From the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
On the Position on Homosexuality
in the New Draft Programme (1)
As one important component of the process we have undertaken to formulate a new Draft Programme, our Party has taken up a critical examination of our previously held line on homosexuality. This process has included investigation, discussion and wrangling in our own ranks and among the masses--particularly revolutionary-minded youth, both "straight" and "gay," as well as long term progressive activists who are also homosexuals--and re-examining and reflecting on past comments and criticisms of the position in our previous Programme and of the 1988 Revolution magazine article, "On the Question of Homosexuality and the Emancipation of Women." We have also embarked upon a fairly comprehensive survey of key contemporary studies (see bibliography) and a review of some of the key scholarship on homosexuality, which has also assisted us, informing the new Draft Programme's position as well as this accompanying position paper. This theoretical review is still in progress and is actually part of an ongoing and longer term effort to better understand the actual material underpinnings of all forms of expression of human sexuality as well as their varied impacts on the lives of individuals and on the organization of society more broadly.
The following sections of our new Draft Programme set forth our new basic political position on the question of homosexuality:
As for intimate relations, socialist society will promote values of, and create the conditions for, personal, family, and sexual relations based on mutual love, respect, and equality.
The revolutionary proletariat is staunchly opposed to the attacks on homosexuality by reactionary forces such as religious fundamentalists, and to all physical assaults on, discrimination against, and government repression of homosexuals, which is so widespread and vicious in the U.S. today. In the new society, discrimination against homosexuals will be outlawed and struggled against in every sphere of society, including personal and family relations. (p. 22)
* * * * * *
Sexual and intimate relations between men and women in bourgeois society are largely reflective of and dominated by the ideology of male supremacy and "male right"; they exist within and are influenced by the overall framework of social relations in which the oppression of women is an integral and fundamental part. All this is something that the proletariat will be mobilizing the masses to radically transform in the process of uprooting the oppression of women and all oppression and exploitation. In the realm of intimate relations, socialist society will encourage people to strive for standards that are consistent with and contribute to uprooting the oppression of women.
Under socialism people will not be stigmatized because they are homosexuals or because of their sexual orientation. Discrimination will not be tolerated, and the repression and violence against homosexuals that has been so prevalent in capitalist society will be firmly opposed and dealt with.
At the same time, it is important to grasp that same sex relations do not escape and do not exist outside of the prevailing family and sexual relations and the corresponding ideology of male supremacy that oppress women in this society. In many ways the outlook that characterizes male gay culture in bourgeois society is not a departure from--and in fact there are elements in which it is a concentration of--male right. Lesbianism is in many ways a response to the oppression of women in class society, but in and of itself it is not a fundamental solution to this oppression.
The outlook that one partner in an intimate relationship must be devalued, dominated, abused, or owned is a reflection of the oppression of women in society; and forms of male right, in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, will be targets of criticism and transformation. (From the appendix "The Proletarian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women," p. 106 )
There are also other parts of the Draft Programme which, while more indirect, are very relevant to our position, and we will highlight some of this as we continue here. We do strongly recommend to all those reading this paper to also take up and study the entire Draft Programme, including its appendixes. And we encourage all who are serious about ending oppression and exploitation in the world to actively take part in the process to finalize our new Programme overall.(2)
This position in our new Draft Programme is a departure from our past position. While our party has always been firmly opposed to the discrimination and attacks leveled against homosexuals and we welcomed and encouraged the participation of homosexuals in the revolutionary struggle, we did hold the position that both male and female homosexuality amounted to a conscious ideological statement and that male homosexuality in particular, in and of itself, represented a concentrated expression of misogyny and was something which therefore stood as an obstacle to the emancipation of women and in general to the socialist transformation of society. And our view was that lesbianism, while an understandable response to the oppression and subjugation of women, was, at best, an expression of political reformism and ultimately ideological accommodation to the prevailing oppressive relations. Accordingly, while we were clear that in socialist society there should not be discrimination against homosexuals nor should there be attempts to use legal means and in general the power of the state to coerce people to no longer be involved in homosexual relationships, we did see it as a political and ideological objective of the socialist revolution to transform people's outlook and practice such that homosexuality would ultimately cease to exist (in effect, would "wither away") in socialist society, though we did not preclude its reemergence under communism.
As a result of our further investigating this question, and as part of that taking a new look at criticisms that have been raised of our past position, we have come to a different understanding. Not only do we continue to be staunchly opposed to discrimination, persecution, and physical assaults on homosexuals, but we also do not see a homosexual orientation or the practice of homosexuality per se as something that constitutes an impediment to the emancipation of women and the abolition of all oppressive and exploitative relations.(3)
Rather, our view is that the pivotal question and goal, with regard to all intimate and sexual relations, heterosexual as well as homosexual, is to radically transform them in general, in line with and to serve the emancipation of women and the abolition of all exploitative and oppressive relations.
The following is aimed at both explaining and expanding on the thinking behind our current position and to present a beginning critical assessment of our past position.
On Human Sexuality in General, and Homosexuality in Particular
The practice of human sexuality is and always has been extremely varied and complex.
People engage in sex in many different ways and for many different reasons. One of the main reasons is, of course, that sex (at least when it is freely engaged in) feels good! In addition to pleasurable sensations, there are of course many other reasons that human beings engage in sex. For instance: to produce children; to establish and define families; to worship gods or with the idea of tapping into "supernatural powers" (many ancient peoples performed assorted sex acts as part of initiations and religious rituals); to strengthen broader social bonds; or, conversely, to manipulate or disrupt broader social bonds; to use sex as a commodity; to demonstrate male supremacy and exercise power (for example, through pornography, and most especially through rape) to degrade, diminish, demoralize and dominate individuals (usually women, and sometimes men), whole peoples (when systematic rape is used as a weapon of war), and more generally the entire female half of humanity; or, in sharp contrast to this, to express love and strengthen bonds of intimacy and affection between partners.
The point here is that "having sex" (in whatever form) is not "inherently" good or bad, divorced from the social context in which it takes place. Whether a particular sexual practice ultimately ends up having more positive or negative effects on the well-being of the individuals involved (and what kind of broader impact it may have on the society in which they live) has a lot to do with the character of that sexual practice in relation to a particular social context. In fact, societal standards which define what sexual practices are considered more positive or negative (or perhaps considered to have little broader social significance) are not always the same: these standards tend to change along with changes in the nature of society and how a society is organized and configured (including who runs it, on what basis, with what objectives) and along with changes in the broader social visions, aspirations and outlooks of opposite and contending social forces.
So the ways people engage in sexual activity is not just something that individuals "do" in some kind of private isolation. Sexual activity is after all a social practice. Like all other human social practices, what people do, and why, is bound to be influenced by what's going on in the society around them. And in turn, what people do, and why, can also have important effects and influences back on that broader society.
This is worth thinking about (in relation to all social practices, including all the different expressions of sexuality), because in countries like the U.S. today it is often "fashionable" to focus very one-sidedly on individuals and their individual expressions, often without giving much consideration to the social context in which this occurs and, in turn, to the broader social effects and phenomena which can arise out of the lives and activities of individuals.
We, as Maoist revolutionaries, want to liberate all of human expression and social relations from the weight of thousands of years of traditional (oppressive) morality and institutions. So when it comes to matters of sexuality, we do not approach things in the manner of a "bedroom police." We recognize the great variety and complexity of human sexual expression--including historically--and that the practice of human sexuality is not a static or unchanging thing. We also know that there is much that is not yet well understood--and there is therefore much to learn still--about the many different characteristics of human sexuality at both the individual and broader social levels. And, while there has been important experience in socialist society, which needs to be further summed up, we also understand that it is not possible for anyone to fully predict what forms sexual expression might take in socialist and then in communist society (and what the social "meanings" and significance of various practices might turn out to be in these new social contexts).
But we do think there is a basis--and that we have a responsibility--to try to sort out what kind of larger social impacts and effects different social practices among the people may be having, and to help distinguish what may be relatively socially insignificant from what may actually be objectively harmful, or objectively helpful, to the overall struggle to fundamentally transform and thoroughly revolutionize society in line with the objective interests of the revolutionary class in society, the proletariat, and with the whole of humanity.
In line with this, we would argue that all sexual practices should be "situated" and critically evaluated especially in relation to the question of the oppression of women, and the strategic need to break through and finally uproot that oppression.
This much is clear: we will never be able to thoroughly revolutionize all of society without fundamentally transforming and revolutionizing the historical relation between men and women. We live in a world today which sits at the end of a long chain of many thousands of years of systematic domination and subjugation of women by men. And despite a long and significant history of challenge and contention on this very question, the entrenched and still prevailing material reality and corresponding ideology of male supremacy and the exercise of "male right" remain alive and well in every corner of the globe. (By "male right" we mean the position of dominance of men in relation to women and the privileges and prerogatives that accompany this domination --not only in terms of intimate and sexual relations but more generally --in societies, including "modern U.S. society," in which patriarchal oppression and the subjugation of women is an integral and decisive part of the overall social relations.) It will take nothing less than the most all-around, sweeping and comprehensive revolutionary up-ending of all exploitative and oppressive relations (and their corresponding ideas) to succeed in fundamentally undercutting and finally eliminating the subjugation of women, and finally relegate it to the dustbins of history.
But we're not there yet.
And all this is very relevant for how we look at human sexual practices today. How could it not be? There is no getting away from the fact that ALL forms and expressions of human sexuality (including both heterosexual and homosexual relations) take place in that broader social context: a world in which one of the most enduring and fundamental characteristics of all human relations continues to be that women are systematically subordinated and subjugated--as women.
So this is the backdrop and context in which we all grow up and develop, the context in which we fall in love, the context in which we conduct all our intimate and sexual relations. And this backdrop and context is bound to have an impact and influence on all these relations.
While many sexual and other intimate relations can obviously bring many positive benefits to the individuals involved and to society overall, it is our view that since the emergence of private property and of class distinctions, all sexual relations have borne the stamp of the historical oppression of women, and continue today to be shot through and through with this fundamental feature of class society. They will all need to be transformed in important ways, in order to fully achieve a radical strategic breakthrough on this question.
This is what continues to make sex in the modern world such a tricky proposition! It is not easy for individuals to form positive intimate social and sexual bonds that go against the tide instead of going along with, or even mirroring, aspects of the general societal subjugation of women which characterizes bourgeois society and all societies marked by exploitative and oppressive relations. It is not easy for individuals to form bonds characterized by mutual love, respect and genuine equality, when what prevails in the society at large tends to promote and reinforce just the opposite!
Like everything else worth striving for, this requires struggle, as well as a wide-ranging vision of a radically better future; and fundamentally it requires, once again, the radical up-ending and revolutionizing of society as a whole, of all social relations.
So far everything that we have said above applies to all sexual relations and practices. This will hopefully help to provide a sense of our overall approach and the larger frame of reference in which we seek to situate any discussion of homosexuality in its own right.
Homosexuality in Societies Like the U.S.
