticism. Beyond this, Fernbach’s marxism suffers from its maoism, and this shows up clearly in his acceptance of maoist exaggeration of the strength and durability of the Soviet Union and its satellites and in his problems in understanding the fact that working class men and women in the first and second worlds are linked together with working class men and women in the third world by their common position as proletarians. At other points, his criticisms of marxist orthodoxy tend towards a kind of caricatured reductivism which can easily lend support to the revisionist and reformist, and as such anti-revolutionary, theories and politics of contemporary post-liberal post- marxisms. For Fernbach himself the greatest danger is a strong tendency towards what actually is a very conventional — and anti-revolutionary — form of romantic-utopian anarcho-pacifism.

In fact, Fernbach does not escape a tendency which has plagued so many of the veterans of the new social struggles of the 1960s and 1970s ‘New Left’: A tendency simply — and almost entirely uncritically — to equate dogmatically backward and rigidly sectarian behavior of particular marxist socialist individuals and organizations with all of what marxist socialism is, has been, and can be. Among this generation it is common to fetishize individual personal experience as the basis for the most sweeping conclusions. This has often lead to an exaggerated, reductive, and caricatured conflation of “orthodox” marxism with vulgar marxism. Frequently, bad personal experiences with some particular marxist socialist individuals and groups has lead to a total rejection of marxist socialism altogether and a ready acceptance of even the most reactionary forms of anti-communist Cold War ideology. This is a gross over-generalization — and ultimately results in a gross distortion of marxism and marxist socialism. In doing so, it severely impoverishes these — non-marxist — forces themselves in their own struggles for radically progressive social change. Of course, petit-bourgeois radicals always face objectively great difficulties in struggling against the contradictory objective interests of their class position — and this often leads petit-bourgeois radicals to develop and define explicitly anti-marxist, anti-socialist, and anti-revolutionary forms of “radical” politics. Not surprisingly, since the end of the heyday of the original ‘New Left,’ many former New Left radicals have moved rapidly from: a) an initial period characterized by a naively liberal idealism to b) a second period of radicalization and militancy to c) a third period of frustration in which the struggle to which they committed themselves proved much more complex and contradictory — and also much more difficult and much less glamorous — than they initially hoped and expected, as early and fragile “victories” turned increasingly into ever more serious and devastating “defeats,” to d) a fourth and “final” period involving a turn towards withdrawal and disengagement, or apathy and detachment, or skepticism and cynicism, or irrationalism and mysticism, or reformism and opportunism, or conservatism and moralism. Of course Fernbach never approaches this “de-radicalization” himself and yet tendencies within his writing do lend credibility and support towards a post-revolutionary post-marxism.

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Nevertheless, despite these problems and limitations, it is important to take up Fernbach’s work and to push it forward. This means not retreating from a critical engagement with Fernbach’s utopianism. Of course, it is well-known that not only Marx and Engels but also most major marxist theorists after Marx and Engels have been highly skeptical and indeed highly critical of utopianism, and, in particular, “utopian socialism.” In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels make this point quite clearly:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality <will> have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the now existing premise (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Collected Works, Volume 5, Moscow: Progress, 1976, 49).

According to Marx and Engels, it is out of the real struggles of real human beings fighting from within capitalism to sustain and improve their material well- being that communism will be built; communism will arise as the collective product of historically real and socially concrete labors, engaged over a vast expanse of space and a vast duration of time, and culminating in the labors of destruction, replacement, and supersession of capitalism. It is out of capitalism that socialism will come: Making use of the Hegelian notion of aufheben, we can describe this as a process of dialectical negation, or negation of negation, in which capitalism will be abolished by the development of its internal contradictions through resolution of the struggles of the internally opposing forces and tendencies which constitute these contradictions such that this development will result in the genesis of a qualitatively new mode of social organization. As Lenin indicates,

There is no trace of utopianism in Marx, in the sense that he made up or invented a ‘new’ society. No, he studied the birth of the new society out of the old, and the forms of transition from the latter to the former as a natural-historical process (State and Revolution, in V.I. Lenin: Selected Works, Volume 2, Moscow: Progress, 1975, 272).

And yet this admonition has been and can be misunderstood: Neither for Marx nor for Lenin is socialism simply the inevitable outcome of the merely objective unfolding of the objective contradictions of the capitalist economy. It is crucial to focus considerable energy upon the development of the “subjective factor.” In other words, the possibility of successful socialist revolution depends upon the development of organization and consciousness among the exploited sufficient to take advantage of the objective contradictions of capitalism at points of objective crisis for the accumulation of capital — and to do this in order to push “crisis” towards revolution.

