Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Los Angeles Research Group

Toward A Scientific Analysis of the Gay Question

III. Is Gayness A Reflection of Petty Bourgeois Ideology?

Following from the RU’s main premise is the thrust of their anti-gay line which is that gayness is a manifestation of (petty) bourgeois ideology, and not proletarian ideology, and that this is reflected in several aspects of gayness. Let’s examine these.

A. Ideology

The RU says ”homosexuality is an ideology of the petty bourgeoisie.” First, this is an incorrect and unscientific use of terms. Marxists must be careful and precise in using words, since the point of the science is to clarify, and not muddle up our thinking and analysis. Ideology is a reflection of class; it is a world outlook. In the world today two classes are competing for power: the capitalist (bourgeoisie) and the working class (proletariat). There are two world outlooks, two competing ideologies.

The ideology of the bourgeoisie is the ideas and world view which expresses and supports their class interests. It serves to maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie (the private ownership of the means of production, natural resources, etc.) and justify imperialism. In the capitalist world its ideology is dominant and is perpetuated by bourgeois institutions (political, judicial, mass media, education, etc.).

The second and rising ideology is that of the proletariat, the revolutionary working)class. Its world outlook is Marxism-Leninism, the theory and practice of socialist revolution; it recognizes the labor theory of value and proletarian internationalism.

Although in capitalist society there are middle classes between the bourgeoisie and the working class, there is no third ideology. Caught between the two major classes, the petty bourgeois reflects aspects of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As people who sell, trade, socially mix with and aspire to become part of the bourgeoisie, and fear being pushed into the working class, many petty bourgeoisie identify with or support the bourgeoisie and its dominant (at this time in the U.S.) ideology. On the other hand, as people who work and do not own the major means of production, people who are being pushed into the working class, the petty bourgeoisie are open ideologically to the working class. They are potential allies of the working class and can be won to proletarian leadership and the struggle against capitalism.

It is their social and economic position between the two dominant classes (neither capitalist nor working class), the fact that they are neither the ruling and expropriating class, nor the exploited and revolutionary class, that historically leads to petty bourgeois types of thinking (empiricism and subjectivism) and behavior (vacillation, individualism, opportunism, and tailism).

To use ’ideology’ as the RU does one would have to say that in general individual love relationships in this society are an ideology of the petty bourgeoisie. But it is ridiculous to speak of an individual relationship as an ’ideology’. Sexual relationships exist and will exist in all societies, primitive, feudal, capitalist, communist. What is true is that such relationships will be marked by the ruling ideology of that society. Homosexuality is no more an ideology than heterosexuality is.

B. Escape

Having made the unsupported statement that gayness is a response to male supremacy and decaying imperialism, the RU goes further to characterize this response as turning ”its back to the struggle between men and women,” and as ”premised upon the unwillingness to struggle with the opposite sex in very important relationships.” Further, ”Lesbianism is...an escape from male chauvinism; male homosexuality reinforces male chauvinism in its refusal to deal with relationships with women.” (emphasis theirs) These characterizations run into several problems.

As communists we struggle against male chauvinism and supremacy in our places of work, school, mass and communist organizations, among friends and comrades. Love relationships are not the source of male chauvinism and supremacy; rather, like all aspects of life under capitalist class relations and culture they merely reflect the reality of class divisions. No individual relationship under capitalism is, per se, a relationship in which people struggle against male chauvinism. Consciousness must be brought to it.

Therefore, as communists, we know that male supremacy and male chauvinism will not disappear through men and women struggling in individual love relationships. We believe the oppression of women can only begin to be resolved when a firm material basis has been laid by a socialist revolution, led by the working class and its party, resulting in the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In other words, we see mass collective working class struggle as key and primary to the ending of women’s oppression, and individual struggle in love relationships as decidedly secondary and supportive. To make a blanket assertion that gays turn their back on the ”struggle between men and women” is to deny the dual nature of the struggle, i.e., its mass character which is primary, and its individual character which is secondary.

