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‘The Gay Question,’ published in 1976

Marxist analysis blazed history’s trails

Lavender & red, part 84

Published Jan 5, 2007 9:10 PM

For more than 30 years I have looked for an opportunity to publicly thank Bob McCubbin—a white gay brother; intrepid activist/organizer against repression and oppression; working-class intellectual; grassroots historian; dialectical and historical materialist; a revolutionary; a communist; my comrade—for writing “The Gay Question: A Marxist Appraisal” in the autumn and winter of 1975.

I can close my eyes and remember, in visceral detail, the moment I began reading a xeroxed, pre-publication copy on a bitter wintry night in late January 1976.

I was curled up in a bus seat on an 18-hour ride from New York to Chicago. We revolutionary activists were slowly making our way to the “Hard Times” conference in a blizzard, without heat. The glass window near my cheek was slick with ice.

In a small cone of light, I read these words, and my eyes filled with tears: “Anti-homosexual prejudices have not always existed and need not continue to exist in the future.”

I cried as I read the rest of the xeroxed manuscript, all night long, moved by emotional release and ideological exhilaration.

As a young blue-collar lesbian butch, I had survived growing up in the 1950s Cold War ideological and state witch hunt against communists and militants, against same-sex love and against any body or gender expression that sketched outside the lines of 1950s’ Dick-and-Jane gender education.

If I had been taught anything at all about Marxism in my high school classes, it was that that worldview was dogma, moldering and hoary with irrelevance, and that factory workers like me wouldn’t be able to understand a word of it.

But in these pages, I found my life, my love, my class, a genuine basis for solidarity with everyone battling oppression—here and around the planet—and a materialist compass that pointed the direction toward liberation.

Marxist vantage point of history

“Even before the formation of the Gay Caucus of Youth Against War & Fascism in 1971,” McCubbin wrote, “our gay and straight comrades were actively supporting the struggle against gay oppression. We didn’t need a formal position paper to have it made clear to us that gay people were oppressed and that their struggle should be supported.

“Nevertheless, it is important to bring communist understanding to every social phenomenon and class consciousness to every struggle. These are the objectives of the present book.”

“To understand how homosexuality has come to be viewed the way it is today,” he wrote, “it is important to examine the changing historical periods and their impact on sexual attitudes in general as well as on homosexuality.”

Every phenomenon has a history, McCubbin stressed.

“[D]evelopment and transformation are characteristic of everything that exists. We believe that the uncovering of the history of homosexual oppression will be helpful in bringing that oppression to an end.”

The pamphlet focused on societies in what is termed the Western world. “The reason for this,” McCubbin explained in the 1976 publication, “is that the information available to us concerning homosexuality in non-Western societies is sparse and often subject to disparate interpretations. It does seem clear, however, that nowhere else have attitudes towards homosexuality been as profoundly negative as they are in Western society.”

The Marxist vantage point in this pamphlet lifted me up to a mountaintop overlooking the rolling development of hundreds of thousands of years of human history: pre-class cooperative societies, chattel slavery, feudalism, capitalism.

From there I could see for the first time that during the major portion of that long, long history, human beings worked in group cooperation on every continent. That simple but profound fact created social relations very different than those in capitalist societies today.

Thinking back, that was the most startling realization of all for me in this pamphlet. It meant that human beings were not hard-wired as a species for competition and greed, cruelty and violence. Society had not always been divided by classes, driven by avarice. Social life had changed many times based on the overall economic organization of society.

No wonder my high school facts-by-rote history education concealed this particularly earthshaking fact like a dense fog. The understanding it awakens is downright “subversive.” If things have not always been the way they are now, then they can, and will, profoundly change again.

Next: Surplus produced bosses, lords and masters

E-mail: lfeinberg@workers.org