Showing posts with label gay rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gay rights. Show all posts

Friday, December 27, 2019

From "The Rag Blog"- On 15th United States President James Buchanan's "Gayness"

Markin comment:

This article by Harvey Wasserman makes an interesting presentation on the question of Buchanan’s “gayness,” although there was also some to-do about his successor, Abraham Lincoln’s like “condition” a few years back, as well. However, and let’s keep our eyes on the prize here, whether Buchanan is a candidate for what W.H. Auden called the “Homintern” or not, he has much to answer for from history, from our left-wing, pro-Unionist, anti-slavery history, in letting the on-coming Southern Confederacy take wing in the period before Abraham Lincoln took office. There is a very good reason why he is almost universally rated at the bottom of the list for presidential efficacy, and it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.

Harvey Wasserman : Our Gay Commander-in-Chief

President James Buchanan. Image from Encyclopedia Dickensonia.

'Mister Fancy' James Buchanan:
Our gay Commander-in-Chief

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2010

As “conservatives” scream and yell about gays in the military, they might remember that in all likelihood we have already had a gay Commander-in-Chief.

His name was James Buchanan. He was the 15th President of the United States.

A Democrat from Pennsylvania, Buchanan is discreetly referred to in official texts as “our only bachelor president.”

In fact, many historians believe that he may well have been “married” to William Rufus King, a pro-slavery Democrat from Alabama who was our only bachelor Vice President.

The two men lived together for years. Andrew Jackson, never one to shy from bullhorn bigotry, was among those who variously referred to them as “Aunt Nancy” and “Mr. Fancy.” Other Washington wags called them “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan,” and the like.

The nature of their relationship was never officially confirmed or proclaimed in public. They were widely referred to as “Siamese twins,” slang at the time for a gay couple. But there was no incriminating gap dress or heartfelt double-ring ceremony, civil or otherwise. It was not uncommon at the time for men and women of the same gender to live together and even share a bed while remaining sexually uninvolved.

Buchanan was once engaged to marry a wealthy young woman named Ann Coleman. But the complex affair ended with her mysterious, untimely death. When King became ambassador to France in 1844, Buchanan complained that “I have gone wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any of them.”

With no Moral Majority or Bible thumping fundamentalists to plague them, the King-Buchanan liaison was generally embraced as a political and personal fact of life in a nation consumed with real issues of life and death, freedom and slavery.

In 1852 King was elected as Franklin Pierce’s Vice President. But on an official mission, King contracted a fever and died, leaving Buchanan alone and deeply distraught.

In 1856, Buchanan defeated John C. Fremont, the first presidential candidate from the new Republican Party. Buchanan did not run for reelection in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was the victor.

Buchanan’s presidency was plagued by economic and sectional disaster. He was a “doughface” northerner with sympathies for southern slavery. Devoted to consensus and compromise, he was swept away by the intense polarization that led to Civil War.

Through his entire time in the White House, President Buchanan lived alone. His niece served as “First Lady.” He stayed unmarried, and had his personal letters burned upon his death, prompting further speculation on his sexual orientation.

Maybe it’s time those legislators who have been so fiercely opposed to gays in the military face the high likelihood that at least one Commander in Chief would probably be among them.

[Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States S is at, along with Passions of the Potsmoking Patriots “Thomas Paine,” which portrays George Washington as a gay potsmoker.]

The Rag Blog

Posted by thorne dreyer at 8:07 AM
Labels: American History, American Presidents, Gay, Harvey Wasserman, Homosexuality, Rag Bloggers

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of "King OF The Beats" Jack Kerouac-As Hometown Lowell Celebrates- On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"- Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”*Poet's Corner- Allen Ginsberg's "America"

On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"-*Poet's Corner- Allen Ginsberg's "America"

In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)

By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just kicks, stuff, important stuff has happened or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation.  Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my older brother Alex thy called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps, half stirred left on corner coffees and cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well. So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind. The kind that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back).              

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother Alex’s name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967 just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid attention to, or dismissed out of hand what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.     

Like I said above Alex was out two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely end. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly from hunger working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan that was for smooth as silk Frankie to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Dylan above all else) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)

Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like he wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           


There was a time when Allen Ginsberg's poetry 'spoke' to me and, and I am sure, to others from the "Generation of '68". His 'beat'/pacifist take on the struggle for power- heal thyself- rang through many heads-until the beasts got serious at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, and in other locales, before and after, as well. Still Ginsberg's mid-1950's poetry shook things up for lots of people. Here's why.

"America" by Allen Ginsberg, 1956

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.

I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they're all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don're really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

Friday, June 28, 2019

From The Archives On The 50th Anniversary-Honor The 40th Anniversary Of Stonewall- For Equal Democratic Rights For Gays And Lesbians- The Film "Milk"- A Guest Review

Click On Title To Link To An Article On Harvey Milk, "Revolutionary Road", By Hilton Als In "The New York Review Of Books". Needless to say it takes a very different view from the one presented by the article posted below.

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the famous Stonewall uprising by gays and lesbians in New York City against their being harassed and victimized by the police, by the political establishment and by anyone who wanted to single out a seemingly easy target. Well, those days are over, at least the more egregious parts, although this struggle is far from over. This year, with the real advances on the gay and lesbian right to marriage front (despite that very important lose in California at the ballot box and in the courts) and the positive hoopla over Sean Penn’s well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of bourgeois gay politician Harvey Milk of San Francisco, seems a fitting time to review some aspects of the gay liberation struggle as it has unfolded over the past forty years of American political and cultural history.

Originally I intended to review “Milk” (the Penn version) and a much less well-known 1980’s documentary on Harvey Milk. However, I was unable to find that earlier film to make the comparisons. In the meantime I came across a review by Amy Rath, editor of the “Women And Revolution” pages of “Workers Vanguard”, that hits many of the point that I wanted to make. I still intend to do that comparative review at a later date.

Guest Commentary

Workers Vanguard No. 932
13 March 2009

The Communist Program and the Fight Against Homosexual Oppression


A Review

By Amy Rath

(Women and Revolution pages)

Correction Appended

The San Francisco Democratic Party establishment learned decades ago how to manipulate the rhetoric of “gay power” to bolster its rule, and the story of Harvey Milk is front and center in that spin. At the time of the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Milk in 1978, the Democratic Party machine seized on the issue for political capital and it hasn’t stopped since. Spouting “gay rights” rhetoric to round up votes, the city government flaunts “progressive” pretensions while it does the work of capitalism in oppressing the poor and exploited and attempting to tame the powerful Bay Area labor movement. It’s by no means a fluke of history that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom rode the movement for gay marriage as part of his bid for national prominence as a Democratic Party politician.

Thus, when Milk, Gus Van Sant’s biopic about the first openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had its world premiere last October in a special showing at the Castro Theatre (just down the block from Milk’s old camera store), Newsom joined the movie moguls and film stars strutting on the red carpet. Patrons paid $50 to see the film and as much as $15,000 to attend the post-premiere dinner and party at City Hall. With characteristic smugness, Newsom congratulated the city “progressives” on the changes of the last 30 years: “This story couldn’t have happened anywhere else” (San Francisco Chronicle, 29 October 2008). No doubt he hopes that this “for the people” veneer will prove useful as California sinks more deeply into economic crisis and layoffs engulf the working class. After all, Newsom got elected mayor based on his reactionary “Care Not Cash” initiative that sought to drive the homeless from the city. His championship of gay marriage helped bring his left-liberal opponents solidly into his camp.

