FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mark Sanford, Sexual Liberation and LGBT Equality

by RON JACOBS

Thanks to the peccadilloes of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, the question of sex and politics has once again been cheaply splashed across US newspapers, television and the internet once again.  Although those of us who have nothing nice to say about this particular rightwing “Christian” moralist are enjoying watching the crocodile tears fall on his career of hate and intolerance, there is a part of each of us that finds absurd the notion that someone should end their political career because of their sexual life.  After all, humans are sexual beings, even though Mark Sanford and his ilk often act as if they weren’t, even while they tear themselves apart with a guilt created by the hypocrisy of the system they invest in.

The most universal of these strictures, especially among religious fundamentalist and right wing political adherents is against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) population.  Gay marriage–no way.  Gays rearing children–no way.  Equal rights for those of a non heterosexual persuasion–special privileges, not equal rights.  Anyhow, you get the picture.  Homosexuals are somehow not quite human and therefore do not deserve to exercise their human rights.  Meanwhile, when it comes to the liberal side of the US political spectrum one hears words in support of equal rights only to be all to often followed by a refusal to support those rights when it comes to actually passing legislation.

With the brashness of the Stonewall rioters and the insight developed through keen observation and years of activism, author Sherry Wolf explores the history and theory of sexual politics in the United States in her recently published Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics, and Theory of LBGT Liberation. Wolf begins her text with a discussion of the roots of sexual oppression. By discussing the  construction of homosexuality, she addresses the complementary construction of heterosexuality and the resulting dichotomization of human sexual experience.  Working from an understanding that it is capitalism that creates this dichotomy, Wolf examines the contradiction of early industrial capitalism that allowed for the autonomy of human sexual practices while demanding the stratification of those practices to make it possible for capitalism to work.  Stating this theory quite succinctly–“capitalist society has transformed how people express themselves sexually yet simultaneously has aimed to restrict human sexuality as a means of social control”–Wolf begins an examination of how we arrived at the juncture we are currently at.  By utilizing this contradiction, Wolf is able to turn a sharply critical eye on the successes and failures of the LBGT movement, while never forgetting that this fundamental contradiction is the genesis for a multitude of other contradictions around race and class that exist withing the LBGT and every other movement for social justice and true liberation.

An avowed socialist, Wolf does not only address the nature of sexual repression under the capitalist nations.  She turns a critical eye towards those nations that called themselves socialist and breaks down the history and nature of those governments’ repression of sexuality, especially that of LBGT peoples.  Noting that immediately after the Russian Revolution of October 1917 all restrictions on sexual expression were removed from the criminal code, Wolf continues her history by noting that it was the pressures of the counterrevolution and eventual leadership of Stalin that followed the heady years of the Russian Revolution that saw the rollback to traditional sexual practices being encouraged and enforced in the Soviet Union.  Wolf attributes the repression of LBGT folks in Cuba and China to their essentially Stalinist nature, while noting that within the US communist movement, gays and lesbians were purged from the Communist Party, USA under similar circumstances.  Despite the essentially Victorian attitudes towards sexuality in the CPUSA, the struggle against these attitudes continued inside the party and throughout the leftist movement in the US.

Because of the anti-gay sentiment prevalent in Left formations, many gays and lesbians looked elsewhere for a political understanding of their situation.  Concurrently, the phenomenon of identity-based politics was gaining ground among many US activists.  The essential apolitical nature of these politics was not apparent at first, yet the seed was sown.  Movements supporting LBGT liberation ended up becoming focused on a single issue, and isolated from the greater political milieu.  Like other left-originated movements, they found a home in academia and, instead of encouraging alliances across genders and race, they encouraged  a politics of separatism and a hierarchy of victimhood.  Wolf argues that although identity and queer politics did not (and can not) achieve sexual liberation, this trend in the politics of sexuality has done a lot to generate social acceptance by individuals of LBGT individuals in US society. However, they have not changed the fundamental basis of sexual oppression.  Only organizing and mobilizing in the streets against sexual oppression can accomplish that.

One of the debates around homosexuality in the United States concerns whether or not biology determines one’s sexual preference.  Wolf addresses this debate, pointing out its potential misuse by homophobes.  If it is biologically determined, then can’t it be cured?  At the same time, this argument has been used by advocates for equal rights for the LBGT population.  Given the open-ended nature of this debate, Wolf presents arguments for and against, ultimately stating that it is virtually impossible to state how much of one’s sexuality is determined by biology and how much is related to other factors.  She does insist, however, that it is under capitalism that the distinctions and classifications of sexuality have flourished and have been used by the ruling class to keep those they rule divided.  Consequently, it is only by ending the capitalist economy that true sexual liberation can come.

Bringing the text into the heart of today’s struggle around marriage equality, Wolf addresses those critics that consider gay marriage to be a side issue.  No matter what one thinks about the institution of marriage and its role in maintaining bourgeois society, she argues that it is essential leftists and progressives support the fight.  In the same way that antiracists in the 1950s supported the struggle against laws forbidding interracial marriage no matter what they thought about marriage, we must support the rights of those who aren’t strictly heterosexual to marry.

Although this book looks primarily at the LBGT population, by doing so it explores the nature of all sexualities in US society, how they are influenced by that society and how their influence changes society.  In addition, the growing belief that the struggle for LBGT civil rights is one of the most important struggles leftists in the 21st century should be organizing around becomes even more convincing under her tutelage.  Sexuality and Socialism is the most intelligent and enlightened discussion on sexuality to come from the Left in a long time.  No other work that comes to my mind explains the history of sexuality and sexual repression in the United States as comprehensively and compellingly.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail