•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

LGBT liberation: An essential working-class struggle

Published Jun 24, 2006 8:58 AM

Leslie Feinberg
WW photo: G. Dunkel

The following talk was given by WW Managing Editor Leslie Feinberg at the May 13-14 “Preparing for the Rebirth of the Global Struggle for Socialism” conference in New York.

Same-sex love, sex-change and gender variations are found in the ruling class and middle class, as well as the working class. So how is lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) oppression a working-class question?

It’s true that wealthy white lesbians or gay men face bigotry—and rich women face sexism—although certainly not to the same degree as a homeless trans youth of color, or a single white woman trying to feed kids on a low-paying job.

But the difference between these two major economic classes in society is that the ruling class can’t profoundly transform capitalism to create economic and social justice. Historically, their class unconsciously came into being to develop the tools of production on a mighty scale, which in turn created the modern working class.

Today the working class is the only economic force in society that has the power to revolutionize society. That’s because workers and oppressed peoples do the work of the world everyday on a huge, collective scale, setting in motion the vast productive apparatus built by our class.

So it is in the class interests of working and oppressed peoples to take over collective ownership of the productive apparatus and plan production to meet the needs of all.

But divide-and-conquer ideology diverts the working class from realizing that the historic moment has ripened to unite to take power. Understanding that solidarity is in the class interests of all who are exploited and oppressed is the key to revolutionary struggle.

That’s why we as communists see the struggle against lesbian, gay, bi and trans oppression as an essential component of the working-class struggle.

Fighting all forms of oppression defends lives. And it also helps build unity in the struggle by revealing to the entire working class the social and economic inequalities that are built into the capitalist system.

Fighting LGBT oppres sion is an ideological, social and economic battle.

When LGBT workers are denied same-sex benefits for their partners, they are being paid less than their co-workers, which drives down wages and benefits for all workers. The LGBT-led struggle for domestic partner benefits has helped win gains for unmarried heterosexual workers, as well.

LGBT workers have to cobble together an economic support system without the benefits bestowed on heterosexual families. That’s why we support the right to same-sex marriage. We are not advocates for or against marriage—we say the state does not have the right to discriminate.

We also maintain that people shouldn’t have to couple and marry in order to have health care or other benefits. And we press demands faced by the most oppressed of the LGBT movement—against national oppression, police and prison brutality, gay-bashing, denial to health care access.

We fight the Pentagon brass when they wage war around the world and we fight them when they wage war on their own troops—whether that’s brutality towards LGBT soldiers or sexual violence against women GIs. But we wage this struggle to reveal the character of the military in order to counter-recruit!

Ironically, the pretexts for the widening imperialist war drive have shifted towards “humanitarian interventions”—including sending the Pentagon to “save” women and gays, from Afghanistan to Iran. Arti cles about the plight of gay Afghans and Iraqis began appearing in the U.S. shortly before both imperialist invasions.

We don’t know the whole story.

However, without any idealizing, the Taliban campaign in Afghanistan may have begun as a struggle against a form of forced sex by feudal militia commanders.

In Iraq, the death penalty may have been extended to include homosexuality and rape in an effort to close ranks with Islamic forces as imperialist invasion grew imminent. But today, under imperialist occupation, U.S. media are silent about Iraqis who are perceived to be homosexual currently being targeted in a terror campaign of assassinations.

For the last year, reports that the Iran ian government is carrying out state executions against “gays” have traveled the Internet.

The first and most widely touted report, that two gay youth were hanged by the government for consensual sex, turned out to be a mistranslation of the charge of same-sex rape. A widely circulated article alleging police abuse of a female-to-male transsexual in Iran never mentioned that the government there extends more rights to transsexuals than any other on the planet.

It’s also not thoughtful, sensitive or precise to automatically assume or impose a universal identity of “gay” on people in oppressed countries.

Even in the U.S., there are widespread expressions of same-sex affection, love and sexuality outside of the distinct self-identifications of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual.

And self-identities and concepts in Greenwich Village or Castro St. may be very different in a Black community in Newark or a Gujarat community in Jersey City or among homeless Mexican youth living in parks in San Diego.

That’s true internationally, as well. Many indigenous forms of sexuality, gender and organization of the sexes in cultures millennia-old still survive—while not untouched by thousands of years of patriarchal class societies and hundreds of years of colonial and imperialist economic, cultural and military domination. This understanding deepens realization of the complexities of human social and self-expression.

Sensitivity is critical to building true internationalist solidarity and anti-imperialist consciousness.

We are not apologists for oppression anywhere. But we will not join the chorus of imperialist demonization of countries fighting for sovereignty and self-determination. U.S. finance capital seeks to conquer, not to liberate.

Historically, British, Spanish and Portuguese and U.S. colonialism brought “anti-sodomy” laws to Asia, Africa and the Americas.

And today, in their drive for re-colonization, the CIA and Pentagon have incorporated sadistic anti-gay and anti-trans humiliation, rape and other forms of violence into their science of torture.

The propaganda by the spin doctors of finance capital that military invasion and occupation are for “liberation” of gays and women demonstrates the need to develop more LGBT and women’s leadership and participation, particularly by the most oppressed, in the anti-war movement.

Our Party has made important contributions to the historical and theoretical understanding of the roots of lesbian, gay, bi and trans oppression in class society—and has been in the streets in the struggle.

As historical materialists, we have seen the evidence that human beings are not hardwired to be bigoted. Ancient pre-class societies on every continent respected greater spectra of sexuality, gender and sexes.

It was the rise of class divisions that led to laws and enforcement to regulate sexuality, degrade the social status of women, violently punish transsexuality and intersexuality, and brutally enforce norms for female and male dress and behavior. Why? To try to break up communal kinship networks, overall social organization and belief systems.

That was in the class interests of the new ruling elite. The development of the patriarchal, heterosexual family was in their class interests too.

But though it was designed to pass on wealth through male heirs, today the male-dominated heterosexual family is an oppressive institution foisted on the entire working class, as well as an economic unit for survival under capitalism.

In the last century, the left-wing of the revolutionary movement—those most successful in breaking with the oppressive ideology of millennia of class rule—has fought against state repression of homosexuality and the oppression of women.

The early revolutions that struggled to build socialism under terrible economic isolation and military pressure were not able to eradicate the social damage of centuries of class rule overnight. A revolution is a process, not a single act.

Replacing the male-dominated family as an economic unit required lifting the financial burden of survival from families, allowing individuals to live and love without economic dependence.

But technological underdevelopment, imperialist embargo and hostile military encirclement made it hard for early revolutions, struggling to build a socialist economy in isolation, to achieve that goal. However, from the early Soviet Union to East Germany to Cuba, important gains have been made.

Ultimately, as socialist revolutions develop, particularly within the imperialist countries with more technological resources, world cooperation can harness the vast worldwide apparatus of production to meet the needs and wants of all working people.

Socialism creates the material impetus for cooperation. And socialism can utilize the massive tools of mass education to raise consciousness to eradicate racism, sexism and other vestiges of bigotry and reaction.

That is what it will take to set love free from repression and fear, guilt and shame.

But today, we have got to fight against all forms of oppression in order to defend lives and to cement the kind of unity necessary to wage the class struggle, and win it.

So if you’re looking for a revolutionary party that takes the struggle against sex and gender oppression seriously, you’ve found it!