Since the very beginning of class society, LGBT+ people have endured much. Social scorn, verbal abuse, physical abuse, economic exploitation, and even executions or lynchings have befallen LGBT+ people for centuries, but it is this very history of oppression that provides the catalyst for a radical movement for LGBT+ liberation. Regarding the lesbian and gay members of the LGBT+ community, Huey P. Newton once said:
“Nothing gives us the right to say that a homosexual cannot also be a revolutionary. And no doubt it is only because of prejudice that I say: even a homosexual can be a revolutionary. On the contrary. it is more likely that a homosexual will be among the most revolutionary of revolutionaries.”
This statement could not be more correct. Lesbian and gay people, as well as bisexual people, trans people, and all other marginalized peoples belonging to the LGBT+ community have an exceptional amount of revolutionary potential which is the direct result of the persecution they have historically faced. All Marxist-Leninist(-Maoists), whether members of the LGBT+ community or not, should understand this, and by extension, understand that the fight against the persecution of LGBT+ people is a significant and integral part of the struggle for communism, a society free from oppression.
In light of the recent attempts at the legal erasure of trans people, intersex people, and other non cis people by the capitalist state, it has become especially important to clarify the nature of the relationship between the communist struggle and the struggle for LGBT+ freedom through an explanation of the historical unity of both struggles, the consequences of disunity between both struggles, and the practical ways communists today are fighting to ensure the complete liberation of LGBT+ people.
The Historical Unity Between the Struggle for Communism and the Struggle for LGBT+ Freedom
Communists have always spearheaded the struggle for LGBT+ liberation. This is a fact that should be recognized both by Marxist-Leninist(-Maoists) that don’t understand the relationship between the battle against the oppression of LGBT+ people and the battle for communism, and a fact that should be recognized by those who fight for LGBT+ freedom but also lack an understanding of the aforementioned relationship.
Soviet law prior to 1934 represented an early example of the efforts made by communists to make the end of the oppression of LGBT+ people a reality. In his book, The Sexual Revolution , Wilhelm Reich writes the following about the legalization of homosexuality in the Soviet Union:
“It was necessary, it was said, to take down the walls that separated homosexuals from the rest of society. This achievement of the Soviet government gave the sex-political movement in Western Europe and America a great impetus.”
Although this was solely a stride towards the liberation of lesbian and gay people, and one that was reversed at that, it is still an example of an early victory for LGBT+ people won through socialist revolution. The special significance of this achievement becomes more easily visible when one considers that almost sixty years after the October Revolution, there was still direct legal persecution of LGBT+ people in capitalist countries such as France, which is explained by French philosopher Guy Hocquenghem in this quote from his book, Homosexual Desire :
“We generally believe that there is simply no legal repression of homosexuality, that the private life of each individual is his own responsibility. But legal repression exists, and on a vast scale. For instance, the following figures were issued by the Paris prefecture of the police for the first quarter of 1972: ‘With regard to homosexuals, 492 were apprehended in the Bois de Boulogne and 18 in the Bois de Vincennes… The inspection of 39 public bars enabled us to apprehend 49 transvestites.’ No one should ignore the fact that homosexual clubs in Paris are subjected, in many cases several times a week, to police raids on various pretexts.”
While the Soviet Union was one of the first countries in Europe to end the legal repression of LGBT+ people, this radical and progressive advance was soon followed by a betrayal of the LGBT+ movement by a large section of communists, following the manifestation of the prejudiced ideology of the reactionary elements of Soviet society in Soviet law. Despite this great setback, it should be noted that some socialist states under heavy Soviet influence eventually rejected the anti-LGBT+ positions held by the Soviet Communist Party and began to engage in the struggle for LGBT+ liberation. An example of this occurred in East Germany as reflected in the following musings of one pro LGBT+ writer on German Reunification:
The aforementioned philosopher Guy Hocquenghem faced one of the consequences of the previously described regression in the communist movement when he was kicked out of the Communist Party of France for being gay, because the CPF had adopted homophobic attitudes like those that had become dominant in the USSR. However, Guy Hocquenghem’s experience is in fact additional proof of the claim that communists have always spearheaded the struggle for LGBT+ freedom. After being kicked out of the French Communist Party, he formed the Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire, an organization that engaged in a radical struggle for the freedom of LGBT+ people as well as a struggle against the anti-LGBT+ sentiments present within the rest of the communist movement. Guy Hocquenghem became most well known for being the inventor of queer theory after he published his book Homosexual Desire in which he described a clear connection between the fight for LGBT+ liberation and the class struggle central to communism as evidenced by this quote (among many others) from the book:
“Capitalist society manufactures homosexuals just as it produces proletarians, constantly defining its own limits: homosexuality is a manufactured product of the normal world.”