Has any film been as good for the city’s political and business establishment as Milk? Newsom opened City Hall to on-site filming of Moscone’s murder, while various worthies of the San Francisco establishment appeared in person in the movie, including the openly gay politician Tom Ammiano (formerly president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and currently a member of the California State Assembly). The on-site filming poured money into the coffers of the city and its merchants. Now tourists are flocking to the Castro district to see the home base of Harvey Milk’s gay constituency.

Milk tells the story of how “gay power” became institutionalized in City Hall, and it’s fairly accurate within the limited scope of the movie’s storyline, which focuses on Milk as a gay politician to the exclusion of the larger political and social forces of the time. The movie is well-made, enjoyable entertainment. Hailed by fans and reviewers everywhere as brilliant in his portrayal of Harvey Milk, Sean Penn won an Oscar for best actor. He certainly deserves it. Not least of Milk’s gifts to the capitalist Democratic Party was his puckish charm and outspoken courage, and Penn shows it all.

Adding not a little to the interest sparked by the movie itself was the passage of California’s reactionary Proposition 8—which overturned the legalization of same-sex marriage—last November 4, only days before the film opened nationwide. Headlines read “Milk Recaptures Californian Intolerance at Exactly the Right Time” (Village Voice, 26 November 2008) and “Activists Seek to Tie ‘Milk’ to a Campaign for Gay Rights” (New York Times, 21 November 2008). But it’s not just some of the reviewers in the capitalist press that relish the connection: our reformist opponents on the left are salivating over the movie.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) hails the movie’s opening “at a crucial teaching moment in the struggle” and comments that the “latest explosion of gay militancy” is “magnificent” (“Teamsters and Trannies, Unite!” International Socialist Review, January-February 2009). Certainly tens of thousands have protested in the streets against Prop 8, and we Spartacists have joined them, opposing all discrimination against gays with our own revolutionary program—while also pointing out that the demands of the “movement” are limited to lobbying the Democrats for a few token reforms. The main strategy of Prop 8’s opponents is to sue to overturn the law.

For the supposedly “socialist” ISO, over the moon over the ascension of mainstream bourgeois politician Barack Obama (who opposes gay marriage) to the imperial presidency, a “movement” which can more effectively pressure capitalist politicians for such reforms is the ultimate goal. Thus the ISO article enthused over “genuine rainbow power”—i.e., Teamsters, transvestites, former Republic Windows workers, Latinos and gays united—but united for what? Their “ultimate” demand is to overturn Bill Clinton’s reactionary “Defense of Marriage Act” and to “tell President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress to end this federally sanctioned discrimination once and for all.” Who are they kidding? We support full democratic rights for gays, but as Marxists we understand that anti-gay bigotry will not be rooted out short of a socialist revolution which overturns capitalism.

For its part, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), creator of the “World Can’t Wait” outfit, says the film “resonates in what is at times an almost eerie way” with the current political assault on gay marriage and “the powerful resistance from the people, particularly the gay and lesbian community” (Revolution, 14 December 2008). At the time of the events depicted in the film, however, the RCP spouted the grotesque Stalinist/Maoist line that homosexuality was a “sickness” and barred gays from membership in their organization. Thus their enthusing over Milk today rings grossly hollow—though their tailing of petty-bourgeois reformist “movements” is consistent.

For such reformists, politicians like Harvey Milk are the stuff of their illusions in “fight the right” Democrats. George Moscone, the supposed “friend of labor” mayor, and Harvey Milk, the uncloseted gay supervisor, are cast as progressive martyrs cut down by hoary reaction in the person of the bigoted ex-cop Dan White (who was also a Democrat, although no one likes to admit it). This is just a means of tailing the Democratic Party establishment in San Francisco, where the votes of homosexuals are corralled to fuel a vicious anti-labor drive. Moscone came into office in 1976 with a tough-on-labor line, signaled by a series of anti-union propositions on the city ballot attacking the pay scales and benefits of city workers. In 1976—during the period covered by the movie, which restricts labor struggle to the Coors beer boycott that Milk assisted—Moscone’s anti-labor offensive led to a bitter, hard-fought strike by city craft workers backed up by Muni mass transit drivers.

Keeping social protest safely within the bounds of the capitalist courts and the ballot box is fully in keeping with the politics of Milk, which represents quite accurately the fulsome confidence in capitalist democracy that Harvey Milk pushed. With the election of the first black president, Barack Obama, the American ruling class is hoping for an extended honeymoon of race, class and social peace, while refurbishing illusions in American imperialist democracy. Milk is “the first openly Obama-iste movie,” quipped the Village Voice. Slate agreed: “Few reviewers will miss the opportunity to point out—the parallels are hard to ignore—that Harvey Milk was the Barack Obama of his day, a minority candidate who represented change, opposed the party machine, and preached the gospel of hope.” Not to be outdone, the New York Times reviewer wrote: “This is how change happens. This is what it looks like.”

Sure, that’s what they want the exploited and oppressed to believe. Milk himself said, “If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.” With such words Harvey Milk funneled the votes of the large homosexual community in San Francisco to the Democratic Party, which is no less a capitalist party of racism, war and “family values” than the Republicans.

Gay Oppression and “Coming Out”

With scenes of handsome, bare-chested men and exuberant parties and parades, Milk makes constituency politicking look like a lot of fun. It also represents Milk’s personal take on “gay liberation”: all the closeted gays should “come out” so that the bigots will see that homosexuals are “just folks” like them. But while this may seem to be true in the small bubbles that are San Francisco’s Castro district and New York’s Christopher Street, seeing politicized lifestylism and constituency politics as the answer to the oppression of gay people is a most dangerous illusion.

The oppression of homosexuals is not merely or even primarily the result of narrow-mindedness. Homosexuals continue to be repressed by capitalist law. Widespread bigotry on this issue is fundamentally conditioned by the institution of the monogamous family unit, the main social source of the oppression of women, youth and homosexuals in class society, and by the considerable power of organized religion. Such oppression does not make homosexuality in itself political. Sexuality is a complex and essentially personal and private matter; thus the Spartacist League most vehemently opposes any government intrusion into consensual sexual activity and private life—we say, “Government out of the bedrooms!”

A corollary is the SL’s political opposition to the program of “coming out” pushed by “lifestyle liberationists” such as Milk, which may defy but cannot eradicate class-rooted repressive institutions. We defend those who choose to “come out” against victimization by reactionaries. But living as an open homosexual or transvestite or whatever one’s individual choice—courageous as it is—can be deadly in this violent, backward, anti-sex society. Recall the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard in 1998—beaten and left hanging on a barbed-wire fence to die—and of Gwen Araujo, a transgender youth, in 2002. A 2006 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network reported that violent attacks are a daily part of life for gay, lesbian and transgender youth: nearly two-thirds reported feeling unsafe at school, over a third experienced physical harassment, and nearly a fifth were assaulted because of their sexual orientation.