Marxists do not refuse to speculate upon the future, but in fact must do so, although — and this is crucial — they do so from the vantage point of a “ruthlessly” critical and a “rigorously” theoretical perspective. Such a vantage point perceives the future in terms of a range of opposing real possibilities for development and transformation of the present. This kind of analysis explains what real tendencies within the present point towards what different, real possibilities for the future, and it works to produce knowledge of how it will actually be possible and of what it will require to realize the development of socialism and prevent the development of alternative possible futures.

According to dialectical materialism, reality is in a continuous process of change (a continuous process of becoming), reality is dynamic and contradictory, and therefore reality includes within itself not only what actually exists but also, and as part of what exists, what might be: The multiple different and competing possibilities of what might develop out of what exists. As A.P. Sheptulin explains: “reality is that which actually exists, whereas possibility is that which may occur under relevant circumstances” (Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, Moscow: Progress, 1978, 229). Possibility is an “aspect” of reality, which includes “properties, states, processes and things which are non-existent, but which may appear owing to the fact that reality possesses the intrinsic capacity to change from one thing to another” (230). Sheptulin captures the dialectical interpenetration of reality and possibility quite well: “having materialized, possibility becomes reality, so reality may be defined as materialized possibility, whereas possibility may be defined as potential reality” (230). The determination of which possibilities are more and/or less likely actually to be realized depends upon an accurate assessment of relative strengths and weaknesses in the real struggle of social and natural forces within a real concrete totality in which these forces contest each other — within the dynamic and systematically structured whole in which these forces define both what is and what can and might be. “Utopian” “dreaming” of the future, especially if such dreaming results in the positing of a radically different, far more perfect future organized according to socialist and/or communist principles, can be valuable and necessary to the cause of revolutionary struggle. And yet, such utopian dreams are only useful for such revolutionary socialist ends insofar as they can be and are transformed through scientific critique into visions of the future within which the utopian as merely utopian (as mere fantasy, chimera, dream, or illusion) has been superseded such that these visions then become projections based upon and rooted in a concrete analysis of conditions of possibility in the present for the actual realization of these projections.

Precise and practical visions of socialism, communism, and of revolutionary and post-revolutionary struggles to build socialism and communism are valuable and necessary tools of revolutionary socialist praxis — and this is not only because such counterfactual models provide suggestive devices for a realistic anticipation of the difficulties of revolutionary transformation of capitalism into communism but also because they can provide inspiration to those struggling towards this end to persevere in the struggle by offering the perception of real possibility of transforming and through such transformation transcending the limitations of life under capitalism.

It is also important to draw upon the real dreams and aspirations of real men and women in directing the course of revolutionary socialist struggle and transformation. One of the chief points in Lenin’s critique of the failings of Second International orthodoxy was the inability of many in this organization to recognize the extent to which revolutionary proletarian consciousness had to be developed and would not emerge by itself “naturally.” Part of such a developed consciousness is the ability to engage in what Lenin refers to as “forward dreaming.” In his own What is to be Done ? (and later in his Philosophical Notebooks as well) Lenin not only praised but approvingly cited D.I. Pisarev’s conception of the value of such dreaming in his critique of the failure of imagination on the part of the leadership of the Second International:

‘There are rifts and rifts’ wrote Pisarev of the rift between dreams and reality. ‘My dream may run ahead of the natural course of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the working man. . . .

There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyze labour-power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and complete picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science, and practical endeavor. . . .

The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his own dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his own fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well (What is to be Done?, V.I. Lenin: Selected Works, Volume 1, Moscow: Progress, 1975, 225-226).

On this passage Lenin comments, “of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement,” (What is to be Done ? 226) and later, “it would be stupid to deny the role of fantasy, even in the strictest science” (Philosophical Notebooks, in Collected Works, Volume 38, Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1963, 373). In fact, Lenin’s own State and Revolution is as at least in part an example of this kind of “scientific fantasy.” In this text Lenin not only discusses in considerable detail the rudiments of what will be necessary in a post-revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, but also what will constitute the fundamental constituents of both socialism and communism. State and Revolution anticipates the post- revolutionary future by marking parameters, establishing goals, providing necessary and useful distinctions, and opening up possibilities, and, all of this, Lenin quite clearly finds to be of crucial importance for the success of the socialist and communist revolution.

The key point is to move beyond (and not to stop with) the mere abstract projection of an imaginary socialist or communist future so as to connect this work of imagination with real, concrete struggles to transform capitalism into socialism and communism. In doing so, revolutionaries can make the imagination of utopia a weapon in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism, and a tool in the transformation of capitalism into communism. After all, the activity of imagination is of vital importance and even priority in the accomplishment of any kind of innovation, radical or otherwise. Imagination is fundamental to the process of human labor. As Marx indicated, in Capital,

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee would put many a human architect to shame in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in his imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change in form of the material on which he works, but he also realizes a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will (Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, New York: Norton, 1978, 344-345).

