Taking responsibility: Bill Martin on sexuality and previous communism

 

"If you put yourself out there as an organization that holds that 'it is right to rebel against reactionaries,' and then you don’t rebel against a prevalent form of reaction or even do a responsible analysis of the culture in which anti-gay bigotry circulates, there ought to be a cost for that."

"Shouldn't there be room in our understanding of sexuality for not letting go of the question, 'Why can't the myriad forms of sexuality simply be a source of joy?' Yes, we go on from there to complicate things with questions of power and gender relations, etc., but why not allow ourselves the possibility (to say something slightly more complicated and less naive) that there is a 'different economy' possible and at work in sexuality that ought to be a beautiful thing and sometimes even is a beautiful thing."

"Neither a Bataillean, 'economy of the gift' (or hippie free love, etc.) nor a 'what business is it of yours?' view of sexuality takes us far enough, but consider that the RCP did have for a very long time as part of its program the idea that the 'new' state should exercise control over sexuality, or at least certain 'phenomena' within the larger field of sexuality."

"Critique of Boneheaded Reason is what I have devoted myself to for some years in working with Marxism, which isn't to say that I haven't been thoroughly boneheaded myself in various ways over the years...."

"Quite often I think of the character Fish...from the Ally McBeal show. He would say something offensive or abusive to someone, and then immediately say 'Bygones!'...Not to be utilitarian about this, but being sincerely sorry could have made a difference to how things went forward (instead of things with the RCP not going forward), rather than this ugly 'Bygones!' perspective."

"The RCP's history can be seen in some ways as repeatedly 'getting something going,' and then seemingly shattering it all on a whim. There was perhaps some element of "fuck 'em" in this – where "em" includes virtually everyone – sections of the people, other radicals and sections of their own organization..."

Introduction

 

The following essay is an addition to Kasama’s Red Closet series -- excavating and summing up some awful anti-gay experiences within the previous communist movement..

Bill Martin is known for many things --  his philosophy and music of course, but also his courageous trip into fascist Peru, as part of an international emergency delegation, to publicly defend the life of captured Maoist leader Abimael Guzman.

Bill Martin also played a prominent role in the public communist engagements over questions of sexuality. He and Bob Avakian conducted in a extended political and philosophical dialogue -- which was then published as a book, Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics (2005).

 

The exchange over homosexuality in that "Conversations" book has remained Avakian's main personal statement on what has, arguably, been the single most damning controversy surrounding his organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party.

In Chapter 21 of that joint book, Avakian refuses to apologize for thirty-plus years of anti-gay policies by the RCP under his leadership. He argued that the exclusion and persecution of gay people was an error of theory and methodology – i.e. a case of incorrect ideas – and so the appropriate response is theoretical self-criticism, followed by a public presentation of new, corrected ideas. It is a response that avoids acknowledging the practices which those ideas justified or the harm done to actual people both inside and outside his organization. And it rejects any discussion of how much he or his organization were gripped by the society's default bigotry of homophobia.

Avakian argue that the reason it took decades to reverse this anti-gay policy was that the RCP leadership (meaning mainly himself) were preoccupied with other matters. It was an astonishing claim -- to have been too busy with more important matters (including at the height of the AIDS crisis) to see what was wrong with abusing and demonizing gay people.

Given this argument and history, it is valuable to now hear what Bill Martin has to say on this matter, and for him to join in Kasama's process of making a communist accounting.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Taking responsibility:

Homosexuality, the previous communist movement and going forward

By Bill Martin

“The publication of these accounts was not some attack on the skeletal grouping that still uses the name Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) today. It was an attempt to understand our common history, to make self-criticism, to give some justice and love to those mistreated, and to make sure similar things do not happen again in the movement we must build now. It is not about that sad past, but about our coming future and about the danger of the well-meaning making terrible mistakes through arrogance and blindness.”

Mike Ely, November 2011, discussing the "Red Closet" series

“[A]s much satisfaction as it would give me personally to publicly call people out for the shit that they put me through, that's not what we do. We argue on line. We argue on actions. We argue on facts. Unlike the RCP, we aren't engaging in a personal attack on individual party members. (Even though I could easily argue that they waged a personal attack, no, more like a war on me and my sexuality).”

Libri Devrim, discussing an attack on Kasama by the RCP for supposedly "naming names" in the "Red Closet" series

The discussion of the RCP, USA's line on homosexuality and the experiences that people have had around this has been extraordinary -- inspiring, revelatory, difficult. Many of us have learned a good deal. I think, and certainly I have.

 

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  • Guest - thegodlessutopian

    Very well written article and though I do not agree with the author's personal views on what causes homosexuality (I firmly believe it is biological) I can respect the courage it took for someone to do such a detailed analysis on inner-party homophobia.

  • Guest - armchairmaoist30

    Great article! First of all I want to say Mr Martin that I read your book of interviews with Bob Avakian last summer and I loved it death: I thought it was a genuine page turner. Obviously the lengths you appear to have gone in order to be diplomatic did undermine the discussion at times, and it was visible. You were too polite and I kept wondering if you weren't afraid to come off as 'too' much of an intellectual; that's partially why I didn't get involved with the Party of Bob Avakian (the 'Derridas' thing turned me off Avakian). I feel like the fears of intellectuals begin with a rightful disgust and suspicion of poststructuralism's "La-La Land liberal toytown totalitarianism," and those revolting court philosophers of Capitalism, to a glorified insecurity of any/all theory outside MLM. Anyway, I thought you could have really taken Avakian--who oddly earned my respect through these interviews more than through his own political writings--to task on issues outside of the RCP's line on homosexuality, but for all that it's a fabulous book and I got a lot out of it. I especially loved your defense of Kant; it really resonated with me.

    Flattery aside, I realize the essay above is a continuation of the Red Closet publication and appreciate the purpose. It's written with the men and women who were alienated from the RCP directly in mind. I was not involved with RCP then or now, so I'm a Johnny Come Lately on the matter, but I wanted to make a small observation. I've been in East Tennessee for the last year and unfortunately missed the excitement of the Occupy Movement and Chicago's summer of protests- but I wanted to mention that a dear friend of mine, a very vocal feminist, has told me over the phone she sees RCP members out peddling the Revolution Newspaper. In her view, they aren't seen as comrades or fellow travelers at these protests but creepy Old Time Religion Communists proselytizing political analyses that do not speak to anyone, and speaks in a language her peers don't totally understand. So there is an issue with perception of the older movement, and I think either you or Ely (I can't remember which of you said this recently) get to the heart of the matter when you say a generation of radicals were basically lost because of anti-intellectualism and bigotry. In Foucault's little book of interviews on Marx, if I remember correctly, he says one of the reasons he left the CP was because they tried to hide the truth about Stalinism. I personally know a number of young people who told me something similar when expressing their aversion to the RCP. In any event, while ghost ships like the RCP are still floating around--all due respect to their members, who I do not wish to diminish because I share many of their overall aspirations [at least in speech *gulp*]--I HAVE noticed a proliferation of gay and queer communist groups across America, coast to coast, so I think there's a great deal of potential right now. Do not despair!

    The 'scientific' claims surrounding homosexuality are not persuasive. I'm currently a science student (bio, chem, etc) but I keep running into really crude biological views of sexuality. At worse they take on cheap evolutionary narratives that go well beyond the reach of empirical study, or simply confuse their own conditions. My central claim is this: There simply isn't a genetic code specifying one's attraction to women's shoes, having your balls or vagina whipped/stepped on, children, or in the case of self-identified "Zoo's", animals such as horses or dolphins.

    Great essay Mr Martin!

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Bill—would like to begin by saying that I always try and read your treatises, essays, etc., including <i> Ethics of Marxism</i> --not that you are some Svengali, or write at all like you have the last word, but I very much appreciate your clarity, honesty, and provocativeness.

    Originally was attracted to “Ethics of Marxism” just from the title, because IMO, sadly over many years, some ethics by some, have been lacking, within the more Marxist/Leninist/Maoist camp; those same ethics need to be a portend of the new society people want to build, and those same ethics need to be applied as best possible to our everyday outlook/practice in the present. Your book has helped reveal and has inspired study of so much more.

    In a completely different context—speaking about the current run-up to the elections in Mexico, Elena Poniatowska (who is an extremely progressive, and revered, Mexican writer and journalist, recently had this to say about one of the tweedle-dee/tweedle-dum(b) candidates:

    <blockquote> “Peña Nieto no tiene derecho a hundir al país con su ignorancia.” (Translation: Peña Nieto has no right to submerge the country with his ignorance.) </blockquote>

    When I think of the rcp’s (and others) rotten stance and line, held for 25 years, on homosexuality, it is hard not to think of a huge part of the responsibility they should assume (and as “communists” no less) for perpetuating (and in some cases even exacerbating) the sheer ignorance and homophobia, persecution, repression and oppression, of millions of PEOPLE worldwide.

    Not to take anything away from those who suffered under the tutelage of the rcp’s homophobic line and program (gay and lesbian members and would be members) but this is so much bigger and pervasive. It not only has deeper ramifications – but has everything to do with one’s outlook for a future society.

    Like Bill said,

    <blockquote>”The complete onus for the bad line was placed on flaws in methodology and not backward ideas…

    …The stigmatization of gay people as reactionary was not a problem of methodology, or certainly not exclusively. This stigmatization was itself a reactionary policy tied to reactionary views on an important form of oppression,….” </blockquote>

    Under the subhead of “a discussion of a phenomenon”? you elaborate on the following—but the following has raised yet another question in my mind:

    <blockquote>Avakian argue that the reason it took decades to reverse this anti-gay policy was that the RCP leadership (meaning mainly himself) were preoccupied with other matters. It was an astonishing claim — to have been too busy with more important matters (including at the height of the AIDS crisis) to see what was wrong with abusing and demonizing gay people.”

    Then…

    “On the one side, I think I was right to subordinate this disagreement for the sake of unity on other things, things that were important (including some of which remain important).”

    So here is the basic question, mixed in with a “phenomena” I have experienced over decades. What’s deemed important and deserves some attention and focus, without an organization becoming either ambulance chasers, or being on a “war communism” footing for years?

    Even if say homophobia and the struggle (sometimes life and death struggle) politically, sociologically and ideologically represents much more than “identity politics”, why is it so common amongst certain communist revolutionaries to relegate a stand on sexual orientation/equality to the level of identity politics (or as individualistic and unimportant)?

    “We” have more important things to “grapple” with. Meanwhile, overall, the majority of the people are “grappling” with (and changing a lot of their traditional outlooks, religious and otherwise) ahead of the “subjective forces” for revolution, and the majority of the youth have been exemplary in helping lead the charge. (Not that mysterious, since historically younger people, in the main, have always been more open to new ideas and change.)

    (A seeming aside—what I do find mysterious is the ennui and lackluster among many revolutionary left circles, in response to the current war on women (basic anti-women’s oppression 101)—even leading up to and during International Women’s Day. Since the beginning of 2012, over 20 anti-abortion, and other misogynist bills have been introduced by the reactionary Right and Republicans on state, local and federal levels. And the links between the persecution of homosexuals and the oppression of women is stark. I guess that people are comfortable with Sandra Fluke (not that there’s anything wrong with Ms. Fluke at all!! nada!!) being the people’s spokesperson, and in retaliation to the likes of Rush L. and his ilk.)

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch--At face value, I don’t necessarily agree with Tell No Lies, that is in only part of what he said—but probably most especially given the irrelevance of what the rcp has become. TNL--“…but my impression is that they were responding as much to internal tensions generated by their old line as they were to any perceived external “opportunities.”

    Besides the notion that the rcp, as well as some other parties/organizations try and seize lots of “perceived external ‘opportunities’,” fact is, it was the developing overt (and covert) militant struggle of the LGBT community, in part ignited by Stonewall, and the outcry and contempt for an organization like the rcp’s reactionary position, that forced the rcp to change it’s tune—change ambiguously and somewhat that is—as they still claim homosexuality is a phenomenon and by implication, “abnormal.”

    They’ve given up the idea for future pogroms, when “they” assume power (Dream on.), but as Bill points out—they’re still operating under the m.o. of let “bygones” be bygones.

    There is an expression in Español, which drives me to distraction. “Ni modo.”

    Basically means, “oh well,” or “c’est la vie.” In Mexico, it’s usage is so common, and used in practically every circumstance to (fatalistically) justify (or explain) whatever the hell is going on—from some horrendous onslaught by the government, to some bad behavior amongst the people.

    If a thoroughgoing, sincere and more profound self (or organizational)-criticism isn’t done or forthcoming, a real questioning of methods, political and ideological thinking, etc. as well as the creation of an atmosphere where those questions can even be asked, guess you might as well chalk 25 years of homophobia up to either “bygones” or “ni modo.” Let’s move on, shall we, to more important matters.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Sorry, forgot to turn off the blockquote--after "On the one side..."

    But I wanted to add an explanation of why PEOPLE was in all caps. This has to do with another bugaboo of mine. Here we are in 2012, and IMO some of us still using the archaic and anachronistic language of a century ago.

    "The national question," the "woman question," yada yada. In today's jargon, it sounds dismissive, or as if the oppression of an entire and impressive section of the people can be reduced to or summed up as "a question." And I think it saps some discussion of its humanity.

  • Guest - Gary

    Thanks for this fine piece, Bill.

    When I read the 2000 “self-criticism” by the RCP on the question of homosexuality I was initially pleased that they were backing off from an indefensible line and therefore more likely to do more work with a wider range of forces than earlier possible.

    But I soon came to feel they (and Avakian in particular) were ducking responsibility, and even insulting the intelligence of people (including gay men and lesbians) who’ve seriously studied sexuality. The very notion that an RCP committee needed to “study” homosexuality for years before the program wording could be removed, as opposed to noting what had become mainstream scientific/medical conclusions concerning the subject (and that my implication they needed to do this under the tutelage of Bob Avakian, who claims in his autobiography to have led the rethinking) was absurd.

