SWP FORUM "Struggle for Gay Liberation. Barry Nonweiler.
Behind my talk tonight there are basically two questions - why should a revolutionary party support the struggle for gay rights? and why is the liberation of lesbians and homosexuals an integral factor in the programme for a socialist state, with a socialist concept of civil and human rights. But beyond those there is also another question - and that is what does the gay movement have to contribute to socialism?
Oppression on the grounds of sexuality is an integral part of the capitalist system.
Before I argue this I don't think it is a waste of time to briefly detail the reality of gay oppression. Because in fact one of the most oppressive features of the oppression of gays is that the oppression is so often secret, not admitted to, the oppression that dare not speak its name. People are thrown out of their jobs simply for being and no-one even admits to them that that is the reason. This had happened to at least one teacher in Victoria recently. People are bashed for being gay and they dare not admit that this was the reason.
The most blatant and not least widespread form of gay oppression is of course simply physical violence. A gay person is seen as inviting violence by the mere fact of being gay. A few years ago male protestors broke into a lesbian conference in Britain and bashed and severely injured several of the women attending. This year right-wing protestors in France violently disrupted a gay film festival. The cops have been beating those they arrested in Sydney and not so many years ago they murdered Dr. Duncan. There are many gay people who walk our streets with as much reasonable fear of being bashed as have all women have of being raped.
And in a way comparable to the case of rape in the bashing of gays, it is the victim who becomes, as it were, the accused. In the eyes of the law it can be worse to attempt to express a sexual emotion for another human being than to use all manner of brutality against one.
The underlying paradoxical ethic of capitalism in such a case is well encapsulated in a comment by an American Vietnam War veteran who was court martialled for his homosexuality. "They gave me a medal for killing men - and a dishonourable discharge for loving them."
Gay people are oppressed by the weapon of shame. A person's career can be ruined from the moment the accusation of homosexuality is used against them. And it is not just the job that they lose, but the respect of others. But so powerful is the weapon of shame that many gay people are even deprived of self respect essential to a social human existence.
Like other oppressed groups in capitalist society, women and blacks, gay people too are deprived of knowledge of their own culture. On a simplistic level, for instance the gayness of important historical or literary figures is hushed up or at least they are regarded as perhaps being great despite their gayness, instead of it might just as well be because of it. While knowledge of the day to day lives and struggles of gay people throughout history is almost totally lost to us, and even the work for gay rights that was done by pioneer activists in Germany at the beginning of the century has only very recently come to be known by more than a very select few. And you certainly won't read about them in school history books.
Unlike Blacks or women, gay people do not in themselves have a special economic role to play. We are spread throughout all classes, all races, all jobs, all dole queues. But that doesn't mean that our oppression does not have economic manifestations. Any gay person, if it hasn't happened to their friends, will be able to tell you if someone they know who has either lost their job or been denied the right to work because they were gay. Just try turning up to apply for a job with a gay badge if you want to test that out. The case of Greg Weir is only one instance of a nation-wide and world-wide situation. Many gay people have been thrown out of houses or denied accommodation because they were gay.
But in any case it is worth remembering that gay people are probably going
to find it harder to get accommodation in any case, just as any one is going to find it harder who is not living in a family unit. Whether a gay person chooses to live on their own or in a larger communal unit they are going to find accommodation that much scarcer in the first place and usually that much more expensive when found.
Because, of course, the nuclear family remains the base economic unit of capitalism. And gay people are the most obvious challenge to the family system, it is impossible to consider them even as potential families. Perhaps on an individual level a gay person is not often themselves conscious of the challenge they pose, except maybe at a sister's or brother's wedding where an elderly relation comes up and says 'Never mind dear, your turn next time'. But their outspoken opponents are only too well aware of it.
The attacks of organisations like the Festival of Light on gay people always centre on the threat to the family. They exaggerate their fantasies about gay:: people corrupting children just because their greatest fear is that rising generations might be led to reject the family system. And if they claim that this would mean the end of ordered society as they know it, they are of course, perfectly right.
