Gay Liberation in Canada:
A Socialist Perspective
A Balance Sheet of the Discussion
Why the LSA’s Clarified Position
on Gay Liberation is Correct
An evaluation by Duncan McLean and Thérèse Faubert
Gay liberation presents a challenge and an opportunity to all those
who are serious about creating a better world. It has become a topic of
discussion among militants of the Fourth International on all
continents, and we are being looked to. Comrades of the Revolutionary
Marxist Group, Groupe Marxiste Revolutionnaire, and the Groupe
Socialiste des Travailleurs du Quebec/Toronto Socialist Workers Group,
will want to consider our position as do many gay activists across the
The League’s position on gay liberation contains valuable lessons for
all our areas of work. It says a lot about the kind of movement we are —
how we, in the words of Lenin, champion the struggles of all the
oppressed "as it manifests itself in the most varied spheres of life and
activity — vocational, civic, personal, family, religious, scientific,
etc., etc." For it is our intention to be able to "react to every
manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears . .
. in order to clarify for all and everyone the world historic
significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat." (V.I.
Lenin, What Is To Be Done?)
It also says a lot about the scope and vitality of dialectical
materialism and of the development of Marxist analysis in new areas. At
the same time it illustrates the rigorous, streamlined nature of the
revolutionary combat party that Marxists must build.
If we are to recruit leading gay militants to this conception of a
Leninist party we must be able to clearly articulate and popularize our
perspectives in opposition to other viewpoints current in the gay
In the interests of furthering this clarity we are submitting the
following observation. It contains our assessment of the results of the
August 1976 plenum and reports our current thinking on the amendments
which we co-signed at that time.
Under the gay liberation discussion at the plenum there were four and
only four questions up for a vote:
- Reaffirmation of the League’s support for gay liberation.
- The question of what a revolutionary party should or should not
adopt lines on.
- The League’s strategy for the gay movement.
- Our approach toward intervention.
The many other issues that arose in the course of the discussion all
fell into the realm of different opinions and analysis on questions of
culture, science, and sexuality. These questions, while very important
and valuable to discuss, will not be worked out through votes.
The real problem with the amendments
Our thinking has evolved since the time of the August plenum. We now
realize that the amendments and the way they were put forward were not
100 percent in line with the professed agreement of the co-signers that
the League should not adopt positions within the realms of culture,
science, and sexuality.
We maintain the opinions advanced in the content of all eight of the
amendments. However, with the exception of amendment four, (which was
embraced in John Riddell’s report), all of them to one degree or another
fell within the realm that should not be actually voted on. By the same
token any counter-theories, of which we saw germs in the Political
Committee statement (which elicited our amendments in the first place)
should also not be voted on.
When we vote on a report of this nature we vote on its general line
in the realm of politics (i.e. program, demands, strategy, etc.)
and not on all the formulations and analysis of a broader nature
interwoven throughout the report.
What the CC should have done
Riddell ended his report with a call to "reject the revision."
Russell in his report said, "Our recommendation is that the Central
Committee vote on the general line of the Proposed Amendments ... and
the general line of this report."1 The plenum minutes
record that there was then a "Motion by the presiding committee on
behalf of Russell to approve the general line of the amendments and of
the report by Russell." The motion was defeated.
Our amendments were defeated not because all the CC members
necessarily disagreed with the content of each one, but simply because
they fell outside the limited framework that the League as a whole takes
a line on. However, the manner in which they were handled, while not
strictly wrong, was potentially confusing.
What did it mean for the Central Committee to "vote on the general
line" of the amendments and Russell’s report? What "general line"? Was
it the general line of the content — the particular concepts, theories,
and analysis — or was it the idea that the League should indeed take
votes in these realms of science and culture? We can only conclude that
it was the latter rather than the former, because we do not have a
mandate to vote "no" to the content of materialist theories in these
areas any more than we do to vote "yes." We don’t vote on them, period.
This could have been made more obvious if the amendments had not been
voted on at all. A motion to that effect would have brought to a clear
head the question of whether or not the League should vote on questions
of culture and science. At the same time, no one would have left the
plenum feeling that "their" particular opinions in the realm of culture
and science had in any way, shape or form been "rejected." No vote would
have been taken. The investigation and discussion on such topics would
continue over the years in the healthiest atmosphere and in an
In defense of Marxist analysis of gay oppression
We must educate to ensure that the parties of the Fourth
International assimilate to their very cores the lessons that the
historical experience of the Soviet Union under Stalinism affords
Trotskyists. For, as Loren Graham writes in Science and Philosophy in
the Soviet Union (Vintage Books, 1974):
"Here one can find abundant evidence of the damage done to
science by a centralized political system in which the principal of
control was extended to scientific theory itself.
"The intensely political character that science assumes in all
countries is no justification for the intrusion of controls on the
judgement of rival scientific explanations. That decision must
belong to scientists."
