First part of a series looking into the history of the RCP (USA) and its relationship with the LGBT community. This one deals with the origins of its policy on homosexuality.
Originally the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was going to be just part of a list of Communist parties and Revolutionary groups that had very bigoted politics. Mostly homophobia, but some racism and hostility to women. However the more I learned about the RCP its part grew until it became the sole subject.
In 1973 when the RCP was still known as the Revolutionary Union, its top thinkers (I'm assuming this had more then one author to explain its incoherence) gathered around and came up with their own answer to the Gay issue with the late 60's and early 70's seeing the birth of Gay Lib. That answer was the infamous Position Paper of the Revolutionary Union on Homosexuality and Gay Liberation this paper became the backbone of both the RU and RCP's policy regarding homosexuals up to 2002. And it is blatantly homophobic and an incoherent mess.
I was planning on quoting just a couple of its sentences and explaining why what it was saying was offensive and wrong, but unfortunately the authors were so desperate to push their line that they came up with virtually every anti gay slur imaginable. Including a few which wouldn't become common till recently. So unfortunately I'll be quoting a lot of it. Also you may wish to check out the attached On homosexuality : a Stalino-Leninist guide to love and sex a reprinting of the RU's Position paper by a group of Anarchists complete with commentary and illustrations. Unfortunately most of their comments have faded but the illustrations survive intact.
The Original Sin
After the self important introduction, we get our first (of many) arguments against homosexuality, namely male Gays reinforce Male Chauvinism
Homosexuality is an individual response to male supremacy and male chauvinism; it is a response which turns its back to the struggle between men and women. We think that Lesbianism is more understandable as an escape from male chauvinism; male homosexuality reinforces male chauvinism in its refusal to deal with relationships with women. Both forms of homosexuality, however, are premised upon the unwillingness to struggle with the opposite sex in very important relationships.
I'm going to try to show some restraint with the bolding feature. Here we have our first attempt to make homosexuality seem sinister and threatening. If you're male your sexual attraction for Jimmy is an expression of your hatred/belief in superiority over women. And if you're female your not really attracted to Linda you're merely using her to escape male oppression. And either way you are incapable of having a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Or they are possibly saying the only true relationship between the sexes is one founded on sexual attraction?
Also I have another thought, if male Gays are Chauvinistic then why is the gay community heavily populated by examples of feminine (the behaviour associated with females) males? From drag Queens to feys there are a lot of Gay men acting like women. In fact the longest and most popular stereotype of gay males in the West has been the soft spoken man who acts like a stereotypical woman. Why would someone motivated by Male Chauvinism emulate traits heavily associated with females?
I assume none of the authors knew any out homosexuals, an assumption that only gets stronger the further in I got. Oh but if you were thinking this paper was at least a little more nuanced or tolerant of Lesbians think again. This is where the RU think Lesbians come from.
Many people, especially women, have become homosexuals as a matter of choice, usually after some involvement in the women’s movement. These are women who said they couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with men in their personal relationships.
Yes they are saying homosexuality is a concious choice and its mostly the fault of the women's movement. A key theme of this paper is backtracking, the authors constantly state homosexuality is a choice, but occasionally say that choice isn't always concious and that there are many reasons etc. But all of the examples it gives like the one above of homosexuality involve a concious choice. This also raises the question of why men become homosexuals, was there an active Men's movement at the time? That would actually explain the male chauvinism thing. And yes they do seem to have a very hard time understanding that lesbians aren't interested in intimate relations with men.
After this it starts up another of its key themes Gays are individualistic.
Such a choice is clearly individualist; it says: I have a right to relate the way I want to, I can do what I want with my body.
If you're a women you've probably heard that last part before. This is also the part where its double standard shines through. They are saying that being a lesbian is individualistic, and remember these are self described Maoists so individualism equals bad. However Lesbians are individualistic because they choose to have sex with women. Its the choice thing that makes them individualistic, well then surely a woman choosing to have sex with men as a rule or a case by case basis must also be individualistic right? Well no because....shut up.
In both cases people are in relationships which necessarily place them outside of the mainstream of our society and thus puts enormous strains upon the relationships, strains over and above those which exist in heterosexual relationships, which are by no means ideal. Because of such strains, homosexual relationships are rarely long-lasting. The relationships that are principled require much more cultivation, much more time and energy–in short, much more self-indulgence. This is not meant to put down such relationships as abnormal or immoral. It is simply a recognition of the social context in which homosexual relationships must exist.
This part is actually true for today and especially so in the seventies. However the fact they have the nerve to pretend to deplore the situation for Gays in America when they are actively contributing to those strains for homosexuals, by trying to popularise slanders and exclusion of Gays is a special kind of hypocrisy. Also when you remember the time this was written it becomes clear that this paper was written purely to justify its authors views. At this time there was just as much strain placed on relationships between couples of different ethnic backgrounds, from peer pressure, to threats and family abandonment. Now the RU did not write a paper trying to discredit those relationships even though many of the same barriers applied. They've also started hinting at the real reason they don't like the Gays and why they think their "self-indulgent" and "Individualistic".
As materialists, we do not deal with anything in the abstract, we don’t deal with homosexuality as it might exist in some future society where people live without sexual or other inhibitions. We don’t make reference to some so-called “natural” state.
The M word is an attempt to pass off what they're saying as ideologically pure. Here's a trick to show that they're lying and aren't just thick. They're saying you shouldn't be in a gay relationship because the material conditions make it very difficult. You know what else material conditions of 1970's America made extremely difficult? Being a member of a "Revolutionary" organisation. Commie bashing was just as common as Gay bashing, and despite the political explosion of the 60/70's no single organisation ever grew beyond an isolated network. The RU and the RCP are just as much a fringe group as the Gay Libs. So at best its "pragmatic" excuses are hypocritical, at worst a smokescreen.
Based on the above considerations we see that homosexuals are forced to live on the periphery of society (insofar as their relationships are subject to public abuse), and therefore such relationships can be only individual solutions to the contradictions of imperialism, much in the same way as going to live on a commune is an individual response to alienation or in the same way as embracing a religion is an individual solution.
Again remember they are just as much a marginal group living on the periphery of American society, so unless this is their way of "coming out" as individualistic this is just another addition to the hypocrisy column. Oh and yes they are seriously comparing homosexuality to religion and living on a commune (earlier they compared it to Trotskyism, no joke).
Because people who make such a choice are ostracized is unfortunate, but again it is not a sign of being progressive. The thing that makes it individual – and not progressive – is not that it is done alone (communes can involve a lot of people), but that it does not engage masses of people in struggle, it doesn’t organize or set the basis for organizing masses of people to fight around their needs.
They certainly have a lot of gall, if they really believed ostracising Gays is bad they wouldn't be actively encouraging the practice now would they. And as you can see they've unwisely wedded themselves to this "anything other then ourselves is individualistic". The RU was founded in 1969 and became the RCP in 75. The RCP still exists and yet despite over 40 years of continuous existence has yet to organize the "Masses". Gay rights on the other hand seems to be able to mobilise a good chunk of people globally.
But here's were we get into the meat of the argument.
homosexuality is an ideology of the petty bourgeoisie, and must be clearly distinguished from proletarian ideology. To say that homosexuality is based on petty bourgeois ideology is not to cast aspersions on homosexuals, any more than calling most students petty bourgeois is to put them down. As Chairman Mao says: “In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.”
Credit where credits due, we’re halfway through and that’s the first time they directly quote the “Great Chairman” so they’ve shown remarkable restraint. Unfortunately (for them) choosing this particular quotation actually undermines their own argument. If the RU weren’t Communists I might actually accept their statement that calling gays bourgeois wasn’t meant as an insult (it would still be wrong and worthy of rebuttal) but as the quote clearly says, Maoists believe class effects everything a person within that class does. Therefore if Gays are petty bourgeois they are unfit to be Revolutionaries and therefore not worthy of membership within the "Revolutionary Party".
Think I'm being unfair? You just wait
To say that homosexuality is stamped with the brand of the petty bourgeoisie should not imply that gay people cannot be and aren’t strong fighters against imperialism. But we should be clear that it is not the homosexuality of gay people which makes them into anti-imperialist fighters.
Of course Maoists also believe that rich nationalists can be progressives and anti-imperialist fighters too so this attempt at a compliment doesn’t mean much. It’s at this point that the paper devolves into damage limitation exercises. However in the process it completely ditches what little coherence it managed.
It is quite possible that many gay people began to recognize the nature of imperialism as a system because of particular attacks on their democratic rights....Gay people can be anti-imperialists, because they can see imperialism as the enemy and they can understand and take up the main spearheads of struggle against imperialism to maintain.