    I recalled my feelings in reading the RCP self-criticism about the wrong analysis of the 80s and the supposedly inevitable drive towards World War III between the US and USSR (which I’d never bought). The USSR did not go to war with the US; its economy stagnated due to military competition with the US, many people became disillusioned, nationalisms resurfaced with US imperialist encouragement and the USSR imploded with no shots fired. The RCP had said the inter-imperialist rivalry would only end in war or revolution. Neither happened.

    The RCP’s response ca. 1992 was something along the lines of, “Well it certainly did SEEM like war was coming…” (At least that’s how I recall it. In a long wordy article in A World to Win defending a boneheaded line and essentially saying “We’re past that”…) Another denial of responsibility for an error that put the membership to work in countless campaigns shaped by a mistaken understanding of world power relationships.

    I like Jake’s formulation; on the homosexuality issue the RCP underwent a “conversion from dogmatism to opportunism.” They blamed their dogmatism on, well, dogmatism…. They claimed they’d made the error of tailing after the “workers” (with their supposed conservative sexual mores and aversion to homosexuality). In other words, yes, it was wrong, but it was the masses’ wrong and we as a mass-based party just went along without enough critical reasoning.

    I think the real dynamic was: the RCP in the 1970s assumed that the positions taken on major social issues by the USSR (before 1956) and the PRC (before 1976) should be the vital reference-points of U.S. Maoism. Where there were contradictions between the two (as on the question of class struggle under socialism) Mao was right and Stalin wrong. But where they agreed (as in criminalizing sex acts between people of the same sex) they represented the global proletariat.

    As of 1976 there was a virtual cult of China within the RCP and Brigade. Works by “Gang of Four” affiliated writers propounding ridiculously dogmatic lines on music (Mozart and Beethoven as “noxious weeds”) and on Chinese history (the “transition from slavery to feudalism” that supposedly accompanied the rise of the Qin Empire) were accepted matter-of-factly. After Mao’s death some of this material was presented by the RCP as somehow a positive alternative to the Hua-Deng lines.

    There was, I think, less of a tailing after the backward sections of the U.S. working class than a tailing after forms of Stalin-era Soviet and especially Chinese dogmatism.

    If these communists had concluded that homosexual behavior is wrong and should be punished, the RCP agreed as its default position. It came easy to the leadership to do so because it was itself largely homophobic (as well-documented here).

    You ask: ‘Why can’t the myriad forms of sexuality simply be a source of joy?’ This is a great question.

    U.S. society has changed profoundly in its perception of homosexuality in a very brief period of time. The sense of “live and let live” has grown, aversion of the idea of same-sex sex acts has diminished, support for gay marriage exceeds 50%. Obama says he favors gay marriage. These are significant developments (Obama’s opportunism aside).

    But there are these “myriad forms of sexuality.” There are many people who do not WANT to marry. Many gay people have no interest in that, and indeed pursue lifestyles (and find “sources of joy”) in casual sex with perhaps numerous partners. Many people derive gratification from a wide range of fetishes that can certainly be analyzed but ought not (in most instances at least) be condemned.

    We must not say, “It’s fine to be gay, so long as you emulate the hetero norm, get married and settle down.”

    It was once thought absurd to even discuss homosexuality, but we’ve come a long way. We should also become able to discuss these myriad forms of sexual activity with an eye to challenging ignorance and bigotry.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    In this matter, as in so many other things, we have been way behind, but pretending to be in front. Let's hear it for catching up. Alright.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    While I appreciate Bill's need to process his experience and his responsibilities and I have a good Leftist Trainspotter's curiosity about some of the particulars, what strikes me in this piece is that the most interesting parts are where Bill DOESN'T talk about the RCP. The brief discussions of American anti-intellectualism (which Hofstadter rooted in Puritanism), of French Maoism, and of Bill's readings in Queer Theory are all tantalizing suggestions of what we could be reading if we weren't instead reading more about the RCP.

    The main consequence of the RCP's anti-intellectualism is that when they are wrong they are wrong in uninteresting ways. There are important discussions to be had on the politics of sexuality, but we will get to them by engaging the important work already done rather than through any further excavations of the RCP's stupidity.

    I think the desire not to repeat these mistakes is a good one. But there is a sense in which the verdict on this particular sort of dogmatism is in. Any trend that hasn't broken decisively with it will be a self-limiting sect. We need to move on from the low-hanging fruit.

  • Guest - queermarxist

    First off, long-time reader, but this is my first time posting.

    Anyways, I have to agree with what TNL said above; that the most interesting parts of the essay were the parts that weren't about the RCP, which I too saw as models of possible future discussion. While I understand the importance of the RCP heritage for Kasama, and am by no means suggesting it shouldn't continue to be dealt with (quite the opposite in fact), as someone with no RCP background myself - part of a new generation of communists - I feel like starting to move further out of the RCP's shadow and asserting more of our own, original analysis would be a useful direction. I really enjoy substantial theoretical posts (like) this that AREN'T about the RCP, and instead engage pressing issues for 21st century communism head on.

    Anyways, fabulous article, and I look forward to actually commenting more in the future.

  • Guest - Rhys

    Am inclined to agree with armchairmaoist re the unconvincing nature of the science which is still embryonic. But whether it turns out trumps or not the rush to a biological determinist view is concerning. I remember in the 70's when the gay pride movement kicked off the thing I liked about it was its radicalism and its rebeliousness. It was about free choice and pushing democratic boundaries in the arena of social and sexual relations. I thought then, and still do, that they had a point.
    Whether it was the AIDS epidemic that turned the tide or whether there were other reasons I don't know, but from the '80's there has been a retreat from this radicalism toward the safer and socially conservative area of biological determinism. Here the responsibility for how one is is mitigated by ones genes and the rest of us are supposed to tolerate gays because there is nothing they can do about it.
    This issue raises interesting questions about what human nature is, whether or not it is plastic, whether and to what degree it can change under the influence of social factors. My Marxism (and Maoism) inclines me to the view that our nature is not fixed.
    In Greek antiquity the ruling classes (at least) sanctioned homosexual relations between older and younger men. This seems to have been as much socially determined as biologically determined and points to human sexuality being more polymorphous than our ruling elites (and us?) feel comfortable with. If this is so - and I suspect it is - then free choice and the responsibility that comes with that plays a much bigger part in sexual orientation than the biological argument would give credit to. As a communist, I don't see what's wrong with that.

  • There are many themes and points here in Bill's piece. Let me mention some.


    <b>Queer Love: Some very strange, distant, obscure phenomenon?</b>

    Bill writes:

    <blockquote>"In the RCP position paper on the changed line the argument proceeds as if the answer to the question, “What causes homosexuality?” is a key part of whether gay people should be discriminated against or not. That’s bullshit.

    "It doesn’t matter “what causes homosexuality” (nature? nurture? bad experiences? good experiences? socialization? random hormones?), bigotry and discrimination are wrong. Whatever “causes homosexuality” (which in any case is a diverse and variegated phenomenon, like all forms of sexuality, and not some simple thing that can be understood in a mechanical way), it was wrong to say that all gay people are reactionary!"</blockquote>

    First, same sex attractions were treated as a "phenomenon" -- in a clinical way that very coldly distanced the viewer (communists) from "the phenomenon" (i.e gay people). It is part of a mindset that made absurd and bigoted verdicts possible.

