Part two of what's turned into a very lengthy look at the US Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and its history of homophobia. This part focuses on the parties actions in regards to its own members who failed to toe the line.
Well after examining the origins of the RCP’s institutional homophobia it’s time to look at the practical effects of that policy. After all why single out the RCP when plenty of other Parties have produced similar homophobic policies and statements? Well because the RCP didn’t bother waiting for the Revolution and put theory into practice.
But first a quick time line of the various policy evolutions in case of confusion.
1973: Revolutionary Union publishes “On Homosexuality” a paper justifying the exclusion of homosexuals for being decadent, bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. The paper becomes its policy and the policy of the RCP till 1988.
1988: Due to the growth of the Gay Rights movement particularly concerning the AID’s epidemic and attacks by the religious right and increasing resistance to both pressure mounts on the RCP to change its tune. So a compromise was made, the new line advocated in “On the Question of Homosexuality and the Emancipation of Women.” Softened its tone, -well allegedly- but still attacked homosexuality. Only now it was just contributing to female oppression and narcissistic rather than completely counter-revolutionary.
2001-2: The pressure from within and without keeps mounting on the RCP over its homophobic policy. Fearing it’ll tear the party apart; RCP leaders embark on an unprecedented attempt to draft a new policy via the 2changetheworld website. A new policy is drafted which they claim is now pro homosexual and allows Gay members.
Despite the open homophobic policy some Gays didn’t get the hint, for some it was a case of it just not being an issue in their local area, until a Party officer found out. Others it was a case of their desires to change the world and the sincere belief that the RCP was the only way to do this that led to a harsh lifestyle of denial. But whatever reason going anywhere near the RCP was a very grave mistake on their part, which would lead to very nasty consequences.
An excellent source for this policy and its very odd and disgusting practices comes from Kasama and its users who were in the RCP. They published a series of posts by Gay and Bi former members detailing their experiences then collected them into a PDF called Out of the Red Closet. While I find Kasama problematic I do recommend Out of the Red Closet for those wanting to understand this rather unique type of Red homophobia and just how vicious these types of parties can be even when they are small and have no access to power. It’s also very revealing about the mind-set such organisations cultivate in there members.
One weakness of Out of the Red Closet is its lack of detail concerning dates and places, this makes it hard to pin point where and when exactly what the RCP did occurred. This may seem like a minor point, and it is but the RCP has been busy denying its homophobic past and trying to convince prospective new members they’ve changed, so a bit more accurate time keeping would have been helpful. Though it is still possible to figure out roughly when most of these incidents took place.
I think its worth reading in full and so have attached it.
When the RCP was confronted with the spectre of homosexuality they appear to have had a plan already worked out to deal with this problem. There was of course expulsion, or terminating membership applications, but strangely given the RCP's believes this seems to have been the final resort. What they would attempt at first is a bizarre form of "corrective therapy" and interestingly this whole procedure seems to have been heavily linked to how the Party recruited.
Apparently to join the RCP you had to convince them you were revolutionary material, and you do this through a series of chats.
Several years after returning to the work with the RCP, and after an appropriate amount of self-criticism for previous decision to withdraw from politics for a spell, the leader of the group within the RCP that I worked with agreed to meet with me to talk about joining the party.
Part of these chats involved a surprisingly detailed background interview including questions on where you live and with whom. Asking for details about political views and why you wish to join the party seem reasonable, but having to declare your spouses, family and lodgers seems quite nosey and needless but it seems to have been a way to enforce the no Gays policy.
As part of this process of joining the party I had a sit down meeting with a party leader in which I was interviewed about my personal background including my education and work history and, interestingly, where I had lived and with whom I had lived. This whole process seemed a little excessive but still perfunctory until I mentioned that Mark had been my lover.
In this example after finding out Andrew Copper is Gay they put his membership application on hold. For context Andrew had been working with the RCP for a few years prior to this in its front groups, protesting the Panama invasion and first Gulf War. This means that this event took place after the 1988 “compromise”. But instead of an immediate barring from joining the RCP which you'd expect since the RCP publicly stated you can't be a "Revolutionary Communist" and Gay. Instead they invited him to another series of chats with an altogether different purpose.
My request to join the party was “put on hold” (as my leader put it) and I began the first of a series of meetings with my leader, a party member who was a former lesbian, and several others from the party to discuss the Homosexuality Question.
A former Lesbian, one of several things happened here, either she is bisexual and gave in to RCP pressure to suppress her feelings for females. She is still a Lesbian and either suppressing her feelings, or suppressing her feelings and trying to make herself straight. None of those possibilities seem too pleasant, but since she’s now taking an active part in the same abuses that she was victimised by I can’t really be all that sympathetic. Least that was what I thought until I read a little further.