I started out with the general statement oppression on the grounds of sexuality is integral to the capitalist system, because in fact capitalism oppresses or seeks to oppress all manifestations of sexuality other than sex between married couples for the purposes of procreation. Sex outside marriage is stigmatised, masturbation is discouraged and considered unmentionable, anal and oral sex between heterosexuals is considered every bit as depraved as between homosexuals and in many places is equally prohibited, at any rate in theory, by law. Abortion is a crime which one should be frightened out of into undergoing a 9 months sentence of unwanted pregnancy and then the rearing of an unwanted child. One reason why homosexuality is oppressed and punished is because it is so blatantly non-procreative.
But what is there to suggest that procreation is the prime function of sex between humans anyway? Of all the zany expressions of sexuality even between heterosexuals there is only the one that may result in procreation and that only under certain circumstances. At least an equal and possibly the more important function of sexuality is to dr4w us to associate happily with one another, to co-operate ,closely with one another, to be a social animal. Sexual communication opens up to us the possibility of tangible relief from loneliness.
But it is in the interests of capitalism to make us indifferent to on another, unaware of one another, so that on the one hand some few individuals will be sufficiently indifferent to the suffering they impose on others in order that they themselves may mix into the capitalist class and on the other hand the oppressed masses will remain sufficiently indifferent to and even unaware of each other not to gather together. (Most people are simply unaware of gay people and their oppression.
(I remember when I lived in New Zealand someone telling me that when they expressed their intention of joining the S.W.P.'s sister-party there to a friend with Maoist „ sympathies, the friend said 'What kind of revolutionary are you? Only women and poofters join that party.')
When Engels made his famous remark that 'with every great revolutionary movement the question of 'free love' comes into the foreground', one of the things he was recognising was the importance of this socialising function of sexuality to the concept of socialism. Capitalism attempts to reduce sex to a commodity - something that can itself be sold or that can just as well be used to sell anything from pantihose to Violet Crumble. Capitalism attempts to reduce love relationships to a romantic myth which while on the one hand it continually seeks to make us feel incomplete without a relationship, on the other , it destroys the possibility of relationships by unrea.lisable expectations. But for all its efforts, capitalism fails, here as elsewhere to keep us apart. The socialising drive within us is hard to repress.
Much of the reticence of certain parties.- On the left, other than the S.WP. to offer some support for gay rights stems from their belief that this will alienate the support of the mythical workers whom they still patronisingly imagine with perennial grease on his overalls and in perpetual spanner in his pocket. However, I think this unease must be taken seriously it has to be faced and dispelled.
The most important point to realise here is that the vast majority of gay people are themselves workers. There are lesbian tram-conductors and homosexual truckies in every city of Australia.. We are not exclusively the consumeristic social-climbing phenomenon that the bourgeois press, for one, would make us out to be. We are workers too. And we are unemployed too.
And yet it is time that for many workers the stigma attached to homosexuality remains powerful. But the fear and loathing of homosexuality is for most sufferers a fear of the unknown, a fear of something they cannot understand. It is therefore the duty of socialists to explain the need to support gay rights just like any other part of the socialist platform, and not like some left parties, to shirk the issue and only pay it lip-service when forced into a corner.
Relevant here is a well worn quotation from Lenin in "What is to be done", which maybe some of us could recite backwards, but is still worth repeating.
"Advantage must be taken of every concrete example of oppression for the purpose of agitation... Inasmuch as political oppression affects all sorts of classes in society, inasmuch as it manifests itself in various spheres of life and activity.. is it not evident that we shall not be fulfilling out task of developing the political consciousness of the workers if we do not undertake the organisation of the political exposure of the autocracy in all its aspects?"
And might it not be in fact, that far from alienating people, if socialists can make plain the reality of gay oppression and the injustice of it, and the very arbitrariness of the reasons for it might this not result in a strengthening of people's outrage against the system - workers are well aware that there are watertight reasons for their oppression under capitalism, but when they see that under capitalism people can be subjected to violence and deprivation and suppression for reasons that are purely incidental, won't it deepen this outrage?
