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Workers World Party 1971-1972

Internal education on gay liberation

Lavender & red, part 80

Published Dec 3, 2006 8:02 PM

Workers World Party’s youth group, Youth Against War & Fascism (YAWF), formed an internal Gay Caucus in 1971—which soon after became the Lesbian and Gay Caucus. Bob McCubbin, who played a key role in its political and organizational formation and development, recalls what led up to and followed the establishment of the caucus.

McCubbin writes that he had been doing gay liberation work and Workers World Party (WWP) organizing on the West Coast. He had told leading members of the Buffalo branch he was gay when he moved to San Francisco, where there was no branch, six months after the Stonewall Rebellion.

And he remembered that one of the founders of the party, Vince Copeland, “had actually used the presence in New York of a large gay community as one of his incentives to get me to move to New York City” to work in the party center.

However, not until 1971 did McCubbin ever take the floor at a party meeting to speak from the political perspective of a gay man. “In the late summer of 1971, I left San Francisco for New York City and a few weeks later, at a party meeting, I took the floor to defend the party during a minor factional struggle. One of the charges being leveled was that the party had no position on the gay liberation movement.”

McCubbin stood up and said, “Well, I’m gay, and I’ve always understood that the party supports the struggles of all oppressed people.” There were a few seconds of absolute silence and then strong applause, recalls McCubbin.

McCubbin explains, “What followed the branch meeting where I came out were several months of preliminary discussions with leading comrades in New York, in particular with Vince and Dottie [Dorothy Ballan, a founder of WWP], and with a few lesbian and gay comrades in party branches.

“At the end of 1971 or the beginning of 1972, the party held a winter conference, and I asked Deirdre [Griswold] if an announcement could be read at the Saturday plenum to the effect that a meeting of lesbian and gay comrades and friends would be held in the evening. Deirdre assured me that would be no problem.

“Well, about 50 people showed up!” Not all of them were LGBT, McCubbin recalls. “It was a wonderful expression of solidarity on the part of many heterosexually oriented comrades, but the 12 or 15 of us who were lesbian and gay had to schedule a further meeting the following morning to get some work done after the evening meeting full of praise for us and solidarity statements.

“This conference,” McCubbin concludes, “marked the beginning of a party-wide effort to educate ourselves and our class on this issue.”

Sam Marcy vs. gay oppression

Workers World Party founder Sam Marcy made a tremendous contribution to the development of the party as a revolutionary communist organization, and to the historic struggle for sexual liberation, when he oriented the party about the gay struggle politically, theoretically and historically in a significant part of a 1972 internal document he wrote as orientation for the party conference.

Marcy said of the oppression of nationalities, women, youth and gay people: “The degeneration of monopoly capitalism into state monopoly capitalism carries to an extreme all the forms of oppression which the capitalist system, in the previous epoch, had engendered and developed. As the crisis of the social system becomes more and more apparent, the need of the ruling class to unload its burden on the most oppressed sections of society becomes more evident. Only by dividing, only by fragmenting and continually pitting different elements of the oppressed masses against each other, can the capitalist establishment maintain its sway over all society, and hope to survive.”

This same sharpening of the persecution and oppression, however, creates the impetus for a genuinely progressive militancy and resurgence of Black and Latin@ peoples, women, youth and gay people.

Marcy characterized the lack of widespread support for the gay struggle in the progressive movement at that time as a legacy of the deep-seated prejudice that emanated from the religious bigotry of the Middle Ages and its reinforcement throughout the entire course of capitalist development.

“It is particularly significant,” he wrote, “that the public change in attitude—such as it is—comes on the heels of a very formidable wave of struggle by gay people, a veritable ‘coming out’ in a most demonstrative way. Gay Pride took a cue from Black Pride. ...

“Without the struggle launched by gay people,” Marcy stressed, “the prejudices which have been ground into the consciousness of the masses by indoctrination would not even have been challenged, let alone shaken to their foundations.

“All this shows how intimate is the connection between the ideas of a particular time—even progressive ideas—and the conditions of the time, in this case, the state of the struggle.”

‘Influence of October Revolution’

Marcy continued, “An important influence in the progressive movement insofar as the gay struggle is concerned, dates back to the victory of the October Revolution in Russia. In early 1917, the Soviet government annulled all laws which restricted the rights of homosexuals. It also, of course, annulled all the reactionary laws pertaining to divorce as well as the feudal-bourgeois family relations.

“What is important about this,” he emphasized, “is that for the first time in history, a workers’ government established equality in law—and to a measurable degree also in fact—between men and women, for heterosexuals and homosexuals.”

Marcy noted that, “Unfortunately this period of very progressive development was short-lived, and was succeeded by a period of reaction with the rise of Stalin to power.” The 1934 move by the bureaucratic grouping at the helm of the workers’ state to reinstate laws against homosexuality, Marcy explained, had a profoundly negative ideological impact on communist parties around the world that looked to the Soviet Union for political leadership.

“Our party,” Marcy stated, “which bases itself on Marxism-Leninism, looks to the early model of the Soviet Union as the embodiment of what our own political position should be in relation to the struggle of gay people.

“Our first, most elementary and fundamental duty as well as objective on this question is to completely eliminate and abolish all forms of persecution and oppression of gay people. It must also fight against all ideological, political and social manifestations of gay oppression which may be reflected in our own ranks.”

Marcy wrote that the demand to end all sexual oppression and persecution “is really an elementary democratic demand which a bourgeois democracy should be able to grant along with all other democratic demands. But imperialist democracy tends to restrict the elementary rights of all people—not only gay, women, youth, Brown and Black. It is only the struggle that can wrest concessions. In the long run, only the abolition of the capitalist system can produce a lasting, free and equal treatment of all peoples.”

Marcy concluded that although regression in the Soviet Union had bequeathed a backward ideological legacy on the question of homosexuality, “The socialist revolution is a permanent revolution, one of continuous change. Along with many other changes that need to be made in the socialist countries, the gay question is surely one of them.

“In the meantime, we ought to concentrate on preparing our own revolution, of which the struggle for the liberation of all oppressed people, including gay people, is an indispensable condition for victory of the revolution.”

Next: Historic WWP contribution: Publication of “The Gay Question” by Bob McCubbin

E-mail: lfeinberg@workers.org