Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Los Angeles Research Group

Toward A Scientific Analysis of the Gay Question

V. Material Oppression

Once again, the RU fails to stop and think, or even investigate what it is saying when it writes

Imperialism profits directly from the oppression and exploitation of women. This is not true for gay people. They are not materially oppressed as a group, and the denial of their democratic rights does not secure great profits for the ruling class.

But in real life it is rarely such a simplistic matter as the direct immediacy implied in the formula “oppression equals great profits.” Rather, in advanced capitalist society there are many superstructural and ideological forms that do not directly “secure great profits” but whose “usefulness” is indirect in that they help maintain conditions (disunity, apathy, cynicism, backwardness) that allow the continued expropriation of “great profits.”

People’s ideas don’t just happen. The ideas of different societies reflect the history of class contradictions and their development. In each historical period the existence of phenomena and their process of development are analyzed and explained by applying a particular ideology, the world outlook of the ruling class. In the Catholic Church, for example, Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologica that homosexual acts are unnatural, lustful, and sinful because they are the pursuit of pleasure to the exclusion of procreation, which he called the god-given purpose of the sexual organs. Our “revolutionaries” today would agree, only changing “sinful” to read “counter-revolutionary.”

But Aquinas and the church did not just “discover” these ideas. The church explains things in terms of god, but the idea of “God” serves as a smokescreen to mask the real source of religious ideas: the ruling class which perpetuates religion and its maxims to serve its own material interests. Religion is important to the capitalist ruling class as it was to the slave-owning and feudal ruling classes because capitalists see things in terms of profit and power (their world outlook) and they act, therefore, to sustain those institutions such as religion that help maintain their rule.

To say that there is no profit to the capitalist in the oppression of gays is to ignore the basic theorems of the science of Marxism. Does the RU believe that it is simply an accident, or “natural” that gays are oppressed? The fact is that gay people are materially oppressed and the material basis for that oppression indeed lies in the maintenance of profit and power of the capitalist.

Our investigation leads us to believe that the material basis for the oppression of gays can be found in the role of the bourgeois nuclear family under class society in the maintenance and perpetuation of the division of labor. The bourgeois nuclear family is the economic institutionalization of personal relationships under capitalism. It is a socially isolated unit consisting of a husband, a wife, and their children. The husband works outside the home. The wife, whether or not she also works outside the home, works within it at invisible labor which maintains and reproduces the labor force. The purpose of the bourgeois family is to: 1. socialize children into understanding and accepting class relationships as they exist in this country today; 2. reproduce the class structure in microcosm; and 3. privatize the maintenance and reproduction of the working class. Class society establishes/maintains, and perpetuates divisions of labor including sexual divisions. Sexual division of labor is of incalculable use to the bourgeoisie, dividing workers into two great camps, those in social labor and those in private labor; those in private labor can and have been called forward as a reserve army of labor according to the needs of the bourgeoisie.

A. Historical Perspectives

Historically, as collective economies broke down and economic relations based on patriarchy and rising capitalism emerged, man’s labor was increasingly that of commodity production and his role included the provision of the material necessities for the maintenance and propagation of the family. (The sexual division of labor had existed prior to this historical development, but it was not accompanied by the super-structural characteristic of sex-roles – standards of personal character and behavior according to gender.) Woman’s labor was increasingly individualized and restricted to items of use value, i.e., for private and indirect consumption. Her role included the maintenance of current labor power (husband), the rearing and education of future labor power (children), and the care of expended or discarded labor power (sick, injured, and elderly.).

The sexual division of labor, reified as “natural”, is of material benefit to the bourgeoisie in a capitalist society where collective replacement of daily needs is not provided for. The working woman in the home does not directly sell her labor power as such. Under capitalism, the value of her “invisible” labor power* is appropriated by and benefits the bourgeoisie through her role in the family, which requires her to shop for food, clothing, etc.; cook, maintain the home, and look after the family, including the wide range of emotional and psychological needs, such as defusing her husband’s anger from the exploitation of his job.

With the industrial revolution and the full development of capitalism, some women were incorporated into the public sector of the working class. Nevertheless, the working woman’s role at home has not changed materially. Because her nurturing and service role has not been recognized as having economic value necessary to the maintenance of capitalism, but only as a “natural” and biologically determined sex characteristic, it is likewise considered “natural” that the working woman continue to bear the primary burden of creating a healthy home life for the family.

