Workers Vanguard No. 1004
8 June 2012
From the International Communist League Archives
Homosexual Oppression and the Communist Program
Workers Vanguard No. 172, 9 September 1977 (Excerpt)
This August marks the 35th anniversary of the conference at which the Red Flag Union (RFU, formerly Lavender & Red Union) and the Spartacist League merged their organizations and political futures. The Lavender & Red Union, which was founded in Los Angeles in 1974, originally defined itself as a “Gay liberation-Communist organization.” At the time, its members, who felt a “cultural and political identity with our people and work for our liberation,” had not yet entirely broken from the gay milieu’s sectoralism—the notion that each oppressed sector of society should organize separately for its own liberation. But they also realized that their aim of socialist revolution necessitated the building of a vanguard party to fight in the interests of the working class and all the oppressed. Three years later, at the point of fusion, an RFU spokesman said: “We did not know that we were founded on a political contradiction.”
The RFU was assiduously courted and patronized by other groups on the left, from the socialist-feminist Freedom Socialist Party to the anti-Soviet Shachtmanite Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL). In contrast, the SL sharply confronted the RFU, seeking to clarify the contradiction between their gay lifestylism and sectoralism on the one hand and the Marxist program to build a proletarian, revolutionary internationalist party as a Leninist “tribune of the people” on the other. Thus, the fusion of the RFU and SL was widely seen and excoriated by our opportunist opponents as some kind of “unnatural act.”
The August 1977 fusion conference marked the culmination of three years of the RFU’s political development, especially the several months of intense discussion and political collaboration with the SL. Two key questions that figured in the SL-RFU discussion and dominated the RFU’s “Stonewall 77” Conference were the class nature of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state and the necessity of a Leninist vanguard party. The debate over these and other programmatic questions precipitated a split in the RFU. The majority was won to the Leninist-Trotskyist Spartacist League, while a minority joined the anti-Soviet, gay-lifestylist RSL.
This was a fusion in the best Leninist sense. The SL gained valuable cadre, who entered the organization with proportional representation on leading party bodies. The enrichment was also on the theoretical plane: the extensive discussions resulted in a more precise Marxist appreciation of gay oppression as a derivative of women’s oppression under the institution of the bourgeois nuclear family.
We reprint below a selection from the main programmatic article in the last issue of Red Flag, the RFU’s newspaper, which was published as a special fusion supplement to Workers Vanguard No. 172 (9 September 1977).
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For sectoralists, the communist movement is seen as an amalgam of various oppressed strata rather than as a solitary movement with a singular program. In this context it seemed logical that the task of the “revolutionary” elements among each oppressed group should be to call on their constituency to support the socialist revolution. But the sum total of individual programs which address the various forms of capitalist oppression is not a communist program.
The program of the revolutionary party must express the objective historical interests and tasks of the international proletariat. There is only one communist program. Thus, the purpose of Trotsky’s Transitional Program is to mobilize the entire working class—to bridge the gap between felt needs and objective tasks, between consciousness of oppression and the need to take state power under the leadership of the proletarian vanguard.
There is no special revolutionary program for homosexuals. The communist program includes demands which address the special oppression of homosexuals. But unlike sectoralists, revolutionaries understand that the fate of homosexuals—like that of any other oppressed group—is determined by the course of the class struggle.
Revolutionary Marxists approach the question of homosexual oppression as the only consistent defenders of democratic rights for all the exploited and oppressed. These rights are indivisible and can be secured only with the proletariat in power. The slogan “Full Democratic Rights for Homosexuals” means a commitment not only to fight against such abuses as job discrimination and legal inequality, but also to mobilize the power of the working class in defense of homosexuals’ democratic rights. It is not a separate demand for homosexuals, but a demand in the interests of the entire working class.
The Trotskyist program is not only the Transitional Program, which Trotsky described as “a program for action from today until the beginning of the socialist revolution”; it is also everything the party stands for—on both sides of the proletarian revolution.