We talked about what it meant and how it applied specifically to our lives (well, to my life). The party member who was a former lesbian told me her story of being hurt by men, turning to women to avoid pain, feeling like women were superior to men and wanting a society of just women who loved and nurtured each other, etc. The punch line of her story, of course, is that she realized she was wrong and joined the party.
It now seems more likely the party took advantage of her when she was in a very vulnerable condition. So exploiting the emotionally vulnerable and Gay bashing at the same time, efficiently disgusting work that. Anyway these “discussions” continued for a while until Andy made it clear it wasn’t going to work. This attempt at Queer shaming isn’t an isolated incident, and it’s not even the worst example given in Out of the Red Closet though the implications that they took advantage of an emotionally troubled and possibly abused woman to justify their vile line puts it near the top. Once Andy proved unresponsive to the Party’s powers of persuasion they ended the application and effectively barred him from attending their rallies and bookshops. Even though he had been volunteering for years and had made friends and acquaintances. They also instructed members who knew him not to talk to him and they complied.
This major part of my life that consumed much time and energy and was so transformative for me personally ended unceremoniously one day at a Starbucks. I met with a party leader (the one who had organized the homosexuality discussions the year before) at a prearranged time. I turned in my key to the bookstore. (I heard years later that they had already had the locks changed months before that when it was remembered that I still had a key!)
Now throwing someone out after years of hard work is a pretty rotten thing to do. But sadly it was the most benign thing they did. See Andy despite being an active volunteer and supporter hadn’t actually managed to get into the workers’ paradise yet, he was functionally independent of the RCP and had come to terms with his love life. For Gays who were already full fledged members of the RCP and the treatment would be much worse.
You may be wondering how that’s possible since you have to declare current and past lovers to get your membership card. Well the answer is simple, most of them didn’t know they were Gay until after getting that special card because they were in its youth section and where often still in High school. Yes the RCP would do to impressionable teens and young adults what they tried to do to Andy a fully grown man who was already independent and had come to terms with his own identity.
The first account in Red Closet and the first one written on this subject that encouraged the others to come forward was Libri Devrim’s. Her story starts in the 80’s presumably before the 1988 reform given the nature of her discussions. She was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) and realised she was gay when she started crushing on another female RCYB member. Coming out as it were caused problems with her family and attracted the attention of the RCP’s officers. She also had to take part in these “special talks” with a number of senior party members about why being Gay is bad.
They made a series of deductive arguments – very divorced from reality and my own situation – that lesbianism was an ideological choice that embodied a reformist political program and that was therefore not compatible with being a communist revolutionary. Let me remind you that all of this was happening to me when I was a high school student – just barely starting to sort out life, love and sexuality.
Now doing this to anyone is bad enough, but doing this to an impressionable young woman is just cruel. But as with most things where the RCP is concerned it gets worse. At first it seems like these discussions are just attempts to put peer pressure on the individual to get them to go along with the official line, but it appears to have been in part an active attempt to humiliate them as well.
I was told that I was viewing the girl in the RCYB that I liked as a sex object, that I was objectifying her because I had sexual thoughts about her.
In one painful meeting (at a Burger King – I never wanted to eat there again after this!) I admitted tear¬fully that, yes, I had imagined seeing her naked while masturbating.
Yes a group of adult RCP Cadre in a public setting brought a high school aged girl to tears whilst getting her to give them intimate details about her sexual life. It was at this point that I decided to make the RCP the subject of its own piece, this is just disgusting behaviour, and yet it somehow gets worse. Since Libri continued to stay within the RCP her life became dominated by self-denial or self-criticism in Maoist speak. She also had to undergo “training” and supervision to be given the privilege of serving the Party.
They were even planning on making her move but that just wasn’t feasible until she left high school. Libri kept up the official party line for several years though she did start “acting up” again, though by her own admission she couldn’t bring herself to publicly say she disagreed with the party pretending instead to not understand. After years of this institutional abuse she got desperate and started dating a guy.
I was never told I had to start dating a guy, but I felt immense pressure to prove that I wasn’t a bourgeois femminist-separatist, that I was a revolutionary communist who was fully committed to bringing out change in this world.
Obviously this relationship didn’t work out so I guess we can also add homewrecking to the list of RCP crimes. Which is ironic given that the RCP is extremely pro nuclear family.
We moved in together and I hoped that eventually I would develop feelings for him, but it didn’t happen. I liked him a lot and loved spending time with him. But I dreaded having sex with him.