    (The documents we are discussing include Avakian's Chapter 21 of the Conversations book, which is not available online, and the document "<a href="/revcom.us/margorp/homosexuality.htm" rel="nofollow">On the Position on Homosexuality in the New Draft Programme</a>." This second document delineates the RCP's current position, even if that Draft Program, ironically, would never be adopted because explosive conflict erupted both over the history of antigay bigotry and cult-like "appreciation" of Bob Avakian).

    Their discussion started with a lie and an evasion:

    <blockquote>"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."</blockquote>

    The lie is that the RCP was firmly opposed to discrimination and attacks against gay people and welcomed them into the revolutionary struggle. Look: they <em>banned</em> gay people from their ranks. And then, they forbade a discussion <em>inside</em> their organization that would have revealed how and when gay people were attacked <em>by their organization and its leadership.</em> And when Kasama excavated these things, we were accused of betraying the cause!

    The evasion is that the problem of the RCP is portrayed as a "position" (an ideological verdict based on a theoretical analysis) -- but their position also involved practice, and policies, and impacted real events... none of which is acknowledged or even alluded to.

    Another lie that sets the stage for their new line:

    <blockquote>"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."</blockquote>

    It is hard to know where to start to unravel this bullshit: but first, they posit a one-party state, where gay people (by their nature) will be forbidden party membership (and therefore the key positions of power and influence). How is that nondiscrimination? Further who believes that an organizational goal of abolishing the existence of gay people can credibly be divorced from coercion? (And especially who can believe it once the <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/01/08/kasama-pamphlet/" rel="nofollow">actual, often coercive, practice of the RCP toward gay communists</a> is known?)

    Their discussion of grievous past actions is relegated to the arena of disembodied "positions," and queer people themselves are relegated to being some strange, obscure, far-away, and hard-to-understand thing, requiring many years and repeated special teams to seek out and investigate.

    A pretense of science is turned into a clinical distance, as if queer people (their motives, their community, their relations, their oppression) were some "six legged frog", or like some mysterious <em>Terra Incognito </em>to be surveyed, then explained, and then judged.

    And the methodological center of that was the idea that <a href="/http://revcom.us/margorp/h-appendix.htm" rel="nofollow">you had to know (or decide) what "caused"</a> same sex attractions.

    Supposedly, if you reached one "scientific" verdict on causation (in 1988) -- then gay people are reactionaries, they cannot become communists, and their most intimate choices concentrate counterrevolutionary ideas.

    However (magically), if after protracted field study and scouring of scholarly studies, the RCP suddenly "discovers" (in 2002) that (perhaps!) there were <em>other</em> causes of same sex attraction, well <em>then</em> our verdict would crank out in a very different way, and then (perhaps) some gay people could join the RCP, and be considered potential revolutionaries (and not inherently reactionaries -- reformist lesbian lifestylists or gay woman-haters).

    As Bill says, "Bygones!"

    <b>What do you need to know to be just?</b>

    All of this, this whole pseudo-scientific pretense, is bullshit on many levels:

    <strong>To ask an analogous question: </strong>Do we need to write a treatise on the causes of blackness (i.e. how melanin causes black skin etc.), before we can decide that segregation and Jim Crow are terrible?

    Once, when criticizing the RCP's "new position" shortly after it appeared, I said it is as if the RCP was looking at this "phenomenon" through the wrong end of a telescope or a binoculars. So instead of getting "into" it, the whole method was putting great distance between the observer and the "phenomenon." It bristles with a moral discomfort and distancing -- which is typical of homophobia. The RCP's investigation adopted the kind of clinical cultural markers that doctors adopt when examining a possibly contagious patient.

    It was a pose, that distorted what social science is, and tried to act as if their thirty years of backward views were (somehow!) the result of insufficient data. No.

    It is simply not true that you need to understand "what causes same sex attractions" to decide whether gay people should be banned from communist organizations. It simply isn't the relevant or central question.

    Lots of organizations in society have decided not to discriminate against gays -- <em>without</em> any definitive idea of "what causes lesbians?" Lots of radical organizations welcomed gay people in the 1960s and 1970s, while the RCP was arguing they were decadent, degenerate and a security risk. The causes of gay attractions was never the issue.

    And besides, anyone with serious and open-minded contact with gay people quickly gets a sense that same sex attractions and relations are highly diverse, and almost certainly such orientations have multiple causes.

    <strong>A sexual expedition of communist scientists? Really?</strong>

    Third, the RCP field studies on gay people (first around 1988 and then again after 2000) acted as if you had to virtually launch an expedition.

    You almost got the feeling as if the self-congratulating RCP investigation team was some Dr. Stanley charting through "Darkest Africa" for a little-known exotic phenomenon (like the secret source of the Nile).

    Or it was implied that the way to decide whether gay people "can be communists" involved reading new cutting-edge scholarly work on inter-uterine hormones. Really?

    Why (you wonder) didn't they ask all the gay people around them what was right, and what was wrong?

    Were there inquiries made of gay people <em>expelled</em> from the RCP over the years? Were there inquiries of those communists <em>inside</em> who the RCP asked to suppress their gay orientations, and who were known (to the leadership at least) to be right there in their own party?

    Were such persecuted gay people consulted about their experiences and insights with the RCP's theories? Were they placed on the workteams that did this "investigation"? And if not, why not? Why weren't their experiences reported by the RCP itself?

    Why was it necessary to justify the next switch of line (which clearly had massive necessity and expediency attached to it) with this pretense of new scholarly research? And why was it necessary for someone else (namely Kasama) to expose what the real policies and practices of the RCP had been?

    <b>Why suppress an investigation into homophobia among communists?</b>

    Fourth, if it was necessary to launch a field investigation into "why are people gay?" -- why was it also necessary to suppress <em>any</em> inquiry into "why are people <em>anti</em>-gay?" -- including obviously within the RCP itself.

    I witnessed several occasions, in the discussion of the RCP's change of line, when cadre around the RCP started to do self criticism of their own unquestioned bigotry toward gay people, and even (on occasion) discussion of how RCP cadre had acted in shamefully bigoted ways (reporting a gay couple to a landlord is one example that comes to mind).

    This train of thought was immediately (and quite forcefully) criticized and suppressed (as "the wrong line"). Under the banner of "incorrect lines are led" -- anyone <em>allowing</em> such discussions of homophobia to be raised was considered to be engaging in anti-party activity (and targeted).

    People were forbidden to discuss that Avakian had used the word "faggot" in his speech (a prepared speech to a major public founding conference of the RCYB). And those that did were targeted. Remembering that 1977 remark obviously presented proof that ongoing RCP hostility toward gay people was not somehow an error of methodology, but was linked (all along) to some blatant bigotry toward gay people.

    The whole RCP error was portrayed as a scientific misunderstanding in the understanding of "where gay people come from" -- and once a different analysis was established, then (they were insisting) it was possible to adopt a new more open approach to gay people, <em>without having to excavate, acknowledge or criticize any anti-gay bigotry of the organization.</em>

    In other words, if this was simply an error of analytical methodology, if it was simply an uncritical inheritance from the 1930s Comintern theory (lingering unopposed sixty years after the Comintern died!), then <em>what need is there</em> to ask whether the ban against gay people around the RCP was rooted in homophobia and bigotry and male chauvinism?

