Applying Marxist method in early 1970s
WWP searched for roots of lesbian/gay oppression
Lavender & red, part 82
Published Dec 12, 2006 8:23 AM
In educating the party as a whole on the importance of supporting gay
liberation, Workers World Party (WWP) founder Sam Marcy noted in 1972 that,
when it came to the origins and development of this oppression, “No
special Marxist study or theory has been advanced as far as we know.”
Marcy stressed, “Marxists, of course, should reject any variety of
bourgeois psychological theories. Most of these psychological approaches are in
reality extensions of the general bourgeois ideology.
“Marxists on the other hand are historical and dialectical materialists
who seek the basic causes of all social phenomena from material conditions, of
which psychology is a mere reflection. Marxists deal with social phenomena and
the struggle of classes.”
He referred to the contributions that the revolutionary Marxist movement had
made to the “national question.” He was referring to the Marxist
examination and articulation of the origins of racism, white supremacist
ideology, oppressor nation jingoism and xenophobia, the oppression of whole
nations in the capitalist era, the super-oppression of peoples around the world
in the colonial and imperialist epochs, and therefore the right to national
Marcy also mentioned Marxist contributions to a materialist understanding of
women’s oppression—the “woman question.” Karl
Marx’s lifelong collaborator, Frederick Engels, wrote a foundational
historical and theoretical contribution in 1884, “The Origin of the
Family, Private Property, and the State.” Revolutionary Marxists since
then have continued to develop historical, theoretical and ideological clarity
as a contribution to the struggle of women for liberation from the additional
burdens imposed on them in patriarchal, class-divided society.
It may jar some readers today to hear their oppression or other struggles
referred to as a “question”: the national question, the woman
question, the gay question. For more than a century, however, this formulation
has been used to emphasize the theoretical importance that revolutionary
Marxists place on bringing battles against oppression to the left-wing
political agenda. Locating the earliest tendrils of oppression in the
development of class-divided societies is a profound contribution to eventually
Therefore, Marxists study when oppression arose and who profits from it in
order to deepen solidarity and support for liberation struggles and strengthen
the revolutionary movement to overturn capitalism. Such an analysis also lays
the basis for understanding how a socialist economic system can create the
material basis for ultimately winning economic and social liberation from
exploitation and oppression, and the extrication of humanity from millennia of
divide-and-rule ideology justifying these conditions.
Marcy noted, “We know of no theory which explains the gay question from
the point of view of the historical class struggle.”
He concluded, “If such a theory is developed, we will study it. For the
time being, however, we are not advancing any special theory regarding the gay
Sam Marcy was not ending the subject, he was opening it.
‘Months of discussion followed’
Months of party dialogue followed. Bob McCubbin—a WWP leader who a year
earlier had founded the lesbian and gay caucus of the party youth organization,
Youth Against War & Fascism (YAWF)—recalls that the continuing party
discussion focused on four goals.
The first was how to concretely demonstrate support for, and solidarity with,
the autonomous gay liberation movement, of which WWP lesbian, gay and trans
members were also a part.
“Second,” McCubbin writes, “we wanted to deepen the
party’s understanding of the issues being raised by the gay liberation
movement and, if possible, provide a Marxist analysis of lesbian and gay
“Third, we felt a serious responsibility to bring the issues that this
movement was raising to the general progressive movement, which often amounted
to challenging homophobia within the movement.
“Fourth, we wanted to make the issue of gay liberation a working-class
issue. This was a formidable challenge in a period of relative labor
Many heterosexual party leaders took up these tasks together with their
lesbian, gay, bi and trans comrades—no one with more vigor than WWP
founding leader Dorothy Ballan, affectionately addressed as
“Dottie” by her comrades. Ballan left her own communist imprint on
the struggle for women’s liberation with the party’s publication in
January 1971 of her pamphlet “Feminism & Marxism.”
McCubbin remembers, “I had felt the need for a theoretical analysis of
lesbian and gay oppression from the time I read Engels’ ‘Origin of
the Family, Private Property and the State.’ I remember very clearly
reading [it] at this time, being very excited by this historically based
explanation of the oppression of women, and feeling that there must be a
parallel, historically based explanation for the oppression of
After the 1972 conference, McCubbin states, many of his heterosexual comrades
offered help. Dorothy Ballan in particular, he notes, assigned herself the task
of helping to lay the basis for such an analysis.
“As I mentioned above,” McCubbin writes, “one of the goals
the party set for itself was the education of the party membership and of our
class on this issue. So, in addition to informal discussions, Dottie produced a
series of educational programs based on Engels’ work, but also on our
general view of oppressed people and their struggles as part of the overall
struggle of our class. These educationals were made available party-wide and
were extremely helpful to me in my effort to grapple theoretically with the
In those educationals, Ballan developed the view that there was a connection
between women’s and lesbian/gay oppression.
McCubbin reminds today’s readers, “When I enter LGBT bookstores
these days, the wealth of material now available makes me dizzy. In those days,
even though I worked in one of the great academic libraries of the U.S. and
spent many hours—when I was supposed to be working—instead
searching for material relevant to a historical analysis of homosexual
oppression, there was heartbreakingly little to be found.
“I spent several years collecting material that might be relevant to a
more complete analysis. Many comrades knew I was working on such an analysis
and brought relevant material to my attention.”
Together—lesbian and gay, bisexual and heterosexual, transgender and
transsexual—members of Workers World Party worked to dig for the ancient
economic, social and political roots of modern lesbian and gay oppression.
What resulted made a historic contribution to the struggle for liberation from
sexual oppression, strengthened the communist left politically, and
demonstrated the power of Marxist tools in the hands of workers who know how to
Next: Impact of “The Gay Question,” published in 1976.
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