In societies like the U.S. today, some people experiment with same-sex activity in their youth, or when members of the opposite sex are not available to them, but later end up practicing only heterosexual sex. Some people may experiment with heterosexual sex in adolescence or even spend a good part of their adult lives practicing heterosexual sex (often including marriage and children) but then at some point switch to practicing homosexual relations. Some people engage in heterosexual sex most of their lives but participate in same-sex activity when they find themselves in certain very particular situations (this is often referred to as "situational" homosexuality), for example when they are isolated and cut off from the opposite sex for long periods of time (in prisons; single-sex boarding schools; or other sexually segregated living/working situations, etc.). Some people consider themselves to be bisexuals, having attractions for and/or engaging in sexual relations with both the same and the opposite sex. And while some people seem to "mainly" practice one kind of sexuality but "occasionally" practice its opposite, there are of course many people who live their entire lives practicing exclusively heterosexual sex. And there are also smaller (but still significant) numbers of people who live their entire lives practicing exclusively homosexual sex.
To further complicate the picture, even aside from sexually segregated situations, people's concrete sexual practices can be at odds, to a greater or lesser degree, with their sense of what sexually attracts or arouses them. That is, people's sexual orientation cannot simply be reduced to their sexual practices. An obvious example is that a person could be celibate but be attracted either to the opposite or same sex. Or someone could be in a heterosexual marriage, but feel she or he is sexually attracted only or primarily to individuals of the same sex. And add to this the fact that within the categories of what are broadly defined as homosexual and heterosexual orientations are a wide array of different sexual behaviors, sexual preferences and even at times codified sexual roles.
With all this variety, it is no wonder that it can be difficult to get a precise handle on what it means to practice homosexuality, or even to speak of it as one single phenomenon. But clearly in present day U.S. society there are significant numbers of people who, when it comes to the overall issue of sexual attraction, consider their sexual orientation as homosexual.
Why do some people engage in sexual activity with people of the same sex? This is not an easy question to answer, and in fact the reasons for this are not yet fully understood and it may turn out that there are even a number of different answers to that question. We feel it is necessary to examine the issue of human sexuality on both the societal, as well as individual, levels and how these factors might interact to begin to find the answers to this question.
What Can a Look at History and Various Cultures
Tell Us About Homosexuality?
Well, for one thing we can see that the history of human sexuality is certainly very varied. The fact that some people engage in sex with members of the same sex is nothing new. The anthropological and historical record is full of examples of same-sex sexuality going way back in time to probably the earliest human societies, and in every corner of the globe. While it is likely that heterosexual sex has generally been the overall predominant form of sexuality throughout human history, same-sex activity has likely always occurred at least as a secondary form of sexual activity in all societies.
Nobody really knows the extent to which same-sex activity may have been relatively casually and routinely engaged in alongside heterosexual sex in the earliest human societies. What is known is that there have been plenty of societies where same-sex activity was a significant, influential and accepted social phenomenon, though in different ways and for different reasons. While obviously there are biological aspects of all sexual activity and a biology of sexual arousal, how people feel about sex, what emotions it evokes and what specifically might serve to sexually arouse people has likely varied greatly from culture to culture, within cultures and over the centuries.
While this is not the place to attempt a comprehensive discussion of history and anthropology, it can be helpful to briefly reflect on how diverse this history is by thinking about how varied human sexuality, and the culture surrounding it, has been across different historical epochs and cultures.
The culture, institutions, traditions and practices in relation to heterosexual sex have greatly varied and developed throughout the early history of humanity and the history of class society. Here we will mainly examine (and only very briefly!) the evolution of the very pivotal institutions of marriage and the patriarchal family, which of course does not comprehend all practices of heterosexual sex through the ages:
Much of what is known about the social organization of tribal systems that don't have strict social hierarchies and class divisions suggests that the earliest forms of human societies were almost certainly made up of small communal groups of individuals who might not have known for sure who their fathers were, but who would have traced their descent and formed networks of mutual social obligations through their mother's line (these are called matrilineal systems). Children in such settings would not have been viewed as the property of individual adults, but would likely have been cared for and raised by the whole group. And in an overall sense women in those early matrilineal societies would have had at least as much social status and influence on decision-making as the men.
But all that changed. It changed when human beings figured out how to domesticate animals and grow crop plants and then started accumulating surpluses of resources beyond what they needed for everyday survival. Now there was something to fight over and pass on to future generations besides stories and traditions! The communal system started to break down, and now it did start to matter whose children were whose, and who would inherit what from whom. And because in most places the activities of the men seem to have put them in a somewhat better position to control the first animal herds and agricultural fields, it was the men who started to control the surpluses, and on that basis they gained more power and influence on the affairs of society. And from that point on (and to this day) things were never again equal between men and women.(4)
All this got reflected in the practice of sex as well: all sorts of new rules were created in order to control how and with whom women could have sex, just so it would be real clear who the father of the children was. Women no longer had any freedom at all to express their own sexuality or to choose or refuse their sexual partners. Instead they were "traded" between their fathers and husbands in exchange for goods and services, and sometimes used to cement broader political and economic alliances. Women became essentially slaves and breeders and were often taken by force and made into spoils of war. This new patriarchal (male-run) family became the basic means through which women were controlled, children raised, and property passed on. The word "family" even comes directly from the ancient Roman term "famulus" which was a man's total collection of wives, children, servants and slaves, and he exercised the power of life and death over them all.
The forms of patriarchal families have differed between cultures and over history. Some slave and feudal societies instituted polygamy, where a man of property could have numerous official wives, and in others concubinage, where a man would have one principal (or in some cultures, "official") wife and many secondary (or "unofficial") wives, etc. In feudal societies (and to this day in large parts of the world where feudal forms remain), marriage was (and continues to be) in the main arranged. With the modern bourgeois era the idea emerged that marriage did not always have to be directly (or at least overtly) tied to preserving and extending property relations. It became socially acceptable (at least in theory!) for individuals to freely choose their marriage partners and seek to marry based on "love." By and large however, the basic structure of the family in the bourgeois era remains patriarchal (male-dominated) and heterosexual relations continue to reflect millennia of subjugation of women by men.(5)
Like heterosexuality, homosexuality has been practiced, viewed and institutionalized in different ways throughout history and between cultures, and same sex activity has sometimes been very broadly accepted and practiced in some cultures. For instance, there are tribes in Papua New Guinea in which there are ritualized sexual institutions that involve sex between young men and boys as part of male initiation rites. It is reported that people in some of these tribes believe that the only way young boys will become men is if they receive the "essence of maleness" from a man. A boy who is reaching puberty is given to a young man who mentors and uses the younger boy as a sexual outlet until it is time for the young man to marry a woman. In some tribes this practice is also coupled with economic arrangements where a biological father will send a son to the house of another man for economic compensation, and sometimes the other man's daughter will be promised or rewarded to the son as a future bride. (In some of these tribal societies these customs are also linked to beliefs that young men belong to their mothers and that young boys are women--and treated as such--until turned into men by the initiation practices described above.) (Murray 2000, pp. 28-33)
There is also the more well-known example of pederasty (6) in Classical Greek society (in particular Athens of the 5th Century B.C.), in which it seems likely that most men of at least the privileged strata regularly engaged in sex with other males, assuming either a dominant or subordinate position (as the erastes or the eromenos) in these arrangements, depending on their relative social status and age (the beardless young males were almost always subordinate sexual "recipients" until they got older). Most of the men (or in any case most of the older men) in these arrangements were also concurrently engaging in sex with women in the context of the family; but since women were considered inferior beings, it was felt that higher ideals of love, sexual pleasure and beauty could be better attained in the company of boys and young men.(7)
The historical record of same-sex sexual activity among women is scant, since the sexual history of women generally has been ignored, denied and suppressed as part of preserving and protecting patriarchal authority. For much of history, women have been considered breeders and not sexual beings and both the written record and the observations of historians and scientists with Christian (and other) biases have obscured much of the research. For example, it is estimated that only 5% of the writings of Sappho, the famous ancient Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, survived multiple attempts by Christians to destroy her works. Anthropologists studying various cultures have recorded same-sex relationships and friendships that are also sexual, as well as female initiation practices in many tribal societies in Africa and Polynesia (these seem to often be same-sex rituals to prepare a young women for marriage), as well as the existence of same-sex practices among women, especially older women who were not married and who cohabited or formed very close emotional and perhaps sexual friendships with other women.
Again the point of such different examples is not to attempt here any kind of comprehensive view of homosexuality in history and throughout diverse societies, but to give some sense of the different ways sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual, has been practiced and even institutionalized and to recognize that these practices have often had different social meaning at different times. While we gave examples above of fairly pervasive and accepted, and at times institutionalized, forms of same-sex activity, even within one society at a given time there are often different kinds of expressions of same-sex sexuality, not all of which have the same social "meaning" or effects. In every society there are social norms and customs in relation to human sexuality overall (involving the opposite sex or same sex) but these norms and customs are after all man-made institutions that are part of the superstructure of any organized society. Within these norms and alongside them there are also always people who diverge from them, and practice "marginalized" or secondary forms of sexuality (some of which are even institutionalized, like prostitution alongside marriage). The examples cited above show that there is variance (or divergence) within cultural norms as well as between different distinct cultures.
All of this suggests that any particular sexual practice really needs to be understood in the context of its own time and particular society, that our own ideas of what is natural and necessary is largely a product of our own history, time and place. This is a very important methodological point for looking at this whole question of human sexuality. It is objectively very difficult to look back at previous periods or social practices in other epochs and not impose the biases, values and even feelings that we have as products of our own time and culture, and this is something that social science and science generally have to contend with. On the other hand, looking at what we know of other times and places as a product of historical research, archeology and anthropology can help people in our own time be more objective about human sexuality and sexual practices today, which tend to be generally regarded as a "subjective" issue.
(A more comprehensive historical and cross-cultural examination of the social organization of sexuality and in particular its relationship to the woman question is part of our ongoing examination and theoretical work around this question. While we are addressing the question here at the level of how humans have developed social constructs in relation to sex generally, we will return to the question of class society and the impact of the patriarchal family later in this paper.)
Examining sexuality at the societal level, we can see that every society that has ever existed (certainly since the advent of classes but quite possibly even before) has applied some broader societal norms, needs and objectives to human sexual activity (including homosexuality). Societies have created institutions of various kinds to structure and organize sexual activity. Different types of societies will, among other things, either proscribe--condemn and/or outlaw--or encourage different types of sexual practices and relations, and in effect direct and use different forms of human sexuality to accomplish broader societal objectives. It is in relation to these broader societal needs and objectives--and corresponding "sexual culture"--that individual sexual practices unfold. These broader societal objectives are likely reflected in various ways--not only in the actual sexual practices of an individual, but also in the individual's felt needs and even perceived desires. But these different levels (societal, individual sexual practices, and an individual's felt needs and perceived desires), while reacting on and influencing each other, are not one and the same thing.