At the present time more than ever we need to make everyone aware of the issue of lesbian and homosexual liberation and to enlist this support for it and we need to work to strengthen the gay movement itself. because right now is a time that it is coming under attack. n Australia no less than any other part of the world, as we have just seen in Sydney and will see again later this year with the visit of Festival of Light campaigner Mary Whitehouse. Attacks on gays are always the thin edge of the wedge. It is historically true that just as in times of radicalisation the gay rights cause is always among the last to organise itself, so in times of repression it is always among the first to be attacked. In Germany the Nazis raided and destroyed Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Research as early as 1932. It was fascist demonstrators who disrupted the Paris gay film festival this year. On quite a different level over in New Zealand the aspiring dictator Mr Muldoon launched a homophobic smear campaign against his political opponents even before he launched the attacks on Pacific Islanders and women. We need to make everyone alert to this. We need everyone to refuse to tolerate attacks on gays and to give their support. Gay rights are one of the skittles in the front-line and when they are knocked down, the rights of other oppressed groups fall behind them.
All means at our disposal must be used to raise support for and agitate around the cause of lesbian and homosexual liberation. Not just the press, not just policy statements but the active raising of support in unions for instance. Nor can this solely be the responsibility of those of us who are gay
We should not forget that support for gay rights by tip socialist movement has a history. In the 1890's and early 1900's members of the German Social-Democratic Party led the debate against German's anti-homosexual laws, carried news in the party press of the gay educational activities and agitation for law reform that were proliferating in Germany and took a stand against the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.
In Russia in December 1917 the Bolshevik government repealed all legislation against homosexual acts per se. Official delegates were sent by Russia to the Congress of the World League for Sexual Reform, the leading gay rights organisation of the time. One such official representative Dr Grigor Batkis, Director of the Moscow Institute for Social Hygiene, published a pamphlet entitled the Sexual Revolution in Russia in 1923. This pamphlet stresses that Soviet legislation in conformity with the principles of Marxism has taken a scientific and not a: moralistic approach. The revolution, it says, has attempted to promote and I quote "forms of sexual relations responding to the needs and natural demands of the people". (Soviet legislation) declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters
Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality - Soviet legislation treats them exactly the same as so-called "natural" intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters. Only when there is use of force or duress, as in general when there is an injury or encroachment on the right of another person, is there a question of, criminal prosecution."
Many people have scoured the notes of Marx and Lenin and Trotsky for a statement specifically referring to homosexuality, without success. But this doesn't have to mean that they did not think it a matter worth consideration. It may equally well mean that they considered homosexual rights as something that went without saying.
Nevertheless, one must wonder how it was that Soviet legislation could be so easily totally reversed by the Stalinists in 1934, and part of the blame for this must be with the failure of the Bolsheviks to take an outspoken stand on this issue or a positive attitude towards homosexuality. Despite Soviet tolerance one still finds in the first edition of Great Soviet Encyclopaedia statements such as this "While understanding the wrongness of the development of the development of homosexuality, society does not place and cannot place blame for it on those who exhibit it".
Perhaps this is where the question of what the gay movement has to contribute towards socialism comes in. It is customary for socialist parties to adopt a policy of legal equality for homosexuals and an end to discrimination. But to take no stand on such propositions as "Gay is twice as good as straight". While I agree that it is not possible to work out a Marxist line on such a subjectively stated proposition , I do think there is need of a policy that carries through beyond the mere tolerance represented by legal equality and an end to discrimination. Carries through beyond that to a policy implying positive integration.
We have in fact seen, for instance in South Australia, that capitalism can concede legal equality to lesbian and homosexuals without on the one hand significantly endangering its apparent stability, but also without on the other hand significantly reliving the oppression of lesbians and homosexuals in other areas than prosecution, in any way whatsoever. Socialists can learn from this lesson.
Capitalism is in fact in its usual dragon like manner capable of growing a new head when one is cut off. Capitalism is doing its best at the moment to integrate homosexuals into the capitalist system. Homosexual men are being turned into the image of the ideal consumer, the wealthy arbiter of taste. It is interesting that it has not been possible to do the same with lesbians. Surely women are too well aware of the implications of commercialism.
