[Marxism] Re: One Gay person's view on the SWP Problem

John Obrien causecollector at msn.com
Sat Apr 17 14:21:56 MDT 2004


Comrade Feldman says that we have "exhausted" the subject of the SWP on the list.  If he means specifically that organization's current views on Iraq, I leave that for history to decide.

However, there is a subject that Comrade Feldman and the SWP have in common and that has not yet been resolved.
That subject is homophobia and a related subject - Heterosexism.

There has been a refusal by many of those kicked out by the current SWP "leadership" in several purges to analyze their own role in a shameful part of Left history.  This deals with the SWP's history of homophobia.  I can speak on this as someone who is knowledgeable of that history and who was involved as a victim of it.

Here is a brief background.  Sorry for the length - but I wanted to share this as background for when I get to many of the current former SWP members on this list own past behavior and continuing problematic actions.

The U. S. SWP came out of the Stalinist CP - not willingly - but were expelled for their views on wanting a more democratic political party and one that was not tied to the moods and deceits of the Soviet Union leadership that was tightly controlled and led by Joseph Stalin [this to the SWP's founders credit!]

However, they shared backward views on a number of subjects "influenced by their times".  These views were sadly shared by many others - [but not by all - so they could have operated differently -  which is an important point, I want for people to be aware of.]  I am aware of "exceptions" but they were silenced through pressure to conform to the "acceptable common held views" of the leadership.

On Gays and Lesbians - there was open hostility - for fear of being seen "as weak" and "sissies" - and other words which I will not list here, but many of those reading this, have used to describe other people - in their wanting to "feel superior".  I had known one of the Mexican non-Gay comrades, who had been guarding Trotsky's house in Mexico - who told me about how discovering one of the guards was Gay - Trotsky and the leadership of that house - told the person to leave.  [Of historical record - it was not a Gay relationship that allowed the assassin access to the house and the opportunity to murder Trotsky.] 

There existed throughout this and much later period "a policy" that upon discovering that someone was Gay or Lesbian - that the person be expelled from that party.  The expulsions were never brought to the attention of an official meeting of the assembled membership - but done "quietly" - so to not allow any discussion or awareness on how many people were being removed from their ranks.  Because of embarrassment and being told to not challenge this - many good people left "quietly".

I am aware of two Gay leading comrades in the mid 1960's, who were expelled from the YSA for being Gay and who took their lives.  I am sure there were others between 1928 and the time I joined the YSA in early 1967.  But there was a conscious effort by the "leadership" to avoid "trials" and thus public discussion and questioning on this subject. They were very "uncomfortable to discuss this subject".  This "policy" would have likely continued for a lot longer, but because of myself, in some important ways.

When I was recruited into the YSA, I never said or was asked if I was Gay.  "I knew" to not reveal this - I learned this at a young age "to hide" - sensing a a child that the results would not be good!  Well on my birthday, at 20 years of age, in early 1969, I was summoned to report to the New York City office "for a meeting" with both the head of the local YSA (Joanne Meznick) and the SWP Branch head  (Jon Hillson).  

They told me "that an issue had arisen" and a comrade had been discovered to be Gay and upon questioning him that my name had arisen as also being Gay.  It was apparent that Joanne was hoping that I would offer a denial - but to both their astonishments - I said as a matter of fact and without shame "that yes I was Gay - so what?" (unlike the other comrade who went through this inquisition separately - that I can only imagine the fear and shame he must have felt  - sitting there alone with no help or support - to face this accusation! )  I sensed that Joanne was hoping I would deny it - since how could this actual poor working class macho guy "be one of them!". [I was actually one of those poor working class people they kept talking about wanting in their ranks and to liberate from oppression of the capitalists!  Most of the youth they were recruiting were from more privileged economic backgrounds]

Well I left that day - without it ever being discussed by the local branch - convinced and pressured "for the good of the party and the cause and to avoid embarassment, etc.   They said they liked me "but it was for security" - that they had to remove me, because I was Gay!!!  They did not get it [or want to then] that I could not be blackmailed by the government to become an informant - if I was already open and out!!!!