The Program and the Revolution
The socialist program is committed to the eradication of homosexual oppression, which is linked to the special oppression of women. The sexual division of labor based on child-rearing became a source of social oppression in class society. The nuclear family conditions sex roles which are inherently oppressive to those who deviate from the accepted sex role norms. While proletarian rule will do much to end homosexual oppression, the final eradication of all ideological oppression of homosexuals cannot occur until the family is replaced in socialist society.
Unlike the oppression of women or blacks in the U.S., the oppression of homosexuals is not directly based on the economic institutions of capitalism. Black workers, for instance, are disproportionately concentrated in the least skilled, lowest paid layers of the working people and among the unemployed. Thus, the overturn of capitalist productive relations will be a decisive and immediate step toward ending their oppression. Much of the oppression of homosexuals is situated in the realm of discriminatory denial of democratic rights. Homosexuals (like blacks and women, for that matter) will benefit immediately from the victorious proletarian dictatorship’s assault on discriminatory laws and practices. But they will still continue to suffer from pervasive hostile social attitudes deeply ingrained in the residual nuclear family sex role norms of the culture of a transitional society.
The new transitional society can no more legislate away such attitudes than it can eliminate the family by legislation. To arrive at socialism requires a tremendous leap in the productive forces and the gradual development of real social freedom. The withering away of the family as the basic institution defining sexual relations will result in the eventual disappearance of male chauvinism, and with it of generalized anti-homosexual prejudice.
The Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Program
The ultimate abolition of the family has been part of the Marxist program since the Communist Manifesto. The Russian Revolution of October 1917 provided the example of how even a backward, largely peasant country began to create the basis to replace the family. In the first few years of the proletarian dictatorship, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, anti-homosexual laws were struck down and many measures were undertaken with the goal of liberating women from household slavery: kitchens, child care, laundry, dwellings and schools were collectivized. This task was pursued even under the harsh conditions of war and famine.
But the Bolshevik program also recognized that the revolution isolated in Russia could not advance to socialist society. For that, there would have to be revolution in the West. And so the Bolshevik program was necessarily internationalist at its core. It was Stalin who concocted the rationale for the consolidation of a bureaucratic caste in Russia with the nationalistic program of “Socialism in One Country.” The revolution degenerated, and with that came Stalinist class collaboration and terror. The nuclear family was reinforced, and laws against homosexuals were reinstituted.
The Russian Revolution demonstrates how the proletariat led by its vanguard party moves immediately to establish institutions appropriate to its rule. So it establishes soviets (workers councils) while it seeks to lay the basis for replacing the nuclear family. But where capitalism is overthrown by peasant and petty-bourgeois forces, such as in China or Cuba, under the class collaborationist program of “Socialism in One Country,” the bureaucracy fosters institutions appropriate to the peasantry and Stalinism—institutions which replicate the product of the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution: prison camps for revolutionaries and “deviants,” the strengthening of the nuclear family.
Many New Leftists fall into the bourgeoisie’s trap of equating Leninism with Stalinism; the degenerated workers state in the USSR is seen as the “natural” outgrowth of the Bolshevik revolution. In actuality, the revolution fell prey to a political counterrevolution. The goal of abolition of the nuclear family which had hitherto been a hallmark of the communist program was replaced by the Stalinist program of the family as a “fighting unit for socialism.” No “autonomous gay movement” could have exempted homosexuals from the consequences of the Stalinist political counterrevolution, which exterminated the “Old Bolsheviks,” liquidated the workers councils, reversed the drive toward progressive social institutions and turned the Communist International into an instrument of class collaboration and “peaceful coexistence.”
It was only when the RFU came to grips with the continuity of revolutionary Marxism—Trotskyism—that we were able to explain the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and its consequences for homosexuals in the “socialist” countries. Because the Spartacist League uniquely understood the Russian question and the primacy of program, it could play the decisive role in the transformation of the comrades of the RFU from gay left activists into revolutionary communists.