Workers World Party: Long history in LGBT struggle
Published Jun 24, 2009 4:50 PM
Following are excerpts from a talk by Workers World Party member
Shelley Ettinger at a WWP meeting in New York City on June 19.
When I volunteered to speak about Workers World Party’s history with
regard to the party’s role in the lesbian, gay, bi and trans struggle, I
didn’t realize what an enormous task I was taking on. The party’s
contribution to this struggle is, in fact, a huge topic.
As Frederick Engels showed in his 1884 work, “The Origin of the Family,
Private Property and the State,” and as anthropological research has
confirmed, patriarchy and the subjugation of women are not natural or original
features of human society. Rather, they arose and displaced the original
matriarchal communal cultures when societies divided into classes based on the
accumulation of surplus wealth.
All that we today group under the headings of sexism, male supremacy or
misogyny is a product of class society. LGBT oppression arose in tandem with
the subjugation of women; it is, in fact, part and parcel of women’s
oppression. While we fight against every manifestation of both, we fight above
all to overturn the capitalist system to which women’s and LGBT
oppression are integral.
While most of the left tendencies in this country now more or less support LGBT
demands for civil rights and oppose discrimination, none has been as involved
in fighting for these demands as we. Unfortunately, most of them view this
movement as a matter of “identity politics,”
“lifestylism” or, even today, see homosexuality and transgender
identities as deformities of capitalism. Of course the opposite is true:
It’s the oppression, not our sexual or gender identity, that is the
deformity of capitalism.
We recognize the treatment of LGBT people as a special oppression under
capitalism. “Special oppression” is a Marxist term that identifies
specific mistreatment of a minority group arising from capitalism. Racism and
the subjugation of women are special oppressions. The constellation of
discrimination, homophobia and violence faced by LGBT people amounts to special
We of course always had LGBT members, and the party had always accepted and
treated them well. But the transition to recognizing this struggle as one we
must support, and then embracing it and plunging into it, was amazingly quick.
By 1971, at only the second Gay Pride march, we were there, carrying banners
and signs and taking a stand.
Our LGBT comrades were of the community, and once the community took to the
streets we were, of course, there, pitching in, providing militant leadership
when we could, drawing toward us some of the best fighters. There are so many
struggles we’ve played a part in over the years—from street battles
in the Village to shutting down shooting of the anti-gay movie
“Cruising”; to the fight against Anita Bryant’s vicious
“Save the Children” campaign to overturn gay rights laws that
cities across the country were starting to pass; to twice running a gay
candidate for the state senate in Manhattan.
[We were also] deeply involved in the AIDS activist movement, including getting
arrested at the first-ever ACT-UP demonstration, the sit-in on Wall Street, and
a protest at the U.S. Supreme Court, all the while caring for and then mourning
our own comrades with AIDS; and played leading roles in the organizing for the
three big LGBT marches on Washington in 1979, 1987 and 1993. For the 1987 march
we organized and led the labor contingent, and a comrade was one of two labor
speakers, along with Cesar Chavez.
We co-founded the first gay labor organization, the Lesbian and Gay Labor
Network, and later helped to found Pride at Work, the official AFL-CIO LGBT
constituency group. We fought against the Pentagon’s gay ban and then
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—not because we want LGBT
people to join the military, but because we have to uphold the fight against
discrimination wherever it takes place.
We fight for same-sex marriage rights, not because we are in favor of the
patriarchal institution of marriage but because we demand simple equality. We
fight against anti-trans violence and defend lesbians jailed for defending
themselves against bashers. We work always to build multinational, anti-racist
Two comrades have made particular contributions to the struggle and to the
theoretical understanding of LGBT oppression. One is Bob McCubbin, whose 1976
book “The Gay Question: A Marxist Appraisal” was groundbreaking in
many ways. I remember attending a feminist-socialist conference that year, a
young lesbian justifiably wary of Marxist groups, all of which I’d
encountered until then were anti-gay. And Youth Against War and Fascism [the
youth wing of WWP] was selling Bob’s book. I couldn’t believe
it—a socialist party was not only for our struggle but had written a
whole book to build it.
Bob’s book traveled around the world and had a strong impact on our
comrades in several other countries who were influenced by our analysis. In
1992 we reissued the book in a new edition [now titled “The Roots of
Lesbian & Gay Oppression: A Marxist View”] with an updated
introduction and afterword to address developments like the AIDS crisis.
Then there’s the work of comrade Leslie Feinberg. Her books have raised
consciousness about the special oppression of trans people. And she has
introduced a generation of young militants to socialism.
There’s our newspaper, which has covered this movement with hundreds and
hundreds of articles written by activists who are directly involved.
There’s also our unwavering solidarity with every socialist country and
every country under attack by U.S. imperialism. When U.S. imperialism tried to
portray the Cuban revolution as anti-gay, we were the most stalwart defenders
of Cuba, exposing the purpose of this cynical maneuver and insisting on the
Cuban people’s right to address this issue as they saw fit. It was WWP
that held meetings in defense of revolutionary Cuba at the LGBT Center [in New
York City], meetings that were physically attacked by counterrevolutionary
And we in WWP stand with Iran in defense of its sovereignty and take the stand
that it is up to the Iranian people to address social issues as they see fit.
Our solidarity against imperialism is unconditional.
What is the role of a revolutionary Marxist party with regard to the struggle
for LGBT liberation? The role of the party is to advance that struggle in every
way we can; to provide class-conscious analysis; to promote unity; to do what
we can to move the struggle forward. Because this struggle is part and parcel
of the larger struggle to build a new world, and that is the whole reason we
The LGBT movement has made many gains in these 40 years since LGBT people
fought the New York Police Department in the streets of the Village in June of
1969. There is an amazing, and amazingly swift, shift in consciousness among
the masses. Every one of these gains is the result of struggle. But there are
many more victories to be won, and none will be won without struggle.
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