However, my story would have gone unnoticed and I would just have been "another number" of many - "who would have to be sacrificed for the revolution" - IF I did not have the audacity to remain active in the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (SMC)!!!  I had some outrageous notion that I could still be active in opposing the war the U. S. government was waging on the Vietnamese, even though I was expelled from the SWP/YSA for being Gay.

I had been active since the Fall of 1964 against that war - and it was the tireless effort and dedication and leadership of the SWP that convinced me to join them by late 1966.  I had many friends and comrades in the New York City SMC and those in their circles.  However Jon Hillson (who recently died as the leader of the Cuba Solidarity group in Los Angeles - the same city I currently reside in) held a "secret meeting" with non-SWP members in that office "about me".  The subject was "how to remove me from being in that office and being involved in the SMC".  

He was surprised with the response of the people who actually had worked with me by then for several years.  They stood up to this attempt at further victimizing me by Jon Hillson and those he supposedly represented.  They had known me as a hard dedicated comrade.  They threatened to go public with this - if he tried to remove me.  I did not know at the time about "this meeting", where I could represent myself, since Jon Hillson feared wanting to be challenged for his bigotry and firm belief in heterosexism.

One of these wonderful people in the New York anti-war office, who came to my defense to remain an active participant, was Pauline Goodman, who had been in the SWP herself but had left by this time and was the wife of Bernie Goodman, who was then an important SWP member.  (Bernie was a Maritime worker recruited in the early 1930's into the SWP)  Bernie made it clear also at this meeting, that he also opposed me being forced out of the SMC - because I was Gay - and supported his wife leading the rebellion against Jon Hillson and his bigotry "to remove the faggot".  
   
My real comrades - several who had been in the Left for three and four decades by then - told Jon Hillson that if I was forced to leave, they would too - and not quietly - and thus cripple the office functioning. These people represented the core the SWP relied on to make it appear the SMC was more than just made up of SWP members. It was at a time, the SWP was challenging the CP, for the leadership of the Vietnam Anti-war Movement. (A major split occurred in May-July 1968 in the SMC with the SWP coming out on top and in control of that national student group).

So the SWP leadership "backed down" on this.  But not because they saw their "policy" and hurtful discrimination was wrong - but because of strategical need.  A "faggot" was not worth it - and later after the revolution - they would I assume take care of me and those who support such people "being that way".

However, I did not just stop at that and remain quiet "waiting for the day" they would settle up with me.  I soon began to discuss with other Gays I met, the need to form a radical Gay group to challenge this prevailing attitude in the Left and in 
U. S. Society.

I was on the board of Alternate University in New York City at this time (at the age of 20) and arranged for this space, to be used for meetings of this group (thanks to mainly the Anarchist comrades on that board for supporting this).

Well the group became known as the Gay Liberation Front - and I went on to be a leading activist at the Stonewall Rebellion and would later become the leader of The Red Butterfly - which was a Marxist Cell in the Gay Liberation Front and then became a separate organization.  The Red Butterfly published several important pamphlets and these were sold at all SWP events all over the country [that I made sure of!!!]. Red Butterfly cells were formed in other cities at this time.  I also made sure that the "Gay Question" was raised in the SWP circles and groups they tried to work with and in building "their coalitions".

This was at a time of rapid growth an influence of the Feminist Movement (the Second Wave).  The SWP "policy" to exclude Gays and Lesbians, became a popular topic of use, by opponents of the SWP in the Women's Movement - and these Red Butterfly pamphlets, the exciting period of time of change of the late 1960's, and the Women's Movement that was filled with Lesbians - would force a change in the SWP to "drop the policy".

I was personally invited by the SWP/YSA leadership to attend the December 1970 YSA convention "as a special guest" and to set up a literature table of Red Butterfly materials, inside the convention hall, for those attending to view and read.  It was there that it was announced that "the policy" had ended".

I was still involved in the Vietnam anti-war Movement and volunteered to set up an SMC Gay Liberation Task Force to organize Gay/Lesbian contingents  for the April 24, 1971 Marches on Washington DC and San Francisco.  I was placed on staff for this - and organized several thousand to participate in this contingent in bothmarches.  I was asked to re-join the YSA at this time - with some homophobic resistance of some SWP members - but they were "hushed" as the non-Gay and Gay comrades came to my defense and "my right to belong" to their ranks.