Underlying Material Bases of Sexual Orientation in Human Beings
Why some individuals "become" principally homosexual while others "become" principally heterosexual continues to be a subject of great debate and controversy, including among homosexuals. Some homosexuals report that there is an important element of conscious choice involved in the development of their sexual orientation, and this seems to be recognized widely as a more common experience for lesbians than for gay men. (And there are a significant number of individuals who maintain that their sexual orientation is fully bisexual.)
But there are a great many homosexuals (both male and female) who say they are simply not sure why they became homosexual, and who feel certain that there was no conscious choice involved. Many report that from a very young age, as they came to sexual awakening, they found themselves sexually attracted only to members of their own sex (and not sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex) and that this never changed for them, even in the face of sometimes extreme social pressures or coercion to "change" to fit in with the more typical societal expressions of sexuality.
Debate continues to rage about whether the principal "causes" of homosexuality in individuals are biological, social, or some mixture of both. What about the question of individual biology? Does internal biology dictate sexual orientation? Are people born somehow programmed for homosexuality? This question has raged for decades and has spawned countless scientific studies and heated debates in and out of the scientific communities. Among other things, the realization that homosexuality often does not present itself as a matter of "choice" has spurred many scientists to try to find a specific and direct biological "cause" of homosexuality. Such investigations have also often been motivated by the hope that uncovering a biological origin might lead to greater societal tolerance and understanding of homosexuals. As a side-point here it should be said that this hope is actually based on flawed assumptions about the basis for tolerance: for instance, the Nazis thought homosexuality might well be biologically innate in origin, but this didn't keep them from overall trying to exterminate homosexuals!(8)
In any case, what scientists and others should be motivated by is a search for the actual truth of the matter. And the problem is not that scientists have been trying to investigate the biological bases of human sexuality and human sexual behavior--there is in fact much that still needs to be explored about all this and it is a valid area of scientific inquiry. Many scientists have worked very hard and conscientiously over the years to try to get some actual insights into the underlying foundations of sex and sexual behavior.
But there have nevertheless been significant methodological problems with how many of these studies have been conducted, including many faulty underlying assumptions about the biological bases of complex social behaviors in humans, problematic sampling methods, distorting experimental conditions, subjective interpretations of results and problems in independently replicating results. Despite massive quantities of research on the biology of sex and sexual behavior in a wide variety of animal species, as well as some studies focused more specifically on humans, there are still few clear and reliable answers. One thing that can be said with certainty is that so far at least nobody has been able to demonstrate any clear and direct biological cause for homosexuality in individual human beings. (See "Appendix on Biological Studies.")
One of the big problems is that, although some studies and investigations have reflected a more all-sided approach and a recognition of the complexity of the phenomena involved, in the reductionist fashion of the times many attempts have been made to locate single entities as the supposed biological root cause of homosexuality: a single gene; a section of chromosome; a section of brain; a hormone or a hormonal ratio, and so on. And this reductionist search for such single entities has almost always been conducted by examining such entities in artificial isolation from the natural and social environments in which they are necessarily embedded and with which they interact.
It is worth reflecting on the fact that, for instance, if you put a strand of DNA in a test-tube, it will just sit there and do nothing! Genes can function only in interaction with the environment of a living cell, which in turn functions in interaction with the environment of the body overall, which in turn functions in interaction with the external natural and social environment. For an analysis of any biological functions to be truly valid you really do have to be able to take into account the dynamic interactions going on between different particular entities and different levels of organization of matter.
The crude distortions by the popular press about the supposed biology of homosexuality (and other complex human social behaviors) have only made things worse: sometimes it seems that hardly a day goes by without some news announcement that scientists have "found the gay gene," or the "gay brain" or the hormonal "cause" of homosexuality (or maybe of aggression; or of why you cheated on your wife last week--there seems to be an almost desperate enthusiasm these days for trying to attribute just about anything that humans do to some individual component of human bodies, even when there is very little or absolutely no valid scientific basis for this). Of course, the more we are encouraged to look inward, the harder it becomes to look at what might be going on outside the body, in terms of our social interactions and social life, to try to understand the influences that all this could have on the different things that people do and even on the body itself.
The fundamental problem with biological reductionist approaches is that that's not how human biology works! Things like sexual behaviors are complex social behaviors, and in all of the history of biological research it has never been possible to reduce complex social behaviors simply to some single cause at the level of such things as genes and hormones. And it has never been possible to demonstrate any significant degree of pre-programmed "hard-wiring" for any complex social behavior in humans. This is not to say that there are not important biological bases and foundations of human behaviors. But the fact is that what turns out to be the most salient and noteworthy fact of our very biology, the thing that makes our species most unique biologically, is our unprecedented degree of behavioral malleability and plasticity: far from being born rigidly "hard-wired," the fact is that, more than any other species on this planet, we are born very undeveloped and with an incredible capacity to learn, especially through our social interactions, and as a result of this we are able to engage in a very wide range of behaviors (including brand new ones which humans may never before have been capable of) and even to continue learning new behaviors throughout our entire lifetimes. We really are very unique as a species for this very reason.
Of course human bodies are material entities, and as such have material limits. Our bodies can't do just anything we might want them to (for instance, we can't jump over a tall building in a single bound) and even the development of our very broad behavioral capabilities are not actually without some limits. We are born with bodies, not blank slates, and it is true that the developmental processes of human beings are not equally flexible at all stages, and around all things.(9) So, yes, there are biological "limits," and there are phases of biological development. But the hallmark of our biology overall remains our unprecedented degree of ongoing behavioral flexibility and capacity for learning.
Another way one might describe this biological/social interaction might be to say that the individual body and its biology naturally continues to serve as a basic substrate and foundation, to exert an influence, and even to establish certain parameters and limits for human behaviors. But beyond that, social conditioning, culture and learning necessarily shape and influence all sorts of complex individual behaviors, and in fact time and time again can be shown to exert the primary influence on these behaviors. There can be some key nodal points in the biological development of individuals which can have bearing on subsequent behavioral capabilities, but typically the process of individual development in relation to complex behaviors is very malleable and adaptable, and goes on throughout the entire life of an individual. Interestingly, complex behaviors can sometimes even have a feedback transformative effect on the internal biological organization or functioning of an individual body (think of the effects socially-caused stress can have on the body as just one example).
As part of an overall critique of sociobiology, in their 1985 book The Dialectical Biologist (pp. 262-263), biologists Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin gave the following example, which serves as an analogy to sexual and other social behaviors: "What people can eat is biologically determined; what they do eat is quite another matter. If what people eat is historically, socially, and individually determined, why they eat is equally so determined. Biologically, 'eating' and 'drinking' are the physical acts of nutrition. In actuality, eating and drinking have very variable relations to that biological necessity. Eating is a social occasion that cements family bonds, provides an excuse to carry on commercial exchange, and offers an opportunity to create mutual social obligations... In human culture there is not one meaning of eating and drinking, but the qualitative transformation of a single physical act into an immense array of social and individual meaning...a study of the physical act itself, its biological preconditions, its evolution, its similarity to that behavior in other animals, or the regions of the brain that influence it will simply be irrelevant to the human phenomenon."
So are biological studies of human sexuality a waste of time? Of course not. Sexuality does have biological "underpinnings" or foundations, and there is still much to uncover and learn about all this. Quite a bit is understood about the biology of sex, but much less is known about the supposed biology of sexual behavior, especially in humans. We believe that a preponderance of the evidence indicates that in an overall sense social and not biological factors are the main thing in shaping sexual attraction and practice, but when we speak of the "primacy of the social over the biological" it is not to deny the existence of a biological substrate (people still have individual bodies after all!) or to think there is nothing left to learn from our biology. The point is to give due weight to the fact that in humans (because of our great capacity for learning and extreme degree of social organization and interdependence from the day we are born) the significance of much of our basic individual biology has been way overshadowed by the significance of our cultural and social interactions in molding and shaping everything we are and everything we do, even as individuals.
[For a more developed discussion of this question see, for instance, Gould, Mismeasure of Man; Lewontin, Rose and Kamin, Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature; Skybreak, A., Of Primeval Steps and Future Leaps: An Essay on the Emergence of Human Beings, the Source of Women's Oppression and the Road to Emancipation and her review of Lewontin et al in Revolution magazine, "Not in Our Genes and the Waging of the Ideological Counteroffensive."]
To be clear: Nobody has yet been able to pinpoint a single specific direct social "cause" of same-sex attraction any more than a single specific and direct biological one,(10) and it seems likely that the formation of sexual attraction in general will turn out to be a complex mix of factors, and quite possibly not present itself in quite the same ways in all individuals. If any future scientific investigations ever do reveal any clearer link of individual biology to sexual orientation (and again, no such link has been clearly established to date) it would no doubt have to be in the context of considering a multiplicity of interacting biological systems, plus incorporating an analysis of the dynamic interaction of the physical body with the external natural and very critical social environment in which a person grows, develops and functions.
Leaving aside for now the question of the biology of sexuality, it is important to state that even if the decisive sources of an individual's homosexuality could somehow be traced exclusively to formative social experiences--and even though some people do enter into same-sex relations as a conscious choice--this does not mean that sexual orientation in this society presents itself as a result of a conscious "choice" for people in general or for all or even most exclusive homosexuals in particular. Naturally people do "think" consciously about who and what attracts them. But the overall mix of an individual's prior and formative social influences and experiences (which can have a profound effect on whom one ultimately finds sexually attractive, "falls in love" with, etc.) can become deeply internalized--and it is clear that at least in many cases it can also become (or at least to the particular individual it can seem) so much a part of an individual's core persona that becoming attracted to the same or opposite sex really does not present itself at all as a matter of choice.
In conclusion on this point, while the exact interplay between individual biology and social environment with regard to the formation of sexual orientation is not yet clear, we think there is a basis to assume the overall primacy of social factors from the body of evidence around other complex behaviors, as well as the diversity and complexity of human sexual practices overall throughout history and worldwide today. In any case, we feel the more important question from a political perspective is the social evaluation of the phenomena. Harking back to what we said earlier in this paper:
But we do think there is a basis--and that we have a responsibility--to try to sort out what kind of larger social impacts and effects different social practices among the people may be having, and to help distinguish what may be relatively socially insignificant from what may be objectively harmful, or objectively helpful, to the overall struggle to transform and thoroughly revolutionize society in line with the objective interests of the revolutionary class in society, the proletariat, and of the whole of humanity.
In order to "sort this out" we feel it is necessary to examine more deeply the institutions and culture around sexuality in general and how that has influenced the culture, attitudes and even some of the practices of homosexuality in U.S. society today.
Patriarchy, Male Right and Cultural Norms and Attitudes Regarding Homosexuality in Class Society
Heterosexual sex has been the dominant form of sexuality throughout class society. Likely this is not simply or even mainly because the species could only (at least until recently!) reproduce itself through sex between a man and a woman but very significantly because property relations were reproduced via the patriarchal family.