The development and presentation of this imaginative activity, including its elaboration and dramatization in a counterfactual model, is necessary in order to begin the work of transforming imagined possibility into objective reality.

Communism is the telos of a vast and complete transformation and supersession of capitalist society, a telos realizable only on a global scale and only after many complex and difficult stages of transition — many which cannot be anticipated, at least not fully. Yet communism is also the end result of human labor — of a tremendous amount of accumulated and coordinated human labor, expended by vast numbers of people over vast distances of time and space. Of course, it is impossible to build communism unless the objective preconditions for its construction are available within capitalism, and these include not only the exhaustion and crisis of capitalism, but also the emergence, from within capitalism, of objective tendencies towards a communist form of organization of human society, including the objective socialization and even globalization of production and the increasing necessity of extensive intra-firm planning and even inter-firm programming of production. In addition, however, to objective preconditions, it is also necessary that subjective means be available to take advantage of these objective preconditions to transform this objective material into communism rather than an alternative post-capitalist future. This means that the creation of communism requires the anticipation of what communism can and should be like and of how communist society can and should work, the establishment of as a goal the realization of this possibility in actuality, and the design of a plan by which to work with materials available from within capitalist society to realize this goal. All of this is as necessary in the construction of communism as the raw materials and supplies from which communism will be built; the tools and equipment which will be used in building it; the information, knowledge, ability, skill, and technique necessary to enable the proper and effective use of these tools and equipment; and the organization, energy, effort, and execution necessary actually to carry out the process from beginning to end. In other words, the “subjective factor” in the construction of communism includes not only organization, mobilization, education, and consciousness, but also vision and imagination, planning and strategy — it requires that communism be seen as not merely “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” Instead, communism must be seen as a, but not the only, real possibility for a future supersession of the capitalist present — and a possibility which can become an actuality only through extensive, deliberate, conscious, and extremely difficult work expended to make this happen, to transform this possibility into actuality. Communism must therefore be conceived of as a concrete utopia, and, in fact, as the concrete utopia of the world proletariat in (late) capitalism.

In order to understand what I mean by this last statement, it is necessary to explain what I mean by “utopian imagination” and by “concrete” versus “abstract” utopias. First, “utopian imagination” generally involves imagination of a place in which it is possible to live the “good life” within and as part of the “good society.” Most often, this is imagined to be a place far different from what exists at present, and this place is generally also located in a (far) different space and time: In a space (far) distant from what is present here — either (an)other place altogether or the same place made other than what it presently is like — and in a time (far) distant from what is present now —usually the future. I define “utopian imagination” as the action of creating and/or the power to create an intellectual image of a qualitatively new, more perfect, ultimately ideal, and as yet non-existent society in which the principal contradictions of existing society have been resolved, its principal problems solved, and its principal limitations superseded.

A critique of the utopian imagination of a particular individual or group must take adequate account of the multiple dimensions of what imagination of utopia is — and does. Imagination of utopia responds to and satisfies the desire to transcend the limitations, and, in particular, to escape and overcome the hardships, sufferings, injustices, abuses, emptinesses, and absences of the present. Imagination of utopia expresses hope for the future, hope that the future will bring real progress. Imagination of utopia provides an image of a possible future which not only stimulates thought and inspires action towards transformation of what presently exists but also anticipates the end and orients the direction of this thought and action. Imagination of utopia also always enacts an at least implicit critique of what presently exists by positing a society superior to that which exists at present in which the principal contradictions of present society have been resolved, the principal problems of present society have been solved, and the principal limitations of present society have been superseded.

This brings us to the distinction between “concrete” and “abstract” utopias — which I borrow from Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch (whose writings on utopia can be found in many works, and yet principal among these are The Principle of Hope, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986, and The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988). “Concrete utopias” are the results of the ideal projection and extrapolation of real possibilities immanent within present society that constitute real tendencies for the future real transformation and development of present society. “Abstract utopias” are not connected to any real possibilities immanent within present society that constitute real tendencies for the future real transformation and development of present society. Utopias may be more or less concrete as they are originally imagined, developed, and articulated, and yet, as Bloch indicates, this is ultimately less important than what is done with them by and through critique: One of the principal contributions and indeed one of the principal aims of a marxist critique of abstract utopias is to transform these into concrete utopias.

The concrete utopia of communism will be built — and, in fact, can only by built — by means of a critical transformation and supersession of the many abstract utopias developed and articulated from within (late) capitalist society that express on the one hand longing to escape, protest against, resistance and opposition to capitalism, and, on the other hand, anticipation, from within capitalism, of communism — of a communist mode of life. What makes Fernbach’s Spiral Path so impressive is not only that its abstract utopianism provides such rich ground for the further development of the concrete utopia of communism, and in the areas of sexuality and gender in which marxist theory has been historically negligent, but also that it contributes usefully as well to the beginning of this transformation from the abstract to the concrete.

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