On the surface this might seem like an attempt to meet the Gays halfway, though a little late. And I’m sure it was quoted many times when the RU and then RCP started getting a lot of flak for this paper. But actually this is quite sinister when kept in context; they are saying Gays can be very important fighters against imperialism, but what might be lost is the difference between anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism.
Anti-Imperialism means nothing more than opposing foreign domination, that’s not the same as Revolution which will end Capitalism. What the RU is literally saying is if you’re Gay you can still work hard and take all the risks involved but when the Revolution does come you won’t be playing a part in it. And since they view homosexuality as bourgeois they won’t leave you alone after they get in power.
Oh and another odd thing this paper does, it trivialises the state of homophobia in America at the time, if you didn't know anything and read this paper you'd come away with the idea that Gays had a hard time making friends and had some issues regarding citizenship status. They conveniently ignore the Sodomy Laws in most American States that effectively made open homosexuality a confession. Police intimidation (The famous Stonewall Riots were of course in response to constant police harassment) complete social exclusion, and random violence.
While gay people can be anti-imperialists we feel that they cannot be Communists. To be a Communist, we must accept and welcome struggle in all facets of our lives, personal as well as political. We cannot struggle with male supremacy in the factory and not struggle at home. We feel that the best way to struggle out such contradictions in our personal lives is in stable monogamous relationships between men and women based on mutual love and respect. Because homosexuals do not carry the struggle between men and women into their most intimate relationships they are not prepared, in principle, for the arduous task of class transformation.
Yes they really are saying if your Gay you can't be a Communist, and if you can't be a Communist you can't be in the Revolutionary Communist Party. Sadly as blatantly homophobic as this part is this isn't the worst of the paper, and certainly not the worst thing the RCP would actually do to Gays who didn't take the hint. Also keep in mind the staunch pro-family line it'll become more important later.
Because homosexual relationships require so much time we have found that homosexuals have had an extremely difficult time meeting the strenuous requirements of a communist organization and they have often put unnecessary burdens on their comrades.
This, right here is the real reason they wrote this paper and decided to exclude Gays from their special club. It is also a rare candid admission how the RCP and other "Vanguards" see there members. In their own words they are admitting their main interest is making sure members put the party and by extension the party leadership as the number one priority. Since Gays apparently have to put more time and energy into personal relationships they aren't as useful to the Party.
In fact these revelations are the reason I decided to devote so much time to the RCP. Not only does their attitude to homosexuals show how ugly they can be, they let slip how they view people and especially their own members.
Because we put class struggle first, we are opposed to all relationships which are seen by the people in them as the main source of their well-being or as a source of personal salvation. It is extremely difficult to have totally fulfilling relationships in this society and any attempt to have one must be a full-time job.
And here they admit even with heterosexual relationships the RU/RCP isn't happy with loving and supportive relationships as they take away time and resources from Party work. Remember Comrades if you want to spend time with your spouse you’re failing the Revolution.
But almost at the very end we do finally get an explanation about how Gays support Male Chauvinism (sort of) now why they didn’t do this after they brought up this idea at the beginning I couldn’t even guess.
The oppression of women is based primarily on material oppression due to their position in production (reserve labor force, cheap labor, unpaid work in the home) and reproduction (as mothers). Imperialism profits directly from the oppression and exploitation of women. Male supremacy and male chauvinism are mainstays of imperialism. This is not true for gay people. They are not materially oppressed as a group, and the denial of their democratic rights does not secure greater profits for the ruling class.
That isn’t actually true, first Lesbians are still women so there oppression must still be part of the oppression of women, secondly Gays are actually a materially oppressed group. This is another attempt to minimize what Gays experience. You can be fired for being Gay, and due to the social stigma open homosexuals where barred from most forms of employment. And the sodomy laws which where still on the books in every state apart from Illinois at the time the paper was written meant open homosexuals faced imprisonment which would further restrict job access. At the time of publication most open homosexuals had to get by via prostitution. The sodomy laws barred them even from pornography.
So even by their own twisted logic the authors are just factually incorrect.
The gay liberation movement has no class analysis of imperialism, it claims to be above classes, attacking the “deeper” roots of oppression.