Second, the RU does not say gayness is an ’attempt’ to ’escape’ from male chauvinism, but that it is an ’escape’, a turning away from struggle. We don’t think it is splitting hairs to pick up on this. Such a view reflects an idealistic conception of the dominance and pervasiveness of male supremacy and chauvinism in an advanced capitalist society. The fact is that no one – male or female – can ’escape’ male chauvinism and supremacy in a capitalist society. Capitalism needs and perpetuates them; they are integral to the socialization of both men and women in the workplace, at home, and in the community. Male supremacy is not such a weak, isolated part of bourgeois ideology that a person can ’escape’ by merely changing who they relate to. Concrete experience shows that gays, particularly gay women, must still confront male supremacy and chauvinism at work, in school, on the street, in political organizations, where ever they are.

Indeed, not only is homosexuality not an ’escape’, but the oppression by male chauvinism and supremacy increases. The bourgeoisie uses male supremacy and chauvinism to whip up anti-gay prejudice to further divide the working class. When gay women are told that what they really need is a ’good fuck’ it is not totally unanalogous to the chauvinist idea that every woman secretly yearns to be raped, that ”no” means ”yes” or that a ’good fuck’ will cure a woman of frigidity. Nor is it surprising that a woman who is strong and assertive, or intelligent and competent, or athletic, may be called a lesbian to intimidate her into a more ”suitable” role, i.e., passive and supportive. People will wonder if a man is gay if he is gentle or soft-spoken, or into art or poetry, or not bragging about the women he’s had, because he is not acting like a ’man’ but as a ’woman’. Indeed, one of the initial strong points of the gay liberation movement was its recognition that it must fight not only anti-gayness but the oppression of women in general.

Finally, we are struck by the consistently negative, one-sided way that the RU views gay relationships. In fact, their view of gayness as an ’unwillingness’ to relate to, or as an ’escape’ from the opposite sex, closely reflects the bourgeois sociologists and psychologists view that gayness is ’unnatural’ or an ’inability” to relate to a person of the opposite sex. We think it is important to look at the other side of the coin: gayness is the ability to relate to a person of the same sex. This is not an idealist approach but a dialectical one.

We believe that the gross and consistent negativism of the RU concerning gays comes more from their own subjectivism than any correct concern with petty bourgeois individualism. Marxist methodology teaches us we must study conditions conscientiously and proceed from objective reality, not from subjective wishes; we must learn to get to the essence of phenomena and not be satisfied with appearance.

C. Individual Choice

The RU seems particularly concerned with the negative aspects of the individuality of gay women, particularly those in the women’s movement: ”These are women who... wouldn’t or couldn’t deal with men in their personal relationships.” But if we look at this dialectically, lesbianism per se, does not necessarily mean rejection of men. It can and often does say something affirmative about a woman’s relations with women. It is not necessarily a question of ”couldn’t” or ”wouldn’t” but may also be that a woman could relate to another woman.

This is not to deny that there are gay women who enter gay relationships because of negative sexual experiences with men; there are also gay women who express strong anti-male feelings. However, there are many gay women who do not. By mentioning only the former, RU’s conclusion is one-sided. Similarly, it is one-sided to focus only on gay women who voice anti-male sentiments, and ignore the countless heterosexual women who express equally strong anti-male comments and actions. Likewise, the actions of many heterosexual men exhibit disrespect for women and anti-female attitudes of which rape is only an extreme example.

Anti-male sentiments expressed by gay and heterosexual women (and anti-female actions and feelings of gay and heterosexual men) reflect the appearance of things; the essence is the material oppression of women and sexism under capitalism. The key point to understand is that the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (and its ideology) has oppressed women. Consequently, there is at present a contradiction between women and men. Communists, gay or heterosexual, seek to resolve this contradiction (1) by recognizing that the material conditions to end the oppression of women can exist only under a socialist economy and (2) by working to unite all who can be united to fight both for the full democratic rights of women and for socialism.