While we will discuss later some of the strengths as well as weaknesses of the 1988 Revolution magazine article, "On the Question of Homosexuality and the Emancipation of Women," we continue to feel that the argument in the following section of that article is basically correct and important:
While this is not the place to attempt an in-depth analysis of the origins and development of the patriarchal family, it is important to understand its role in putting the stamp of the institutionalized oppression of women on all forms of human sexuality. From that point on, and this is the crux of the relevance of the patriarchal family to this discussion, women occupied a special and oppressed position within the process of accumulation: The need for the preservation of the newly emerging forms of private property, typically dominated by men (an outcome of the prior division of labor) necessitated the guarantee of male lineage and brought about restrictions on female sexuality. Women became domestic slaves--the actual meaning of the word "family" (from the Latin famulus) being the "the house of slaves." Not only did the fruits of women's labor become alienable property whose disposition was controlled by others and which served to bolster the power and authority of their oppressors, but their most essential role became institutionalized as that of breeders, their relative value mainly defined by their ability or lack of ability to produce new members of the family unit.
...For the first time in history it really mattered socially who a woman's child's father was, especially in the case of a male child. But the certainty of lineage and overall submission of women was obtained at a great cost to women, including through coercion and distortion of their sexuality in the form of enforced monogamy, institutionalized rape, mutilation of sexual organs, outcast status and/or draconian punishments for sexual activity outside the family, etc. In short, this is the original and material basis for the continued social dominance of heterosexuality throughout the world--living testimony to millennia of oppressive relations between men and women, all geared to the reproduction of property relations.
The point of all this is that with the emergence of private property and the creation of the patriarchal family, heterosexuality would necessarily have assumed a disproportionate social significance relative to any other forms of sexuality. From that point on, women's sexuality would have been strictly regulated and restricted to the greatest extent possible to heterosexual relations, and monogamous ones at that. This would minimize the number of "illegitimate" children, "uncompensated" elopements of marriageable daughters, and any sexual activity, be it with other women or with men outside the family, which would represent a defiance of the rules of submission and subordination. All because such activities could now undermine the orderly process of accumulation and transmission of property.(11)
Among other things, the above gives a condensed explanation of the predominance of heterosexuality in class society. As a product of these same property relations, sexual conquest, adventure and recreation have traditionally been the preserve of men. Even when monogamy for men was mandated by law and/or religious canon, this "sexual latitude" for men has generally been more tolerated (e.g., not punished unless it violated some other man's property) and even expected and encouraged. Expectation of an intrinsic male need (and a "right") for frequent and even multiple sexual contacts is the rule in many societies. This has colored all types of social/sexual contact --from the "marriage bed" ("conjugal rights" of the husband which has led to marital rape remaining widespread and tolerated in many countries down to today), polygamy, concubinage and the historic widespread rape of slaves, servants and also the conquered as a spoil of war, to extensive prostitution and a huge overall "sex industry" worldwide in modern times "servicing" men.
The dominant societal attitudes as well as legal codes pertaining to various
forms of male homosexuality have actually varied somewhat throughout history
and in various class societies around the world, and this quite possibly reflects
the greater latitude generally allowed in male sexual activity overall. Sometimes,
as with the ancient Greeks mentioned earlier, some forms have been widespread
and looked upon favorably while clearly reflecting and intertwined with the
wholesale subordination of women in that society. Even in very modern times,
there have been cultures (some non-industrial) where, especially among adolescents,
male to male sexual indoctrination and experimentation is expected and condoned,
if not outright encouraged, as part of passage into adulthood--even if it is
viewed mainly as a passage to "normal" heterosexuality. (This encouragement
often is explicitly linked to the need to keep the female adolescent
population "pure" until marriage.)(12)
But since the advent of class society, even where there have been cultures that "permitted" or "expected" or "tolerated" a certain amount of male homosexual sex, practiced broadly or at least in certain situations, homosexual sex (male or female) more often than not has been technically proscribed in law and/or in the prevailing religion, etc. It was often the grounds for horrendous persecution and even death for those accused of its practice, and this was generally linked with the assertion of a moral code wedded to the patriarchal family. While we can't speak to the full scope of this nor all the variation in implementation of this general trend worldwide (as well as exceptions to this general trend), it is important to emphasize that the moral code and historical canon linked to the Judeo-Christian tradition in particular is teeming with such proscriptions, and the history of Europe is filled with pogroms, inquisitions and witch burnings, etc., that included specifically targeting those who practiced homosexuality or were simply accused of its practice or promotion.(13)
Speaking to conditions in the U.S. today, we summed up in the appendix of the new Draft Programme on "The Proletarian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women" (pp. 103-104):
Over the last several decades, the "model" traditional nuclear family has significantly broken down. Most women are now working and are no longer full-time housewives. 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Immigrant families must often exist across borders. Many family households are now headed by women, and one of three children is now born "out of wedlock."
The changing role of women and the family and the need of the imperialist world economy to draw more women into the labor force are more and more coming into conflict with the imperialists' need to enforce traditional values and maintain the cohesion of the family. These changes and contradictory needs of capitalism are like two plates of the earth's crust colliding--capable of producing major earthquakes and upheaval.
Reactionary movements to drive women into submission and obedience to the authority of men are arising out of this mix. But so too is the outrage and rebellion of women throughout society--and the emancipatory struggle of the proletariat, which can and must unleash the powerful fury and potential of women as a mighty force for revolution.
Part and parcel of these reactionary movements to drive women into submission and obedience is a reactionary, puritanical view toward sexuality and an enshrining of the sanctity of the "marriage bed." A related and very central component to this reactionary onslaught is an attack on homosexuals and homosexuality as "unnatural," "sinful" and an "affront" to the sacred family. And, along with this, there are the widespread attacks on male homosexuals in general as not being "manly," or even being "a man who acts like a woman" as well as attacks on lesbians for "violating the proper role of women"--subordinate to a man in an intimate/sexual relation as well as subordinate to men overall in society.
As we noted in 1988: "a big point in all this is obviously the promotion of the nuclear family, that well tested institution for the suppression of women (and children as well). And it serves the purpose of unleashing a pogromist mob mentality, seeking to rid the nation of all that is considered 'deviant' and undermining the national will and strength. Such morality campaigns are presently a major element of the grotesque crusade to 'restore pride' in the nation and to rally people to all the reactionary necessities at hand for U.S. imperialism." Since that time, while tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality in broader U.S. society is generally greater than in the past, we have also witnessed an intensification of the kind of reactionary atmosphere referred to above and significant increases in violent attacks on homosexuals (as well as transgendered individuals) up to and including murder--all of which has gone hand in hand with an increase in religious zealotry and official government attempts to more and more obliterate the separation of church and state, promote all sorts of religious obscurantism and provide positions of influence and high level backing to a variety of Christian Fascist initiatives.
As recently as 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bowers vs. Hardwick, upheld the right of states with "sodomy" laws on their books to enforce those laws even where homosexual sex is consensual.(14) In the few states where laws were passed to allow gay marriage, vitriolic and reactionary counter-offensives were mounted to overturn this. And in September 1996, President Clinton signed the reactionary "Defense of Marriage Act" defining marriage as the "legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife," putting into federal law that no state shall be required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and making this definition of marriage binding on all federal agencies and programs (for example, the IRS, Social Security and Medicare, etc.).
Bourgeois secular as well as religious authorities practice all kinds of sexual activity among themselves, but these hypocrites often--and often brutally--seek to restrict and regulate sexual practices among the masses as part of enforcing and preserving the patriarchal family, traditional religious values and the enforcement of gender roles and the exercise of male right. And unfortunately this ultimately bourgeois-inspired (and encouraged) discrimination and violence aimed at homosexuals is sometimes carried out by individuals among the ranks of the people themselves.(15)
All this serves only the interests of the enemy in carrying out vicious repression and creating a reactionary atmosphere, in fortifying the oppression of women and in keeping the people divided and pitted against each other. U.S. society has been marked not only by overt persecution of lesbians and gay men, but also by the estrangement of many homosexuals from their families, general social isolation, and the closeting of homosexuality --all of which gives rise to a great deal of personal pain and torment, as reflected, for instance, in the extremely high rates of suicide among gay teenagers in the U.S. today. This is all completely contrary to the interests of the proletariat, and to quote a section of our Draft Programme highlighted at the beginning of this position paper:
The revolutionary proletariat is staunchly opposed to the attacks on homosexuality by reactionary forces such as religious fundamentalists, and to all physical assaults on, discrimination against, and government repression of homosexuals, which is so widespread and vicious in the U.S. today. In the new society, discrimination against homosexuals will be outlawed and struggled against in every sphere of society, including personal and family relations.
In a point we will return to later, the above quote has relevance in socialist society in relation to everything from the actual laws and practices of the proletarian state to, even more importantly, the process which will be undertaken to transform social relations.
Modern Gay and Lesbian Culture in U.S. Society
As stated previously, we feel that it is important not to underestimate the degree to which all sexual relations in the world today continue to bear the stamp of those thousands of years of the systematic oppression of women. And this is true regardless of the extent to which individuals may be conscious of this. This does not mean that in terms of individuals--and individual intimate and sexual relations--people's attractions and practices are "one to one" equivalent with the fact that social factors, and in particular the oppression of women, play a major role in influencing this. In other words, even though the social relations and corresponding ideas that oppress women are a decisive factor in influencing people's sexual attractions, etc., this is complex. And, for example, it would be crudely reductionist to say: since the oppression of women has a significant role in influencing people's sexual attractions and practices, therefore every individual sexual relation (whether heterosexual or homosexual) is by definition and in essence an expression--and beyond that a conscious expression--of the desire to oppress women (or complicity with that oppression). But, without falling into crude reductionism of that (or any other) kind, we can and must recognize and emphasize the decisive role that the oppression of women plays--in bourgeois society and all other societies characterized by exploitative and oppressive relations--in influencing sexual and intimate relations of all kinds. This is why we write in the new Draft Programme:
Sexual and intimate relations between men and women in bourgeois society are largely reflective of and dominated by the ideology of male supremacy and "male right"; they exist within and are influenced by the overall framework of social relations in which the oppression of women is an integral and fundamental part. All this is something that the proletariat will be mobilizing the masses to radically transform in the process of uprooting the oppression of women and all oppression and exploitation. In the realm of intimate relations, socialist society will encourage people to strive for standards that are consistent with and contribute to the uprooting of the oppression of women. ("The Proletarian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women," p. 106)
Does this overall characterization of sexual relations between men and women and the task at hand for the proletariat also apply to same-sex relationships and sexual practices? We believe it does. Some people see same-sex relationships as an alternative to the modern nuclear family or see those involved in these relationships as "sexual outlaws" from the traditional heterosexuality. But we would ask, what is the character of this departure in the context of the existing patriarchal, class society, and we argue in the Draft Programme that it is important to grasp that:
same sex relations do not escape and do not exist outside of the prevailing family and sexual relations and the corresponding ideology of male supremacy that oppress women in this society. In many ways the outlook that characterizes male gay culture in bourgeois society is not a departure from--and in fact there are elements in which it is a concentration of--male right. (p. 106)
While many people, whether homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual, aspire to intimate and sexual relations based on mutual love and emotional support on an essentially generous, non-exploitative and egalitarian basis, and while many individuals do accomplish this even under the present social structure, it is also the case that these attempts have to go up against--and more often than not are frustrated by--the overwhelming influence and force of habit of patriarchal social relations and values of male right that permeate the culture of capitalist society generally.