Young gays in the Castro today might note that the cross on Mt. Davidson still dominates the city’s southern skyline and bear in mind that the first big concentration of gays in the Bay Area was not the footloose youth of the late 1960s-’70s “sexual liberation” era. During World War II, with San Francisco as its West Coast embarkation point, U.S. imperialism threw tens of thousands of young men out of the military as homosexuals, giving them blue discharge papers marked with a capital H. The Department of Defense still refuses to say how many thousands were discharged. Not relishing the prospect of returning to their hometowns, many of these young men stayed in San Francisco. An excellent book by Allan Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire, details the history of these gay men and women, many of whom first met others like themselves in the military in World War II. Today, gays still aren’t allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military. According to a 2004 report by the gay rights group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, in the ten years after Democratic president Bill Clinton adopted the infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, around 10,000 service members were discharged for being gay or bisexual.

Who Was Harvey Milk?

As Randy Shilts recounts in his 1982 biography The Mayor of Castro Street, Harvey Milk was a latecomer to the politics of “gay power.” After his 1951 college graduation, Milk, a fervent anti-Communist who wanted to stop the Reds from taking over Asia, enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War, where he rose rapidly through the ranks to become an officer. After leaving the Navy, Milk worked as an insurance broker and a researcher at a Wall Street investment firm. A staunch conservative, he was a supporter of Republican Barry Goldwater, opposing any kind of government intervention in the capitalist economy. Milk was at this time entirely uninterested in his homosexuality as a political question. But as ’60s New Left radicalism swung into full sway, Harvey Milk got into hippie lifestylism, growing his hair long as he hung with the cast of the flower-power hit Hair. By the early ’70s, he and his lover Scott Smith had moved to San Francisco.

Harvey Milk’s transformation from New York stockbroker to San Francisco Democrat moved him from the conservative to the liberal wing of capitalist politics. He built his power base in the Castro as a small businessman, defender of his community and president of the gay-dominated Castro Village Association. The movie portrays Milk’s politics quite accurately. Sean Penn gives us pretty much word-for-word Milk’s speech at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978. Milk quoted patriotic passages from the verses engraved on the Statue of Liberty, phrases from the Declaration of Independence and the national anthem, and continued:

“No matter how hard you try, you cannot erase those words from the Declaration of Independence. No matter how hard you try, you cannot chip those words from off the base of the Statue of Liberty. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot sing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ without those words. That’s what America is. Love it or leave it.”

Milk said in his inauguration speech as San Francisco supervisor: “I fully understand the debt and responsibility that major corporations owe the shareholders.... American business must realize that while the shareholders always come first, the care and feeding of their customer is a close second.” And gays, Milk insisted, were among their best customers—if not fellow players.

The Democratic Party Machine in San Francisco

Played by actor Josh Brolin, reactionary bigot Dan White is first shown in the movie spouting a sentence from his election campaign: “I’m not going to be forced out of San Francisco by splinter groups of radicals, social deviates and incorrigibles.” Ex-cop Dan White didn’t fit in with the clique of slick professional politicians who made up the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. For most of these well-off businessmen, realtors and lawyers, open contempt for the oppressed is considered bad taste. But there was no fundamental difference in the class loyalties of the three players, despite how White’s vengeance drama played out against Moscone and Milk. As we pointed out following the murders in “Reformists Weep for Strikebreaker Moscone” (WV No. 222, 5 January 1979): “Just who are these ‘elected officials’ anyway? Isn’t Moscone the same capitalist politician who crushed the 1976 San Francisco municipal craft workers strike? Isn’t Milk responsible for funneling votes of the large homosexual ‘community’ to the party of Anita Bryant, the Dixiecrats and the Vietnam War?”

In the ’60s and ’70s the Democratic Party machine in San Francisco was undergoing certain tactical shifts spurred by social and economic changes in the area. As the industrial base shrank and gentrification took over many old working-class neighborhoods like the Castro, San Francisco looked to tourism and to building up the downtown financial district as a corporate center. Old-time party bosses, with ties to the Catholic church and the white ethnic neighborhoods, were giving way to the new liberal-chic politicians who remain in power today. It is really these changes that are responsible for this huge falling out in the Democratic Party power structure, which exploded in Dan White’s murder of Moscone and Milk.

The movie ends with a candlelight march of tens of thousands in mourning for Harvey Milk. But the important aftermath is reduced to a couple of sentences on the screen: Dan White, who committed two coldblooded killings—of elected government officials, no less—that couldn’t have looked more like deliberate, premeditated murder in the first degree, was slapped on the wrist with two counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to less than seven years in prison (he served five). If some gay person had murdered ex-cop White and Moscone, you can bet that nothing less than the death penalty, on the spot, would have sufficed.

So naturally the “gay ghetto” exploded in rage. Well into the night, thousands battled with the cops. Nearly every window in City Hall was broken and the doors were smashed, while Mayor Dianne Feinstein (now a U.S. Senator) and other bigwigs were trapped inside. Cop cars and paddy wagons went up in flames. We wrote in “Behind S.F. Night of Gay Rage” (WV No. 234, 22 June 1979):

“Revolutionaries solidarize with the legitimate outrage of San Francisco’s homosexuals over the light sentence given to this bigoted, reactionary, killer ex-cop. And we fully support their defending themselves against the rampaging goons of the capitalist state. But the identification of many San Francisco gay people with Harvey Milk generally translates into political support for the liberal-chic wing of the Democratic Party, a ruling-class group whose policies toward workers and the poor are often harsher than their more traditional old-line ‘machine’ opponents.”

How did Dan White get off so easily? The infamous “Twinkie defense” claimed that sugary junk food contributed to a mood disturbance that resulted in “diminished capacity.” At the time, there were cries of collusion between the cops and the D.A. as well as charges of homophobia against the judge and jury. But the real point is that the jury wanted to believe Dan White’s defense. The jury, largely working-class and middle-class, was drawn from those areas of San Francisco that were seen as the last bastion of family life. WV commented:

“What the jury shared with White was not simply ‘homophobia’ but a fear, exploited by the reactionary White, that San Francisco has become unlivable for ‘just plain folks.’

“But this ex-cop turned Supervisor was not ‘just plain folks’; he was not some working-class guy driven into a crazy frenzy by some posh liberal snobs. Dan White was a dangerous reactionary politician. He exploited the fears, grievances and economic distress of San Francisco’s ethnic Catholic lower classes for the politics of racist, anti-gay bigotry, just as Harvey Milk exploited homosexual oppression for the liberal-sophisticate face of capitalist rule.”

After Dianne Feinstein was elected mayor in her own right in 1979, one of her first acts as she sought the support of gay voters was to mandate the recruitment of gay cops into the San Francisco police force. By 1980, one in seven new police recruits was either a lesbian or a gay man. Such “diversity” does not alter the cops’ role as agents of repression for the ruling class, which includes persecuting immigrants, black youth and striking workers.

Jimmy Carter, “Human Rights” and the Anti-Sex Witchhunt

Milk shows a 30-second cameo of then-president Jimmy Carter calling on Californians to vote against Prop 6, the John Briggs initiative on the 1978 state ballot that sought the firing of homosexual teachers and their supporters. Aside from this issue and the “Save Our Children” campaign promoted by homophobic “sunshine girl” and spokeswoman for Florida orange juice Anita Bryant, the crucial context of national and international politics is absent from the movie. But Anita Bryant and Briggs were not isolated nutcases out to wreck things for the progressive gays. They were the voices of larger political forces at work, directed from the White House. While Prop 6 was defeated, Carter’s formal opposition signified no commitment to gay rights (even supreme bigot Ronald Reagan opposed Prop 6 at the time).