The socialist movement must react to capitalist backlash. Lesbians and homosexuals through their status as outsiders have always been critics of their society and therefore ideal potential revolutionaries. Moreover, the lives of lesbians and homosexuals who live openly today represent a foreshadowing in the present of the relations of a future Socialist system.
Socialist society will be based on equality and solidarity. Under the present system and relationships between people of the same sex, between women at least though less certainly between men at present, have a greater potential to be based on equality and mutual respect, and to be free of dominant and submissive roles. Because they do not form family units, gay people have a ready opportunity to experiment with forms of communal living and child rearing based on sharing and co-operation. Thus in their personal lives they may experiment with and acquire knowledge practically of some of the fundamental concepts of socialism and the socialist system.
It must never be forgotten that socialism aims to improve the life of every individual that lives under it. Although in order to explain socialist ideas it is necessary to come at people at the level of consciousness they are at, it is the duty of socialists to raise that level- of consciousness to embrace all the sexual possibilities that socialism offers. What is wanted is not a revolution that will drag everyone down to the restricted deprived kind of life that the existing oppressed workers are forced to lead by the capitalist system, but will open up to everyone the abundance not just ms say technology, but just as much of intellectual and artistic activity for instance, just as much of free humane sexual communication. The women's movement and the gay movement are an integral part of the fight for socialism, if for no other reason, because their fight is not just for a classless society, but a sexless one.
Last Saturday night 53 people were arrested in the Kings Cross area of Sydney. But this was not just the result of the usual Saturday night roundup by police. The arrests took place as over 1000 lesbians and male homosexuals and their supporters were celebrating International Gay Solidarity Day. What started off as a peaceful and very gay Mardi Gras soon turned into a militant demonstration as cops, both uniformed and plainclothed closed in and started to arrest people. Many people were roughed up, some badly beaten and at least one person had to go to hospital as a result of the treatment he received at the hands of the police.
The demonstration in Sydney on Saturday was not just an isolated incident. As a result of a call to gay liberationists in many counties to build June 25th as an international day of protest in solidarity with the struggles of homosexual women and men, militant demonstrations and protests were held in many cities through the world. This day of protest and the fact that it brought thousands of gays onto the streets occurs at a time when world-wide attacks against homosexuals are being stepped up. Last December Toronto cops in Canada raided BodyPolitic, perhaps the most important gay liberation journal and one issue was seized and the collective who produced it have been taken to court on obscenity charges. Also in Canada cops in a raid last year on Montreal gay bars arrested hundreds of people.
In England the Neo-Fascist National Front has been breaking up gay liberation meetings and leading attacks on gay pubs. Mary Whitehouse who is to visit Australia in September successfully sued Gay News, Europe's larges gay newspaper for blasphemy. In France fascists bombed the Paris Gay film festival while in Greece a new law penalises homosexuality with a year in prison for first offenders and deportation for a second conviction.
In Spain at least 600 homosexuals are imprisoned under the law on Social Danger and Rehabilitation. In the Soviet Union reports indicate that charges of homosexuality are increasingly being used to imprison dissidents for long terms.
In Latin America the right wing dictatorship weigh down heavily on the gay communities. Not all that much has changed since Chilean dictator Ibanez drowned hundreds of homosexuals by sinking their prison ships, or since Pinochet's troops beheaded transvestites in the streets of Santiago. In Argentina the homosexual liberation front has been driven underground and homosexual women and men are the victims of outrages by the semi official paramilitary groups.
Under the guidance and patronage of the infamous Anita Bryant right wing mobilisations in the United States have so far been responsible for the repeal of anti-discrimination legislation in Miami, St Paul, Wichita and Eugene, Oregon. At least one murder of a homosexual by poofter bashing gangs inspired by the Anita Bryant campaign has been documented, but of course many more attacks have taken place which have not been inspired by this same campaign.
Australia has not been immune from this process of the stepping up of attacks and harassment of homosexual women and men. In Black Rock last yea over sixty men were arrested as a result of entrapment by police. In Newcastle over 800 people, predominantly homosexual were questioned in relation to the death of a homosexual journalist. The cops visited workplaces, called on homosexuals at home and through intimidation and threats were able to thoroughly document the homosexual population of Newcastle for future use. In Sydney police have stepped up harassment of women's bars.