The predominant culture surrounding male gay life is not a break with this society's obsession with the commodification of the most intimate of social relations and the sexual objectification of people (even if, in this case, men are the sexual object) including an obsession with the aesthetics of youth and "beauty"--where one's self worth is reduced to and centered on being a successful sexual commodity. Another example is the pursuit or preference for casual anonymous sex--which is a highly touted pursuit of the "American male" ("gay" or "straight"). While certainly not a universal characteristic of homosexual men, there is a trend in the gay community for such pursuits and preferences to go to great extremes. And explicit reviling of women (and/or the female body) and other expressions of misogyny are not exactly rare in some quarters. Such practices and sentiments are far from a departure from male right!
As stated previously, the actual practice of male homosexuality in modern U.S. society is varied and complex. By no means is all male homosexuality characterized by the practices or sentiments such as those given as examples above. Even to the degree that there is significant currency for these types of trends in many gay communities, this can't be fully separated from the context of U.S. society generally nor from the fact that homosexuals in this society have been marginalized, socially ostracized, and discriminated against including in relation to personal and family relations. In this society, capital rules and the spontaneous tendency is to reduce everyone and everything to a commodity--sexual commodification included. And it is truly hard to determine what is somewhat inevitable as a product of a relatively self-contained all male sexual "community of men" under conditions of patriarchy, or what might be very different in a more open society where homosexuality is not stigmatized and people's personalities and sexual habits are not shaped by being closeted, separated off from and persecuted by the rest of society. But even more important is the question: how will all this be affected in a society where all of sexuality is transformed by tackling the more fundamental subjugation of women? All this will have profound and even unanticipated effects on all intimate relations, including same sex sexual practices.
Lesbianism too is a diverse phenomenon, and while there may be some current trends and tendencies among some lesbians that verge on celebrating the hedonistic, we would argue that the following more characterizes the phenomena than not:
Lesbianism is in many ways a response to the oppression of women in class society, but in and of itself it is not a fundamental solution to this oppression. (Ibid.)
In making this statement, we are not only speaking to the conscious radical lesbian trend which exists and was even much more common in the '60s and '70s; nor are we only trying to capture the apparent fact that a larger number of lesbians characterize their sexual orientation as more of a choice than is the case among gay men today (or that it seems that self-identification as bi-sexual is much more common among women and seems to possibly be a growing trend among young women, etc.) While the above quote from the Draft Programme certainly comprehends those aspects of modern lesbianism, as mentioned earlier, there are many lesbians who experience their first sexual attractions as same-sex attraction and remain only attracted to women, and there is no aspect of being a lesbian that appears to them as a choice. But female sexuality overall is clearly shaped by living in a society where women are not the equals of men and where a life spent in a traditional heterosexual relationship can be limiting or oppressive.
As with homosexuality more generally, we doubt there is a single pathway or reason, or "cause" for same sex desire and partnering among women. But we do know that many women, regardless of whether they perceive their sexual orientation as primarily a choice, have expressed various attitudes and feelings suggesting that their relationships with women are a real alternative to relationships with men that are sexually and in other ways unfulfilling and unsupportive, or that they prefer the intimacy and company of women as compared to men, or that they prefer to relate to women exclusively at least for a transitional period of time in order to avoid the very real hassles and subordination that is part and parcel of so many heterosexual relationships in society today.
These are understandable sentiments. Historically, lesbian relationships and networks have encouraged and provided support for some women to exist and function outside of traditional roles or as a safe haven from male/female relationships that have been physically or emotionally abusive. But while this may be an individual improvement for some women, it is also true that, as we pointed out in our 1988 article, the larger relations in society still get reflected in lesbian relations to one degree and in one way or another. And more fundamentally, the practice of lesbianism does not solve the overarching problem of the oppression of women as a whole, in U.S. society and throughout the world.
Certainly many lesbians would make no claim that it does - and our point is not that same sex partnerships are by definition a political and ideological program - or that lesbians (or male homosexuals) cannot be revolutionaries and revolutionary communists who devote their lives to the goals of the international proletariat (a question we will speak to more fully a little later in this paper). On the other hand, feminist or reformist consciousness, and identity politics (which we will also return to below), are not the same thing as a thoroughgoing revolutionary critique of the problem, nor do they correspond to the outlook and historic mission of the proletariat in liberating all of humanity.
Homosexuality and Socialism and Communism
What will sexual practices be like in the future and will homosexuality still exist throughout socialism and communism?
Who knows? A clear answer to that question will have to wait for a more complete scientific understanding of all the factors that go into forming a person's sexual orientation, and also for the accumulating experience of socialism to reveal what effects all the radical transformations of traditional social relations and corresponding ideas will have on how people relate to each other, including in terms of sexual attraction, love, the basis for personal and intimate ties, and so on. Sex and how people practice it will probably undergo all sorts of big changes and come to have whole new social "meanings" by the time we get to communism, and all sorts of old and traditional concepts of sex, sexuality, gender roles--and of course the overall social status and position of women--will have been called into question and radically transformed. Socialist society, which is a period of transition to communism, will likely include a mix of both old and new relations and ideas, including in relation to all forms of sexuality, gender roles, the family, and so on.
Only time and accumulating social experience will tell whether under these new conditions the practice of homosexuality will quantitatively increase, decrease, or pretty much stay the same.
As previously discussed, we feel it would be against the interests of the people and the revolution for the socialist state to have a goal or "mission" of trying to "eliminate" the overall practice of homosexuality or to try to "reform" an individual away from his/her homosexuality. It is important to understand that even if this secondary expression of human sexuality were somehow to "wither away" or disappear on its own under socialism (which seems highly unlikely in any case), this in itself would not contribute to the full emancipation of women. As mentioned earlier, some expressions of homosexuality (and especially some expressions of male homosexuality in today's world) can at times constitute pretty blatant manifestations of male right (and contribute to the oppression of women in this way), but even the most backward and socially objectionable of these practices or "scenes" are not the "cause" of the oppression of women. As we have emphasized, under socialism, as the material underpinnings of the oppression of women are actively challenged and uprooted, and the corresponding ideology broadly and deeply challenged, criticized and transformed, it is likely that we will see a great deal of transformation in how people establish intimate relationships and practice, especially as more and more women increasingly demand to be treated with genuine love and respect by their partners and feel emboldened and supported in these demands by the changing climate of the times and the popular and widespread promotion of new values by the proletariat in power.
In terms of evaluating any individual practice of sexuality from a revolutionary perspective, it makes sense to ask: Does it seem to be helping people form bonds based on mutual love and emotional and physical support on an essentially non-exploitative and egalitarian basis? Or does it seem to be establishing bonds of domination or emotional and physical degradation and abuse on an essentially self-centered, exploitative, and non-egalitarian basis? One kind of practice can benefit people and help them in terms of participating in life and the all-round revolutionary transformation of society. The other kind of practice could harm people, sap their strength, and would make it more difficult to undertake the all-round revolutionary transformation of society. This is why we state in the Party's new Draft Programme:
The outlook that one partner in an intimate relationship must be devalued, dominated, abused, or owned is a reflection of the oppression of women in society; and forms of male right, in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, will be targets of criticism and transformation. (p. 106)
While in the new society it will not be the case that "anything goes" with respect to sexual practices, very different approaches will be taken to dealing with different kinds of contradictions. For instance, practices such as rape and sexual molestation, whether heterosexual or homosexual, should not be tolerated and will be repressed by the proletarian state. But many other kinds of contradictions among the people will be dealt with non-antagonistically, through criticism and encouragement to transform backward practices and outlooks. The proletarian state and the revolutionary party would lead the people to further empower targets of sexual exploitation and emotional and physical abuse to stand up and resist. And while safeguarding important individual rights and combating any tendencies among the people towards the development of pogromist mentalities, the masses of people would be led to discuss, criticize and struggle to transform outlooks and practices which are clearly and broadly detrimental to the health or well-being of individuals or society at large.
The focus in matters of sexuality in the socialist revolution should be placed squarely on the struggle for the all-round emancipation of women, in every sphere of life. And while particular expressions and practices of both heterosexuals and homosexuals will continue to be challenged and criticized wherever they represent expressions of male right and male supremacy, the overarching goal will be to build an entirely new kind of society in such a way that the fundamental material basis for the subjugation of half of humanity will be drastically undercut and ultimately eliminated altogether and the masses of both women and men can increasingly be unleashed to reject all the old ideas that went along with and served to buttress and reinforce the subjugation of women. This itself will dramatically revolutionize the dominant relations between men and women, and the character of all sexual relations will in turn come to reflect these transformations.
As was stated in the new Draft Programme (p.107):
With the unfolding of the socialist revolution and the advance to communism, worldwide, people will be genuinely free, for the first time in thousands of years, from the subjugation of half of humanity--which has stamped and corrupted social and sexual relations ever since the rise of private property and, along with it, the subordination of women to men.
"In many ways, and particularly for men, the woman question and whether you seek to completely abolish or to preserve the existing property and social relations and corresponding ideology that enslave women (or maybe 'just a little bit' of them) is a touchstone question among the oppressed themselves. It is a dividing line between fighting to end all oppression and exploitation--and the very division of society into classes--and seeking in the final analysis to get your part in this."
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA
Some Important Particular Questions:
Both today, and throughout the whole process of the revolutionary transformation of society, we will continue to challenge traditional views of gender roles, which reflect and reinforce the oppression of women, and which distort and restrict the lives and contributions of both women and men. Rigid and restrictive definitions of gender roles are of no use to the revolutionary proletariat: the struggle to revolutionize all of society in line with the objective interests of the proletariat and ultimately humanity as a whole will toss the traditional gender roles into the air so that what it means to "act like a man" or "act like a woman" will finally cease to have any meaning. As we say in the Draft Programme:
The morality of the new society will not tolerate misogyny (hatred of women) and misandry (hatred of men) will also be struggled against.
The old traditional gender roles, which have the weight of thousands of years of tradition behind them and which are based on an oppressive division of labor between men and women, will be broken down and transformed. People will no longer have to put up with the ridiculous and unscientific notions that women who are aggressive, independent, and outspoken, or athletic are "too masculine"; or that men who aspire to be creative, sensitive or nurturing are "effeminate."
These qualities in human beings will be appreciated and fostered among people of both sexes, and children growing up will not have to feel that they don't fit into gender definitions that are already obsolete and objectively a hindrance to the development of humanity to a whole new stage in history. The mission of the socialist revolution is to create an entirely different kind of society and morality so that someday people can look back and wonder how such things as these "traditional gender roles" ever existed. (p. 107)
While gender roles have been forged over centuries by both objective necessity as well as the emergence of the patriarchal family structure and private property, it is very important to understand that there is no longer any objective necessity for an oppressive division of labor--and what is holding back the elimination of this oppressive division of labor is the present organization of society. It is already possible today to bring women into full participation in society on an equal level and for both men and women and society as a whole to take care of the raising of children. There is biologically nothing about our species that determines that present gender roles are innate and unchangeable.