Bourgeois ideology, in its attempt to divide the working class, has worked to keep women fighting and competing with each other. The crushing pressure first to ’get that man’ and then to ’keep that man’, proofs of a ’real woman’, makes women suspicious of and fighting other women, rather than uniting and fighting the real enemy, imperialism.

The women’s movement has shown that there is more to unite women, particularly working class women, than to keep us fighting each other. Through common political struggle and practice deep friendships form. Some of these have become sexual, not so much from a refusal to deal with men, but rather from the realization that women are also people with whom meaningful relationships can be had. For professed Marxist-Leninists to read into women loving women a rejection of men reflects the bourgeois ideology that a woman is not happy or fulfilled without a man, that women in their primary relationship should love a man more than a woman, that men are superior to women. It is a one-sided approach.

This rejection theory also hints at the subjective fears and threats felt by men conditioned by a male chauvinist and supremacist society, when confronted by women who do not rely on them. To the RU however, ”Such a choice is clearly individualistic; it says: I have a right to relate the way I want to, I can do what I want with my body.” (emphasis theirs) We are confused by the RU’s indignation at a woman saying she has a right to relate how she wants, or that she has a right to control what happens to her body. If a woman refuses to continue to relate to a man who constantly beats and humiliates her is she being individualistic? How about a woman who decides she wants an abortion? Do we not support a woman who refuses to be sterilized or used as a guinea pig for an experimental IUD or birth control for individualistically deciding what she wants to do with her body? What subjective prejudices is the RU operating under here?

We agree with the concept that a person’s individual needs are secondary to the needs of the revolutionary struggle. We also believe that socialist revolution is the start of the resolution of the contradictions between socialized labor and private ownership and the oppression that comes from that contradiction. This implies a respect for the individual that is lacking under the rule of capital.

D. Individual Solutions

Moving right along, the RU says because gays ”are forced to live on the periphery of society. . . insofar as their relationships are subject to public abuse, therefore, such relationships can be only individual solutions to the contradictions of imperialism. . .” and what ”makes it individual and not progressive – is not that it is done alone .. but that it does not engage the masses of people in struggle, it doesn’t organize or set the basis for organizing masses of people to fight around their needs.” Further, “because we put class struggle first, we are opposed to all relationships which are seen by the people in them as the main source of their well-being, or as a source of personal salvation.”

Has the RU ever talked to a gay person, or indeed to any of the people they work with? The fact is, some gay people see their relationships as the primary source of their* well-being, and some heterosexual people do. No communist - gay or heterosexual - sees personal relationships as the solution to the contradictions of imperialism. Sexual relationships – heterosexual or homosexual – do not challenge the power of the monopoly capitalists, or per se ”move the struggle of the working class forward.” To say otherwise is pure metaphysics. There is nothing magical about heterosexual relationships that gives them ”natural” claim to healthy, principled relationships, just as there is nothing magical about homosexual relationships that makes them ”naturally” messed up. Some relationships strengthen the persons involved so they can engage in class struggle; others deplete energy and encourage backward ideas. Relationships are not absolute “things-in-themselves.”

It is precisely one of the functions of bourgeois ideology to promote the idea that there is a wall between productive life (work) and personal life. We are told, in a thousand different ways, that while the wages we receive from our work give us the means to live, it is only at home, in our relationships, in the family, at the beach or in the mountains, that we really ”live.” And for most of the people in this country, their individual personal relationships and time away from work are the only bright spots in their day to day lives. It is our task as communists to break down this artificial barrier and reintegrate productive life with personal life.

