Gay liberation, capitalism, socialism

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sat Dec 2 20:39:57 MST 2000

Yoshie wrote:

>Is it really true that gay men don't earn less than straight men, and
>that lesbians don't earn less than straight women?  If "facts" you
>have collected so far make you think so, perhaps you might consider a
>possibility that most gay & lesbian workers may not be out & hence go
>uncounted in research, etc.  The richer you are, the easier it is to
>come out, I think.

Well, given that most people who engage in same sex activity are probably
not 'out' - and many people who engage in such activity may not consdier
themselves gay or bisexual - I guess it is not possible to know exactly the
earning ratios of heterosexuals and homosexuals.

However, I would find it very surprising if homosexual women and men earned
less than their female and male straight counterparts, because homosexuals
do not play any kind of role in workforce segmentation in the way women and
oppressed ethnic groups/national minorities do.

There is no gay 'reserve army of labour', a la women and migrant workers.
There are no low-paid employment sectors where most of the workers are gay,
as with women and minorities.

It's also quite clear that marketing people across the board, who *have
researched incomes*, regard 'the gay community' as having substantial
spending power - 'the pink dollar'.

>Also, heterosexism -- the idea that heterosexuality is or at least
>should be "natural & normal" & other sexual preferences are
>"unnatural & abnormal" -- is closely tied up with sexism: the idea
>that women should perform tasks opposite to men's (& be paid less for
>them or go unpaid for them), since men and women are the "opposite
>sexes."  This being the case, I think that heterosexism plays an
>indirect role in the reproduction of labor-power & hence
>expansion/contraction of the reserve army of labor.  Have you read
>Suzanne Pharr's article "Homophobia Is a Weapon of Sexism"?  While
>her article makes some statements that I would not, it is still
>valuable in that it explains how the oppressions of gay men &
>lesbians are used to reinforce gender oppressions, especially to
>reproduce the subordination of women.

I think this was true *in the past*.  Gay oppression was related to the
need for the heterosexual nuclear family as the core institution for
capitalism, in particular for the reproduction of labour-power, the care of
the old, sick etc, and a source of a sector of the workforce (women) who
could be brought in and out of the jobs market as the needs of capital

But I think that has changed a lot.  Capital these days gets by with a
whole range of domestic set-ups.  A very sizeable section of society does
not live in heterosexual husband-wife-two kids set ups.  Capital simply
requires *some domestic situation* in which labour-power is reproduced and
in which domestic labour more generally is performed.  These days two
lesbians can just as easily reproduce the next generation of workers.  So a
lot of the bourgeoisie - and remember today's bourgeoisie are children of
the 60s, not Prohibition era products - has come to accept a range of
different domestic situations.

In the US, you have such a powerful fundamentalist/traditionalist element
that is still committed to institutions that capital doesn't really need
any more, that maybe this is not so readily apparent as in much of Europe,
Australia and New Zealand.

>The origin of the categories "homosexual" & "heterosexual" -- hence
>the oppressions based upon these categories -- is indeed strikingly
>modern.  Jonathan Ned Katz, etc. theorize that these sexual
>categories are byproducts of the shift from the sexual ethic geared
>toward procreation (according to which all non-procreative sexual
>acts were "sodomy") of the early modern period (when production was
>still dominated by agriculture) in deeply Christian societies to the
>sexual ethic that tends to separate pleasure from procreation
>(beginning in the Victorian period of urbanized industrial
>capitalism, eventually further elaborated in the imperative of mass
>production & _mass consumption_).

Well, people like Jeffrey Weeks argued that homosexuals are a product of
industrial capitalism, not in the sense that only in this society do people
perform specific acts (the acts have existed throughout human history), but
in the sense that only with industrial capitalism do people exist as
individuals who can live certain lifestyles.  Recently, this kind of
approach has been extended to 'the invention of heterosexuality', showing
that it was only 100 or 150 years ago (can't remember exactly) that the
word heterosexual started to be used and people defined by this term as

Gary writes:

>I think that capitalism can grant full citizenship to no one.   Within that
>of course some are more oppressed than others.  It is true that in New
>Zealand gays did quite well compared to working class people but then most
>gays are workers are they not? Oppression and domination simply flowed into
>another sector.  I may be free to marry a man but my conditions at work are
>deteriorating etc.

Yes, but in this case the person involved would be *more exploited as a
worker* and *less oppressed as a gay person*.  The conditions of work would
have little or no connection to the person's sexuality.

I think it is quite problematic to talk these days about gay oppression in
NZ.  There are maybe places I might not want to live if I was gay, but even
rural NZ is pretty hospitable.  After all, rural NZ elected a Maori
transsexual to parliament.  Also, most weeks on 'Queer Nation' they have
some feature on gays in some rural part of NZ - lesbian sheepfarmers in
Otago, gay men running a truckers' pub in some godforsaken part of the
country, etc, and none of them ever seem to have encountered hostility.