At the same time Graham recognizes the importance of the method of
dialectical materialism in all fields of science as well as the need for
revolutionists to study questions in these realms.
"Just as Engels and Lenin in their times attempted to incorporate
the latest science into the Marxist world view, so must contemporary
Being a revolutionary Marxist party the League takes a militant stand
in favor of dialectical materialism. Because of this we are able to
reject in the name of the League, clearly non-materialist reactionary
theories. In this sense the League as an organization can go with us
half way. In rejecting anti-gay theories and prejudicial myths was clear
the way for the materialist answers. By saying what gays are not, we
open the door to determining the truth about homosexuality. Gays,
Marxists, scientists, and the generations of the future world will fill
in the rest.
We don’t ask the League to put its seal on any of these positive
materialist theories (i.e. on the roots and origins of gay
oppression) because we simply recognize that more than one materialist
explanation is possible on all these questions.
The party we are building will eventually have the power to lead a
socialist revolution. But it will never have the power to determine
which materialist viewpoint in many other realms of culture and science
correspond most exactly to objective reality. A democratic-centralist
political organization is just not an instrument adequate for that task!
Rather than shunning materialist advances in the fields of sexuality
and sexual oppression, we are safeguarding and best furthering them by
operating in this manner. We are not encumbering Marxists in these
fields with "party lines" for or against their conclusions as they
develop. Karl Marx, who incidentally never put all the economic theories
in his voluminous Capital up for a vote, warned sternly, in a
preface to that work, against impatience and attempts to find short-cuts
in the development of scientific cognition of the world:
"There is no royal road to science and only those who do not
dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of
gaining its luminous summits."
Where does the gay liberation discussion now stand
— a brief balance sheet
The purpose and framework of the amendments and the other
contributions to the bulletin was to "aid in the clarification and
improvement of a basically very good statement drafted by the P.C."2
This has been achieved, as we now shall illustrate.
A. On the four issues up for a vote
1. Our support to gay liberation
During the pre-convention period, the literary discussion, and the
plenum, no opposition was expressed to the reaffirmation of "the
League’s rejection of all forms of discrimination and oppression
suffered by homosexuals and our unconditional support to the struggles
of gays for full civil and human rights." 3
2. The League does not adopt positions on questions of culture,
science, and sexuality.
Question: But is it valid for comrades to investigate issues
within these areas?
"Dialectical materialism has been applied to many other fields
and the conclusions reached by Marxists in scientific study are of
great value to the work of a revolutionary party.
"But for a revolutionary party to control, regulate, or take
positions on such questions harms the party — and it also obstructs
the progress of scientific study. The views of Marxists on history,
anthropology, or sexuality can stand on their own feet. Resolutions
at party conventions are not required and will not help establish
the authority of Marxist scientific conclusions."
Question: Can League members express their views in
public discussions on questions like the nature of homosexuality,
provided that they make it clear where the League position ends and
their personal views begin?
Answer: Yes. "Of course we can."
"A revolutionary party favors the free development of cultural
and scientific discussions and we favor Marxists undertaking
personal work in these fields. Sometimes we find it useful to
provide a platform for these kinds of discussions, in our forums, or
in our press."1
We completely reject reactionary "theories" without at the same time
adopting our own theories.
Question: But don’t we draw on and utilize science in order to
refute these theories?
Answer: Yes. "Of course we utilize the evidence of scientific
studies in refuting reactionary ‘theories.’"1
In Counter-mobilization: A Strategy to Fight Racist and Fascist
Attacks,4 Doug Jenness makes the point that
often we can be more effective in utilizing science in debates than the
scientists or liberal academics. We understand the political dimensions
more sharply and can tie the two together. Says Jenness, "...have an
antiracist militant study the scientific aspects of the question and
take on these racist theories."
3. Strategy for the gay movement
Riddell: "No significant disagreements have yet come to light on
our assessment of the gay movement or the strategy we propose for it."
Russell: "It should be underlined . . . that we also agree on
what our strategy should be for the gay liberation movement, despite any
important tactical differences we might have." 2
For a summation of this strategy see the Political Committee
Statement on Gay Liberation.3
4. Our approach toward intervention
During the pre-convention discussion, literary discussion, and plenum
discussion, no differences were expressed with the approach suggested by
the P.C. Statement.
This approach, which was a fundamental reversal of the guidelines
suggested by the 1971 plenum report is that "We should intervene in the
gay movement, promoting this (mass action) course and presenting our
revolutionary socialist views," and that "Our intervention should take
place within the general guidelines for our approach to any area of
work."3 For a full elaboration, see the P.C.