Coming to office in 1977, the Democratic Carter administration kicked off an onslaught of domestic social reaction and the renewal of U.S. imperialism’s Cold War drive aimed at the destruction of the Soviet Union, garbed in the call for “human rights.” These policies reflected the attempt of the American ruling class to overcome widespread fear and loathing of the government following the explosive years of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the rise of the New Left, the women’s liberation movement and black radicalization, and finally the Watergate break-in that forced the resignation of Republican president Richard (“I am not a crook”) Nixon in 1974. For the American bourgeoisie, this all-sided social turmoil and defiance of authority was deeply disturbing, and the potential for an alliance of black militants and radicalized students with an increasingly restive labor movement was a threat that had to be stopped. Thus a major bourgeois ideological assault was launched to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome” and to instill an unquestioning acceptance of capitalism, God and family, including the desirability of dying for one’s country.

The Carter administration brought “born again” religious fundamentalism front and center into the White House. This was the national backdrop for Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign of hate and Briggs’s witchhunting of gay teachers. While the movie makes good fun of these bigots, showing Milk’s sharp wit in debate with Briggs, Milk is also shown promoting the deadly illusion that the bigots had actually done gays a favor by publicizing their oppression, forcing them to “unite” against it. In fact, the Bryant campaign, which rallied the forces of the aggressive hard core of virulent reaction, was a grave threat not only to homosexuals, but to all concerned with democratic rights. Indeed, paired with Briggs’s Prop 6 on the California ballot was a tougher death penalty initiative, Prop 7. Briggs insisted that the two issues were inexorably tied together. A fund-raising letter issued by his campaign raved against California’s “ineffective” death penalty law and listed homosexual teachers as an equally horrendous threat.

The Spartacist League intervened heavily into the nationwide demonstrations against anti-gay bigotry. The oppression of homosexuals, like the oppression of women, serves as an index of more general social and political attitudes. The SL has always recognized that democratic rights are indivisible—and indeed has stood out in opposing reactionary state repression of the most oppressed or marginalized, including Mormon polygamists and NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association), a group shunned by more “respectable” gays for simply advocating the decriminalization of consensual sex between men and boys. As we wrote in “Rightist Reaction Pushes Anti-Homosexual Hysteria: Stop Anita Bryant!” (WV No. 165, 8 July 1977):

“To struggle effectively against the persecution of homosexuals, ‘gay rights’ activists must begin by understanding that bourgeois democracy is partial, fragile and reversible…. The struggle fundamentally is not about sex but about all-sided democratic rights. The ‘Save Our Children’ mobilization is presently the most visible component of a much broader rightist offensive aimed at rolling back real and token gains of the last decade of liberalism. Recent targets include legal and safe abortions, especially for poor women; the Equal Rights Amendment; busing to combat school segregation; preferential minority-group college admissions. The ‘right-to-lifers’ screaming for the death penalty grasp the logic of the Bryant crusade far better than do some of its opponents.”

Today, over 30 years later, the bitter truth of that warning is all too apparent. In the 1980s, reactionaries seized on the deadly AIDS epidemic to demonize gays. Who even remembers the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the Constitution simply affirming formal equality for women? Busing and affirmative action are dead, the racist death penalty has claimed over a thousand lives since its reinstitution in 1976, legal and safe abortion is ever more out of reach for poor women. And the Soviet Union has been destroyed by counterrevolution, a world-historic defeat for the working class. In Milk you see the occasional picket sign demanding “human rights” for gays. This was a major demand of the anti-Bryant demonstrations, an implicit endorsement of Carter’s anti-Soviet “human rights” crusade to rearm U.S. imperialism, extending its buzzwords to homosexuals in the U.S.

We Marxists opposed the imperialist campaign against the USSR. We called for unconditional military defense of this bureaucratically degenerated workers state against imperialist assault and internal counterrevolution. We also called for political revolution by the working class to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and restore soviet democracy and the proletarian internationalism of Lenin’s Bolsheviks.

Full Democratic Rights for Gays!

The alliance of lifestyle radicals, reformists and Democrats can promise only token reforms that enrage American backwardness and touch off new waves of backlash. Today, over 40 states have enacted laws banning same-sex marriage. In California, an unholy alliance of the Mormons, the Catholic church and evangelical Protestants went on a rampage to get Prop 8 passed. Recognizing that with Obama’s candidacy black voters would turn out at the polls in record numbers, a big push was made to find allies among conservative black Baptist preachers. A full-page ad in the Los Angeles Sentinel, the city’s major black newspaper, urged a yes vote on Prop 8 to restore “the sanctity of marriage.”

Perhaps the most effective campaign tool to boost Proposition 8 was the “robocalls” to people’s cell phones with recordings of Obama addressing a crowd with the declaration: “I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.” While proclaiming that he did not support Proposition 8 because it was “unnecessary,” Obama’s opposition to gay marriage is a direct echo of Bush and other fundamentalist yahoos of both capitalist parties. After all, Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that pronounced, “The word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” In the same year, he signed the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,” part of his ending “welfare as we know it,” consigning millions of impoverished mothers and children to misery and hunger.

The Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs joined protests against Prop 8 with placards demanding: “Down With Prop 8! For the Right of Gay Marriage...and Divorce!”, “State, Church and Family: Holy Trinity of Women’s Oppression!” and “Don’t Crawl for the Democrats—Build a Workers Party!” As fighters for the socialist liberation of humanity, we are committed to full democratic rights for gays, lesbians and transgenders, and we support any legal advances that can be wrested from this cruelly bigoted society, including the right to marry. But we do not advocate or prettify the institution of marriage. We fight for a society in which no one needs to be forced into a legal straitjacket in order to get medical benefits, visitation rights, custody of children, immigration rights, or any of the many privileges this capitalist society grants to those, and only those, who are embedded in the traditional “one man on one woman for life” marital mold.

In the ’70s, politicians like Harvey Milk represented the wing of the gay rights movement at peace with capitalism. But there were others, disaffected with capitalism, who broke from sectoralism—the “left” version of plain old capitalist “constituency politics”—and found their way to communism. A dozen cadre of the Los Angeles-based “gay liberation/communist” Red Flag Union (RFU), formerly the Lavender & Red Union, fused with the Spartacist League in 1977.

In the course of their political journey, the RFU rejected the false programs of a number of our reformist opponents. Against both crude Maoists like the RCP and anti-Communist “state capitalists” like the Shachtmanite Revolutionary Socialist League (since deceased), they came to the Trotskyist position of defense of the degenerated and deformed workers states while calling for workers political revolution. Opportunist groups like the feminist Freedom Socialist Party sought to cater to the supposed “lifestylism” of the RFU by slandering the SL’s so-called “closet rule,” which simply states that in public our members seek to be known by their politics, not by their lifestyles. The RFU agreed with the SL’s position and sharply refuted the opportunists’ slanders.

The RFU wrote in Red Flag No. 3, a special fusion supplement to Workers Vanguard (WV No. 172, 9 September 1977): “There is no special revolutionary program for homosexuals. The communist program includes demands which address the special oppression of homosexuals. But unlike sectoralists, revolutionaries understand that the fate of homosexuals—like that of any other oppressed group—is determined by the course of the class struggle.” The RFU comrades came to understand that only the road of the Bolshevik October Revolution can open up a future of a socialist world where all forms of oppression and exploitation will be eradicated.