    It is a cheap trick -- that (in particular) cheapens the name of science -- since this pretense of science is used as a gimmick... as if the previous bigoted RCP position was merely some lab experiment gone awry (add these ingredients, see the results, make a verdict), as if some chemical markers or thermometer had accidentally been read wrong.

    Fifth: However gay people, their lives, their oppression and their hopes are not simply a "phenomenon" in that clinical sense, certainly not one defined by the narrow normatively-weighted question "We just don't understand: where do those peculiar desires come from?"

    (<strong>I mean:</strong> did the investigators of the RCP feel any need to know where <em>their</em> presumably heterosexual desires came from? And was understanding such causation crucial toward deciding whether heterosexual men and women can be communists?)

    Here is a section of the people, who have been waging a courageous and difficult struggle for justice and liberation. Why do they have to undergo investigation over decades, before they can be accepted? And how come <em>other</em> political forces were able to be much more enlightened and welcoming to the demands and concerns of the oppressed? Why did the RCP (a movement that welcomed all kinds of rebellions among the oppressed) never acknowledge or celebraate the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion?

    (Personal note: Starting in the late 1980s, I made a habit of proposing a commemoration of Stonewall in the pages of the RCP's newspaper -- especially on the big marker dates (five year anniversaries, ten year anniversaries). Such proposals met with a stone wall. Until I finally just posted <a href="/http://revcom.us/s/gaylesbian.htm" rel="nofollow">a photo of Stonewall</a> on the RCP site, and dared them to take it down.)

    in fact the RCP's approach to gay people was not merely or mainly an error in "methodology" -- it was a bigoted hostility which was entrenched and stubbornly insisted upon from the highest levels.

    (And there were secret arguments passed around. I was told "Comrades who have been in prison have a different view of homosexuality than you do." Implying that if I witnessed rap in prison I would understand the RCP position better.)

    Meanwhile the "methodologies" of the RCP analysis <em>changed</em> over and over as the years went by -- while their verdict one gay people remained constant. (In other words, when I first joined the RU it was said that gay people couldn't join because their illicit lifestyle was a security risk open to blackmail. then it was said their lifestyles were (generally? universally? uniformly?) decadent and a sign of the degeneracy of capitalism. Then after 1988 it was said that gay men were inherently misogynist and lesbian choices were inherently reformist. But through all of those shifts in absurd justifications, the verdict remained constant. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that the anti-gay verdict was fixed, and all the rest were just ragged and convenient rationalizations.

    <b>What is wrong with same sex attraction? Nothing.</b>

    <strong>A question of logic: </strong>If it is anti-woman for a gay man to have sex with men, if it is misogynist to exclude women from your intimate life -- why isn't it reactionary for people to remain single or celebate by choice? If it is anti-male for women to sleep with women, why isn't it equally anti-male to say "I'm just not in the mood to deal with men right now, so I'll remain single" (as so many RCP women said)? The answer is that the RCP's refurbished 1988 argument was bullshit on the surface.

    Bill raises an important point by telling about the comments of his editor at Open Court:

    <blockquote>"One very important person in this process is my editor at Open Court, the publisher of the book.. my editor and I had many arguments, some heated. To the best of my memory I recall that my editor said about the chapter that Avakian “never really says that homosexuality is okay, or good, and he never says that gay people are oppressed.”</blockquote>

    This is exactly right. Avakian's discussion was a mere concession asserting begrudging, distanced tolerance, within a painstakingly constructed framework of self-protection.

    This was such a stubborn conflict, that in my own statements inside the RCP during such debates, I simply developed the habit of repeating as a mantra, "There is nothing wrong with gay people."

    "Are you arguing that it is ok to have sexual communities of men that inherently exclude women?"
    <em>
    "There is nothing wrong with being gay."</em>

    "Do you really believe we should let gay people into the Party?"
    <em>
    "There is nothing wrong with being gay."</em>

    Another question... along similar lines..

    <em>"There is nothing wrong with being gay."
    </em>

    <b>Beware: Pseudo-science covering backward politics</b>

    I raise these things in order to point out one of the lessons of this experience: and that is how real pseudo-science (i.e. in the RCP's supposed rectification and new analysis) have been used as a self-serving cover for bigotry among communists.

    It is not that different methodologically from how pseudo-rationalist arguments and pseudo-science were once used to justify white supremacist race theory or eugenics.

    When by the late 1990s it was politically unsustainable (when the RCP was appearing to the right of Dick Fucking Cheney), there was an attempt to rewrite the RCP's position (and rewrite its history) <em>without</em> allowing any excavation of the real causes (and any exposure of those actually responsible, starting with Avakian).

    Again: what does it mean to have an organized discussion of the causes of gay people's sexuality, but not also of society's homophobia?

    And without allowing any excavation of the actual <em>practice</em> of the RCP (a ban on membership to gay people, a distancing for gay people in many forms of political work, a shameful promotion of anti-gay arguments to whoever would listen, the invention of a Red Closet within the RCP where gay members were required to live as heterosexuals, etc.)

    The scientific pretense of reversing methodology was, in fact, a continuation of the real methodology: using fake scientific language and double-talk to protect reactionary ideas and practices.

    We should learn from this example -- not because it is so exceptional, but because in any revolutionary movement we can expect to see it again.

    <b>What's intellectually interesting about the intellectually uninteresting?</b>

    At this point it is worth quoting TNL's <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/06/02/bill-martin-on-the-red-closet-what-does-it-mean-to-take-responsibility/#comment-56503" rel="nofollow">comment above</a>:

    <blockquote>"The main consequence of the RCP’s anti-intellectualism is that when they are wrong they are wrong in uninteresting ways."</blockquote>

    The fact that the RCP's arguments (in 1988 and then after 2001) sought to wrap themselves with scholarly studies and extensive footnoting was a conscious attempt to <em>mask</em> the core issue (not to excavate it). And really, it is not particularly interesting -- in fact there is a recurring feeling of "Emperor's new clothes" when unraveling such theories.

    But, in answer to TNL: Perhaps it is worth unraveling <em>despite</em> the fact that it is not intellectually interesting.

    To put it another way: When we asked cadre of the Vietnamese Workers Party (during the Vietnam War) what their view was of gay people, they answered "There are no such people in Vietnam, outside U.S. occupation areas."

    Now, that too was not an intellectually interesting answer. And I suspect it is not much different from what you would have gotten in Maoist China.

    <strong>So let me respond to TNL:</strong> Perhaps the intellectually interesting part of this is not their arguments, but why such things repeatedly have influence among communists. Why did some communists find the bizarre conspiracy theories of the Moscow trials credible? Why did our comrades from Vietnam think their answers were credible, and expect us to accept them? How do we move from a pretense of reality-based thinking, to actually <em>having</em> reality-based thinking (in all its complexity and motion!)

    <b>This is taking responsibility?</b>

    Finally, it is particularly painful and embarassing to revisit how Avakian orchestrated these tortured personal coverups while raising the banner of "taking responsibility for the world."