However, I did not just quietly "fit in" and give up my Gay activism, "now being accepted", to work instead on just other issues. I was a member of the Gay Activist Alliance - of my own choice. I not only remained very active in that group - but I started to recruit GAA members to the YSA and SWP.  There was "concern raised" among some of the SWP leaders, that my conservative opponents in the Gay Movement, were raising in the Gay press, that "the SWP was trying to take over the Gay Movement" - and they specifically mentioned me - because I was recruiting many GAA members and other Gay activists elsewhere, into the SWP/YSA.  

The SWP leadership did not want to challenge for the leadership of the Gay/Lesbian Movement.  In fact, they were "very uncomfortable", with all the "queers" that were now out in the SWP (many previously hiding to their astonishment -[ "not you too!!".]  The SWP socials and parties had a number of same sex couples dancing (which I subversively encouraged) - and this caused "more unease" by SWP members - "afraid of what the workers would think of the SWP who may walk in!"

It was the "worry and concern" of some of the SWP leadership, becoming a party "known" as having a lot of 'them queer people' - that Jack Barnes and his folks raised "the need to have a clear policy" on the "social weight that Gays and Lesbians really have in a revolution and in society".  This "clear policy" and estimation of Gay and Lesbian social weight was to halt the infusion of liberated Gays and only allow "acceptable house Gays who kept in their place.  

Many like Frank Lovell, Matt Weinstein and others on this email list, in what eventually became a "proletarian SWP faction" sided at that time on this issue with Jack Barnes and company.  They actually agreed in the "larger world outside of the SWP" that they were on the same side as the Religious fundamentalists who wanted "to stop the queers from spreading and keep them in their place."  This "discussion" was held and led by the Jack Barnes leadership in the Fall of 1972 - and led to adopting what can only be called "institutional heterosexism" - and why heterosexuals are superior - for the SWP's efforts to recruit and organize.

I was not in the SWP - but was only in the YSA.  I had not joined in part, because I sensed that the SWP leaders were not friendly or really interested in Gays and Lesbians - and I did not want to be under "party discipline and control" and had more flexibility to remain in Gay groups - and not have non-Gays decide whether I could participate in the Gay Movement and for my rights.  I was out, had no intention to go back in any closet - no matter what color was on the door!  I was moving away then "from the loyal house Gays in the SWP" - who wanted to believe and to trust Jack Barnes and "defend the leadership".

At the Winter 1973 SWP Convention - the majority of voting delegates (including some of those presently on this email list!) would vote for Jack Barnes "interpretation and political understanding of the "weight of Gay and Lesbian people" (the second class citizenship and staying in your place position).  Well I resigned again, shortly after this vote and decision (again on my birthday to continue a tradition of my being actually removed four years earlier.)  However, this time I did not go alone - and around 300 hundred others left from Charley Bouldon (open Gay member of the SWP Political Committee - their highest body of leaders that decided on day to day operations and policy for the SWP) to little people like me.

However, there was not sadness by many of the non-Gays, with so many people leaving (except maybe some concern on the loss of dues - and they actually asked me to consider contributing money!!!! - even though I said I was leaving).  Many were joyous such as Matt Weinstein and Frank Lovell (two prominent SWP members who openly expressed blatant homophobic remarks - and in print in the SWP Discussion bulletins!).

Many of these non-Gay SWP members were not concerned "since they were not Gay and certainly not second class and had "hetero privileges", but this vote actually reflected what was to come - the purging of all who disagree with the Jack Barnes leadership "of what a good comrade is".  In time the Jack Barnes leadership would purge the actual majority of the members for having different views - including ironically Frank Lovell and Matt Weinstein!

Sadly to this day - "because it was about Gays" (the frivilous people of little social weight) -that this 1973 discussion and decisions - refuse to still be addressed by many who were in later purges themselves - as part of the same problem.  Until they understand that homophobia and heterosexism which excludes people and removes people from struggling for a real better world for all - continues to represent some of the reasons why the Left remains so marginalized in this country. 