Yes apparently Libri was under so much pressure she tried to get a man to “fix” herself. That’s just really, really sad. The relationship broke down (obviously) and eventually Libri finally saw sense and left the Party. However it seems the RCP had the gall to rub salt in the wound and used her leaving as justification for their disgusting policy in the first place. Apparently though that’s standard practice when someone leaves the RCP to claim it was that ex-members personal failings. Very dishonest and very exploitative, but it is consistent with the internal logic that the RCP and other Vanguards seem to employ.
So far we’ve seen a couple of the examples from Red Closet but apart from making you a bit sick it should also show that this wasn’t an isolated incident. In order to do these things in an organisation spread across a Nation and all with the involvement of local RCP leaders over periods of weeks and months must have required the support from the top. And since the leadership of the RCP are the ones who set the policies and party rules they’d have to come up with operational procedures to handle discipline.
The comments sections of Red Closet also reveal a few more interesting aspects of the RCP’s homophobic policy, according to Mike Ely former member of the RCP and “Leading Light” of the Kasama project during the 80’s the party refused to allow any acknowledgement of the abuses LGBTQ groups and people suffered at the hands of the Imperialist system. They would remove anything at all related to Gays in their publications. Given its policies and treatment of its own members this shouldn’t really be that surprising, party papers (all of them) are notorious for selective reporting but a blanket ban does confirm that the RCP as an organisation were completely opposed to the LGBTQ community. And that's important to keep in mind since many current RCP publications claim that despite their policies they were always supportive of Gays defending themselves from attacks from the right.
I also think it’s very important for people who have no attachment to the RCP, Maoism or the "New Communist Movement" read Out of the Red Closet because it shows us just how pervasive and destructive and authoritarian environment can be.
A phrase that pops up a lot from the ex RCP members is "How could this of happened?" and "Why didn't we know?" and to me at least it seems very self-explanatory. They didn't know because the very culture they had submersed themselves in did not welcome curiosity, and this homophobia and abusive behaviour survived for so long because the RCP like most hierarchy’s hates accountability. Many of them including Mike Ely openly admit that because they believed in "Communist Discipline" they publicly defended party policies they didn’t agree with.
It is true that I publicly upheld the RCP’s line. I was a very enthusiastic and committed supporter of the RCP’s politics overall for my entire membership — from 1970 until 2007. And I have always been a disciplined communist. I adhered to rules and policies closely
Even Gay and Bisexual members whose lives were being torn apart by their commitment to Revolution and their own attractions wouldn’t dare publicly tell the RCP to suck it. The best Libri could manage before the total break was to pretend she was too stupid to understand the RCP’s arguments. And other LGBT members went further, some admit that they actually defended the RCP when LGBT groups attacked it even though they had privately agreed that its policies were wrong.
At the same time, when faced with what I, or we, perceived to be anti-Party attacks, I always upheld the right of the Party to hold this line and struggled against efforts by anti-communists to use the Party’s wrong line on LGBT issues to ice the Party out of various coalitions or discredit the Party’s work in a variety of fields.
Yes apparently organisations like the RCP can make you a active accomplice in your own oppression once you’ve been submerged in their internal culture for long enough.
Now if you’re only just familiar with Maoists you may be wondering how this culture squares with their supposed love of criticism. The answer is very well since the type of criticism Maoists fetishize is self-criticism of the individual not collective criticism of the organisation. And it was this type of criticism the RCP practised when its homophobia was challenged. The whole point of those little chats with gay members was to give them the opportunity to criticise themselves and validate the RCP. You had to admit they were right and convince them that you had changed to be allowed to be a normal member.
Red Closet makes this explicit with its chapter Enforcing the red closet: Deep regret and an explanation. By “Pat” a supporter of the RCP who took part in one of these chats from the other side, attempting to pressure a Young Gay Revolutionary.
I was part of series of discus¬sions with a potential recruit from the YB who was gay. The descriptions given by Libri and others are similar to what we did with this youth who came out while in the brigade.
In addition to giving credence to the earlier experiences Pat’s retelling removes any doubts about what this process was really about and provides a scary look at the mentality such organisations cultivate.
My reactions and behaviors and decision making processes were strongly shaped by working with the party and I was taught, so to speak, not to question authority or to disobey directions no matter how abhorrent or even silly the directions seemed.
Despite taking part in this vile procedure Pat hasn’t really changed this is the end of their short contribution.
Yes, we should criticise what happened in the past, but also let’s find areas in which we can still unite with them and let’s encourage the party leadership to confront these problems and change. Because when we look at it there is really no other party capable of leading revolution in the united states.
You can say a lot about Avakian and his mates, but I seriously doubt that being a bit shy or a lack of self-belief has ever been said before. But hey maybe Pat’s right, this was all way back in the ancient past of… the early 2000’s things have changed right? Just you wait and see.