We live in a country, that up until recently, considered LGBT lifestyles, identity and relationships unacceptable and actively persecuted those who didn’t conform to heteronormative standards. The fight for equality and same-sex recognition has been drawn out across the decades, with many social rights groups campaigning for changes in the law and in society’s attitude towards LGBT people. Despite progress, there are still challenges facing the LGBT community that cannot be overcome under the current Capitalist system.
It is relatively easy to view the modern achievements of the LGBT movement as victories – to an extent they are. Gay couples can marry, adopt children and live on relatively the same terms with similar rights to heterosexual couples. However, it should not be forgotten that these milestones were reached under capitalism and only after countless protests, tireless lobbying and campaigning. Millions across the globe have suffered humiliation, societal exclusion and even death in the fight for their rights, a fight that continues today.
In the early Twentieth Century, decades before capitalist governments relented and consented to ‘equal’ rights, the fight was swamped with socialist and radical-left groups who campaigned for LGBT liberation. Notable among these were early anarchist and humanist theorists, such as Walt Whitman, Emma Goldman, Adolf Brand, Edward Carpenter and Voltairine de Cleyre, who encouraged the acceptance of ‘third sex’ lifestyles through their writing. In addition, newly-formed Communist parties (such as those in Poland and Germany) actively sought to end the conservative domination over sexuality that was enforced brutally by the ruling class. The Soviet Union in 1922 decriminalised homosexuality, along with new legislation on abortion and forced marriage, which was revolutionary at the time. Meanwhile, across parts of Europe the circulation of ‘homosexual propaganda’ was still a serious crime with lengthy prison sentences. To campaign for gay rights during this period was dangerous and carried serious risks.
In the Wiemar republic, the Communist Party of Germany joined with the Social Democratic Party to campaign for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in private, as well as accepting delegates from around the world to visit the pioneering Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. The Soviet Union was one such country to send research delegates. Despite appearances, this new-found progress stalled during the 1930’s, due to the rise of nationalism across the west. Nazi Germany clamped down on ‘sexual immorality’ and destroyed the work of the Sexualwissenschaft, using confiscated lists to deport homosexuals to concentration camps. LGBT people across Europe were left in limbo, as their enlightened lives darkened with the threat of Fascism. Even in the USSR, homosexuality was recriminalised in 1933.
These fluctuations of policy and intolerance continued after World War Two and up until the late 1960’s, evidently showing the inability of the governments at the time to engage in constructive debates regarding sexual identity, gender and relationships – regardless of political ideology. Italian, German and Spanish Fascism, and even the socialist USSR, demanded a rigid form of family structure that encouraged traditional gender roles, leaving no room for those who didn’t conform to self-identify to live freely. The eventual rise of the Peace movement in the late 1960’s did much for the advancement of social rights – it wasn’t long until LGBT movements exploded into the consciousness of western society.
Looking back to Engels’ and Marx’s original Communist theory, we must accept that divisions amongst the working class will only stall the advancement of true Communism. Peace movements and radical gay groups achieved their goals through united solidarity and cohesive action. In The Communist Manifesto Marx states that “The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.” To put it simply, the liberation of LGBT people, alongside other subjugated minorities who face discrimination and persecution, inherently need Socialism.
But why Socialism? it goes without saying that same-sex attraction and relationships are widespread across all levels of society, so the answer as to why the liberation of LGBT people is a working-class issue corresponds to the historical role the working class play in our world. We are ruled by an elite who have demanded obedience from the onset, which entails submitting to the norms of capitalism. This means living in a nuclear family and fulfilling traditional gender roles, two concepts that conflict with LGBT culture and identity. They won’t recognise equality unless it is on their terms, so revolution is needed to achieve liberation.
Communism can only be achieved through revolution; revolution can only be achieved through mass-movement political action. With working class people making up the backbone of society’s workforce, it is this class that must unite together to overthrow the shackles of the capitalist state.
In his book What Is To Be Done?, Lenin taught “This struggle must be organised, according to “all the rules of the art”, by people who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activity.” In modern society, the diversity of the working class and each person’s unique experience of their societal role can benefit the mass movement, where there is a part for all of us to play. LGBT people, as an discriminated against minority under capitalism, therefore have a responsibility to engage in revolutionary activity that aids the cause of their liberation as well as that of the wider working class, broadening the mass movement.
Capitalism enforces a ‘divide and conquer’ culture within our society that aims to break up the working class, to prevent a mass-movement from challenging it’s dominance. This can be seen in the way the government and monopolies scapegoat minorities, blame problems on marginalised groups and create competition in workplaces through wage inequality. Creating infighting amongst the working class ensures capitalism continues to succeed. To overcome this, all people who find themselves exploited and discriminated against by the system must unite in solidarity to bind the movement together – rather than attack each other, we attack the forces that harm us collectively. The LGBT community are therefore instrumental in this struggle.
Examples of this solidarity can be seen throughout history, from the International Brigades who fought Franco’s forces on the battlefields of Spain, to the striking miner’s of 1984/5 who resisted Thatcher’s conservatism. It was during this strike that Mark Ashton, a gay man and General Secretary of the YCL, formed and organised the campaign group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) with other radical queers. By 1985, they had raised a total of £22,500 to support striking miner’s families, which will always remain an inspiring example of solidarity between two marginalised groups of people. Mark was well aware that class struggle couldn’t succeed without working-class solidarity. The needs of all can only be met when the mass-movement succeeds in its mission.
Ultimately, it is this solidarity that will liberate LGBT people as we overcome the confines and outdated structures of capitalist conservatism. In the UK, we must work to overcome the assimilation of queer culture into the mainstream, which has hindered the advancement of gender identity and sexual questions.
Many battles have been won – but the war has yet to end. We are living in uncertain times, where nationalistic attitudes and discrimination are once again prevalent in society. In particular, transphobia and transgender discrimination must be fought against – so that every Trans person can live freely with the best quality of life.
As we navigate the modern world, the forces that attack LGBT liberation will inevitably evolve to ensure we, the LGBT community, never find true emancipation. Only with a united mass-movement can we stop this and unlock the doors of liberty for everyone, gay and straight.