As presently constituted most relationships in this society, gay and heterosexual, ”do not set the basis for organizing people to fight for their needs.” As Communists, we cannot deal with personal relationships in the abstract, divorced from concrete realities. The concrete reality in the U.S. today is that personal relationships have a contradictory role. On the one hand, personal relationships (and the nuclear family) are used by the bourgeoisie to mask the real contradictions in society and to perpetuate bourgeois ideology (e.g. sex roles). On the other hand, personal relationships (and the nuclear family) are indeed one of the primary sources of peoples enjoyment and give them the strength and will to go on. As communists we must deal with these contradictions in our work. It is not enough to raise grand slogans of ”Defend the family.” We must educate the working class as to the dual role of relationships and the nuclear family and lead their struggle against what is negative and strengthen what is positive. We must help them tear down the wall between production and personal life. The working class needs political consciousness and understanding, not just slogans. To do otherwise is outright mechanism and denies the role of consciousness.

E. Periphery of Society

Not only are gays individualistic, says the RU, but they are outside “the mainstream of society” because they are the “subject of public abuse.” This is nonsense and the RU knows it. If gays are indeed “forced to live on the periphery of society,” then they have a lot of company: communists, minorities, undocumented workers, unmarried couples, military deserters and draft resisters, prisoners, etc., are also subject to public abuse. RU’s frequently mentioned rural commune may be on the “periphery” of society, but that is not where most gay people are. Gays are next to you at work, at school, in the supermarket, in Mayday committees and party-building forums, in other political work. They are assembly-line workers, steel and rubber workers, hospital workers, students, electricians, teachers, lawyers, unemployed, mothers and fathers. The vast majority of gay people, like the’ vast majority of people in this country, are workers, and even the bourgeoisie doesn’t have the stupidity to characterize workers as peripheral to society.

Who a person has a relationship with does not mystically transport them to another world. Nor will the RU’s wishful thinking. To determine one’s position in society by sexuality merely reflects the dominant bourgeois society’s obsession with sex. To say sexuality is the determining factor of one’s world outlook or politics is to say that sexuality is the primary contradiction, which ignores the fundamental Marxist insight that “changes in society are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in society, that is, the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the contradiction between classes and the contradiction between the old and the new; it is the development of these contradictions that pushes society forward and gives impetus for the supercession of the old society by the new.”[1] We must make a concrete analysis of the classes in our society. As a general rule one’s class position and class outlook will determine one’s revolutionary potential. Gay people cross class lines; it will be their class position and class outlook, not their sexuality, which will govern their stand on socialist revolution. Working class gays, as all workers, “have a potentially inexhaustible enthusiasm for socialism.”[2]

Just as gays are not limited to any class, they are not limited to a single race or nationality as some “communists” would pretend.

We do not pretend that the working class is wildly enthusiastic about gay people at this time. Workers, in general are not presently enchanted with communists either. Both are subject to much public abuse. Bourgeois ideology and propaganda have seen to this.

But why... does the spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of the least resistance, lead to the domination of the bourgeois ideology? For the simple reason that the bourgeois ideology is far older in origin than the socialist ideology; because it is more fully developed and because it possesses immeasurably more opportunities for being spread. And the younger the socialist movement is in any given country, the more vigorously must it fight against all attempts to entrench non-socialist ideology, and the more strongly must the workers be warned against those bad counsellors who shout against ’overrating the conscious element,’ etc.[3]

Workers and communists, like all people in this society, have picked up bourgeois baggage that they must now struggle to rid themselves of. This baggage, including the reactionary weapons of white and male supremacy and chauvinism, is not rational or beneficial for the working class because it only serves to keep us from uniting to overthrow capitalist, imperialist exploitation.

Anti-gayness is another form of bourgeois baggage. The bourgeoisie has said that Blacks are criminal, primitive, inferior, oversexed, have natural rhythm; Black men are out to rape white women or steal your job; Blacks are always on welfare, they’re lazy and shiftless; women are weak and helpless and need a man to lean on; they have a natural maternal instinct; men are strong and brave and don’t cry, gays are sick, they’re perverted, unnatural, they molest children, ad nauseum. We know this bourgeois garbage well because we have to struggle against all of it every day at work and among our comrades.

