First Published: In Struggle! No. 226, November 11, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Ed. note: We recently received a lengthy letter on homosexuality from Tim McCaskell, a member of the Body Politic collective which publishes a gay liberation magazine. The excerpts below deal with the nature of homosexuality and the basis for unity between the Marxist-Leninist movement and the gay movement.
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...What I found far more disturbing however was the seeming unclarity about historical materialism and what it means to apply a Marxist method to a particular subject to be investigated.
Much of the debate seems to have revolved around the question of whether or not homosexuality is “natural”. Friends, is reading or writing a book natural? Is appreciating a symphony natural? Are table manners natural?
Bringing the term “natural” into the debate betrays the huge influence of bourgeois science and ideology even among Marxist-Leninists. Are they attempting to posit bioligical origins for social relations? Is this how we are to determine whether a given type of social behavior is “natural”? Such a point of view is alien to Marxism....
I would remind our friends that until a short time ago blacks were “naturally” slaves and women were “naturaly” subservient baby producers.
A second dead-end debate focuses on the causes of homosexuality. We are lead to psychological speculation about individual development and anthropological speculation about the existence of homosexuality in primitive communism....
For the purposes of this letter it should be enough to point out that homosexual activity has been found almost everywhere that anyone has taken the trouble to look for it, among humans engaged in various modes of production, and among other species....
The study of the development of an individual’s sexual orientation could probably be defended as an appropriate work for academic science. But that study would include the development of heterosexual orientation and the intermediate variations as well as homosexuality. It would exclude value judgements on whether those studied were straight or gay.
If the “purpose” of sexuality is simply reproduction then one would have to side with the most reactionary militant Christians and argue against birth control and masturbation. Isn’t it clear by now that an individual’s sexual behavior is fundamentally social and very complex. Sex has to do with communication, pleasure, and the release of tension. If Marxist-Leninists attempt to deny this, they are preparing us for a “1984”, for such social relations as love, respect, or satisfaction are without importance to the biological project....
Presently in most countries the gay movement constitutes itself as a mass movement seeking democratic rights for the “gay minority”. Marxist-Leninists should therefore relate to it as they would towards any other movement for democratic rights, struggling for progressive positions but taking into account that a mass movement’s cross-class nature demands a clear basis of unity around the common interests of the sectors involved.
Marxist-Leninists can play a positive role struggling against backward ideologies like racism and male chauvinism which limit the ability of our movement to build unity among lesbians and gays and between the many nationalities and races which make up our community. This kind of work is also important in building alliances with other oppressed groups such as immigrants or women who often share common enemies with the gay movement.
Outside the struggle for democratic rights the question of the relation between gay liberation and socialism is less clear. This question is further clouded by confusion among many Marxist-Leninists about the correct relation of any democratic struggle against oppression, to the revolutionary struggle against exploitation. The history of relations between the proletarian party and progressive mass movements (national, women, racial, etc.) is one that is filled with errors of both left and right opportunism.
A number of different positions are now held among progressive gays which I will try to outline.
The best known is the Trotskyist position which in its most vulgar form says that gay oppression emanates from the “family” and that the “family” is fundamental to capitalism. Therefore the gay struggle must be fundamentally anti-capitalist. This theory has been the basis for ultra-left errors by the Trotskyists in the gay movement who have attacked the unity around democratic demands as reformist, and who have called for a “revolutionary gay movement” whatever that might be.
A second position focuses on homophobia as a divisive tactic of the bourgeoisie against the working class. There is much truth in this argument. Gay baiting strengthens male-chauvinism not only against gays but also against women. Reactionary propaganda which attempts to blame all of society’s problems on the emergence of gay people turns people’s attention from the real class contradictions in society....
Another position tentatively proposed by gay Marxists is that the fundamental contradiction for homosexuals as homosexuals is with the bourgeois State. (Not in any way to negate the contradiction between gay workers as workers, and capital.) The oppression which we face is a feature of the States need to organize and administer sexual life to reproduce the social relations of class society. This does not mean however that the State could not take a different administrative position towards gay people as we emerge as a significant minority. It does mean that at present there is the basis for an alliance between the gay movement and socialists who are fundamentally organized to smash the State and to dissolve class society which produces it.
The relationship between gay liberation and socialism has been made more difficult by revisionism. In the revisionist countries democratic rights of minorities have not generally been respected. The economism of the revisionists ideologues has meant that sexuality is only valued in terms of reproduction and non-procreative sex has been repressed. Social imperialism’s attitude toward homosexuality has closely parelleled that of traditional imperialism. It has been considered a decadence which has to be stamped out.
The continuing influence of the “bourgeois decadence” theory on the Marxist-Leninist movement has meant that progressive sectors of the gay movement have been allowed to fall under the influence of Trotskyism and other “leftist” petit-bourgeois theory mongering. The situation has also allowed the Marxist-Leninist movement to slide into a blind heterosexual chauvinism which allows all sorts of reactionary attitudes to flourish unchallenged. Failure to challenge such ideas within the movement and within the working class can only be characterized as right opportunist.
In conclusion I would like to congratulate IS! for being the first M-L organization in North America to seriously take up this question. But I would once again like to stress how important it is to embark on some serious investigation. Some of the ideas in the letters indicate that their writers don’t have even a passing aquaintance with the wealth of information available on the subject. Certainly the products of bourgeois science must be criticized by Marxism. But they must first be understood.
Marxist-Leninists must go beyond the criticism of bourgeois science. They must begin to work on their own investigation of the reality of gay life and sexuality. This will not be found in the books and data of bourgeois science but can only come from an investigation into the social organization of homosexuality in our country. In this respect Marxist-Leninists have a great deal to offer the Canadian gay movement, just as they have a great deal to learn from it.
Such investigation could also put Marxist-Leninists in touch with the sexual misery which a large part of the population, straight and gay, is forced to live under capitalism. An understanding of this sexual misery can only strengthen our links with the masses and our capacity to analyse and act.