[Marxism] Ross Dowson and the "skin" magazines

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 10 15:44:31 MST 2015

I just began reading Ernie Tate's 2 volume memoir, which is really 
fascinating. This bit about Ross Dowson was a real eye-opener. I 
remember Ross, who was the leader of the Canadian section of the Fourth 
international, speaking at an SWP convention, can't remember which one. 
What a contrast to Farrell Dobbs.


He selected the bookstore stock, which included a lot of radical monthly 
periodicals from around the world, but alongside them was an ample 
display of "skin" magazines, ranging from those about nudism to others 
verging on pornography. When challenged about carrying this kind of 
literature in "a socialist" bookstore, he would rebuff the criticism 
stressing the importance of socialists having a liberated attitude 
towards sexuality and being hostile to the hypocritical "Puritan" ethos 
of capitalist society which sought to censor such literature. Beside, he 
said, the high-markup helped subsidize the sale of the socialist books, 
which sort of settled the argument for many of us. I don't recall 
discussing in those days pornography as an aspect of women's oppression. 
That would come later, but I remember Pat Mitchell and Ruth Houle, two 
leading women in the group, complaining bitterly about the matter, 
saying it brought some creepy characters into the place, who came for 
the skin books and nothing else. But I suspect Ross' resistance to 
changing the store's policy may have been motivated, not only by his 
libertarian beliefs, but possibly because of his own sexual orientation. 
In the fifties, homosexuality was illegal in Canada and gays could 
suffer severe legal sanctions; Ross, who was gay, I was to discover, 
concealed his sexual orientation under a personal declaration that he 
was "celibate” often the refuge of gay men in those oppressive times to 
explain their apparent lack of interest in the opposite sex. Probably 
because of his influence—and unlike in the broader society—there was a 
much more tolerant attitude towards sexuality and gays in the group than 
existed for example in our sister organization, the American Socialist 
Workers Party. Although formally unrecognized as such, gays were active 
the Toronto group. There were no barriers. Indeed, there was a strict 
code in the group that members' personal relations were topics outside 
the bounds of politics and their own business. I don't remember us 
talking about the matter or there being a formal discussion about the 
issue, but there was a severe prohibition about gossiping about a 
respective member’s sexuality.

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