Only a socialist revolution can lay the basis for the replacement of the institution of the family with socialized childcare and housework. In the first five years of the Russian Revolution under Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks, insofar as they could in conditions of extreme poverty and international isolation, sought to liberate women through collectivized kitchens, childcare, dwellings and schools. As well, laws against all forms of consensual sex were abolished, establishing the noninterference of the state in all matters of private life. While a revolutionary government will always act to promote all measures to bring about freedom for all, bigotry cannot simply be abolished by decree. But the Bolsheviks understood that liberation is a material act, requiring resources far beyond those available to a backward peasant society like Russia. Nonetheless, the forces of proletarian state repression put the bigots and former oppressors on the run.

To finally arrive at classless communism requires the destruction of capitalist imperialism as a world system and the establishment of a world socialist division of labor, leading to a tremendous leap in the productive forces that can provide material plenty for all. The withering away of the family as the basic institution defining sexual relations will result in the eventual disappearance of patriarchal relations and of generalized anti-homosexual oppression. Our task is to build a revolutionary workers party like the Bolshevik Party that will act as a tribune of the people, a defender of all the oppressed, to lead the fight for world socialist revolution.



The article “Milk: A Review” (WV No. 932, 13 March) stated that Dan White, who killed Harvey Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone, was “sentenced to less than seven years in prison.” White was in fact sentenced to seven years and eight months. (From WV No. 933, 27 March 2009.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

*The Struggle For Gay Marriage Rights- A "Workers Vanguard" Guest Commentary

Click on the title to link the the Marx-Engels Internet Archive's copy of Engels' "Origin of The Family,Private Property and The State".

For the Right of Gay Marriage...and Divorce!

Marriage and the Capitalist State

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 824, 16 April 2004.

"Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.

"On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.
"The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital."
—Communist Manifesto (1848)

Until the welcome day capitalism does vanish, the monogamous family remains the legally enforced social model, at least in Western societies, for the organization of private life in its most intimate aspects: love, sex, bearing and raising children. It is the central social institution oppressing women; anti-gay bigotry flows from the need to punish any "deviations" from this patriarchal structure. Why anyone not under social pressure or economic duress would voluntarily enter the bonds of matrimony is, of course, one of life's mysteries. Nonetheless, it appears that these days the only people who actually want to get married are the only ones President Bush wants to stop: gays and lesbians.

Absolutely, they ought to have the right to marry. And just as absolutely, we socialists fight for a society in which no one needs to be forced into a legal straitjacket in order to get medical benefits, visitation rights, custody of children, immigration rights, or any of the many privileges this capitalist society grants to those, and only those, who are embedded in the traditional "one man on one woman for life" legal mold.

Controversy over "gay marriage" has roiled the U.S. since last November, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that permitting only "civil unions" for gay couples was unconstitutional, thus establishing the right to gay marriage in Massachusetts. In February the San Francisco mayor ordered same-sex marriage licenses issued, and 4,037 gay and lesbian couples from 46 states and eight countries got hitched before ceremonies were ordered halted on March 11. The Green Party mayor of New Paltz, New York, jumped into the fray, officiating at 25 same-sex marriages. When he was barred by court order from continuing, two local Unitarian ministers took over, only to have criminal charges filed against them by the Ulster County D.A. for solemnizing "unlicensed marriages" in March.

In 1996, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act which pronounced, "the word ‘marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." With unholy glee, Christian fundamentalists of all sorts are now pushing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning states from recognizing gay marriage (39 states already refuse to countenance it). Others warn direly that the floodgates of unspeakable immorality are now open. Polygamy is the least of it; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting from last year's Supreme Court decision overturning Texas sodomy laws, claimed that decision could abolish bans not only on same-sex marriage, but also "adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity."

President Bush, supporting the anti-gay constitutional amendment, intoned: "The union of a man and a woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith," complaining that "After...millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal, beady profit-making eye on the bottom line, featured a piece on "Cashing In on Gay Marriage" (March 11), while vendors presented "Loveland," a "Same-Sex Wedding Expo" at New York's Jacob Javits convention center.

All this sudden churning of the crazed, hypocritical witches' brew that passes for American political discourse these days, especially on questions involving sex, certainly has its darkly humorous and bizarre side. Partly that's because the messy reality most people actually live in bears little resemblance to the rigid official portraits of Christian moral rectitude this government claims as models of social behavior. But the deeper social issues involved are deadly serious, ranging from the most intimate personal questions to broad areas of responsibility for raising new generations, and how to care for others, whether family, friends or lovers; in short, how "private life" in its entirety is defined and organized.

Workers Must Fight for Democratic Rights for Gays!

Apocalyptic predictions of the end of civilization if gays are allowed to marry are obviously hysterical fantasies; at the same time, gay marriage in itself will not end the often deadly prejudice and pain gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people encounter every day in this homophobic, anti-sex society. But that pain makes it even more important to fight for every possible democratic right, every form of social and political equality that can be wrested from this society.

It is a vital task of the workers revolutionary vanguard to fight for full democratic rights for gays—including, today, marriage rights—and to fight to win the working class to this cause. The Spartacist League has done this since its inception. As Lenin pointed out in his 1902 work What Is To Be Done?:

"Working class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected....Why is it that the Russian workers as yet display so little revolutionary activity in connection with the brutal way in which the police maltreat the people, in connection with the persecution of the religious sects, with the flogging of the peasantry, with the outrageous censorship, with the torture of soldiers, with the persecution of the most innocent cultural enterprises, etc.?... We must blame ourselves for being unable as yet to organize a sufficiently wide, striking and rapid exposure of these despicable outrages. When we do that (and we must and can do it), the most backward worker will understand, or will feel, that the students and religious sects, the muzhiks and the authors are being abused and outraged by the very same dark forces that are oppressing and crushing him at every step of his life."

Here in the United States, one of the most politically backward "advanced" capitalist countries on earth, saddled with a huge burden of puritanism and religious fundamentalism to boot, there is a lot of backwardness on the gay question.

Even among black workers, historically among the most militant in the proletariat and in general those with the fewest illusions in the "good nature" of this rotten capitalist social order, there is a significant amount of anti-gay prejudice. Much of it is pushed by conservative forces in the black church, although even the black churches are deeply split on this question. As we wrote in our article, "For the Right to Gay Marriage!": "In its extreme, one gets the phenomenon of a black Baptist minister, the Rev. Gregory Daniels, who declared, ‘If the K.K.K. opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them' (New York Times, 1 March). He might saddle up, but it will be a short ride—the first target of this motley collection of nativist, anti-labor fascists is black people" (WV No. 821, 5 March).

In contrast to this myopic anti-gay prejudice is the compassion so many black people feel because they know firsthand the torment and danger of oppression and discrimination. A Massachusetts State Senator from Roxbury put it well: "I know the pain of being less than equal, and I cannot and will not impose that status on anyone else. I was but one generation removed from an existence in slavery. I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from which my family fled." Others can't see that an injury to one is an injury to all, and so in a backhanded way end up in the camp of the racist anti-gay bigots. Black columnist Adrian Walker, writing in the Boston Globe (12 February), quoted one clergyman: "Think about Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys, and those police dogs in Birmingham—and then tell me they've faced what we've faced. This has nothing to do with civil rights." This reflects in part the pernicious influence of Democratic Party "constituency" politics, where one sector of the oppressed is pitted against another in the scramble for aid from a state which defends capitalist rule.