Throughout history and especially today there have been people who are profoundly dissatisfied with the limitations and restrictions of these gender roles, as well as the rigidity with which they are imposed--including the fact that even physically people do not always conform to the "ideal" of what is considered male and female.
What role all this plays in the development of sexual orientation is a subject still in the early stages of scientific research and understanding. Various studies are quite inconclusive on this and, as we stated earlier, no clear correlation has been found between "atypical" gender behavior and homosexuality, so how all this will find expression in a "gender neutral"(16) society and what impact this kind of society will have on sexual orientation per se is something we won't know until humans have had the chance to live this way. But we do know and can say what we do in the new Draft Programme about gender roles overall.
More recently a movement has emerged to take up the rights of transgendered people (people who live or "pass" as the opposite gender as well as people who actually become transsexuals via medical and surgical intervention). This is a development our party needs to understand better. We can assume that this will be something that the new proletarian state will have to address. It is clear that people who feel that they profoundly do not "fit"--or are psychologically and socially the opposite of--the biological sex with which they were born need to be treated with compassion and understanding, and should not face discrimination, penalties or social ostracism if they decide to live as the "opposite gender." But how individuals feel will also interpenetrate with society's overall examination and revolutionizing of gender roles--including ideological struggle over gender and social roles that are backward or oppressive to women and to people more generally.
Identity politics is a very influential trend among radical or progressive people, especially youth, today. Individuals and social forces that claim this outlook more or less see distinct and separate interests based on differences in race, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever you decide your position or "group" in society is. With this outlook, people view each situation or oppression as unique and therefore feel it is necessary that each group have its own special ideology and program. With this outlook, the broadest vision and unity that can be conceived and achieved is for each "identity group" to act in short-term coalitions while continuing to insist on its own interests above all else.
The proletariat, on the other hand, sees a common enemy and moreover a common source of all this oppression and an actual solution in an all-the-way revolution, led by the proletariat and its vanguard, which at this point in history can actually represent the fundamental interests of humanity as a whole.
A lot of identity politics is in the final analysis conditioned by the outlook that a revolution is not necessary or at least not possible, so it's up to each interest group to find or carve out some space in the present set-up of society, in order to pursue its own particular interests. Fundamentally, this is a reformist trend. Some lesbian and gay activists with these politics have worked to create support networks and structures (for example in relation to AIDS or equal rights issues) and be advocates for communities where homosexuals can safely express their sexual orientation. In all of this there is much for the proletariat to learn from and support, especially when people have united to resist the status quo, but these same politics and this overall outlook can also have a conservatizing effect that lowers people's sights and aspirations, especially where people are willing to accept some "space" and some reforms in exchange for becoming complacent about all the horrendous and antiquated social relations that are the foundation of bourgeois society and that are today responsible for untold misery the world over that is totally unnecessary. Today, huge corporations donate generously to non-profit organizations and employ full-time organizers who organize among different constituencies--as long as the politics stay well within certain limits and nothing is fundamentally called into question.
Should our goal be to put an end to the subordination of all women, and to liberate all humanity, or to be satisfied with some women laying claim to a few prerogatives historically reserved for privileged males and with groups that have been discriminated against and "marginalized" achieving some "self-expression" within a self-limited subculture or community? Should we be seeking to find individual solutions and pursuing illusions like "inner peace," or to collectively raise hell and, with the leadership of the proletariat, unite all who can be united, to tear down the old society and build a new one with the goal of uprooting and abolishing all oppression?
Homosexuals in the struggle for revolution
and the question of party membership
Can homosexuals be progressive revolutionary allies and even revolutionary communists and members of the revolutionary vanguard party? The answer on both counts is yes. Like everyone else, homosexuals are not objectively defined by (or reducible to) their sexual practices, and homosexual individuals objectively contribute to society in many different ways. And while some homosexuals are very narrow and conservative in their social and political views, others can be very committed to the struggle against various forms of injustice and oppression. Many homosexual youth are part of the new generation of activists seeking radical solutions and wanting to challenge and transform the very foundations of society. Some are gravitating to the revolutionary movement and hunger for the socialist and communist future described in our Party's new Draft Programme and inspire others to do the same.
Anyone who is serious in their desire to overthrow the bourgeois class for the purposes of establishing a socialist society and moving humanity towards a genuinely communist future, where oppression and exploitation cease to exist, should want to join the revolutionary vanguard party. To quote from the new Draft Programme:
The Party must constantly bring forward into its ranks those who dedicate themselves to the cause of the international proletarian revolution, who seriously take up the weapon of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism [MLM] and carry out the Party's line and tasks among the masses. The members the Party must attract are those whose dedication is not to narrow and personal interests, but to the historic mission of communism.
To win victory, the Party must be made up of those who embody the best qualities of the proletariat and are prepared for great sacrifice, jail, even execution at the hands of the ruthless enemy. But, even more fundamentally, they must be guided by the largeness of mind characteristic of the proletariat. They must study energetically and actively apply the science of MLM and be prepared to go against any tide that is opposed to MLM. They must be vanguard fighters among the masses and be ready to take up any post, fulfill any task that serves the revolution--not only in this country but internationally.
The Party must be made up of people whose lives are devoted to the revolutionary struggle of the international proletariat and the achievement of its historic mission: worldwide communism. ("The Party and the Masses," p. 39)
Applicants for admission to the Party who are homosexual must meet the same criteria and standards as anyone else. They must wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to serving the interests of the international proletariat and ultimately of humanity as a whole, placing these above the interests of any individual, special interest group, or sub-section of society. Applicants are therefore expected to move beyond such things as nationalism, anarchism, feminism, or sexual "identity politics" in the process of making the leap to becoming communists and members of the Party.
Party members are also held to a higher standard of proletarian morality and discipline than the masses, even those masses who are active in the revolutionary movement more generally. This is part of recognizing and accepting the responsibilities of being a leader of the masses and representing and embodying vanguard leadership. (People interested in learning more about the content of this will want to study the appendix "Proletarian Morality--A Radical Rupture with Tradition's Chains" and the attached points of discipline for Party members in the new Draft Programme.)
An individual's application for admission to the Party is an extremely serious thing. It leads to a process of more systematic political work under the leadership of the Party and discussions of overall political and ideological line. In this way both the individual and the Party can make sure that the applicant is both willing and ready to make the kind of serious political and ideological commitment required to join the disciplined collectivity of a revolutionary communist party.
Our Past Analysis of the Question of Homosexuality--
what was right, what was wrong, how we came to recognize our significant errors, and what we can all learn from this.
As many people are now aware and as spoken to at the beginning of this paper, the development of our Party's line on homosexuality has undergone a process of change and development over the years. This process in part reflected some of the debates and controversies concerning the origins and characteristics of homosexuality which have gone on for years in U.S. society and in the history of the international communist movement. There has been a definite process of ongoing learning and summation on our part, leading to some important contextualization, development and clarification of our line on this question, which can be seen in comparing the position expressed in the old Party Programme (published in 1981) with the later Revolution magazine article (which appeared in 1988). At the same time, our Party's position on this question has remained controversial and has been the subject of criticism over the years, including criticism raised by activists and revolutionary-minded youth coming forward among the new generation including many who have been taking up MLM, working with and joining our Party. We have responded to this by listening to what our critics have been saying and by reexamining certain underlying assumptions; and, as mentioned at the beginning of this document, we have undertaken some new rounds of social and scientific investigation in order to try to better understand this social phenomenon in some of its particulars and as a whole, its likely origins, its social history, its various modern-day manifestations and their apparent effects and implications.
While we have always and firmly opposed all repression, mistreatment and violence directed against homosexuals, as expressed in our old 1981 Programme, that Programme did tend to treat the fairly widespread phenomenon of homosexuality in the U.S. as a reflection of imperial decay and decadence, and although not portraying homosexuals as enemies, did regard them as individuals whose backward outlook needed to be reformed and homosexual practice remolded. This was incorrect. In this we were unfortunately in line with some long-standing historical tradition within the international communist movement(17), as well as some social/cultural biases which had typically tended to lump homosexuality with social problems such as prostitution or drug addiction.
Our view on this subject was also a product of opposition to and criticism of the more degrading and abusive sexual practices engaged in by some homosexuals (which do exist), and to some misogyny towards women (including lesbians) on the part of some male homosexuals. Also, basic masses, among whom our Party is based, works among and relies on as a decisive force for revolution, have a wealth of experience with U.S. prisons and with the widespread use of homosexual sex (including rape) to establish power hierarchies over people in prison and sometimes outside of prison (although most of this rape is perpetuated mainly by men who consider themselves heterosexual). All the negative things we spoke of really did (and do) exist and were objectively socially and politically problematic for those seeking to make all-round revolution and to fundamentally challenge the subjugation of women as part of that. Our Party's views at that time were also influenced by the roots and history of the contemporary revolutionary movement in the U.S., including the objective political "shifts" and "ebbs" which by the mid-'70s had led many social activists to scale down their overall revolutionary aspirations and to turn away from the broader and more all-round vision of the struggle for revolution to focus instead on increasingly narrow and single-issue questions, including various forms of sexual and other "identity politics" (and some of the content of our 1988 Revolution magazine article was a polemic against this).
While the revolutionary proletariat will, under its rule, mobilize and rely on the masses to affect social problems such as prostitution and drug addiction totally differently than how the bourgeoisie approaches such issues(18), we have come to understand more deeply that the various specific negative aspects of the phenomena of homosexuality in our society do not add up to relegating homosexual orientation and same-sex relations per se to a "social problem" any more than the very real existence of heterosexual rape and wife/girlfriend abuse argues for treating heterosexual orientation and relationships per se as a "social problem."
In the 1988 Revolution article, while not explicitly criticizing the wording and context of how our old Party Programme discussed the question, we did try to clarify that our view was not that homosexuality was a social problem analogous to prostitution, and we made it very clear that we were never talking about round-ups or coercion to stop people from practicing homosexuality. Rather we made the analogy to religion: something which will remain in socialist society and which people will have the right to practice, but which ultimately will lose its social role and attraction. While religion could be considered a "better" analogy, it is still not correct. This analogy assumed that once the struggle for the emancipation of women and the transformation of the patriarchal family were fully engaged in socialist society, homosexuality would at some point and ultimately "wither away," much like religion will. This is not likely, nor is it a scientific assumption to make. In this we were being mechanical in our thinking that secondary or "marginal" forms of sexual relations and practices would lose their basis as the social relations characteristic of class society were transformed. We do not actually consider that there is the basis to make such an assumption at this time, and we suspect it is likely that the complex phenomenon that is homosexuality will remain as at least a secondary form of sexual expression throughout the socialist period. And, in a point we will return to below, we were actually being one-sided about the practice of homosexuality in the modern world.