    Talk about "raising the red flag to oppose the red flag."

    While even arguing that he hadn't had time to devote to studying gay sexuality (that distant, odd, far-removed"phenomenon) closely enough during the 1980s. Why? Well because he was busy with global matters during the 1980s AIDS crisis (presumably founding an international organization RIM, solving major problems of communist history, strategy and ideology etc.).

    In fact, in a perverse twist, Avakian argues that he was able to <em>champion</em> the changing of the RCP's anti-gay line (after 2001, after thirty years of bigotry), precisely because of his work on those other matters. He becomes the hero of the story! And it is possible to find occasionally RCP supporters today who were actually told that Avakian was a visionary pointman who overcame this awful line, rather than one of the die-hard defenders of anti-gay politics. Brilliant rewrite for those inhabiting a bubble!

    The supposed invention of a new, liberating communist understanding of gay sexuality is posed (believe it or not) as a kind of collateral <em>benefit</em> from Avakian's investigations into the Comintern's mechanical thinking -- a benefit that merely took fifteen or so years to come to fruition (arriving roughly the same time that the U.S. Army started to allow gay people to stay!)

    This is (uh...) not an example of "taking responsibility" -- for the world, or for yourself.

    Someone said to me this week: "When this argument came out, i was so disappointed. If he had just said 'look, i had a terrible view of gay people, i was influenced by the mainstream hostility, and for far too long I closed my ears to all the people who were arguing for a change' -- well then I would have respected that. First of all because it was the truth."
    <strong>
    And perhaps, in that light it is worth saying the obvious:</strong> We need to take responsibility <em>both</em> for the world <em>and</em> for our own serious errors.

    It is rather classic male chauvinism (familiar to all of us) to argue "Oh, i made some mistakes on these smaller matters, cuz I was engaged in all these important matters in my real work."

    Well the treatment of gay people is not (as the RCP insisted) secondary. (They insisted errors over mistreatment of gay people was <em>not</em> a "cardinal question," precisely as they were arguing that appreciating and defending Avakian had become <em>the</em> cardinal question.)

    Apparently, there are several levels at which we need to take responsibility -- and one does not excuse or negate the other.

  • Guest - Keith

    I wonder if some of the anti-gay bigotry described here is not simply the result of the puritan tradition in the U,S. I was a little surprised when Bill seemed so tentative about the possibility that sex is a more or less simple source of human joy.

    Discussing sexuality is certainly interesting but as long as there is consent I think we should uphold people's sexual freedom. Sexual liberation is the outcome of contraception, abortion rights, planned pregnancy etc. Sexual liberation should be a part of our goal. And to me it just means consenting people are free to do whatever they can come up with.

    I am not an expert on the history of sexuality but my understanding is that reducing possible sexual practice to a hetero sexual vs homo sexual binary is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon. People have historically engaged in all sorts of sexual practices without developing a special sexual identity.

    The avowedly bourgeois sociologists Max Weber apparently (like Bill Clinton) could only experience sexual pleasure when participating in extra-marital sex. But there is no sexual identity associated with the practice.

    My point, is simply that the binary opposition between hereto and homo sexual is purely social and it is the outcome of sexual oppression and that the binary opposition will itself disappear when the oppression disappears. People may prefer certain sexual relationships and practices but if there is no oppression what would be the issue?

    This leads to my next point. Why would we expect a scientific explanation of hetero sexuality and homo sexuality but not an explanation of why a man would prefer extra marital affairs. It is like expecting a scientific explanation of why I like cheeseburgers but no tofu dogs.

    And finally, i agree that there are some lessons to learn from thinking about the experience of the RCP regardless (or maybe because) it became so strange. Especially around the question of science.

    I am a strong supporter of the idea of a social science that is as precise as natural science. I think Das Kapital is an example of such a science (maybe the only example). But the idea that "theory is tested in practice" which is how Marxist-Leninists have talked about science is just mumbo jumbo. I don't have the link handy, but Mike posted some of the stuff Avakian wrote about why Avakian needs to be understood as a cardinal question blah, blah, and Avakian says that his importance is a matter of science. Somehow, within our tradition, mysticism and charlatanism masquerade as science.

    To have a scientific result (which is to say to identify causes and their effects) you have to control for all variables. If you have multiple causes and multiple effects then you can't say anything beyond an observation. Observations are not science. You can form some hypothesis from observations which need to be tested in a way were you can control the variables so that you know what is causing what.

    The idea of testing a theory in practice is more or less meaningless unless you can control the variables. Leninists usually mean that they are going to test their line in practice and somehow see if it "works." This is just not science and we should really stop talking about science this way. It only confuses ourselves and makes us appear foolish to anyone who knows anything about scientific methods. If you read Das Kapital, Marx is controlling variables throughout via the "method of abstraction." The point here, is that Marx was very aware that science is about controlling variables to determine cause and effect. It would be interesting to figure out how M-L-M and related traditions came to have these bizarre ideas about science.

    One of the female stars of "sex and the city" (I don't really know much about this show, nor here name, I just read an interview at the doctors office) recently said she chose to be a lesbian (in real life). That is to say that she has been with men but she decided she prefers to be with women. She made a choice. Her existence PROVES that in SOME cases homosexuality is a choice, We also know that some gay people say that their sexual orientation was not a choice and we also know that some people just like to experiment and others just like a variety of sexual experiences. We also know that some people just lack imagination. Given all these observations we can conclude that human sexuality, while a very interesting subject to theorize about (although in this case, truly, theory is grey and life is green) we aren't going to be able to say anything about causality and so we aren't going to be able to say anything scientifically. And I think that the world and humanity is better for it. The goal of science is to eliminate some of the mystery. Science can disenchant the world and that is often a good thing. But, life is better with little sex and mystery thrown in.

  • One of the strangest parts of Kasama (for me) is that whenever we have any discussion here, there is almost always controversy over whether to <em>have</em> such a discussion (whether it is valuable or allowable).

    For example: It has been hard for us even to discuss Badiou deeply, because some people demand to know why <em>anyone</em> would want to read or discuss Badiou. Or it is hard to critically discuss the lessons of the Soviet Union, because some people filibuster that it is shameful to even enter the terrain that they think belongs to anti-communists.

    And there is a similar thing that happens whenever we have some post discussing the RCP,USA (the Maoist organization that started as the Revolutionary Union in 1968, existed as a complex revolutionary effort, and then fizzled 25 years later into the current bizarre cult.)

    <strong>Now, it is probably no surprise to say this:</strong> Kasama's discussion of the "Red Closet" inside the RCP has been one of the most warmly received series we have run.

    The original essay on "<a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/07/05/my-life-in-a-red-closet/" rel="nofollow">Out of the Red Closet</a>" alone has been accessed almost 4,000 times. Our pamphlet on the<a href="/http://mikeely.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/out-of-the-red-closet-kasama-pamphlet.pdf" rel="nofollow"> Red Closet</a> is our fourth most popular PDF download.

    And yet, ironically, some quite thoughtful comrades apparently groan if some new contribution is posted, because they sincerely believe that <em>anything</em> regarding the RCP is degrading for our discussions. In other words, the RCP is so discredited <em>now</em>, that hosting <em>any</em> ongoing discussion of their past would discredit us <em>simply by association</em>.