Of course there are many, and qualitative, differences between black oppression and gay oppression in this society. Racism is the bedrock of American capitalism, the great fault line in American politics since the founding of the nation on the backs of black slaves. The ruling class consciously manipulates racism to weaken the proletariat. The fight for black freedom will be central to the proletarian revolution in the U.S. For that revolution to succeed, the working class, including its strategic black component, must understand its historic task is to abolish class society in order to open the road to human freedom for everyone. And that most certainly includes gays—and everyone else who, however self-defined, rebels against the straitjacket social roles imposed by the capitalist ruling class.

Further, violence against gays, lesbians and, increasingly, transgendered people is a deadly constant on America's mean streets and in the repressive holding pens known as public schools. The grisly 1998 murder in Laramie of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay Wyoming student who was kidnapped, beaten, burnt and then left tied to a fence to die, shocked the nation. Though accurate statistics are almost impossible to come by, given that many victims don't come forward because they rightly fear more harassment from cops, school authorities or parents, and because official statistics don't always accurately list "hate crimes," there are still well over 1,000 reported cases a year of violence, sometimes fatal, against gays and lesbians and others deemed sexually "deviant."

A recent Internet search uncovered an article from the Arizona Tucson Citizen (23 February) titled "Gays, Jews Top Targets of Hate Crimes Here," which described the June 2002 beating to death of 24-year-old Philip Walsted, who was gay. It was a hate crime, according to police. In January of this year another gay man was found lying on the street, badly beaten, near a gay bar in Tucson, while a gay University of Arizona student was stabbed in 2000. That's just a few stories from one city. According to the Winter 2003 Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, there were 27 murders of transgendered people in a 21-month period (2002-2003) in the United States. The point of these few examples is not to "prove" that any social group is more or less hurt than any other, but to indicate that moral regimentation is part of what keeps this unjust society running the way it does.

It was a good thing that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy statutes in its 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling, because it explicitly overturned the Court's infamously reactionary 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick that upheld states' anti-sodomy laws. That decision castigated gays with statements like "proscriptions against sodomy have ancient roots." Chief Justice Warren Burger practically called for a holy war against homosexuals, writing approvingly in his concurrence that "Blackstone described ‘the infamous crime against nature' as an offense of ‘deeper malignity' than rape, a heinous act ‘the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature,' and ‘a crime not fit to be named'." This is the legal language that gives cover to gay-bashing.

Gays still don't have full civil rights: they aren't allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military, for example. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group, in the ten years since Democratic president Bill Clinton adopted the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy, around 10,000 service members have been discharged for being openly gay. As we stated when that policy was raised: "Open gays and lesbians have just as much right as anyone else to participate in the armed forces," while raising the classic Marxist slogan of "Not one man, not one penny" for the military ("Gays in the Military," WV No. 569, 12 February 1993). This is the tradition of militant Marxism in opposition to imperialist war. At the same time, the military is a microcosm of society as a whole, and so we fight against racist atrocities and discrimination in the armed forces just as we do in the rest of society. The fight to integrate black soldiers fully into the armed forces toward the end of World War II created a potentially powerful base for struggles for black emancipation—and in fact black civil rights activists also fought for homosexual rights in the armed forces then.

Government and Social Control of Women

Many people still would argue, gays should have democratic rights, but why marriage? The capitalist politicians running for president are all dancing around the pretty meaningless "civil union" cop-out, basically catering to religious reactionaries with votes. But isn't marriage in some sense "special," more private, more "sacred" somehow? Not at all. Monogamous marriage is a creation of society, not god (since there isn't one), and it has been used historically as a means of reactionary social control by the ruling class.

We advocate effective consent in all sexual relations and think that what any combination of individuals do in bed is nobody's business but the participants themselves, as long as it's consensual. While defending the right to gay marriage, we also argue that the "marriage mania" represents a fundamentally conservative thrust by the well-to-do petty-bourgeois gay milieu. It's a far cry from "free love" and the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 to today's marriage ceremonies, PTA meetings and Democratic and Republican Party fund-raisers. In the quest for bourgeois "respectability," gay pride day organizers have viciously banned NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association) from their marches (thereby fueling the "anti-pedophilia" hysteria which targets all gays) and welcomed contingents of gay cops who spend a good part of their time busting "sex offenders."

Nonetheless, by analogy to our position on the armed forces, we oppose excluding any category of people from access to the privileges and benefits such institutions offer in this society. At the same time, in the course of fighting for these rights, we seek to convince activists that to really resolve women's and gay oppression it is necessary to create a socialist society, in which the current functions of the bourgeois family are socialized: communal childcare; communal kitchens; free, quality health care; and in all ways freeing women from the burden of child rearing and household slavery.

A look at the history of monogamous marriage in the United States reveals its use as a tool of governmental control. A valuable book on this subject, Nancy F. Cott's Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Harvard University Press, 2000), states: "The structure of marriage...facilitates the government's grasp on the populace.... In the form of the law and state enforcement, the public sets the terms of marriage, says who can and cannot marry, who can officiate, what obligations and rights the agreement involves, whether it can be ended and if so, why and how." The following history is largely drawn from that book; quotations from other sources are noted.

One of the book's central themes is how entire categories of people, especially those deemed "inferior," were denied the legal right to marry in many states. This included, most notoriously, black slaves, who of course had no rights whatsoever. And for decades after the Civil War, blacks and Asians were banned from marrying whites. Additionally, as Cott writes, "Prohibiting divergent marriages has been as important in public policy as sustaining the chosen model." Thus polygamous Mormons and Native Americans were forbidden to practice their own forms of "marriage," while attempts at utopian communes made in the years before the Civil War came under massive assault following the North's victory and the consolidation of the American nation under the strengthening grip of industrial capitalism.

In America from the beginning, marriage, though infused with Christian doctrine, was a matter of governmental control, not primarily a religious institution, because the U.S. was established on the formal basis of separation of church and state. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, marriage itself, based on older common law, was seen as "a form of governance.... A man's headship of a family, his taking the responsibility for dependent wife and children, qualified him to be a participating member of a state.... Under the common law, a woman was absorbed into her husband's legal and economic persona upon marrying, and her husband gained the civic presence she lost." This concept in fact continued right up through the 20th century, and was really only dealt a decisive blow, in terms of public civil rights at least, with women getting the right to vote nationally in 1920. However, Congress determined in 1922 that a wife would lose her citizenship if she married a foreigner and stayed in his country for two years; other grounds for female loss of citizenship included marriage to an Asian, a polygamist—or an anarchist!

Within the strict confines of the marriage relationship, male supremacy remained largely intact. Cott describes three U.S. Supreme Court cases, in 1904, 1908 and 1911, all of which essentially upheld the husband's right to control of his wife's body. The 1904 case determined a husband's right to collect "damages" from his wife's lover in a case of adultery, even asserting that the husband's right to "exclusive" sexual intercourse was "a right of the highest kind, upon...which the whole social order rests" (rhetorical excess, to be sure; were this literally true, civilization would have collapsed long ago). The 1908 case justified Congress's ban on bringing women to the U.S. for an "immoral purpose," thus keeping out a man and his mistress and upholding the government's authority to legislate monogamy and punish women who transgressed. The 1911 case involved a woman's attempt to sue her husband for assault and battery. The Supreme Court refused to interfere between man and wife, rejecting the "radical and far-reaching" belief that a wife could sue her husband for injuries "as though they were strangers," and that it was "better to draw the curtain, shut out the public gaze," as an earlier North Carolina court decision put it, on the prerogatives of male brutality within the family circle. It took massive social upheaval and a wave of New Left-derived feminist activism in the 1970s to finally breach what was in fact the husband's right to rape his wife; only in 1984 did a New York court finally overturn that state's marital rape exemption, then followed by others.

Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Immigrants: Forced or Banned Marriages

The creation of the American nation rested on the backs of black slaves— and on the virtual obliteration of the native Indian population of tribal hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists—resulting in the creation of a bourgeois democracy for white, male property owners. How much more we could have learned about the early history of our species from these indigenous peoples, relentlessly slaughtered and driven onto "reservations," is a question American Marxists must feel keenly. Friedrich Engels' work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), was after all inspired by American anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan's pioneering research into the family patterns of North American tribes. It was this research, in good part, that led to the Marxist understanding that in fact human beings have lived "for millennia" in non-patriarchal relationships, in tribal, matrilineal societies in which women were not enslaved within the straitjacket of monogamous marriage, in which children were the responsibility of both men and women. Monogamous marriage is a social invention brought to North America by the colonizers, along with their diseases, their "sacred family" and their slaves.

So the Native American population, when not simply killed, was offered an "enlightened" choice by their overseers: rot on the reservation or give up your "heathen" ways. As Cott puts it, "Most groups—notably the Iroquois, who dominated the eastern part of North America—did not make the nuclear family so fundamental an economic and psychological unit as Protestants did, nor did they generally recognize private property as such.... The federal government consistently encouraged or forced Indians to adopt Christian-model monogamy as the sine qua non of civilization and morality." In some cases it was considered that Indians could be "civilized" by converting to Christianity, and marriage of an Indian woman to a white male was tolerated, though in some dozen states marriages between Indians and whites were declared non-valid. The 1887 Dawes Act stole Indians' communal land and undermined their tribal way of life, assigning male family "last names" to Indians (against native cultural tradition), and establishing "individual property-ownership, and further subverted native American women's roles as agriculturists by presuming the Indian male should be the landowner and farmer." Cott writes: "Like ex-slaves and ex-polygamists, Indians were required by the federal government to adopt monogamy as ‘the law of social life' to become citizens."

On the other hand, for black slaves in America, legal marriage was out of the question, though slaveholders did encourage childbearing to reproduce and expand the slave population, especially after 1808 when importation of slaves was banned. "Concubinage, which is voluntary on the part of the slaves, and permissive on that of the master…in reality, is the relation, to which these people have ever been practically restricted," wrote the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1838. Thus the fight for the right to marriage, as an assertion of the right to control one's own body and make a free contract with another human being, was seen as an important aspect of the fight for black freedom.

As it is with just about everything else in America, racism is deeply intertwined with marriage law. Attempts to keep the "white race" "unmixed" were a unique feature of the American colonies since their inception (with the peculiar result that people of all different skin tones and ancestral background are automatically considered "black" if there is even a hint of a black ancestor somewhere). Ever since the inception of monogamous marriage and the family, from ancient times on, laws against intermarriage between different classes aimed to preserve ruling-class privileges. Spain in 1776 had such laws, as did the British imperialists in Ireland in the 14th century, for example. But America uniquely developed the illogic of racism, due to its slaveholding history, to such an extent that even after the victorious Civil War that freed the slaves, many states still banned black-white marriage; in Mississippi the penalty was life imprisonment. The miscegenation law was not repealed in Alabama until 2000!

The relationship between slavery and women's subordinate position in marriage was widely noted and utilized by those on both sides of the issues. Southern evangelical Protestant ministers, who published more than half of pre-Civil War pro-slavery tracts, regularly quoted the Bible; a typical claim was that god "included slavery as an organizing element in that family order which lies at the very foundation of Church and State." On the other side, those among the anti- slavery abolitionists and early women's rights advocates who shared the liberal ideals of individual freedom and the view that "self-ownership" was a natural right, saw that both slaves and married women lacked this basic right. As Lucy Stone put it, "Marriage is to woman a state of slavery. It takes from her the right to her own property, and makes her submissive in all things to her husband."

Following the Civil War, successive stages of immigration fed the fires of growing industrialization in the U.S. Here too the government's marriage policies were aimed at social control. Chinese immigrants on the West Coast, who first came in the gold rush, were in demand for mining and railroad-building, but when the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, an explosion of anti-Chinese racism was unleashed. The first federal step to restrict immigration, the Page Act of 1875, was aimed at Asian women, who were supposedly all prostitutes, and required "the U.S. consul to make sure that any immigrant debarking from an Asian country was not under contract for ‘lewd and immoral purposes'." By 1913 eight states had laws against whites marrying Japanese or Chinese people.

"Free Love" Utopias and Polygamy

In the stormy years leading up to the great social explosion that was the American Civil War, the last progressive gasp of the bourgeoisie (like the 1848 Revolutions in Europe) in North America, many experimental utopian socialist alternatives to monogamous marriage flowered. There were many "free love" communities established in the U.S., inspired by such utopian visionaries as Robert Owen, Claude Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, whose profound insight that the status of women is the decisive indicator of social progress inspired further Marxist theory on the subject. The New York Oneida community, founded in 1849 with a pamphlet called Slavery and Marriage: A Dialogue, did away with the exclusive pairing of couples, though within a rather formal structure. These groups, though ridiculed and condemned, were not by and large prosecuted before the Civil War, but afterward, when in the name of "consolidating" the nation, a crackdown on most forms of "social deviation" began.

One interesting—and still contemporary—group stands out in all this: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, one of whose founding tenets is the right of men to polygamy, or multiple marriage to many women at once. Right-wingers today throw up their hands in horror at gay marriage, breathlessly bemoaning that polygamy will be next. Well, guess what, it's already here, and has been for over a hundred years, out in Utah and other Western states, where an estimated 30,000 old-style Mormons still practice the sect's early preaching, though the "official" church formally renounced it a long time ago. We believe the Mormons have the right to be left alone, to practice their religion and live their private lives however they see fit. Our position for the right of gay marriage, like the right of Mormons to practice polygamy, stems from our opposition to government interference with the rights of individuals to effect whatever consensual arrangements they wish. We pointed out that American Mormons, including the women, essentially freely choose their practice, unlike in countries without bourgeois revolutions, where women are still little more than property of their patriarchal masters and where polygamous social systems must be relentlessly opposed. As we wrote in "Free Tom Green! Mormon Polygamists: Leave Them Alone!" (WV No. 764, 14 September 2001), defending a man convicted of felony bigamy charges:

"The family structure—whether monogamous or polygamous—necessarily oppresses women. However, not everybody understands the source of their oppression, and people do all sorts of things that are undoubtedly bad for them that the state still has no business throwing them in prison for. As Marxists we understand that the family serves a real social purpose and cannot simply be ‘abolished,' even in a workers state, but must be replaced with alternate social institutions."