We have gay rugby teams, one of the World Cup winning female All Blacks is
an open lesbian etc.  It's only a matter of time before All Blacks start
falling out of the closet left, right and centre, front and back (or wing,
as the particular case may be!)

Basically, with gay oppression these days, it is difficult to see what is
in it for capital.  I can't see how the market benefits by gay oppression
any more, whereas in the past, when capital was (for a century) committed
to the 'monogamous' heterosexual nuclear family, there was a clear

I would say that, just as capital doesn't need traditional dictatorships in
the Third World any more - it now prefers 'democracies' which it controls
by market mechanisms - it also doesn't need certain forms of discrimination
any more.  Because NZ was the country in which 80s market reforms went
furthest, we're probably the country in which the deregulation of certain
forms of oppression also went furthest.  Most forms of *non-market*
obstacles to racial, gender and sexuality equality have been removed.  The
market itself now produces the class division, the workforce segmentation
and overall social inequality, without special discriminatory legislation.

On the other hand, there is still some way to go.  For instance, although I
think formal discrimination against gays has almost been obliterated in NZ
- apart from the marriage stuff - I notice that they still have a problem
incorporating gay characters into TV programmes.  NZ soaps, like 'Shortland
Street' (set in Auckland) and 'Jackson's Wharf' (set in a small Northland
coastal village) have gay characters, and 'Shortland Street' has had
lesbian kisses, but neither of these have ever been able to actually have
gay women and men cannodling in the same way as heterosexuals.  One (or
maybe it was two) 'lesbian kiss(es)' in five years on 'Shortland Street',
and one scene of a gay male kiss, is pretty timid stuff.  So there's still
an element of 'not in front of the horses' about it.

>As for Stalin and traditional forces I was thinking about how Stalin
>appropriated the iconography of peasant religious culture. There is
>supposed to be a film of him where he descends from heaven to visit the
>troops fighting the Germans. Moreover during the war he openly courted
>Slavophilia.  Despite (because of?) his attacks on the kulaks it seems to
>me that Stalin's regime rested firmly on the peasantry.

Yes, you're probably right about this.  Also the industrialisation under
Stalin meant that even a lot of the urban working class were still really
peasants at heart and the regime's practices played to that.

Mine wrote:

>I also think that changing social structures of societies matters in the
>treatment of homosexuality.

I think this is the decisive point.

The mistake a lot of left-wing people made in the 60s and 70s, including me
as a young socialist in the 70s, was that we mistook capital's attachment
to particular 'norms' as a feature of capitalism per se, rather than being
historically specific to a particular period of accumulation.

In fact, capital itself is quite flexible and can discard old 'norms' which
it once seemed totally committed to, and which it enforced with great

We had forgotten Marx's point about the flexibility of capital - 'all that
is solid melts into air. . .'

To me, this means any political project focussed on a passing feature of
capitalism is bound to end up in confusion and energy-wasting.  A lot of
political action around this becomes almost a way of modernising capitalism
rather than challenging it.

Looking back on the 60s and 70s, it seems to me that while there was/is a
great dea to admire about the protests - and emancipation was certainly the
goal, something that has largely been lost sight of since - there is also a
degree to which the longterm effect of much of the 'anti-establishment'
crusades of the time has been the modernisation of the system.  Namely,
getting rid of outmoded social practices and bringing the 'norms' of the
state and civil society up to date with the economic operations of capital.

>In the recent article I posted on the list,
>I was amazed to see how social attitudes in an Islamic country like
>Pakistan tolerate same sex fucking (and even male prostitution) whereas
>it punishes opposite sex fucking.

I see you're a person who calls a spade a spade. . .

>Of course, in the Islamic rules of
>Pakistan, homosexuality is still banned. It is treated as a perverse
>sexual choice. In the social attitudes of people, however, homosexuality
>may well be tolerated to serve some practical needs. In third world
>countries where gender relations are undergoing a process of
>modernization and capitalism is gradually undermining traditional gender
>norms (due to neo-liberal restructuring), people prefer to tolerate
>homosexuality as a defense mechanism against heterosexuality that they
>automatically associate with too much "liberalization of women" and
>western norms of sexual relations. In that case, homosexuality serves to
>head off demands for heterosexual liberation.

I think this is a very interesting take on what is happening in the Third
World.  You may well be right.  This indicates the importance of Marxists
being *concrete* and making *specific analyses* rather than just sticking
down a template which assumes that gay opression = gay oppression = gay
oppression everywhere under capitalism at all times.

In fact, there is no particular reason why homosexuality could not be used
as a weapon just as heterosexuality has been so used.

In any society in which heterosexuality, especially women's sexual
activity, is constrained, inter-male sex and female prostitution become

Males I know who have visited Islamic countries, including ones where
homosexuality is outlawed and subject to 'official' condemnation by both
religion and state, have commented on how they've never been hit on by
other males so much as in these countries.