Thanks to radicals like Guy Hocquenghem, the unity of the LGBT+ struggle and the communist one survived the infection of many communist parties with chauvinistic ideology. One of the more recent great leaps forward in the struggle for LGBT+ liberation was the conceptualization of identity politics in the Combahee River Collective Statement which put forward political positions explained in this quote from the Statement:
“The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.”
Similar positions to the ones described above are now put forward by communist parties worldwide which indicates a return of pro-LGBT+ politics to their position of prominence in the communist movement. The prominence of identity politics in the movement for LGBT+ liberation and the origin of such politics in communist thought suggests that the claim that the fight for LGBT+ freedom is lead by communists remains true to this day.
The Consequences of Disunity Between the Two Struggles
The aforementioned infection of many communist parties worldwide with anti-LGBT+ chauvinism must be revisited here for the primary purpose of revealing the extreme consequences of the rejection by a large section of the communist movement of the significance of the fight against the persecution of LGBT+ people. First, a further explanation of the origin of such reactionary sentiments is in order.
One can understand Wilhelm Reich’s explanation for the reversal of progress toward the freedom of LGBT+ people in the Soviet Union through this quote from The Sexual Revolution:
“… conservative people, as everywhere, were still under the influence of ascetic ideologies and medieval prejudices. This class also had its representatives in the middle and higher strata of the party, so that its influence made itself gradually felt among the workers also. Gradually, two concepts of homosexuality crystallized themselves more and more:
- Homosexuality is a ‘sign of a barbaric lack of culture,’ an indecency of half-primitive Eastern peoples;
- Homosexuality is a ‘sign of a degenerate culture of the perverse bourgeoisie.’
The anti-LGBT Soviet law that appeared as a result of the aforementioned reactionary prejudices Soviet socialism failed to effectively combat, ultimately became the catalyst for the spread of anti-LGBT sentiments in communist parties around the globe. This was an unfortunate result of the domination of the Soviet Union over the majority of the global communist movement, and while (as previously explained) this did not completely destroy the bond between the LGBT+ movement and the communist one, this regression certainly had severe consequences which must be examined.
The same tyrannical model of the family based on the union between two cis partners of opposite sexes that serves as the primary tool for the oppression of LGBT+ people, simultaneously serves as a tool for maintaining capitalist authoritarianism. This is explained by Wilhelm Reich in this quote, in which he describes the function of the cisheteronormative nuclear family:
“Its cardinal function, that for which it is mostly supported and defended by conservative science and law, is that of serving as a factory for authoritarian ideologies and conservative structures. It forms the educational apparatus through which practically every individual of our society, from the moment of drawing his first breath, has to pass.”
This understanding of the relationship between the cisheteronormative nuclear family and authoritarianism is key to understanding how the regression to a policy of reinforcing such a familial standard in the USSR, a regression that was in no small part characterized by the repression of LGBT+ people, was indicative of, and perhaps a catalyst for, the authoritarian turn of the Soviet approach to building socialism. Guy Hocquenghem explains how such a conclusion can be drawn from Reich’s work in this quote:
“Wilhelm Reich described how the restoration of the law on homosexuality in the USSR corresponded with the rise of stalinism:
‘In March 1934 there appeared a law which prohibits and punishes sexual intercourse between men…. This law designated sexual intercourse between men as a social crime to be punished, in lighter cases, with imprisonment of from three to five years… Thus homosexuality was again put in the same category as other social crimes: sabotage, banditism, espionage, etc.'”
Therefore, just as Guy Hocquenghem concluded, the repression of LGBT+ people can at the very least be seen as a precursor to the errors of Soviet socialism during the leadership of Stalin. Judging from Wilhelm Reich’s assertion that the cisheteronormative family is a factory for capitalist authoritarian ideology, it seems likely that the repression of LGBT+ people in the USSR could have been one of the causes of authoritarian error in the USSR. From this understanding of events, communists must conclude that during the class struggle in the period of socialism, the liberation of LGBT+ people must be secured, and the vestige of capitalism that is the cisheteronormative family crushed, as prerequisites to a successful transition to communism.
The Communist Struggle for LGBT+ Liberation Today
As previously asserted in this essay, the fight for LGBT+ liberation has made its way back to prominence in the agendas of the communist parties and organizations worldwide. But the question remains: What does a communist struggle against the oppression of the LGBT+ community look like?
The struggle for LGBT+ liberation first manifests in the theory and/or program of communist revolutionaries. An example of this is the communist and Black nationalist Sanyika Shakur’s Marxist analysis based, theoretical explanation for his call for the intensification of the struggle for LGBT+ liberation by revolutionaries in prison, which appears in this quote from his written work, The Pathology of Patriarchy:
“In men’s prison- where as prisoners, the only women are transwomen- the concentration of the patriarchy pathology is on steroids. Even in those prisons without transwomen, as patriarchy is also homophobia and heterosexism, it finds expression in this way. Whether thru predation or hate outright, ill vibrations play out against gays or trans prisoners as, invariably, they are referred to as ‘punk,’ ‘faggots,’ ‘bitches,’ etc. The hierarchical structure of prison groups preclude any form of socialization or respect with, or towards, gay prisoners. They are treated as ‘abnormals’- as less than human. They are usually ‘neutralized with violence and ostracized.’ Groups forbid their members from aiding any such person. And even though the prisoners are placed with nationals from oppressed and colonized nations, oppression and prejudice against gays and trans prisoners goes on uninterrupted as patriarchal ‘morals’ are imitated and replicated across the board.