    I can understand why this might appear true (given how cartoonish and pathetic the RCP has become over the last ten years) -- especially to people unfamiliar with that history we are seeking to excavate and sum up.

    But I believe there is much to learn from the examination past errors by communists (hardly limited to the RCP, and certainly not limited to their recent cultish endgame.)

    And (perhaps more controversial) i also think there is much unexplored about our communist history that is relatively positive (<em>and</em> buried) -- including the work of thousands of Maoist cadre in the 70s and 80s.

    That's why I find my self disagreeing when TNL <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/06/02/bill-martin-on-the-red-closet-what-does-it-mean-to-take-responsibility/#comment-56503" rel="nofollow">starts his comment</a> like this:

    <blockquote>"While I appreciate Bill’s need to process his experience and his responsibilities and I have a good Leftist Trainspotter’s curiosity about some of the particulars...."</blockquote>

    Is that what this is? Bill working out his personal past and political demons, while providing some interesting trivia for those who didn't experience it? I don't see it that way.

    And I think some of this looks irrelevent or passe only if we allow ourselves to believe we are now already immune to such problems. I don't believe it.

    If we want to make a new attempt, it seems necessary to understand the last one(s) (the good and the bad).
    <strong>
    Earlier generations had a similar experience:</strong> In the 1960s, we had to learn to differentiate between the CPUSA we were encountering (and which we often hated for good reason), from the earlier experiences and lessons of that organization and the larger Comintern over many decades.

    <b>Of course, no one is making you engage this</b>

    If some readers can't bring themselves to join in any further exploration of the RCP's past, let me cheerfully say: Just don't read it. This is not required reading. We need some <em>institutional memory</em> of these problems, but not everyone has to grab the plunger.

    I appreciate what <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/06/02/bill-martin-on-the-red-closet-what-does-it-mean-to-take-responsibility/#comment-56660" rel="nofollow">QueerMarxist</a> wrote -- but would like to engage it a little:

    <blockquote>"While I understand the importance of the RCP heritage for Kasama, and am by no means suggesting it shouldn’t continue to be dealt with (quite the opposite in fact), as someone with no RCP background myself – part of a new generation of communists – I feel like starting to move further out of the RCP’s shadow and asserting more of our own, original analysis would be a useful direction. I really enjoy substantial theoretical posts (like) this that AREN’T about the RCP, and instead engage pressing issues for 21st century communism head on."</blockquote>

    I agree, deeply, that we need to assert more of our own, original analysis. This is going on, and Bill is here putting out some of his own ideas (as several people have noted. I (like QM) would like to encourage (and help produce) more. Bill makes his remarks in the context of a debriefing -- but we can extract and discuss those ideas, independent of that context, if you prefer.

    At the same, (at the risk of nitpicking), i think the importance of the RCP experience is not just something "for Kasama" (and if you step back and look at the current international communist movement in any depth that quickly becomes apparent).

    And also, how hard is it to find "substantial theoretical posts (like) this that AREN’T about the RCP"?

    Kasama has published over 3,800 posts -- almost two a day for several years. Only 120 of them are tagged as dealing with the RCP. (And even if there are some untagged ones... you get my point.)

    Forgive me, but if we get complaints <em>whenever</em> we post an occasional excavation of RCP history -- why shouldn't that be read an argument against <em>any</em> commentary on the line struggle of this previous movement. (And I write that knowing that Queermarxist explicitly said that is not his/her point. And I accept that, of course.)

    Still, if only 1 out of 300 posts is about the RCP, why imply that we need to "move further out of the RCP’s shadow"? We have lots of posts on diverse revolutionary trends: on STO, on anarchism, on weatherman, on SDS, debates over both FRSOs, on Obama, Occupy Wall Street (!) and its controversies, on and on -- but why (if we then post an occasional thoughtful essay about the RCP) are we suddenly under a shadow?

    Who is in the RCP's shadow? Do they even <em>have</em> a shadow? Respectfully, i feel like that is an odd thing to imply.

    <strong>But more i think there is a line question:</strong> If there is nothing to learn from the RCP's efforts, then visiting that past <em>is</em> just some personal demon of veteran communists. If there is valuable experience here, then it is valuable experience whether we were "around the RCP" or not.

    And (let me be blunt): I think the argument against <em>any</em> engagement with RCP history is an argument that they (and the Maoist project) were always fucked up. That there is no valuable experience here. That no answers for liberation are to be gleaned from that history. And that the main lesson from the pathetic end of the RCP is "don't bother to look in that drawer for anything."

    And, i think that is an approach we would regret. As someone with a vivid sense of the valuable experiences that are still un-excavated: I don't want to allow all that to be dismissed (and perhaps have some of the worst errors of the past naively repeated).

    <strong>As for Kasama: </strong>There is plenty of other stuff to discuss. None of it has a shadow on it. If Bill's protracted debriefing of the RCP experience doesn't interest you: Just don't read it.

    <strong>Plus, let me repeat a standing offer:</strong> if anyone wants to explore the experiences of <em>other</em> important historical trends (of <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2009/12/29/understanding-weather-underground-revolutionary-words-strategic-void/" rel="nofollow">Weather people</a>, or the first SDS, or the radicals who chose to <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/04/18/black-holes-and-boycotts-elections-at-distance-from-the-state/" rel="nofollow">enter the Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition campaigns</a>, or the anarchist Love and Rage, or STORM, or the Johnson-Forest tendency, Zapatistas, Act-Up, STO, or the Third Camp... ): Just go for it! There is plenty of space here on Kasama for that, and more.

    We could use much more exploration of those experiences -- so go for it: Do the work, uncover valuable essays, make some summation, share it with us, stimulate a discussion.

    <b>To return to line questions again:</b>

    America is a land without a belief in history. Indifference to history and theory is in the very cultural air we breathe. People are trained to think that the past is just outdated. And that thinking is over-rated.

    In America, the delusion is that we should just do whatever comes to mind, and then see what happens.

    It is easy to just dismiss the past as flawed. Socialism in USSR? (flawed.) Attempts to prevent restoration in China? (flawed.) New Communist Movement in the U.S.? (flawed.) Attempts to fuse national liberation with socialism in poor countries? (flawed.) Attempts to launch peoples wars in Peru, or Nepal, or Philippines? (flawed.) The RCP's attempt to build ghetto base areas in Los Angeles after the 1992 rebellion? (do you even know about it?)

    Sure, it is possible to quickly find apparent flaws and problems with <em>all</em> our predecessor experience. After all, they didn't succeed, and who in American frameworks can't lightly dismiss "losers"?

    But I'm arguing that a dismissal that is too cheap, too superficial, too complete robs us of a crucial source of wisdom. We need critical evaluations to identify insights -- which can help our coming projects happen on a much higher level.

    <strong>So I just want to raise that cautionary note:</strong> We are<a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/07/12/tnls-thought-experiment-what-should-communists-have-done/" rel="nofollow"> trying some things</a> that have been tried before (by millions of people, over decades). And there is value in understanding those experiences, and not just dismissing them.