“The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife, and modern society is a mass composed of these individual families as its molecules;” and, “Within the family he is the bourgeois and the wife represents the proletariat.” This sexual division of labor indeed secures great profits for the bourgeoisie, for there is a structural unity between the sexual division of labor and class exploitation:

The first class antagonism which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamian marriage, and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamy was a great historical advance, but at the same time it inaugurated, along with slavery and private wealth, that epoch, lasting until today, in which every advance is likewise a relative regression, in which the well-being and development of the one group are attained by the misery and repression of the other. It is the cellular form of civilised society, in which we can already study the nature of the antagonisms and contradictions which develop fully in the latter.[1]

Division of labor and private property are. . . identical expressions: in the one the same thing is affirmed with reference to activity as is affirmed in the other with reference to the product of the activity...[2]

The ruling class ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships. . .; hence the relationships which make the one class the ruling class, therefore its ideas of its dominance.[3]

To maintain the division of labor so crucial to the maintenance of its rule, the bourgeoisie has developed a powerful and pervasive ideology. It includes the radically opposing sex models which permeate education and culture: Men are to be physically strong, courageous and combative; women learn to be supportive and passive. Starting with childhood, both boys (cars, mechanical sets, guns) and girls (dolls, sewing kits, play stoves) receive the toys which will train them for their eventual roles in the economy. Bourgeois ideology and institutions make sure this ’indoctrination continues throughout a person’s life.

B. Sexuality, Reproduction, and Sex-roles

Similarly, anti-gayness is a necessary part of bourgeois ideology. Implicit in the fact of two men or two women relating to each other is the rejection of the necessity of basing a relationship on the socially defined “inferiority” or “superiority” (according to physical characteristics) of its participants. When men and women see themselves as equal the bourgeoisie loses one of its basic “divide and conquer” weapons. Working men can recognize that the sexual privileges and short range benefits they derive from the bourgeois oppression of women are minimal and not in their class interest.

Likewise, women in rejecting definitions of inferiority can see themselves as workers and become militant fighters for socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie, terrified by the communist spectre of the equality of women and men, labels sexual equality as unnatural. Gayness is also labeled “unnatural;” it is a threat to bourgeois dominance. Gayness is “unnatural,” and therefore a threat to bourgeois dominance, precisely because it rejects the “natural” bourgeois society as reflected in the “natural” bourgeois/proletarian relationship of the nuclear family; it also implies that sexual relationships need not be tied to reproduction.

The ruling class should be encouraged by the fact that they are not alone in this perception. They have what we consider to be some very unlikely allies. The October League strongly condemns gay relationships on the grounds that they cannot produce children and thus are anti-social and attack the family. There are two basic errors in this position. One is the confusion of sexuality with reproduction. The other is the failure to understand that when societies undergo a qualitative change, so do all of the basic institutions that uphold them – including personal relationships and childrearing, and the dominant and subordinate nature of sexuality and reproduction within them.

Sexuality and reproduction are not synonymous. Most sexual intercourse is not for the purpose of reproduction. Witness the widespread demand for contraceptives. There is not an inherent unity between sexuality, reproduction, and love relationships. Research done with the goal of showing that sexuality is inherently a part of reproduction has been discredited; this is discussed at more length in the Appendix. For Communists to put forward as a line the supposed principle that the “material basis” for love relationships is reproduction is unscientific. It is as if these Communists looked superficially and mechanically at the particularized practice of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, summed it up and applied it to the U.S. today. But the experience of the USSR was particular, because the country’s population had just been decimated in one imperialist war, industrial development was just getting off the ground, and there was an imminent threat of another imperialist war.

The continued existence of the world’s only socialist country was in question. To meet this crisis, the Bolshevik Party instituted measures which encouraged the increase of reproduction, such as outlawing abortion and homosexuality, making divorce harder to obtain, granting material incentives to families who would have more children, and the like. But times have changed. We live in an advanced technological society whose population has increased over the last few generations. We do not need to “learn” from history by mechanically applying lessons of the past to a new historical context.

It is also true that in humanity’s earliest days, when the physical survival of the species was much more threatened by nature than it is today, people lived under circumstances where reproduction was of immediate concern. Women spent most of their time either pregnant, in childbirth, recovering from pregnancy, and nursing infants. The infant mortality rate was astronomical. As people began to develop technology and to accumulate surpluses, it became necessary to establish clear lines of male inheritance. Reproduction thus came to be institutionalized with the development of private property, the first class relationships, and the institution of marriage. Thus, formalized relationships developed not out of the necessity of insuring reproduction (which was being taken care of well enough) but out of the need to control it and to control people and their relations to the means of production. These institutions served to curb people’s expressions of sexuality by penalizing reproduction outside of marriage which would threaten the transmission of property and property relationships. (One effect of this was to place severe limitations on most women’s behavior, since they bore the children. Men were allowed to copulate with relative freedom with concubines, slaves, mistresses, and members of the non-propertied classes in general.)