>This may be because gender
>segregation may be more visible in some societies in a way to allow some
>possibilities for the development of homosexual identity.  In some rural
>areas of Turkey, for example, a man *cannot*  get away with harming the
>virginity of a young woman (who is automatically considered to be a
>"prostitute/bad woman")  whereas sex between young boys/men is generally
>accepted to be a *normal/routine* thing within the general perception of
>a community. In urban areas, on the contrary, this would be considered
>sexually *inappropriate* or a sign of *rural backwardness*.

In this kind of a case, I assume that the males having a good time with
each other would generally not be regarded as homosexual and not see
themselves as such.  Of course, this raises the thorny question of where
the border lines in sexuality are.

One of the things that a socialist society would do, is actually eradicate
the border lines altogether.  They would cease to have any social
significance so, in effect, they would cease to exist.  Thus, there would
be no homosexuals in a socialist society - but there would be no
heterosexuals or bisexuals either.  Just human beings doing what (or who)
they wanted.

Gary wrote later:

>However there is one aspect of Phil's post that I did wish to comment on
>and that was the general decline of the gay movement from demands for
>emancipation to the most outrageous accommodation with the existing state
>of affairs.
>It may be my residual International Socialism (i.e. vulgar Marxism) but I
>attribute that to the retreat of the working class following the collapse
>of the Long Economic Boom.  For me the movements of the 60s were all
>related in an admittedly subtle way to the decline of work discipline and
>general fear of the boss caused by the collapse in unemployment.
>When the working class once more went under the lash then it seems to me
>that the courage and daring also went out of the gay movement, the black
>movement and the women's movement.

Although I agree with your underlying sentiment, I think the courage and
daring went out of the social movements earlier than the collapse of
working class resistance.  In NZ, all the gay *liberation* groups had
collapsed by about 1975 and what remained was social groups, counselling
lines etc; the women's *liberation* movement here was pretty muich finished
by the mid-70s, although the final denoument came at the end of the decade
with the violent confrontations and general melee around the 1979 United
Women's Convention, which was so awful that they stopped holding big
national conferences altogether.

I think the new social movements were actually products of the boom, like
you.  But they were products of the contradiction between the boom and the
old social mores.  In other words, the boom drew unprecedented numbers of
women into the workforce, into university education etc etc, yet women were
confronted with all kinds of laws and social practices from a previous era.
Similarly the boom made possible an open gay culture and community, but
laws and dominant social practices were still stuck back in the Depression
and World War era of austerity (include austere sex).  In other words,
there was a huge disjuncture with where the accumulation process was and
where the social norms and laws were.

What the new social movements did was batter down outdated laws and norms,
modernising the state and civil society - in crude terms, bringing the
superstructure back into sync with the base, by updating it.

This allowed middle class women, middle class gays and middle class blacks
a real foothold in the system.  They then largely abandoned any struggles
for emancipation, because they pretty much got their emancipation.

The onset of slump in the mid-70s then confronted the new social movements
with hard choices.  Since their improved conditions were due to capitalism
(ie to the postwar boom), their demands were generally predicated on the
idea - consciously or not - that the system could deliver, but was just
being obstreperous and old-fashioned.  But the slump meant that capitalism
actually could not deliver - for most.

Unless the new social movements became *consciously* anti-capitalist, they
were going to have to lower their horizons to meet the lowered horizons of
slump capitalism itself.

And, I think that is basically what happened.

The working class fought on for another ten or fifteen years, because
workers had no alternative but to fight.  But a lot of the people calling
the shots in the new social movements did have an alternative - they could
get what they wanted personally by making peace with the system and
becoming incorporated in it.  Since many of these people had quite middle
class attitudes to workers anyway - seeing the working class as the
reservoir of all that was backward in society, rather than as the universal
class and thus chief agent for human liberation - the abandonment of
struggle was not difficult.

Perhaps the outstanding example in New Zealand is Donna Awatere.  In the
late 70s/early 80s,  the most-arrested person in the country, NZ's
self-styled 'leading revolutionary theorist and activist' and the author of
'Maori Sovereignty', by the mid80s she was turning up at conferences of the
(Hayekian) Mont Pelerin Society and selling her 'anti-racist awareness'
programmes to government departments and private enterprise.  She's now a
millionaire and an MP for ACT NZ.

The working class basically fought on, being screwed over by the Labour
Government's 'new right' economics (1984-90), which was partly imposed by
70s liberal-lefties who had now made the government benches, and then being
delivered the coup-de-grace by the 1991 Employment Contracts Act, after
which the days lost in industrial action scarcely register as a blimp on a
radar screen.  But in NZ, by and large, - ie with a rare exception like the
(very liberalish) 1986 campaign around gay law reform - the 'new social
movements' gave up 10-15 years before the working class.

I get the impression, however, that elsewhere the new social movements may
have lasted somewhat longer.  The nsms in NZ seem to have been the least
radical of any nsms in the world.


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