Women's Liberation, Individual Freedoms and the Fight for Socialism

So, as radical columnist Alexander Cockburn put it, "Why rejoice when state and church extend their grip, which is what marriage is all about" ("Sidestep on Freedom's Path," CounterPunch, 20/21 March). Cockburn quotes early ACT UP activist Jim Eigo on the question: "Why are current mainstream gay organizations working to strike a bargain with straight society that will make some queers less equal than others?... Marriage has no more place in efforts to achieve equality than slavery or the divine right of kings. At this juncture in history, wouldn't it make more sense for us to try to figure out how to relieve heterosexuals of the outdated shackles of matrimony?"

It certainly would. And it is the modern Marxist movement which has figured out how to break those shackles, through abolishing the system of private property in the means of production, thus abolishing the need for the bourgeois family structure to pass on such private wealth. As Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolution, wrote in response to the magazine Liberty (14 January 1933) which asked, "Is Bolshevism deliberately destroying the family?":

"If one understands by ‘family' a compulsory union based on the marriage contract, the blessing of the church, property rights, and the single passport, then Bolshevism has destroyed this policed family from the roots up.

"If one understands by ‘family' the unbounded domination of parents over children, and absence of legal rights for the wife, then Bolshevism has, unfortunately, not yet completely destroyed this carryover of society's old barbarism.

"If one understands by ‘family' ideal monogamy—not in the legal but in the actual sense—then the Bolsheviks could not destroy what never was nor is on earth, barring fortunate exceptions."

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for "Communism and homosexuality".

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Summer 1988 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.

In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Defense of democratic rights for homosexuals is part of the historic tradition of Marxism. In the 1860s, the prominent lawyer J.B. von Schweitzer was tried, found guilty and disbarred for homosexual activities in Mannheim, Germany. The socialist pioneer Ferdinand Lassalle aided von Schweitzer, encouraging him to join Lassalle's Universal German Workingmen's Association in 1863. After Lassalle's death, von Schweitzer was elected the head of the group, one of the organizations that merged to form the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD itself waged a long struggle in the late 19th century against Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which made homosexual acts (for males) a crime. August Bebel and other SPD members in the Reichstag attacked the law, while the SPD's party paper Vorwarts reported on the struggle against state persecution of homosexuals.

In 1895 one of the most infamous anti-homosexual outbursts of the period targeted Oscar Wilde, one of the leading literary lights of England (where homosexuality had been punishable by death until 1861). Wilde had some socialist views of his own: his essay, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," was smuggled into Russia by young radicals. When the Marquess of Queensberry called him a sodomist, Wilde sued for libel. Queensberry had Wilde successfully prosecuted and sent to prison for being involved with Queensberry's son. The Second International took up Wilde's defense. In the most prestigious publication of the German Social Democracy, "Die Neue Zeit", Eduard Bernstein, later known as a revisionist but then speaking as a very decent Marxist, argued that there was nothing sick about homosexuality, that Wilde had committed no crime, that every socialist should defend him and that the people who put him on trial were the criminals.

Upon coming to power in 1917 in Russia, the Bolshevik Party began immediately to undercut the old bourgeois prejudices and social institutions responsible for the oppression of both women and homosexuals— centrally the institution of the family. They sought to create social alternatives to relieve the crushing burden of women's drudgery in the family, and abolished all legal impediments to women's equality, while also abolishing all laws against homosexual acts. Stalin's successful political counterrevolution rehabilitated the reactionary ideology of bourgeois society, glorifying the family unit. In 1934 a law making homosexual acts punishable by imprisonment was introduced, and mass arrests of homosexuals took place. While defending the socialized property forms of the USSR against capitalist attack, we Trotskyists fight for political revolution in the USSR to restore the liberating program and goals of the early Bolsheviks, including getting the state out of private sexual life. As Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, pointed out in "The Sexual Revolution in Russia," published in the USSR in 1923:
"Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle:

'It declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters so long as nobody isinjured and no one's interests are encroached upon

"Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called 'natural' intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters." [emphasis in original]

—quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement 1864-1935

Friday, June 26, 2015

*On The Anniversary Of Stonewall 1969- Remember The Other “Milk” Film- “The Times Of Harvey Milk”

Click On To Link To Guest Commentator Amy Rath's, Editor Of The Women And Revolution Pages Of The Working Class Newspaper Workers Vanguard, Review Of Milk in 2009.

The Other Milk Film- The Times Of Harvey Milk

Originally reviewed in 2009 on the 25th Anniversary of “The Times Of Harvey Milk” documentary.

DVD Review

The Times Of Harvey Milk, Harvey, George Moscone and others, 1984

In the recent hoopla over the commercial film “Milk”, about the political rise and assassination (along with the Mayor, George Moscone) of the first acknowledged openly gay politician, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and the Oscar-worthy performance by actor Sean Penn this little film documentary has been overshadowed. This is unfortunate on two counts. First, this film won, on its own merits, an Oscar, as well, for the Best Documentary of 1984. Secondly, for those with a political perspective, especially those with a leftist perspective, this documentary is a more satisfying and instructive film about the limitations of electoral politics as a vehicle for the advancement of any oppressed sector of society.

Below the headline for this review I have placed a link to a 2009 review of “Milk” by Amy Rath, editor of the Women and revolution pages of the working class newspaper “Workers Vanguard”. The points made there about the limitations of sectoral politics by segments of the oppressed are close to my own views and therefore I will merely make a few comments here about some other points of interest in the film.

This documentary is driven by footage of the events that led up to Harvey Milk’s political victory, his term of office, short as it was, the events surrounding the trial of his murderer, fellow Supervisor Dan White. And the outrage, justifiably so, of the gay community and others, over the jury verdict in the case (manslaughter). As is the nature of such efforts there are the inevitable “talking heads” who give their take on Milk, the meaning of his political life, some personal observations and comments by those who were influenced by, or worked politically with, Milk.

Two of the commentators stick out. One, a lesbian professor from San Francisco State (I think that is the right school) gives an overview of what the Milk campaign meant for the gay community and the struggle for political power in one city. The other, an old time local labor leader (important in a big labor town, at least at that time), who, seemingly kicking and screaming, came to admire Harvey Milk. One should pay careful attention to his comments even a quarter of a century later as, despite some real gains made by the gay and lesbian rights movement, there is nevertheless still a ”culture gap” that he expressed very well about his attitude toward gays before working with Milk and that is not uncommon, if politically incorrect, in many neighborhoods today.

Twenty five years after the release of this film how does the legacy of Harvey Milk’s work stand up? I don’t mean the limitations of the parliamentary (and legal) road to social reform. That is covered in the Rath article on “Milk”. I have also dealt with the question in other contexts around the women’s liberation struggle, the black liberation struggle and other questions of strategic importance to the struggle for a more just society. Rather I want to finish here with a little comment about Harvey Milk, the gay man. From this documentary it is clear that he was very political, very committed to the struggle for gays rights, not afraid, as in the case of Proposition 6 (the 1978 efforts by some right-wingers to exclude homosexuals from the public teaching profession), to tackle the yahoos and had a certain charisma. In short, all the attributes of any politico (at least a potentially successful one). But that is neither here nor there. What I think Milk’s short political life ultimately means was caught in the speech included in the film that he made after that Proposition 6 defeat where he called on all gays and lesbians to “come out of the closet" (a seemingly quaint term now but very advanced then) and fight the yahoos wherever they are and wherever you are. That, my friends, despite my differences of political strategy with the late Harvey Milk is very good advise indeed.