In September, sponsored by the Festival of Light which she helped found, Mary Whitehouse will be touring Australia. The main emphasis of her tour will be on child pornography, the place of blasphemy and homosexuality. The FOL will be using this tour to step up their campaign against homosexuals in more earnest.
The international stepping up of attacks on homosexuals have not, however, been met by just passive acceptance. In practically every place where these attacks have taken place some form of resistance has been mounted. In Spain last year, in Barcelona the Spanish gay movement burst onto the streets 10,000 strong. In England militant demonstrations have been held against the National Front, with a gays against fascism being large contingent.
In the United States however, although tens of thousands of homosexual women and men have taken to the streets and defence campaigns have been launched, these have been largely ineffective because militant tactics and the building of a large mass gay movement have been rejected.
Instead appeals to liberal politicians and appeals to liberal sentiment amongst the American people have shown how disastrous such a strategy is. However some success has been achieved in San Francisco involving the working class and trade unions in the defence of Gay Rights. In response to an initiative by State Senator Briggs to ban homosexuals and gay rights supporters from working in Californian schools, an anti-Briggs campaign was initiated which was successful in forging some unity with the San Francisco teachers to the extent that the Teachers Unions have come out and declared "not one teacher in this city supports Briggs."
This brings us to the question of how can gay rights be won and how can they be defended. For centuries with few interruptions homosexuals around the world have been forced into self-hatred and humiliation, into lives of shame and fear, hiding our sexuality and lifestyles from the rest of the world. The vast majority of homosexuals along with heterosexuals have accepted the religious mythology and pseudo-science that condemned as sick anyone who deviated from the norms of heterosexual monogamy. Homosexuals who refuse to accept these norms as the Greg Weir case clearly demonstrates are denied jobs. Homosexuals are still being tossed out of housing, harassed and attacked by cops and poofter bashers.
Homosexuals are still being jailed on account of their sexual preference. As the arrests in Sydney graphically show, while homosexuals are quiet and do not protest our oppression by street marches and the like, we can be mildly tolerated. However when collectively we become threatening by such activities we are brutally and savagely attacked. And this some nine years after the emergence of the modern gay liberation movement. All it goes to show really is that in the fight to attain our basic democratic rights we still haven't got very far. .
Perhaps it is relevant here to just examine this a little more. Why is this the case? Without going too deeply into the rise and decline of the gay liberation movement in this country, it is enough to say that one of the major reasons for the decline of the movement was its failure to build a really mass gay movement, based on a real analysis of why we are oppressed in this society.
In my view, I believe our oppression as homosexuals is very firmly based on the needs of class society to maintain the hegemony of its reactionary sexist ideology. For not holding the virtues of the nuclear family, homosexuals are regarded as outcasts in a society which equates normality with heterosexuality.
This oppression finds its form psychologically in general social attitudes and practices and it is institutionalised by law in the overwhelming majority of countries throughout the world. Though our oppression takes different forms to the oppression of blacks and the oppression of women, at base it is still related in that we are oppressed because, for the continued existence and stability of the capitalist system, it is necessary.
And so any struggle for gay rights must, in part, be a struggle against the system and the mechanisms of that system which oppresses us. But if only it was so simple.
In the building of a movement which is going to confront this system head on we need not only to convince all our sisters and brothers that our oppression in the final analysis is caused by the continuous existence of this system, but we need to forge an essential unity with the only force that has the strength and possibility of overthrowing this system, the working class.
But here we are confronted with what is perhaps one of the biggest problems. The working class, as it exists at the present moment, has not a revolutionary consciousness and has in the main internalised the capitalist ideology in relation to the oppression of homosexuals. Our crucial and essential task is to win the support of the working people to our struggle for gay rights.
And of course this is much easier said than done. No slick formulas are going to achieve this overnight. What it means is both the necessity to build a powerful independent gay movement which will answer the attacks being made upon us by a show of strength that we will no longer accept passively the oppression meted out to us.