Another amazing thing about the SWP during this time, was that working people who had children were also forced out of the SWP, because they were limited in their activist time - having to take care of kids - and therefore were not good party members either, who deserved a vote and to make decisions.  Both, non-Gays with children and Gays and Lesbians who wanted equality, were among "other groups", that the SWP also did not want to have.  Can you imagine what a Party would look like with real diversity - reflecting the actual working class - and even worse what this Party would become?!!!!!!

The arrogant views of the current SWP leaders, are the same old story I mentioned above- and why a group that had attracted "some of the best and most dedicated people wanting change and a socialist world" - would dissolve into the current sectarian grouplet ,that will never lead the working people of this country to a "better society".

I am proud of the role that so many of us participated in during the Vietnam War working in the SWP/YSA/SMC groupings of that time - and for those older like me, to have taken part in the historic U. S. Civil Rights Movement, and to those even older than me, who came before to have taken part in all the struggles in the previous centuries of struggles.

Unfortunately, the arrogant religiosity of sectarians with their sexist, racist and heterosexist views, is not limited to the current U. S. SWP leadership, but is deeply in the ranks of many "so called leftists" who "know what is best for people like myself!"  

Jon Hillson continued until his death to not challenge his heterosexist views. He never apologized to me for what he did and what he wanted even further to do!   He was an uncritical "cheerleader" of the oppression against Gays and Lesbians in Cuba - whose government he just adored "with no criticism allowed". I am sure this "offends" those who do not care that Gay groups are not allowed to exist in Cuba today - (not even the "government sponsored ones" are anymore allowed!) - to challenge the heterosexist views, that dominate the Cuban government's leadership. 

Joanne Meznick to her credit, would tell me at a Left conference in the late 1980's "that I was correct and she was wrong" on what she did in the 1969 period. I accepted her apology.  While others try to "rewrite" what the SWP/YSA had actually done then, in kicking many members out - solely because they were Gay "for not hiding better, and their "being different from the 'normal' people".

Who really wants Gays and Lesbians to organize and get empowerment and take away from hetero privileges - and make non-Gays and Gays and Lesbians really equal?  Interesting isn't it, that supposed revolutionaries, who want hetero privilege, seem to think and act in common when it comes to such things, just like George W. Bush and other religious fundamentalists? 

Gays and Lesbians and non-Gays, who speak out against Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Fidel Castro of Cuba and the shameless tailism and courting of "militant Islam" - rather than remain silent - become part of the solution and not remain part of the problem.  What is wrong  comrades - is not separating between needing to win people over in motion to support Gay & Lesbian liberation - but for refusing - not to raise this "for offending bigoted thinking".  [The "People may think I am Gay - if I speak up on this" syndrome]

Uppity Women and Gays will have to wait in their place - as the "more important people" [read those who prefer exclusive 
non-Gay male rule/leadership] - decide the character, composition and membership and leadership  of the revolution. 

Those on this email list, who want to "put people like me in their place" - will not be happy with the historic events to unfold.  The ideas of Gay Liberation can not be forever suppressed - and must give way to newer generations, that will really care more about people, than the egos who want to control everyone.

Of course the heterosexist, will assume that they are "more knowledgeable" and "better to make the decisions" on who should be included and who should lead any struggle or revolution. They will ignore my points - because it challenges their own privileges and of course they do not really want a better world - just one they are in charge of!

However, ideas have an effect on peoples lives and change things when acted upon!!!! Marxism is a means to free people - which includes a necessary long time struggle to get rid of corruption and greed and provide a more cooperative world for everyone - not just the "enlightened and privileged few devotees".  Ending Capitalism is essential for real change - but that alone is not enough change.  The Soviet Union had little regard for Gays, "uppity Women, Disabled, Environmentalists, idealists - or real revolutionaries who sought an international movement and not "socialism in one country (Stalinism). 

There is still time for those comrades "who don't get it" - to understand that a real party champions the oppressed and works for a real vision of a better world - and actually lives by what they say their beliefs are. 

