LGBT liberation: An essential working-class struggle
Published Jun 24, 2006 8:58 AM
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
We don’t know the whole story.
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
For the last year, reports that the Iran ian government is
carrying out state executions against “gays” have traveled the
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
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
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
Historically, British, Spanish and Portuguese and U.S.
colonialism brought “anti-sodomy” laws to Asia, Africa and the
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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!
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