Through the building of a strong gay movement to struggle for our rights we will both show homosexual women and men that they need not just passively accept what capitalism doles out, but can do something about it.
And secondly through the building of a powerful gay movement which strives towards building the essential unity with the working class, we will have the effect of drastically and radically altering the consciousness of the class to our oppression. By exposing the cruelty and irrationality of homosexual oppression a powerful gay movement helps demonstrate how deeply and destructively capitalist institutions interfere with people's lives.
The stepping up of attacks against homosexuals on a world wide scale is not just some quirk of crazed people like Anita Bryant or the FoL. It is a part of a general attack being made against all working people. The attacks by Fraser on the standard of living of working people, the attacks being launched against trade unions and the right to strike, the attacks against the democratic rights of all people are a part of this process.
Fired by an economic and social crisis of capitalism, the creation of a permanent pool of unemployed in all capitalist countries, the ruling class is desperately searching for ways to make workers bear the brunt of this crisis. And one of the most time-tested and effective ways to do this is to increase, create and encourage divisions within the working class.
To create scapegoats such as: women and/or blacks are responsible for taking away men's jobs, or homosexuals are responsible for the moral decline and loss of authority of the family. A class divided amongst itself will have neither the time, energy or inclination to see through the lies as to who is responsible for the crisis or to fight against those who have caused the crisis.
And so the struggle for gay rights is essentially a struggle for the education and mobilisation of people to the fight for full dignity for all human beings, without regard for their sexual orientation. History and our own generation's experience, have shown that such human dignity, free from all prejudice, is not possible without getting rid of capitalism, i.e. without a socialist revolution.
The Socialist Workers Party believes that none of the evils of oppression, exploitation and the destruction of the environment cannot be finally overcome without a deep-going social revolution which will abolish capitalism and begin the construction of a planned economy on a world scale.
But we do not conclude from this that anyone seeking to improve the conditions of human life should therefore should abandon their efforts and wait for the socialist revolution to accomplish their goals. On the contrary the Socialist Workers Party, to the utmost limits of its abilities supports, encourages and participates in all struggles against the forms of oppression and exploitation created or perpetuated by capitalist society.
Capitalism cannot be abolished by small groups acting on behalf of the majority. The most powerful ruling class in history can be defeated only by masses of workers and other oppressed struggling to defend and advance their own interests against those of the capitalists. From this standpoint the SWP defends those gains already won and puts forward a program which promotes the interests of the working class and its allies, at the same time that it points the way to the only guarantee of the protection of those interests, the socialist revolution.
The Socialist Workers Party favours the repeal of all laws prohibiting any form of sexual behaviour between consenting, sexually mature persons. The only sexual activities which should be prohibited are those, whether heterosexual or homosexual, in which someone is coerced.
In addition we favour:
*Legislation with penal provisions banning discrimination against homosexual women and men in employment, finance, immigration, education and housing.
*Repeal of all laws designed to harass homosexuals. All those in prisons or in psychiatric hospitals for violating such laws should be released, all those punished should be compensated and all records of convictions destroyed.
*An end to barbaric psychiatric practices such as aversion therapy, chemical castration and brain surgery designed to eradicate homosexuality.
*Abolition of all anti-homosexual regulations in institutions, such as prisons, armed forces, schools, mental hospitals and welfare homes.
*Legal, economic and social recognition for permanent homosexual relationships on the same basis as permanent heterosexual relationships.
*Rational sex education in the schools teaching that human sexuality can be expressed in both homosexual and heterosexual forms and that the only harmful sexual relationships are those based on coercion. The rewriting of homosexuals into history and literature course.
In conclusion, the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Youth Alliance along with many other revolutionary socialists throughout the world are working to assemble a force strong enough to combat and defeat the most brutal and powerful ruling class in history. This victory which will be won, alone can stop the plunge towards world economic chaos and further murderous wars.
It will be the victory that will lay the groundwork for creating a world where human beings can live together in dignity and where sexuality along with all forms of human potential can be freed from the dark closets of fear, intimidation and repression.