Sexual freedom is impossible under capitalism
We are publishing here an article written by one of our very close contacts in collaboration with ICC militants. We want to salute the comrade’s willingness to contribute to the ongoing discussions and clarification of one of the burning social issues of the time—gay “rights”-- from a working class perspective. We also want to express our appreciation for the focus the comrade chose to give in writing this article. We think it is refreshing to approach the issue from the angle of human emotions. We also agree with the comrade’s political understanding and argumentation. We invite all our close contacts to work in collaboration with ICC militants to write about issues of concern for the clarification and emancipation of working class thought.
The “debate” over whether gay and lesbian people should enjoy the “right” to legally marry and draw from such legal recognition all the financial benefits granted to heterosexual married couples –survivor’s benefits among the most hotly contested— has long been one of those hot button issues the ruling class periodically pulls out of its hat, most notably around election time. In this article we would like to highlight the hypocrisy of the ruling class left, center, and right in taking up the issue from either a “humanistic” point of view—the left’s and center’s—or a moralistic/religious standpoint on the right. The Obama administration likes to show itself as “liberal” and “progressive,” hence its call to reverse the anti-gay marriage laws passed at the state level (most recently by referendum in North Carolina), without, however, attempting to make gay marriage a constitutional “right.” The right needs to satisfy the fears and quell the insecurities of its particularly conservative electoral base, hence the Republican Party to-be-nominee Mitt Romney’s anti-gay marriage stance. The whole “debate” is really a ploy by the Obama administration to appeal to the youth and “independent-minded,” besides the gay electorate itself, and push Romney to discredit himself with the Evangelists if he does not clearly and forcefully come against gay marriage. Romney’s further move to the right risks further alienating the undecided and independent sector of the electorate. It is clear that this legalistic posturing is completely hypocritical. It aims at utilizing a situation which is certainly experienced as dramatic and humiliating by gay and lesbian people by fueling divisions, animosity, and further misunderstandings for the purpose of political gains. Further, the at times vehement opposition to gay marriage expressed by the rights should not confuse us as to the fact that the legalization of an aspect of personal life would do nothing to challenge the established system of capitalist exploitation.
Today, if you turned on the television set and surfed over to any mainstream bourgeois news channel, chances are headlines about the “debate over gay rights” might assault the screen. It is interesting how the bourgeois media is insistent on highlighting our personal human differences, in showing us where we disagree the most as people. But the bourgeoisie and their mouthpieces in the press are highly hypocritical. Especially when “partisanship” is so frowned upon in the current political climate. Now, certain factions of the ruling class claim to support gay marriage. Even further, they claim to do so out of a sense of deeper humanism, often referring to the gay rights struggle as a struggle for “equality” or “civil rights.”
It is at this point we have to ask: “equality” in the name of what? And for which people in society? Is “marriage equality” even an appropriate working class demand? Is sexual freedom even possible under capitalism? As workers, we have to say the answer to both of those questions is negative. Building a world free of homophobia and heterosexism, where each individual is viewed and treated as a human being, rather than a category, is impossible under capitalism.
For some time now, elements of the bourgeois political class have advocated the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Often times their arguments are coded in language that appeals to workers. They say that legalizing same-sex marriage would improve the quality of life for gay and queer workers, as they would gain access to insurance benefits, divorce and property rights, etc. But under capitalism, human relations are reduced to a matter of exchange. Emotions are nothing but mere commodities and finances to the bourgeoisie. So we can see the economic need of legalizing same-sex marriage, but what about the concept of marriage itself within capitalism?
Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto that, “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” They later continued, “The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations...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.”
So according to Marx and Engels' definition of marriage under capitalism, we can begin to understand that “equal marriage rights” is a term which only applies to those who can afford the benefits of marriage. Rights which only apply to the propertied classes, the people who can even afford to legally marry in the first place. Marriage is fundamentally about property rights and inheritance. It has historically defined which people the ruling class deemed acceptable to own property, and even which people could be owned themselves! Originally of course, marriage meant the possession of the wife and her property by the husband. In the eyes of the bourgeoisie marriage is not at all about mutual respect and love—it's about possession, ownership, and property rights.
But why do we need a ruling class to tell us what marriage is and who we can and cannot marry? As we previously said in Internationalism #130 and in other places in the ICC press, a communist society would instead “be a society beyond the family in which human relationships will be regulated by mutual love and respect and not the state sanction of law.”
The bourgeois democratic state and its agents never pose the questions surrounding gay rights in terms of human need. What are the needs of gay and lesbian folks? Or even the basic needs of human beings in general? There is no question that the repression of the gay and queer community is real. We see homophobia, heterosexism, and patriarchy manifested everywhere in capitalism; anyone saying otherwise is simply in denial. The bullying of gay and queer youth for example has recently been referred to as an “epidemic” in the bourgeois media. Many of these traumatizing events where gay and queer people are bullied lead to depression, and in some cases even suicide.
But does the bourgeoisie focus on solving these issues? What about parliamentary legislation? Do any of the bills and amendments touch on any of these social issues? No! The debate is almost always framed in the context of religion, or moralism. Especially in the mainstream media, especially in the rhetoric of the ruling class. For all the vaunted talks—all the legalistic gibberish—about “human rights,” receiving the capitalist state’s approval and recognition under the guise of the law can do nothing to extirpate centuries long religious and moralistic bigotry. Religious people are “blamed” for their backward attitude, which further contributes to the polarizing, witch hunt-like atmosphere. In situations like these, legalizing same-sex marriage only helps portray the capitalist state as a “just” and “beneficent” entity.
If there is even a grain of sincerity in the ruling class' support of same-sex marriage, it comes from their need to distract workers and immerse them in the circus of electoral politics and legalism. Of course it is true that growing support of sexual freedom is part of humanity developing a deeper scientific understanding, and a greater sense of general human solidarity. But the ruling class cares nothing about these things, and why should they? If you have money your rights are never at risk, or up for debate. “Marriage equality” does not equal a good relationship or economic equality; it equals further class domination from the bourgeoisie.
Social struggles which only partially address the fundamental problems of capitalism, while expressing real social problems that exist in our society, distract the working class from revolutionary tasks and discussions. We have discussed already how the bourgeoisie can become fixated on the debate over gay rights, almost to the point of obsession. But this fixation happens among so-called “revolutionaries” as well.
Many people use language exclusively directed at workers in order to “organize” them around what is in essence a cross-class, broad social issue. The argument that gay rights will bring us “closer to full equality” is completely irrelevant, when it is a basic tenet of communists that full equality is impossible under capitalism. Why as revolutionaries should we be fighting to get “closer” to an egalitarian society? We need to stand against all of capitalisms injustices at once! Many of these same “revolutionaries” would call the legal and electoral decisions in favor of gay marriage rights “victories” for the workers. But these victories do nothing but bolster the appeal of bourgeois civil society.
The politics of legalism and democratism have nothing to offer the working class. True human emancipation can only come from working class revolution. Workers should always support gay and queer people themselves, especially in a society where they are alienated and ridiculed in such terrible ways. But we have to remain careful of the bourgeois campaigns which surround these debates. Often times they distract and mislead us from our ultimate goal—ending all forms of repression and exploitation for everyone on earth.