Gay liberation, capitalism, Stalinism

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Thu Nov 30 15:01:40 MST 2000

Gary writes:

>Don't you think that the vital distinction is between being citizens and
>customers?  Capitalist modernity offers gay people the right to purchase
>and will even come to recognize them as a valuable niche market.  It cannot
>meet the Enlightenment promise of full citizenship because it will never
>grant that to anyone.

Well, I'm not entirely sure what you are driving at in the first sentence.
I think capitalism today certainbly offers homosexuals 'the right to
purchase' and sees them as 'a valuable niche market'.  That side of things
is very evident in NZ society.

But it also offers them the chance to be capitalists.  In fact the creation
of the modern 'gay community' has been quite an imortant stage in not only
the commodification of both sex and a broader gay lifetsyle, but also in
the creation of a gay bourgeoisie - or, more accurately, a 'new gay' wing
of the capitalist class (obviously some capitlaists have always been gay).

I've got an open mind on how far capitalism can go to meet 'the
Enlightenment promise of fuill citizenship'.  I used to think that
homosexuality per se was a challenge to capitalism - in fact when I was a
teenager in the Socilaist Action League I was one of the authors of an
oppositional document (produced by a majority of the Christchurch branch)
which argued that the SAL should give more priority to political
campaigning on the issue.

But I think that view of how much of a threat homosexual behaviour was/is
has turned out not to be so.  In a country like New Zealand, I would say
homosexuals are getting fairly close to full citizenship.  This is quite a
turnaround from a mere 15 years ago, when all male gay sex was illegal and
hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition to keep it that way.

Even the fundamentalist Christians here have renonced campaigning to
recriminalise homosexuality.  The leading fundie, Rev Graham Capill, even
goes on the gay TV show 'Queer Nation' to argue that they have nothing
against homosexuals, they just don't want gays to be able to get married or
homosexuality to be treated as totally natural.

'Queer Nation' itself is kind of interesting.  It is extraordinarily trite,
and much of it is taken up with promoting lesbians who own their own
dildo-making business, gay artists, writers and musicians, the Labour
Party, gay restaurants, hotels and homestays and tourism, etc etc.

Gay oppression is a weird thing.  On the one hand it runs deep enough, or
strikes emotions deep enough, to make some people go out and commit
violence against and even kill homosexuals.  On the other hand, gays are
not oppressed in the way that women and people of colour are.  Gays don't
earn less than heterosexuals, aren't used as a reserrve army of labour,
don't perform a particular function in the reproduction of labour-power,
etc etc.

>This has involved a split with traditional groups who were the allies of
>the capitalists during the cold war.  Then the struggle was against
>socialist modernity.

Yes, it's interesting how the political landscape has changed so much.  The
West can now abandon old dictatorships and promote 'democracy' in the Third
World and. domestically, western capitalist classes can substantially
reorder the social structure to incorporate (especialy middle class) layers
of women, blacks, gays, etc and remove many of the old, *formal* barriers.

In New Zealand, I think the changed position of homosexuals has a lot to do
with the market reforms of the 1980s.  The extreme nature of the market
reforms here meant that a lot of non-market impediments to equality were
removed.  Our 'new right' did not support the continuance of formal legal
discrimination against gays.  In fact, the same regime that was knifing the
working class in the back was removing non-market obstacles for women,
Maori and gays.

Few on the NZ left have really caught up with this phenomena - although
it's something that 'revoltuion' is vitally concerned with.  In my opinion,
there's no point banging on as if nothing has changed, as a lot of the left

Interestingly, a lot of critiques on these kinds of issues have emerged in
Australia - mainly be people who came out of, ie were driven out of, the IS
tradition there: Verity Burgmann, Andrew Milner, Bruce Lindsay, and Graham
(someone).  I think the latter person wrote a PhD on the gay movement and
its conversion into the pro-establishment 'gay community'.

Also the anarchist Christos Tsiolkas, author of 'Loaded' (made into the
movie 'Head On'), about the adventures of a young Greek-Australian gay man,
has written some very trenchant stuff, excoriating the 'gay community' as
the defeat of the struggle for gay liberation and as a capitalist

I am hoing that at some stage, we (at 'revolution') will be able to get an
interview with Tsiolkas.  (We used some quotes from him in an article I
wrote on 'New Identities for Old?' in issue #4.)

>the point about Stalinism is it seems to me that this too was an alliance
>with traditional forces but in this instance against capitalist
>modernity.  I do not think that Stalin would even have recognised the
>distinction between the two modernities and even if he had grasped it he
>would have come down on the side of tradition.

Which traditional forces are you thinking of?

I agree with your second sentence.

>We have had only fleeting glimpses of what a socialist modernity would look
>like and one of these glimpses was the Bolshevik decriminalisation of

Yes, with revolutions in other parts of Europe, things could have been very
different. . .

Unfortunately, socialist modernity has not really been glimpsed since.

>It is all complicated by the fact that what we have come to know as the
>"gay lifestyle" is in fact a variation in sexual behaviour very specific to
>modern societies.  You are correct to be scathing about the compromises gay
>people have made in their alliances with bourgeois politicians.  It simply
>means that they have abandoned any notion of gay liberation being tied to
>universal emancipation.

Yes, indeed.  I would go even further and say that it has meant the
abandonment of *gay liberation* itself. After all, becoming part of the
'cultural diversity' of late capitalism is hardly what the (short-lived)
*gay liberation movement* of the 70s had in mind as the goal.

All the best,

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