B. Discussion on issues not resolvable through votes
It is interesting to note that on several key issues out-side of the
sphere in which we have to reach a common "party line," the leadership
comrades and the signers of the amendments are seeing more closely eye
In our opinion, recognizing the role of the nuclear family is basic
to a Marxist analysis of gay oppression. In John Riddell’s report to the
plenum it was stated clearly:
"Gay oppression is closely linked to the family; it can be viewed
as an outgrowth of the morality established to buttress the family —
like the prohibition on sexual expression among youth. Demands for
gay liberation come into conflict with the family, as well as other
A majority also seems to agree with the opinion expressed in both
Russell’s and Riddell’s reports that "gay liberation challenges key
institutions of capitalism" and "ending gay oppression requires gays to
join in the struggle for socialism."1
Within this clear framework of basic consensus there remains of
course a multitude of opinions and ideas on a variety of issues. Even
where there are wide divergences of viewpoints, the discussion has been
educational for all sides and the exact nature and extent of the
differences have tended to become more clarified. This process of
ex-change is invaluable for the healthy development of a rounded Marxist
analysis. Further discussion would be helpful around the following
- The centrality of the nuclear family to gay oppression.
- A more adequate definition of the movement for gay liberation
and its interconnection with other aspects of the radicalization and
class struggle (i.e. women’s liberation), and the struggle for
- Our understanding and use of such terms as "discrimination,"
"oppression," and "repression."
- "Out of the Closets and Into The Streets!"
- The "age of consent question" in terms of a Marxist attitude
towards legislated sexual restrictions and both the protection and
liberation of children and youth.
C. Questions of assessment and tactics which need sorting out
- The current state of the gay movement and its leadership. The
concrete application of our mass action strategy. Both we and the
gay movement have a lot to learn.
- The debate in the gay movement over the demand to "Abolish All
Age of Consent Laws" versus the demand for a "Uniform Age of
Consent." What is the best tactical approach to this issue in order
to best defend the rights of "under-age" gay youth and build a
massive gay rights movement?
- Which way forward for the Lesbian movement? The current child
custody cases. Lesbian autonomy within the gay and women’s
A significant evolution has been taking place in our movement’s
discussion on gay liberation since its current phase began in December
1975. While multiple opinions exist on the overall scientific and
cultural questions of gay oppression, there has been a basic and solid
convergence between ourselves and the Political Committee on the central
issues on which our movement adopts party positions.
While we do not agree with all the formulations, we believe the
League now has the most desirable basic position in relation to gay
liberation. We are also in full support of the League’s Leninist
attitude and approach towards questions of science and culture in
general. We are looking forward to explaining and promoting these
acquisitions both inside and outside the League.
Unfortunately the understanding and clarity that has been reached
amongst the comrades most involved in the discussion has yet to be
assimilated throughout the ranks of the movement. Considerable confusion
exists as to what the gay liberation discussion was all about.
Considerable confusion also seems to remain around the League’s relation
to Marxist analysis of scientific and cultural questions. Much more
educational work is needed on several aspects of gay oppression. As
Trotskyist forces begin to band together, issues such as these will tend
to have to be discussed over again.
For these and other reasons we have to say the discussion has just
begun. It’s a very long-term and gradual process (there are no "royal
roads" or shortcuts) amidst the hustle and bustle of building our
movement on all fronts. Meanwhile, for gay liberation, we now have the
essential tools to forge ahead with our work in whatever forms this may
take in the different branches according to their circumstances.
The Political Committee Statement on Gay Liberation, as clarified by
John Riddell’s report, offers Trotskyists a very clear and powerful
approach to gay liberation. It puts us in a stronger position to win the
best gay militants to an understanding of the need to join and build a
revolutionary party. This process is already under way and we are
confident it will continue, for we agree with Stuart Russell at the time
of the August 1976 plenum when he said:
"The contemporary gay liberation movement needs not only our
activists and our organizational skills, but most importantly it
needs our program — a program for winning full gay liberation in
the framework of a strategy for overthrowing this decadent
The liberation of humanity requires not just the independent
mobilizations of all the oppressed — although this is very crucial. What
is needed is the creation of a new society, a society qualitatively
better than any that has thus far appeared on the face of this earth.
Extremely powerful forces, however, are committed to maintaining the
current status quo, no matter what the cost. A strong revolutionary
socialist party must be built. To this end the three organizations of
the Fourth International in Canada and Quebec are now working to found a
new unified movement.
Gay liberation will be among the important topics to be worked out by
the new organization. Thus a challenge is now posed to all gay activists
who are coming to under-stand the need for socialism. Join us: bring to
bear your ideas and experiences on the discussion and work that lies
ahead. There is no finer way of furthering the struggle for both gay
liberation and socialism.
1. Riddell, J.: Political Committee Report to the
Central Committee Plenum, August 1, 1976
2. Russell, S.: Report to the Central Committee
Plenum, August 1, 1976
3. Political Committee Statement on Gay
Liberation, December 5, 1975
4. Education for Socialists, May 1976,
$.75. A bulletin published by the Socialist Workers Party..
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