Tony Cliff

Why socialists must
support gays

(August 1978)

From Socialist Worker, No.583, 26 August 1978.
Reprinted as Introduction to the pamphlet The Word is Gay, London 1979, pp.3-4.
Reprinted in Tony Cliff, Neither Washington nor Moscow, London 1982, pp.278-9.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

IN CLASS-INFESTED society there is oppressor and oppressed in all walks of life. Employer oppresses employee; man oppresses woman; white oppresses black; old oppresses young; heterosexual oppresses homosexual.

The true socialist is able to overcome all these divisions. An engineering worker who can only identify with other engineering workers may be a good trade unionist but he has not proved himself to be a socialist. A socialist has to be able to identify with the struggles of all oppressed groups.

We are all the children of capitalism, so we tend to conceive of the future – even the socialist future – in an ordered and hierarchical way.

It is as though the socialist revolution will be led by the Father of the Chapel in the print union, the NGA working on Fleet Street. Second in command will be an AUEW Convenor Section 1 from the toolroom in a big car factory. The lieutenants of the revolution will all be forty-year-old white male shop stewards.

If there is enough space then we’ll allow blacks and women and gays to take part – providing they stand quietly at the back!

A lot of socialists still have difficulty believing that gays will be taking part in the revolution at all.

On the contrary we should took forward now to the first leader of the London workers’ council being a 19-year-old black gay woman!

The system rules by dividing us. This means there is no natural way by which one oppressed group identifies with another. The most racist extremists in the Southern States of America are the poor whites – not the rich whites.

In the same way blacks do not automatically support women and women do not automatically support blacks. Gays will not automatically support other oppressed groups.

The Nazis sent thousands of gays to concentration camps. In Chile gays were castrated and left bleeding on the street.

But it is not true that, even given these facts, gays automatically become anti-fascist.

Tens of thousands of gays supported Hitler. Many were in the Brownshirts. After Hitler took power he turned on the gay support and slaughtered them in the Night of the Long Knives.

How can we explain gays joining the Nazis?

If you are an oppressed gay putting on a Nazi leather jacket and leather boots gives you for the first time a sense of power. It makes it easy to put down Jews, women and anyone else.

For any oppressed group to fight back there is need for hope.

If you are on the way down you feel despair. You look for a victim to kick.

If you are on the way up you look for a back to pat.

That’s why only by building a socialist movement can you unite workers with oppressed blacks, women and gays.

And that’s why it is so important for gays to organise for demonstrations like at Brick Lane and to feel able to identify themselves proudly as gays and – where possible – as revolutionary socialist gays.

Karl Marx wrote that capitalism unites the forces of opposition. But it also divides us. We have to struggle consciously for that unity.

We are one – all of us together – but only when we fight together.

Last updated on 7 May 2010