Not withstanding these serious errors and shortcomings, there were a number of important positive aspects of the 1988 Revolution article. Perhaps the most important positive aspect to uphold from that article is the approach--which is not that common, and which we continue to believe is very correct and decisive--of striving to "situate" any discussion and evaluation of the social practices of human sexuality (including all forms of homosexuality) in relation to the woman question: the oppression of women and the strategic need to struggle for the fullest emancipation of women as part of the revolutionary transformation of all of society.
This is in contrast to an orientation that places the "sanctity and sovereignty of the individual" above all else. This outlook is very widespread in American society, which has traditionally trumpeted the virtues of extreme individualism, and this does relate very much to many of the positions that are put forward on homosexuality. This "sanctity and sovereignty of the individual" above everything else--above the larger interests of society in particular--stands in opposition to the correct MLM position, the dialectical and historical materialist understanding, which recognizes the decisive importance of the social basis and the social significance and role of all human relations and ideas, including sexual relations and the attendant ideas about them.
In keeping to these very criteria and by stepping back and examining carefully the criticisms and comments that have been raised by others and debates, controversies and scientific inquiries in society over this issue, we have come to a fuller rupture with our previous incorrect thinking on this. In doing so we have learned a great deal which made us realize that we had been underestimating the diversity and complexity of this phenomenon.
There is much in the social history of male homosexuality and even its modern practice that reflects the subjugation and subordination of womankind in class society. How could it be otherwise given the particular nature of our current society and the whole history of class relations throughout the world? In the Revolution magazine article, however, we were in some ways simplistic and linear in our discussion of this history in class society. We also made a mechanical analysis and assessment: from the recognition of the fact that the historical subjugation and subordination of women is clearly reflected in some of the social history of male homosexuality and in some of its social expression today, we made the incorrect leap to concluding that the individual practice of male homosexuality is inevitably a reflection of that historical and present-day subjugation and subordination of women, and in fact contributes to it.
Further, we made the argument that because homosexuality was not the dominant and expected sexual practice of society, and because people must make a more conscious decision to practice this in a society where this is still not accepted, this practice constituted a conscious "ideological statement." And we argued that "the content of this `statement' or ideological position expressed through homosexuality at best represents no deep or thoroughgoing rupture on the question of the oppression of women and at worst contributes to it." (Revolution magazine, 1988, p. 46) This characterization of homosexuality in general as a conscious ideological statement, and the logic behind this characterization, is wrong.
On the other hand, an important positive aspect of the 1988 Revolution article, along with its focus on the woman question as pivotal in the evaluation of all sexual relations and practices, is that the article correctly put emphasis on combating biological determinist explanations of homosexuality (or any other complex human behavior). The article identifies the basis of homosexuality as most likely stemming from a combination of biological factors and social factors, and within that correctly stresses the primacy of social factors in the formation and expression of any complex social behavior. At the same time, the article underestimated the complexity of the ways in which people develop and experience sexual attraction and engage in sexual relations and practices, including the dialectical interplay between social factors and various biological factors that may influence this. Thus, even while the article correctly identified social factors as playing the principal and decisive role in this (as in complex human behavior generally), it still ended up oversimplifying and overgeneralizing the ways in which all this finds expression in particular individuals (as well as on the societal level) and, again, tended to reduce homosexual relations and practices to a conscious ideological statement--when, as we have come to understand more fully, there is a diverse range of ways in which this develops and finds expression among people and there is very likely no simple, single, and unchanging "reason" or "cause," either social or biological. In some cases, this takes form as a conscious choice, while for others it seems not to present itself as a "choice" at all but rather as something basic to their being and identity. Again, all this is complicated--more complicated than was recognized in the 1988 Revolution article.
Revolutionary-minded activists, "straight" and "gay," and philosophers and theoreticians who are homosexuals themselves and have studied and investigated the question of human sexuality extensively, have also pondered the question of what would male (homosexual as well as heterosexual) sexual attractions, attitudes, values, and such be like in a society where women were not devalued. (And of course the same question could be asked about female sexual attractions!) This is something that human beings will ultimately know for a certainty when humanity advances to communism, with the abolition of all oppressive and exploitative relations.(19) And, as we have seen, there have been many, if still partial, transformations of sexual relations even under bourgeois rule. Even assuming that sexual orientation and all sexual tastes are overwhelmingly a product of social influences, it would be at a minimum a complex and not necessarily direct road as to how a societal value or cultural influence travels to an individual's sexual self-awareness, and therefore it is wrong to reduce things to a conscious ideological statement as if this process were a simple one-to-one relationship.
But, again, we feel it would also be wrong to simply reduce the issue, or our errors, to the question of whether there is a choice or no choice (or how much choice there might be) with regard to sexual orientation. For one, there seems to be a considerable amount of variation in this matter of choice. And whether or not something presents itself to an individual as a matter of choice does not settle the question of its social content or whether society should have something to say about it. As we have previously pointed out, there are various things that people can do sexually, as well as in other ways. that are detrimental to society. And it might be the case, with regard to some of these, that for whatever reason an individual might not seem to be able to choose not to do them. (For example, some habitual wife batterers claim that they cannot help themselves.) Yet even a more just society would still have an objective interest in curtailing or even suppressing that detrimental behavior.
Homosexuality per se clearly does not belong in any such category, even though putting it in this category is unfortunately not an uncommon view in present-day society. Like heterosexual sex in this society, modern homosexual relations often have a lot that is rotten reflected within their practice and they have their own particularities, but homosexuality, while a varied and complex phenomenon, should not be viewed and treated as, in its essence and fundamentally, something negative. In short, returning to the criteria we feel are correct to apply in examining human sexual practices, we do not think it is correct to view homosexuality--including male homosexuality--per se as an objective obstacle to the full emancipation of women. In modern U.S. gay male culture there are expressions that not only reflect but could be described as a concentrated reflection of the inequalities between men and women, but these do not define the phenomena as a whole, and even the sharpest expressions of this in gay male culture are not the source of male supremacist ideology nor the key social relation that materially perpetuates the oppression of women.
We feel we have correctly been criticized for painting the practice of both male and female homosexuality with too broad a brush. By the time of the 1988 Revolution article we already had a more balanced understanding of the social phenomenon overall, and in that article we did acknowledge that there are many homosexual males not into the most decadent expressions, that there are male homosexuals who struggle against a misogynist outlook and some who are front-line fighters in progressive and revolutionary struggles, including in relation to the woman question. But the preponderance of the description and discussion of the male homosexual scene in the Revolution article--dwelling on the most backward aspects--actually contributed to overly broad and sweeping conclusions that could only serve to discourage any homosexual males from breaking with backward expressions. And this characterization was disheartening to some of the advanced politically because it could be interpreted as saying that the only way to fully break with misogyny and a bourgeois outlook would be to adopt a heterosexual orientation.
Our discussion of lesbianism in the Revolution article still seems accurate in some respects, but it does one-sidedly focus on lesbianism as a conscious and ultimately too conservative form of escape from or resistance to the oppression of women by men. While it is correct to demarcate the outlook of radical feminism from a thoroughgoing revolutionary position and to criticize a political and ideological program that would claim lesbianism as an answer to the oppression of women, the practice of lesbianism in and of itself is not necessarily an ideological statement or a political program, reformist or otherwise. Our Party years ago did witness some militant feminists turn to lesbianism in an attempt to get away from relations of male domination and then go on to lose their radical edge. This phenomenon also corresponded with a general ebb that was emerging after the high tide of struggle in the late '60s and early '70s, and we overly generalized in this regard. While there are pulls on people throughout our society to settle for personal peace and individual survival and advancement, and such pulls exist among lesbians too, we did tend to present the situation as if there were something inherent within the lesbian sexual orientation that prevented individuals from rising above these pulls. Again, this was linked to making a claim that one's homosexuality was in essence and in general a conscious ideological statement.
The above self-criticism should not obscure the fact that there is much that is worth preserving in that '88 Revolution article. In fact, as spoken to above, along with the crucial focus on the woman question in relation to all sexual relations and practices, there is still much of value that can be gleaned from the Revolution article's discussion and critique of biological determinism (a trend which is disturbingly pervasive today), the article's application of dialectical and historical materialism to the question of human sexuality, as well as some of the open-ended musings about how many diverse expressions of human sexuality might co-exist in future communist society but have different meanings and impacts than they do today.
To those who would argue that we took too long to review this question, we would say: while there may be some truth to this, it takes time to unravel what is right from what is wrong, and also to recognize aspects about which too little is known to take a clear position. And it wouldn't do any good if we simply catered to fashion and scrambled to try to "correct" an old position by simply adopting whatever has become popular at any given time, and without being pretty confident that a new position actually better corresponds to material reality and represents an improvement over the old. Searching for the truth with any real integrity of purpose and method is a process which has to be done right, and this takes time and resources. And the process of forging a new Draft Programme served as an important juncture for stepping back to carry on serious re-examination.
Which brings us to a second point: we are a revolutionary party, which necessarily entails a broad and complex agenda. We are not "single-issue" activists (in relation to this or any other single issue), and we also cannot function like individual scientists, historians or social scientists, though we embrace and investigate all such disciplines and more. We are a revolutionary party and as such we seek to work in a collectively disciplined way to apply the scientific method of dialectical and historical materialism and the scientific viewpoint and method of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as a whole to all spheres of human life and to all the major questions of the day, as we constantly struggle for a better, more accurate and more comprehensive understanding of material reality. And we do this not to understand things just for the sake of understanding them, but to try to better find the ways to concretely lead people in the direction of the seizure of power and the revolutionary transformation of all of society. We try not to work piece-meal here or there but to relate everything we do to the broader strategic objectives of preparing ourselves and the masses for the revolutionary seizure of power and the building of an entirely new kind of society, while contributing all we can to the overall world revolution.
Part of the art of revolution is recognizing that you can never do everything that objectively cries out to be done at any given time, or do all things equally well or with the same degree of attention. It involves recognizing and correctly dealing with relative freedom and necessity, and their dialectical relation, at any given time, knowing how to set strategic objectives and priorities, and unfolding work that is undertaken along the many different tracks as much as possible in line with those priorities and always with an eye to how it all fits in with overall strategic objectives.
All this is not easy to do. And as the overall work and responsibilities of revolutionary leadership continue to expand, a revolutionary party needs ever more hands, more minds, more resources of all sorts to meet the new challenges and demands.
The point here is that it is important to keep all this in mind and to understand that, even if a given question (such as homosexuality) is objectively important, there are always many other questions which are objectively at least as pressing and important to overall revolutionary advance.
