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Workers World Party’s history

LGBT members welcomed from day one

Lavender & red, part 78

Published Nov 17, 2006 11:22 PM

During the Cold War, the early Mattachine movement was founded by revolutionaries, many of whom had to leave their communist and radical parties in order to openly organize against gay oppression. Even after Stonewall, some socialist or communist organizations maintained policies banning gay and lesbian membership, which led members to quit, some of whom then helped develop left currents in gay liberation.

Radical and revolutionary groups in the gay liberation movement after Stonewall included Third World Gay Liberation, Gay Liberation Front and its Marxist study group Red Butterfly, the Lavender Left, Committee of Lesbian and Gay Male Socialists, the Lavender & Red Union, and Gay Revolution and Gay Flames.

But in one communist party—Workers World Party—the struggle against gay oppression was taken up in earnest by the entire organization, not just the lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) members.

Workers World Party had emerged as a distinct party in 1959, after having been a principled, ideological grouping within the Socialist Workers Party for 10 years that differed with the SWP leadership on crucial international and domestic issues.

The founder of WWP, Sam Marcy, had characterized U.S. imperialism’s war against Korea as part of a global class war. In his 1950 analysis of this global class war, written as an internal document, Marcy described that era as characterized by a profound struggle between two class combatants.

On one side was a bloc of workers’ states, headed by the Soviet Union and the newly formed People’s Republic of China, that was attempting to build socialism and at the same time was forming alliances with oppressed nations trying to break the shackles of colonialism and imperialism. On the other side was the imperialist camp, headed by U.S. finance capital, which sought to dismantle the workers’ states and keep oppressed peoples in servitude.

Marcy argued that workers and oppressed peoples around the world had every class reason to defend the anti-imperialist bloc.

Marcy’s principled defense of the socialist camp set him apart as a political leader. At that time, many individuals and groups that called themselves socialist or communist either refused to actively defend the USSR—which was under constant siege, covertly and overtly, from imperialism—or outright politically attacked it.

Sam Marcy built a political tendency that was steeped in Lenin’s understanding that class unity is impossible without resolute defense of all struggles for national liberation from imperialism. And this former labor organizer—whose co-workers referred to him as “Solidarity Sam”—knew in his political bones that the same capitalist class in the U.S. used its police, courts, prisons and troops as a military boot heel to oppress Black, [email protected], Asian, Native and other oppressed peoples who constitute nations within the borders of this country. In other words, the U.S. is definitely not “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

This deep understanding of the need to battle oppression in order to build the kind of solidarity that can truly achieve class unity was a defining characteristic of Marcy’s ideological grouping.

For over a decade Marcy and his co-thinkers argued out their political disagreements within the Socialist Workers Party, taking their vigorous defense of the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese revolutions and the need to support the socialist bloc to the SWP National Committee. But these differences eventually led the Marcy ideological grouping to leave the SWP in 1959 and form Workers World Party (WWP).

One of the first branches of WWP was in the working-class, industrial city of Buffalo, N.Y. From day one, Workers World Party did not, and never had, an internal policy barring membership to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or trans people. The founding members included individuals who today would put themselves somewhere under the umbrella of LGBT identities.

During the McCarthyite witch hunt, however, same-sex love and cross-dressing were illegal, hunted by state repression and hounded and harassed by the “Lavender Scare” that was a central crusade of the domestic Cold War. So, while founding members and individuals who joined Workers World before the Stonewall era did not necessarily self-identify based on their sexuality, it was not because of any internal membership policy that kept them “in the closet.”

What made Workers World Party open in this period to members who today would be referred to as LGBT? And what prepared the leadership of this communist party to make political breakthroughs about lesbian and gay oppression shortly after Stonewall?

‘An injury to one is an injury to all’

Bob McCubbin, a gay man who met Workers World Party back in autumn 1960—and later worked with other leaders in the organization to write a germinal Marxist analysis of the roots of sexual oppression in class society—recently addressed those questions from his own first-hand experience.

Asked about those days, he wrote back, “The small group of political organizers who came together to form Workers World Party in 1959 carried forward, in addition to the communist spirit of struggle and profound class consciousness, an undiluted and uncompromised political tradition and ideology harking back at least a century, that made the newly dawning struggles for sexual and gender equality in the mid-century U.S. relatively easy for them to identify with and embrace as legitimate and important for the working class.”

McCubbin continued, “Under Sam Marcy’s leadership, the party’s guiding ideas included, from the very beginning, the concept of the great diversity of the world’s working class and the need to address all of the different issues that this diversity manifested from a class-conscious and revolutionary perspective. This was in the interests of uniting the whole class for the inevitable struggles for power.

“But Marcy’s lifelong experience as a working class organizer and theoretician also taught him that many of the most dedicated and class-conscious fighters were from the ranks of the most exploited and oppressed people. Those with the least to lose and the most to gain consistently show themselves to be the most highly enthusiastic about change, the most highly motivated to struggle for change, the most capable of sacrifice in the interests of furthering the struggle.

“Further, those who best understand the systems of exploitation and oppression are those with the most experience as the objects of that exploitation and oppression.”

Therefore, McCubbin stressed, “Having such a comprehensive, inclusive and intimate view of the working class, and promoting such a positive attitude toward the most oppressed, it was a natural development that the party was able to attract lesbian and gay members even at its earliest stages of development.”

McCubbin concluded, “Of course, the recruitment of lesbian and gay people to the party in those early days was on the basis of this strongly positive and inclusive view of our class and a strong emphasis on sensitivity to oppression in general, and not, at least not in the early days, on the basis of a deep understanding of the oppression faced by lesbian and gay people.”

Next: “Solidarity Sam” vs. gay oppression

E-mail: [email protected]