As societies developed and conditions continued to change – life-spans increased, as did the size of the population – people continued to express their sexuality and to enter into relationships in conflict with the demands of the allocation of private property. In these relationships, sexuality was undoubtedly important while reproduction was generally an undesired side-effect. Taboos and bans against extra-marital relationships existed not because of some metaphysical, moralistic idea of the sanctity of such relationships (these were the superstructural means of enforcing economic relationships) but because illegitimate children – uncontrolled reproduction, offshoots of people’s sexuality and love for each other – threatened the means of distributing wealth and power. In societies where institutionalized relationships existed as ways of distributing property – where distributing property was generally why marriages were arranged – reproduction outside the framework was clearly a threat to those institutions and economic relations.

Under capitalism the effects of the changing means of production and advanced technology have further increased the separation between sexuality and reproduction. For the first time reproduction does not have to be a risk connected with the expression of sexuality. Birth control and abortions are realities. People, including working women, have been struggling to maintain that separation in fights for the right to abortion on demand and for the availability of birth control on demand. These struggles have found their way into popular culture in songs like Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill,” which celebrates a housewife’s freedom from the constant fear of pregnancy which she had lived with before.

The history of civilization has been in part the ruling class’s attempts to enforce the connection between sexuality and reproduction in order to preserve private property through the institution of inheritance. Repressive laws against adultery, pre-marital sex, illegitimacy and homosexuality (which often carries the heaviest penalties), are examples of the repressive measures taken by the ruling class to punish those who rebel against its false unity of sexuality and reproduction. Of course this does not mean that as communists we advocate that people place primary emphasis on the gratification of their sexual urges. At this time, love relationships between two people are probably the best way of meeting people’s emotional and sexual needs. Also for most people these relationships are now the most practical way of carrying out reproduction. But if two women, for example, should choose to build such a relationship, this does not mean that they either will not or have not had children.

Indeed, many gay people do have children; some of us were involved in heterosexual relationships before we came out, and we have fought long and hard for the right to keep our children from being taken away by the judicial arm of the bourgeoisie. As scientific socialists, we cannot deny the possibilities of the role that the continuing development of science and technology may come to play in reproduction. Just as it is possible to avoid reproduction through scientific methods of birth control, it is also possible to aid reproduction through artificial insemination.

Finally, we understand the meaning of social obligation in a workers’ state to be different from the capitalist definition. We understand that a situation could arise in which the state would call upon the people to produce more children. This call would apply to all members of society, gay or heterosexual, in relationships or not. But the final responsibility for child-raising and reproduction would no longer lie with the nuclear family; rather, it lies with the entire population. An example of this is found in Vietnam after the Christmas bombings in 1973. The international community flooded Vietnam with offers to care for and adopt the orphans whose parents had died in the bombings. But the Vietnamese refused, saying that whether or not the natural parents survived, it was the collective societal responsibility and desire to keep the children as their own, and to raise them to be contributing members of the nation.

Reproduction, as the primary basis for personal relationships, is already decreasing in importance under capitalism. This process would be accelerated under socialism. In a society run by workers, the needs of one are the needs of all. The care and upbringing of children is a social obligation in which every citizen takes part. For example, the Peoples’ Republic of China has long since recognized the foolishness of keeping most of the female workforce at home with their children. Continuous child care centers are set up, staffed by members of the community, thus freeing parents from direct responsibility. There is no reason why gay people could not participate fully in such programs.

As society progresses beyond capitalism, all of its institutions must develop with it. There is no room in a workers state for the perpetuation of an institution created to serve the needs of the ruling classes of the past. To maintain other wise is to fail to realize that as the material, economic base of society changes (from, for instance, feudal to capitalist, or capitalist to socialist), the superstructural aspects (such as education, culture, government, etc.) will change to eventually reflect the further development, of social contradictions The bourgeois nuclear family is not immune from this process.

In summary, the bourgeoisie does not oppress people because it thinks such oppression is funny; and the oppression of gay people is anything but funny, or so slight that it can be dismissed as negligible. It runs the gamut from the denial of democratic rights, such as housing, employment, and education, to police repression and brutality, to the imprisonment, castration and lobotomizing of gays, to the use of adversive conditioning (chemical and electrical shock), to “cure” gays in state prison hospitals, such as Vacaville. Economically, it is our experience that many open gays are forced to work in the lowest paying, non-unionized small manufacturing shops where the boss is not much concerned with who a person sleeps with or if a person has a “green card”, but who uses a workers’ status as added leverage for increased exploitation. Gay parents are denied custody of their children. Gay people are forced to live in over-priced “gay ghettos” such as Hollywood. Outside social activity, particularly for gay men, is practically limited to Mafia-controlled, overpriced bars, whose owners enjoy a cozy relationship with the police. Such is the material oppression of gay people. It is no less heinous because its victims are determined by sexuality instead of by color or class. Rather, it is the conscious oppression of gay people by a class conscious bourgeoisie acting only out of its own material interests.


[1] Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 240.

[2] Marx and Engels, Feuerbach, Opposition of the Materialistic and Idealistic Outlook,(The German Ideology), in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, p.34.

[3] ibid., p. 47.