Socialism has a proud tradition of fighting for liberation, for LGBTQ people, women, black people, and disabled people. In my experience, the socialists I have worked with would look out for me on a demo, or in a meeting, that they would challenge discrimination and division within the movement. But often we find ourselves coming back to the same questions, of how do we effectively intervene and help shape liberation movements? How do we show others who are not socialists that we have power in our class, and that they can trust their socialist comrades? How can we fight for a revolution that truly is a ‘festival of the oppressed?’
From my experience of the revolutionary left (I have been a member of the Socialist Workers Party since 2010), since the 1990s the emphasis on the importance of LGBTQ liberation has ebbed (despite important interventions by Sherry Wolf and Hannah Dee), particularly its lack of development of theory/practise around trans oppression. We know that the LGBTQ liberation has been shaped by the material forces and contradictions in capitalist society; in capitalism’s expansion of the pink pound, an emerging “middle-class” hegemony of “pink” newspapers, organisations, clubs that shift the emphasis from revolution to reform, and the unwillingness of the Labour Party to speak out in any meaningful way about LGBTQ oppression and liberation.
We find that LGBTQ people as a whole group are not speaking with a single voice, we have those that are bosses and politicians, those that are happy to take our money or our labour, defend the status-quo and even become complicit in our oppression. For them, liberation is just a buzz word. For the vast majority of us, the capitalist society we live in oppresses us, with its gendered hegemony, exploitation, alienation and the constant threat of physical, emotional and economic violence. For us, liberation is the idea that we should be able to love who we want, be who we want, and have control over our own lives.
This highlights the class divisions that exist in the so called “LGBT(Q) community”, we can reminisce about the power of resistance and the Stonewall Riots – but reformists, capitalists, unrepresentative LGB (or even LG) organisations talk about Stonewall all the time. We need a radical re-envisioning of LGBTQ history and struggle, we need to build links with between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people and show them that liberation is for straight people too. We know that failure and material conditions in the past meant that liberation groups splintered from the class struggle, however we cannot therefore dismiss the state of things as they stand – we are socialists and we should fight to be united as a class once again.
Liberation and Activity
Socialists have the best understanding of the roots of oppression and how it is formed, but we need more than just this on the revolutionary left. We need to re-ignite the flame of the sexual revolution, and take the struggle for sexual and gender liberation into the 21st century. From my party I have found my history that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else, I have met some excellent experienced and new LGBTQ comrades. However this needs to translate into our practise – not just day schools that re-hash the literature that most of us have already read – but meetings that draw the best LGBTQ fighters and develop and shape LGBTQ liberation, to call and fight for members to attend protests for LGBTQ issues. This has already begun (as I have found out from some socialists), however we need a concerted LGBTQ and straight effort to show ourselves as the best fighters. We need to show how much power we have all together as a class, unity between LGBTQ and straight, black and white, women and men (and non-binary).
The intense alienation under capitalism means that it is hard for LGBTQ people and straight people to build trust. As socialists we must recognise this and not jump down people’s throats with accusations of “identity politics”, “ultra-leftism” and “separatism” whenever party line is challenged. We have to believe that we have the power to change each other in the struggle, to break from the drudgery of life under capitalism.
Fighting The Cuts
The cuts that this government are pursuing are a pure ideological attack by the 1% that control our economy, our resources, our jobs and our welfare system. We did not create an economic crisis – this is the inevitable result of a capitalist system. However we are being made to pay as a class, as the 99%, for the failure of bankers, bosses and politicians. Currently the movement against the Tory government is picking up. In cities and towns across the country, trades unionists, students, unemployed, disabled, working-class families and kids are building the resistance from the bottom up, challenging their local council’s cuts where they hit us directly, and getting Labour councillors to sign up to Councillors Against the Cuts. As we build local resistance and demand that councils refuse to do the Tory’s dirty work we need to show that these cuts affect everyone. We need to show how the cuts disproportionally affect oppressed groups – the cuts are homophobic and transphobic, they are sexist, racist and ableist.
This means accepting where we have gone wrong in the past, opening up more room for discussion about sexuality and gender, and winning LGBTQ people to socialism. Gone are the days of calling liberation as a deviation from class politics. Any socialist who claims this, quite frankly, isn’t a socialist. The overwhelming majority of LGBTQ people are the class, their demands are class demands, and sexual and gender liberation is for ALL the class.
Many people will realise they are oppressed because of their sexuality or gender, well before they realise the impact of the cuts or the capitalist system. It is therefore incumbent upon us as socialists to intervene more often and more effectively into LGBTQ issues, and articulate that we have unity and power in our class – the issues of sexuality and gender are inseparable from the class struggle. We need to show them what will happen if we let capitalism and the ruling class go on, and speak to them about the threat of fascism and capitalist imperialism. Liberation should not be seen as secondary, or “dressing” for the class struggle, but instead an integral part of what it means to be oppressed by the ruling class.
Our anti-cuts groups should take it upon themselves to find out how the cuts are affecting LGBTQ youth provision, LGBTQ services and LGBTQ people’s lives. We should provide leaflets and pamphlets for our demos, encourage LGBTQ people to speak at rallies or meetings. Right now the Tory government is trying to pass itself off as “gay friendly” with its half-hearted support for gay marriage – we must show them that we still remember Section 28. If we do not intervene we leave LGBTQ to the ravages of modern capitalism, and give the Tories an upper hand. We must show them that the Tories are no friend of LGBTQ people, they have historically attacked our community, and continue to attack us in each round of cuts. A huge number of young LGBTQ people like me are angry right now, and many are already radicalised, but lack direction or leadership in fighting back. Many are isolated and alienated, so we need to break through that, and approach them first.
We need to show them that they can lead, fight and win.
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