The pre-revolutionary period of the communist struggles is in part characterized by analysis of the oppression of LGBT+ people put forward in attempt to galvanize a radical opposition to cisheteronormativity, which was what Sanyika Shakur was attempting to do with the above statement.
One can understand what the communist struggle for LGBT+ liberation looks like in the revolutionary period from the experience of the ongoing communist revolution in the Philippines. In the communist controlled liberated areas of the Philippines, the Communist Party has strictly enforced the legal rights and tolerance of LGBT+ people. This is in accordance with the parties deceleration of an intent to fight fiercely against the persecution of LGBT+ people made in the document, On the Proletarian Relationship Between the Sexes. Perhaps one of the most moving examples of how this policy has caused progressive advancements toward the liberation of Filipino LGBT+ people, is the story found in the article Love is Love in the Communist Movement of a wedding between two lesbian guerrillas in the Maoist New People’s Army. A quote from this article reads:
“‘My parents knew about my wedding, but no one came except for some of my cousins who are in the NPA,’ she said.
Diane stroked her long curly hair as she narrated that she had been open about the LGBT community since she was in high school.
‘I was not yet sure that time about my preference, but I was very close to members of the LGBT,’ Diane said.
Everything, she said, was a process.
‘I had a same-sex relationship only inside the communist movement. And it is a process of opening up and acceptance,’ she said.”
The fight for LGBT+ liberation is a long and complex one, and like all aspects of the class struggle, it does not cease with the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In fact, because of the previously explained capitalist and authoritarian nature of cisheteronormativity, and the danger it poses to the transition to communism as a whole, the struggle for LGBT+ freedom is especially important in the period of socialism.
The characteristics of the struggle for the freedom of LGBT+ people in the period of socialism can be observed in socialist Cuba, a nation in which that struggle is currently underway. The article titled, Looking at Cuba’s LGBTQ Revolution Through an Objective Lens, explains that after Cuba defied Soviet influence and took up the fight for the freedom of LGBT+ people in 1979, Cuban socialism has generated significant advancements in the LGBT+ struggle. Two of such advancements are described in this quote from the article:
“In 2008, the Cuban government began offering free gender-reassignment surgery to transgender Cubans. Every May an annual “March against Homophobia” is held in Havana and LGBTQ activists visit rural areas to promote diversity.”
It must be understood that socialism is a process, a period of change in which capitalism is dismantled, and communism develops. All of the aspects of the class struggle are ongoing under socialism, including the struggle for LGBT+ liberation. The socialist revolution in Cuba reflects this fact by facilitating deeper and deeper attacks on cisheteronormativity not just on an economic level, but also on an ideological one, with both parts of the struggle constituting parts of a long term, protracted war against the oppression of the LGBT+ community. An example of such an attack is the battle that is being fought by the socialist state against transphobia and homophobia in Cuban schools, as one can observe in this quote from the article: Cuba Says ‘No’ to Transphobia and Homophobia:
“The 10th edition of the Cuban Assembly Against Homophobia and Transphobia event began Wednesday, Cuba Debate reported.
The event, which will continue until May 20, began with a presentation of an educational campaign titled ‘Me Included.’ This year’s theme focuses on homophobic and/or transphobic bullying at schools.
‘Why did we choose the school? Precisely because it is one of the most important institutions in society,’ explained Mariela Castro Espín, director of the National Center for Sexual Education, CENESEX.”
The fight against the oppression of LGBT+ people and the struggle for communism are the same. LGBT+ people will never be completely free until capitalism is dismantled, and communism will never be achieved until the oppression of LGBT+ people has been dismantled. Therefore the war against cisheteronormativity must be waged by communists on all fronts. It must be waged against the mistreatment of transwomen in prison, against the verbal abuse of gay people in schools, against the infringement upon the rights of LGBT+ people in the law, against the high prices preventing trans people from getting the surgeries they need, against the murder and imprisonment of LGBT+ people, and on all other fronts in which cisheteronormativity creates an atmosphere of hatred, intolerance, and violence towards the LGBT+ community. LGBT+ people have suffered under class society long enough. Now in the era of the fight for a classless society that is free from cisheteronormative, anti-LGBT+ prejudice, LGBT+ people, indignant and red, must stand up, fight back, and ultimately:
SMASH ANTI-LGBT+ CHAUVINISM WITH THE HAMMER OF COMMUNISM