Ultraleft and homosexuality

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Wed Feb 8 11:24:45 MST 1995


I think you'll probably have slim pickings in searching for
"ultra-left" (a term which here applies I guess to more-or-less
spontaneist marxist tendencies) writings on homosexuality before
the late 1960s.  I was a founding member of the Sexual Freedom
League in the early 1960s.  Most of us were members or
sympathizers of the Libertarian Socialist Tendency in the
Socialist Party and Young People's Socialist League.  We were
very much under the influence of the "Solidarity" group in
Britain and through them of "Socialisme ou Barbarie" and we also
had fairly close contact with "New and Letters" and "Facing
Reality".  I don't recall anything from any of these groups on
sexual questions, and since it was an issue I was involved in at
the time I think I would have noted any statements on the
questions.

What discussions there were of sexuality in the organized left at
the time were those flowing from the anarchist magazine "Freedom"
in London and those initiated by Paul Goodman in the U.S.  The
anarchists, of course, had for a long time had strong positions
on freedom to love and women's equality, although many of them
also felt that homosexuality was an aberration, albeit one which
had to be tolerated.  Members of the "Freedom" and "Solidarity"
groups worked together on some projects, most notably the "Spies
for Peace" coup in 1962, so "Solidarity" might have been a
conduit for anarchist positions on these questions into the
milieu around "Socialisme ou Barbarie" and its associated groups.
In general, though, you have to realize that the Johnson-Forrest
group and Solidarity, at least, had a predominately working class
membership, and discussions of sexual freedom were far more
common in "bohemian" circles than in working-class circles at
that time.

As I recall, the general attitude in the milieu I was in was that
lesbianism and bi-sexuality were "natural" in the context of our
society, but that exclusive male homosexuality was people locked
into (in Freudian terms) infantile oral or anal stages.  The
Sexual Freedom League was involved at a very early stage in a
campaign to repeal the sodomy laws in California, although that
didn't succeed until the emergence of the mass gay movement in
the late 1960s.  (The SFL was taken over by middle-class
"swingers" in the late 1960s and essentially turned to organizing
orgies and avoiding political activity.)

There is of course a continuous tradition in the British left
extending from Edward Carpenter forward which dealt with sexual
questions as part of the overall struggle for liberation, and
Carpenter (who was himself bisexual) raised the question of
homosexuality at a time when it was extremely dangerous to do so
(at the turn of the century).  I think Havelock Ellis may have
also dealt with this.

I'll ask a couple of friends of mine who were in "News and
Letters" and "Facing Reality" in the early 1960s if they remember
anything on this subject coming up.

Tom Condit

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