I've added this part because I actually agree with it (sort of) broadly speaking LGBT political activity can be divided into two camps Gay rights and Gay Lib (the other letters had to wait a bit). The Gay rights crowd were mostly politically Liberal, limiting themselves to demands for respect and equality under the law and of the two they became the dominant and mainstream face of the Gay community. Gay Liberationists were the more radical (though both could be very militant especially in the early days) they actually attempted to fundamentally challenge and alter straight dominated society. Capitalism wasn't really addressed directly by either as part of there Queer theory. However this didn't stop many LGBTQ's from being both committed to improving their lot and opposing Capitalism from a diverse mix of politics from Social Democrats, to Anarchists. The Workers World Party a Stalinist party at this time welcomed openly Gay members so did a number of other would be Vanguards so the attempt to declare all Gays unfit for duty falls flat.
Now we are coming towards the end of the paper, only now they seem to be jettisoning what little attempts at conciliation they were making earlier. Now being Gay is not only Bourgy but full on counter Revolutionary.
In reality, gay liberation is anti-working class and counterrevolutionary. Its attacks on the family would rob poor and working people of the most viable social unit for their survival and for their revolutionary struggle against the imperialist system.
Oh and just after that we have the origin of the "RCP wants to put Gays in camps" allegation.
The only real liberation, the only road to real happiness for homosexuals–is to eliminate the reactionary rotting system that drives them to homosexuality; and to build a new society, under the rule of the working class, that promotes class culture and ideology – the principles of equality, cooperation and the dignity of collective labor – in opposition to selfishness, self-indulgence and the decadence of individualism and exploitative relations.
They are admitting that once the Revolution comes and they are in power, they will deal with homosexuality. They are advocating "Revolutionary" Gay therapy camps. I'm not reading between the lines that's explicit. Oh and as we'll see soon the RCP didn't exactly wait until the Revolution.
But believe it or not the paper isn't finished, after basically saying "we're coming to get you" they indulge in a little badjacketing of Lesbians in an attempt to justify their hostility.
The practice of gay liberation bears out its anti-working class ideology. An example of this is a demonstration called by the National Organization of Women in NYC last August. Although NOW is petty-bourgeois it does have progressive aspects. At this rally Third World Women who had led the struggle of maids at Columbia University against discrimination in hiring and firing were scheduled to speak. Lesbian activists attacked the speakers’ stand and seized the microphone because no Lesbian had been on the program. This destroyed the rally and held back the unity of the women’s movement.
Gay women also played a destructive role in NY in recent planning for a rally around International Women’s Day. All groups present agreed on only raising slogans concerning democratic rights of women such as day-care and free abortion. The fragile unity which existed between the participating groups was destroyed when the gay women refused to take part in any demonstration which didn’t raise “support for gay liberation” as a slogan. Many of the Third World women in the group were dismayed at the blatantly anti-working class and national chauvinist character of the gay group.
Now on the service this might look like legitimate criticism if a little alarmist, but the devil is in the detail. The first example is phrased in a way to make it seem like the lesbians targeted the immigrant cleaners for disruption rather then a response to being marginalised by the event. And when the second example is taken into consideration it becomes clear that the paper is trying to imply Lesbians are racists. They're trying to argue that homosexuality is a choice of westerners, how else could third worlders find lesbians to be "nationally chauvinist"? This puts the RU/RCP decades ahead of many African leaders looking to keep their own LGBTQ citizens marginalised and their societies divided.
And here we come to the end, oh but in case there was any lingering the doubt they saved the worst for last.
The R.U. supports the democratic rights of gay people under capitalism but we do not feel that the Attica Brigade has to take a stand on this question.
Although we support those democratic rights, we do not do so in an abstract way. We oppose the arbitrary use of laws against homosexuality and we oppose bourgeois methods of treating homosexuals as “criminals.” But we do not uphold the so-called general abstract “right to be homosexual”.
Yep they've made it crystal clear, while capitalism exists they'll leave us alone, because they have bigger fish to fry. But you don't have a right to by Gay and they will get to us in time.
Oh and if you think I'm being a little alarmist myself here's the final paragraph (minus the recap).
To make a comparison with religion we support the democratic rights of people to exercise freedom of religion, but we wouldn’t support the right of some Jesus-freak sect to proselytize in working class neighborhoods, but we would support a Black Muslim being brutalized in prison.
They just admitted that they support the brutalization of people they disagree with, and this was a comparison to their stance on homosexuals. There's a reason the RCP is infamous for its homophobia, and this is partly it. Keep in mind that this position paper was the foundation for the RCP's views and policies regarding Gays. And sadly they did practice what they preach. But we'll get to that later.