Defending Gays and Lesbians and "uppity Women" in other countries (not just those who reside in areas like San Francisco) is essential to convince many Gays and Lesbians and "uppity Women" and other "different people" to come and join the ranks of Socialist Struggle with their non-Gay brothers and sisters.  Revolutionaries need to examine heterosexism, as they do racism, to really try and understand the changes, that must be made, for a true better world, without the likes of GW Bush, the Pope, Sharon, Osama bin Laden, and sadly so many others - but you get the point.

I look forward to hearing from those who would like to discuss how to build a real Left in the Gay & Lesbian Community and not one dominated by social democrats, liberals and opportunists who are happy to accept corporate rule "and just fit in".  Those who are not afraid of Gay empowerment or do not want to settle for just being some "GLBT caucus that follows the non-Gay leaders wishes" - your time is truly NOW to organize.  Be a part of change - and not just readers and listeners with no effect on things around them.  Think about it!

Still struggling for peace, justice and freedom, 

John O'Brien
P. O. Box 381040
Los Angeles, CA 90038
causecollector at msn.com

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Fred Feldman 
  To: Marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu 
  Sent: Saturday, April 17, 2004 6:48 AM
  Subject: [Marxism] Re: The Militant's editorial on Iraq


  I agree with Alam and Heeren that we have quite completely exhausted the
  subject of the SWP on the list, unless there is some kind of decisive
  reversal of its position.  To put it very mildly indeed, this is
  unlikely.

  We, and I in particular, have dissected this position quite thoroughly,
  we have debated it, and we have even achieved a degree of "political
  homogeneity" about it.  The dynamics are pretty clear at this point, and
  they are not going to change.  The only value of debating this group's
  views (aside from the settling of various people's personal accounts
  which is an unavoidable element) is what can be learned from it about
  the world.  And I think we have worked through that.

   I continue to see a stronger right-wing bent in the Militant today,
  arising partly out of a desire to "bend the stick" in taking positions
  against liberals and left opponents, but becoming an independent force
  to a degree. I think Militant coverage has a structural tendency to
  present Bush, Aznar, Blair, et al, as slightly "lesser evils" not only
  relative to their bourgeois opponents, but to the antiwar movements in
  the various countries. 

  That is the meaning of portraying the antiwar movements in Britain and
  Spain as expressions of chauvinist "anti-Americanism."  I think their
  related pattern of outrage whenever Bush is criticized or denounced is
  part of this.  Another aspect is the pattern of confidence in the
  statements of prowar government officials (such as the assertion that
  the statements of various governments about the kidnappings prove that
  their prowar determination has been strengthened by the events).

  "Bourgeois nationalist" is the Militant's term for the leaderships of
  the various resistance forces in Iraq.  The label justifies the
  Militant's refusal to give any support to the people of the oppressed
  nation in their battles with the imperialist forces, while covering its
  left flank with the position of withdrawal now.  As far as I can see,
  the characterization of the various leaderships (Sistani, Al-Sadr, Sunni
  clerics, Baathist former officers and so on) as bourgeois nationalist
  seems accurate as far as it goes.  

  As an excuse for refusing to support the struggle of a people to end the
  occupation, it would be criminal if the SWP mattered very much.  As it
  is, it is criminal in spirit.

  The central leadership of the SWP fear the upswings of the struggle of
  the Iraqi people -- it could shake up their "homogeneity" and
  "discipline."  They sigh with relief and satisfaction when the downturns
  set in as has apparently happened with this historic and positive wave
  of conflict. That is the real meaning of the current editorial.

  I would say it is time to start learning more directly from the people
  of Iraq -- who have demonstrated and advanced their real nationhood and
  the fundamental indestructibility of their REAL independence and
  sovereignty in this wave of conflict.  There is clearly now a national
  liberation movement in Iraq, regardless of the divisions within it and
  the characteristics of the various leaderships.

  Continuing to discuss Iraq through the medium of criticizing the
  positions of a reactionary sect can lead, if carried past a certain
  point,  create distortions in our own view of the world.

  I think we have definitely arrived at that point, and maybe passed it by
  a bit..
  Fred Feldman


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