But it seems that while some comrades think the working class can handle communism and the fight against white and male chauvinism and supremacy, it can’t handle gayness so we will just tail after the workers on this one. When the anti-gay jokes fly, we’ll just laugh too and show the workers how much like them we are. It’s not important anyway, so why make it any harder on ourselves?

But let’s look at this attitude in light of what Lenin said on the issue of the spontaneity of the masses and communist consciousness: “But what was not a great misfortune became a real misfortune when this consciousness began to grow dim. . . when people – even Social Democratic organs – appeared who were prepared to regard shortcomings as virtues, that even tried to invent a theoretical basis for the slavish cringing before spontaneity.”[4]

It is our belief, based on concrete practice, that the RU’s attitude in fact belittles the working class and its ability to recognize bourgeois ideology for what it is. As communists we must surely believe that people are not static but instead can change and move forward. Indeed, our concrete experience as workers has shown us that the people we work with are often more tolerant and willing to listen and struggle and change their attitudes than are many of our comrades. The process of “coming out” to co-workers may indeed be difficult and painful because of deep-rooted anti-gay prejudices, but the struggle and the resulting higher level of trust, respect, friendship and unity that often occur has been worth it. To struggle and share with a co-worker, and to later hear them say they were glad we told them and talked about it, can only reaffirm our faith in the working class as the true revolutionary class. An exemplary indication of this was the “Green Ban” strike (a strike over a non-economic issue) by an Australian building construction local to defend the right of a gay professor to teach at the university.

F. Strains and self-indulgence

As communists we recognize that it is difficult and takes a good deal of time and energy to have any principled relationship in this society. The extraordinary divorce rate, the proliferation of “swinging singles” bars and communities, the porno theater and nude bar in every neighborhood, rising child abuse, and widespread alcoholism and drug abuse are graphic evidence of the pressures and alienation in peoples’ lives. But to depict gay relationships as “extremely difficult,” subject to “enormous strains over and above. . . heterosexual relationships,” and as “rarely long lasting,” “requiring much more cultivation, much more time and energy, in short, much more self-indulgence” is only more evidence of the RU’s failure to investigate and think about what they are saying.

We do not mean to imply that gay relationships are more ideal or subject to less pressures than heterosexual relationships. Gay relationships are less than ideal; heterosexual relationships are less than ideal. Gays do have to deal with pressures coming from anti-gayness that many heterosexuals don’t have to deal with: fear of getting fired, repression by the vice squad, psychological pressures of having to deal with being told you are “sick” and “unnatural,” family rejection, etc. However, personal lives in many other sections of society, particularly among national minorities, are subject to “strains over and above” those in white heterosexual relationships. Black relationships are subject to the “additional” pressures of white supremacy and chauvinism, such as economic discrimination, police repression, welfare rules which break up families, etc. Yet we doubt that the RU would characterize principled relationships between black people as requiring much more cultivation or “self-indulgence” – to do so would be blatantly chauvinist. And to so characterize principled gay relationships is only further evidence of the RU subjectivism and muddy thinking on the “gay question.”

To sum up, then, the RU puts forward that gayness is a manifestation of petty bourgeois ideology, since it is self-indulgent, individualistic, an escape, an individual solution of a social problem, and since gays are at the periphery of society. We say that these conclusions are not based on fact; they are gross generalizations of the sort that come from personal fears, threats, and prejudices which are proven incorrect by even minimal investigation. To put forth conclusions based on no investigation and one-sided thinking is hardly materialist or dialectical.


[1] Mao, “On Contradiction,” Selected Readings from the Works of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, p. 89.

[2] Mao, “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung” (Red Book), Foreign Language Press, Peking 1966, p. 122.

[3] Lenin, What is to be Done? International Publishers, New World Press, 1969, pp. 42-43.

[4] Lenin, What is to be Done? p. 34