Finally, in terms of sharpening up our methodology in approaching this question, and in terms of correctly handling contradictions among the people around it, it is important to remember that discussions and differences in relation to this question will no doubt continue, and we will no doubt continue to learn new things in the course of that process. Our Party's Chair, over the recent years, has written extensively on the strategic importance of working to continually improve the way all these kinds of contradictions are handled--not only now, but after the seizure of power and throughout the socialist period. These same writings have also emphasized the crucial importance of the party cultivating a genuine and ongoing openness to new ideas and a certain non-dogmatic flexibility in dealing with dissent or other forms of disagreement among the masses.(20) All this is very relevant to the search for the truth in general and including in relation to the issue at hand. In fact, the application of just such a methodological approach has been important in allowing us to critically re-examine our past work on the question of homosexuality and to be willing and able to recognize some important mistakes, while at the same time recognizing some core aspects of truth to be preserved and some essential aspects of correct methodology that are crucial to grasp and apply even more fully.
We look forward to people's comments, criticisms, suggestions, etc., and we invite you to be part of discussing this position paper and to be part of the process of finalizing our new Party Programme.
1. This position paper was prepared in 2001 by a specially constituted writing group assembled by the RCP, USA.
2. Contributions would also be welcomed to the longer-term exploration and discussions of the material bases and societal impacts of various forms of human sexual expression in current U.S. society and also from a historical and cross-cultural perspective.
3. The reader unfamiliar with our Party's outlook and goals may find helpful the following, which Maoists call "the 4 Alls" and are drawn from a summary by Marx of what the communist revolution aims for and leads to: the abolition of all class distinctions; the abolition of all the relations of production on which these class distinctions rest; the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production; and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations.
4. As recently as the 1880s it was widely believed that women in early human societies had always been the slaves of men. Engels broke with this tradition in his 1884 book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State as he reviewed the discoveries made by Bachofen (who traced the historic "overthrow of mother right") and the anthropologist Henry Louis Morgan (who studied different tribal systems). Engels brought out that women being enslaved by men actually would not likely have been the case in the earliest forms of human social organization. In particular Engels reviewed how major historical changes in sexual relations and the institution of the family had taken place at different historical junctures, and how these changes had always been associated with major changes in the productive activities of a society. This represented a real breakthrough in understanding. While Engels was not right in all the particulars about past human societies (and while he unfortunately also reflected the traditional prejudices of his times in his views of homosexuality), the historical and materialist method he applied to analyzing questions of sexuality and the family, and the basic core of his synthesis, have actually held up remarkably well, even in light of the further advances in understanding provided by modern historical and anthropological scholarship.
For more on the contributions of Engels and of modern anthropologists and an historical materialist approach to understanding the overall process and basis for the worldwide overthrow of "mother right" and historic subjugation of women, see Ardea Skybreak's Of Primeval Steps and Future Leaps (Ch III, especially pp. 107-117 and 119-123).
5. Today the patriarchal family is showing tremendous strains. Even in recent decades we have witnessed fairly major changes in the rules as they apply to marriage and the family in countries like the U.S. Pre-marital sexual relations and long-term couplings without marriage have become much more broadly acceptable than they used to be despite repeated and intensifying attempts by reactionary forces to re-assert "traditional morality and values" at every turn. This is a good illustration of an important point made by Engels: Similar to political, juridical, religious and philosophical systems in general, as the family undergoes change, the moral codes and customs tend to ossify. And while these traditional customs are maintained, often by force, the actual developments of the family outgrow them.
6. We are using the term "pederasty" in this document not as a synonym for "pedophilia," but as a technical term used to describe a type of sexual relation and institution between two males when one of them is an adolescent or a youth considerably younger than the other partner. Historically, often the older partner played the role of the "male," while the younger partner's role was more analogous to the "woman" and more the passive object of sexual pleasure of the older male (i.e., historically the relations were often very unequal). Pedophilia in modern society refers to sexual lust for a child by an adult and at times is used to refer to a pathology or sickness where an adult (almost always male and more often than not, considers himself heterosexual) has intense and recurrent sexual urges for prepubescent girl and/or boy children.
7. It is also important to realize that the practice (and professed purpose) of male same-sex sexuality in ancient Greece varied considerably between different time periods and different city-states. It has been suggested, for instance, that it may have been promoted in part as a form of birth control in ancient Crete, and that it was institutionalized as an integral component of sexually segregated "ultra male" military organization in Sparta and Thebes (in part because it was felt that units of soldiers who were also lovers could fight more boldly and bravely with and for each other). In later Athenian society much emphasis was put on mature men physically and emotionally loving young boys (who were selected as ideals of male physical and moral perfection) whom the men could also mentor and culturally initiate into the ways of civilized society. It also seems that even where one form of homosexuality was widely practiced, as in the example of Athenian pederasty described above, there were as well secondary forms of homosexual activity that were at variance with this prevailing practice.
8. And actually the Nazis "hedged their bets" on the nature/nurture issue. They instituted many measures to eradicate homosexuality (which they considered to be detrimental to society) from both directions: In terms of social influences, they barred homosexuals from teaching and other positions through which they might influence children; from the perspective of a biological basis, they took draconian steps to keep homosexuals from reproducing and to supposedly "cleanse" the gene pool by rounding up homosexuals and sending them to concentration camps, experimenting on many (reportedly with hormonal manipulation and in some cases, castration), working thousands literally to death and ultimately slaughtering large numbers. (For more on the question of the Nazis' persecution of homosexuals see Haeberle 1981 and Mondimore 1996, pp. 212-218.)
9. To cite just one example: it seems that human children, including deaf children, must be taught a language--any language, including sign language, which has a complete syntax and grammar--in their first few years of life*; but past a certain "critical window of development," if they have not had a chance to acquire a language it seems they will have permanently lost the capacity to do so fully, and in addition will be mentally developmentally disabled more generally. (*While there seems to be general agreement that a "critical window of development" exists in relation to the acquisition of language, there are some significant differences among researchers as to the span of this window, with some researchers arguing that it stretches to early adolescence.)
10. While theories about possible biological underpinnings of homosexuality have been the most popular (and the most popularly reported and sensationalized) in the last couple of decades, there is also a significant body of work which has been devoted to exploring theories of possible social (or "experimental") factors which might be involved in what has been proposed to be the "social construction" of homosexuality (see Stein 2000, for example, for a discussion of some of this work). For instance, there have been numerous social studies (often involving interviews with homosexuals who attempt to recall their early histories and formative experiences) designed to assess the possible influence of such things as first sexual experiences, family dynamics, or gender-related behaviors in childhood on the development of sexual orientations.
As in the field of biology, many of these studies are marred by questionable working assumptions, problems with sampling methods, likely unconscious subjectivity on the part of people being interviewed (as they attempt to recall their childhood and adolescent histories through the distorting prism of later adult perceptions), and an overarching problem with once again a reductionist focus on the search for specific single and direct causes of homosexual orientation, as opposed to a possible "mix" of interacting influences--which seems more likely to be involved, but is more difficult to study. Also as in the biology research, the social research has so far failed to identify any clear and direct causal factors underlying the development of homosexual orientation.
While many homosexuals report exhibiting "gender atypical" behaviors in childhood and not "fitting in," little can be made at this point of this rather weak correlation, because there is no real evidence to suggest that gender atypical behaviors in childhood would have a causal effect on the formation of sexual attraction. Further, many homosexuals report that they were not in fact "gender atypical" in their childhood behaviors, and there are many heterosexuals, both male and female, who report "atypical" behavior (see again Stein 2000 and also Murray 2000). Much remains to be learned through further research here as well, but in this sphere of social research (just as in the field of biological research) it seems that significant conceptual and methodological problems will need to be addressed in order for understanding to progress. (See Fausto-Sterling 2000 and Stein 2000 for valuable references and some interesting attempts to begin to grapple with some of these conceptual and methodological difficulties.)
11. Not all the particulars have been equally or identically practiced in all class societies. For example genital mutilation, while widespread to this day in large parts of the world, never was practiced in some class societies. Some cultures historically may have outlawed and persecuted the practice of lesbianism more than others, etc. The family and the culture around it are, after all, manmade institutions. The overall point on the oppression of women and how historically and worldwide the patriarchal family has translated into compulsory monogamy for women (in whatever form this was enforced) generally holds. Not every woman of course individually played the role of wife and mother. But these pivotal patriarchal relations colored and influenced all approved roles women generally played (e.g., unmarried women remaining domestic slaves of their fathers' households) and even the "not so approved" (e.g., prostitution).
12. See, for instance, Murray 2000 for an extensive cross-cultural overview of many different forms of expression of homosexuality throughout history and around the world.
13. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to do a thorough examination of this history we would direct the reader to Byrne Fone's book, Homophobia: a History for an enlightening examination and analysis of this Judeo and Christian legacy, European history overall and more.
14. In the U.S., 6 states ban consensual "sodomy" (generally defined in these laws as any "oral-genital" and "anal-genital" intercourse) between individuals of the same sex. In addition, 17 other states and Washington DC ban consensual "sodomy" between any adults, heterosexual or homosexual. The maximum penalty for consensual "sodomy" in the U.S. is in the state of Georgia and it is 20 years! Generally these laws are not enforced across the board, but are used only occasionally and selectively to harass--and in the states that criminalize such acts for both hetero- and homosexuals, commonly only homosexuals are singled out for the occasional direct criminal prosecution for their violation. Even in states where these laws are not often used directly to prosecute, their existence is cited by reactionaries as the logic and justification for denying protection against discrimination, marriage rights and denying custody of children etc., etc. Those who have studied extensively the violence perpetrated against homosexuals and the injustices faced by lesbians and gay men have summed up that the existence of such laws contributes significantly to an atmosphere that condones and even encourages violence and other mistreatment and abuse directed against homosexuals in the U.S. (See Nussbaum 1999, pp. 184-210.)
15. "Gays, lesbians and bisexuals are targets of violence in America. 24% of gay men and 10% of lesbians, in a recent survey, reported some form of criminal assault because of their sexual orientation during the past year (as compared to the general-population assault rates in a comparable urban area of 4% for women and 6% for men)" (Nussbaum 1999, p. 190). See also Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men by Gary David Comstock.
16. "Gender neutral" society--a society where one sex is no longer subordinate and no longer are there assigned or socially established gender roles for a particular sex reflecting this subordination.
17. A number of progressive and revolutionary activists have raised questions to us about the history of the international communist movement on this question of homosexuality and specifically some of the changes in policy in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. We do think this is an important question, but for reasons of length and adequate time for research we cannot get into this further in this position paper. This evaluation will also be a component of our longer term efforts on this question.
18. See Clark Kissinger's pamphlet "How China Got Rid of Drugs," 1988
19. As Engels pointed out, there is a lot that we simply can't yet know about what the future will be like and the answer to what will be new in human sexual relations will only become clear "when a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman's surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love, or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences. When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual--and that will be the end of it. (Engels 1971, p. 73)
20. We would strongly encourage people to read essays by our Chairman that speak to these questions, including those reprinted in issues 1087, 1088 & 1089 of the Revolutionary Worker newspaper. Also, the Draft Programme itself--in particular the discussions of the vanguard party, and especially the role of the party in socialist society, and of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the superstructure in socialist society--reflects this same basic outlook and approach.
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