  • Guest - Keith

    Not sure who Mike is referring to in #12. If it is to my post then apologies for not being clearer. In general, I only write a comment in a discussion that I am interested in having because my time is limited and I take the discussion seriously. I don't post comments in threads where I have nothing worth saying, or threads that I think are unimportant. In other words, I don't have the time nor the inclination to police other people's conversations.

    I was trying to address issues that came up in Bill's essay and in some of the comments that followed. Here is a summary.

    1. I am genuinely unclear why we would not just advocate sexual liberation between consenting adults. Bill seemed to me to be unsure of the idea that sex is could just be a source of fun and joy. I can't come up with any reason why we would want to regulate sexual relationships between adults. If someone were to ask my advice I would say that sex is better in a committed relationship but that is really just an opinion. I have noticed that the Puritan tradition runs strong in the U.S. and communists are not immune to it. I suspicious of its presence whenever I notice uncertainty around the goodness of pleasure as its own end.

    2. I think sexual identities are clearly culturally and socially constituted, they change across time and across cultures. Modern sexual identities are relatively recent phenomenon and there are a lot of sexual practices with no corresponding identities. This observation is not intended to blithely dismiss all other theorizing on sexuality. Sexuality is undoubtedly fascinating.

    3, I think that scientific knowledge is possible. I think that natural and social science are basically doing the same thing. Determining causal relationships by isolating determining variables. That is what Marx is doing in Das Kapital. But, most of what goes on in the Marxist-Leninist (Maoist) tradition under the name of science is not science by any stretch. I specifically mentioned the idea of "testing" a "theory" in "practice." This whole process of testing theory in practice is more or less non-sense and can't qualify as science because when you are involved in a political project you are not isolating variables to determine causality. This doesn't mean you can't learn things when you engage in political practice only that none of the criteria for a scientific study can be met (one important one is repeatability. This is a problem for Marx because to repeat his experiment you have to read the text).

    I pointed out the especially bizarre example of Bob Avakian explaining why boasting about his singular importance as a leader is a scientific question and anyone surprised about the immodesty of such boasting is unscientific and petty bourgeois. I am stunned that everyone around him is not snickering when he uses the term science this way and I have to think that the potential for this bizarre exists in embryonic form in the M-L traditions gratuitous and unjustifiable use of the word "science" when nothing related to science and scientific knowledge is happening. I think it is because of the supposed to distinction between natural and social science. Once that distinction is accepted social science is necessarily debased and soon anything goes and eventually all manner of charlatan can pass themselves off.

    4. Some things are beyond scientific understanding. For example, food preferences. Maybe you could construct a study that examines the impact of a food on the brain (I read some interesting stuff on the way that grains hit opiate receptors in the brain and cause pleasure sensations so that people become "addicted" to refined carbohydrates) but much of human taste is more or less beyond our abilities to study scientifically, at least at current levels of development of human power. Likewise, I don't think you could develop a study that could explain why some people prefer homosexual sex and others prefer heterosexual sex. One obvious reason is that people give all sorts of accounts of why their sexual orientation is what it is and how could we possible isolate all the possible and probable determinants to determine causality.

    But certainly, there is no reason to abandon the discussion just because we can't construct definitive scientific knowledge.

  • Guest - eddy laing

    I'll risk stating an obvious fact to suggest that 'Avakian['s] militant unwillingness' to treat this issue dialectically or materialistically stems from major deficiencies (of his) in both realms of analysis. But more to the point, discussing sexuality, or any aspect of human behavior, apart from the social relationships that prompt and ramify personality is not going to be a productive discussion. It is not 'economist' to situate behavior in modern society within relationships that are grounded in commodity exchange, for example, nor to draw contrasting examples with societies that are not so based. Margaret Mead drew heavy fire for Coming of Age in Samoa, not the least of it after she was dead and cremated.

    Standing inside a highly stratified society, that valorizes inequality and that has demonized most persons based on their gender, ancestry, cultural repertoire and dozens of other qualities, one needs to be highly reflexive and critical with one's materialism.

    Avakian never reached escape velocity from his 1950s homophobia, just as he failed to escape from a variety of other influences of the society that spawned him, and so he does seem very 'murkin'. His turn to the left via the BPP enabled him to by-pass certain contradictions that would have confronted another person during that same period. This may explain his disdain for gay liberation and his general anti-intellectualism.

  • Guest - queermarxist

    Mike E, thanks for responding to my comment. I think we're basically in agreement, and I may have just overstated my case a little. I apologize for the delay, I've been away for the past two days. Also, if I might be so humble, might I suggest that #10 be made into its own post? I found that comment very elucidatory.

    Keith, I believe #12 was basically structured as a riposte to my comment.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Just to reiterate, what is the title of this post by Bill Martin?

    <b><i>Taking responsibility</i>: Bill Martin on sexuality and previous communism. </b> [Miles’ italics]

    It was the initial “taking responsibility” that immediately piqued my interest in reading further. I interpreted that as a general call, provocation and introduction to revolutionary and progressive-minded people, and not simply some personal catharsis or personal edification for Bill Martin, nor some piece on what some might interpret as further rcp-bashing, although the rcp in particular has provided some very blatant examples of “incorrect” (why does that sound so shallow?) lines, stances and methods concerning sexual orientation.

    I truly believe that when someone comes to have a politically revolutionary orientation, that that orientation, and subsequent methods, analysis, etc. should incorporate great and collective responsibility. It is almost like we need to re-learn the meaning of the words themselves. Perhaps more so there is the responsibility to the “whole,” or at minimum “the people”, rather than any one individual. Otherwise, why bother to debate any of this?

    And imo, both historically, and with some former very detrimental lines of certain organizations around sexual orientation and equality, those same lines, programs, organizations ended up being irresponsible.

    They didn’t mock or flout existing reactionary (in some cases fascist—like the Nazis) positions, nor did they break with those ideas (even if some justifications were packaged in revolutionary-sounding rhetoric), but instead “through the backdoor” were complicit , and substantially saying the same thing as the overt reactionaries.

    To echo some in the Occupy movement, Egypt, or even the thousands demonstrating in Wisonsin, “Shame, shame, shame.”

    The manifestations, ramifications and ideology surrounding homophobia, and the backward traditions around sexual orientation, with all its repression, persecution, oppression, (sometimes murder!), et al. is deep-seated on a societal level—and breaking with or promoting radical ruptures with those old traditional ideas and divisions should be incumbent upon anyone who considers themselves revolutionary-radical-minded.

    Think Randy Shilts did a much better job of exposing Reagan and his cohorts' complicity (and homophobia) in the systematic death of thousands from AIDS in the '80s, in his tome, "And the Band Played On."

    Sorry to be pretentious, but am gonna quote myself from Comment #3:

    <blockquote>When I think of the rcp’s (<i>and others</i>) rotten stance and line, held for 25 years, on homosexuality, it is hard not to think of a huge part of the responsibility they should assume (and as “communists” no less) for perpetuating (and in some cases even exacerbating) the sheer ignorance and homophobia, persecution, repression and oppression, of millions of PEOPLE worldwide.

    Not to take anything away from those who suffered under the tutelage of the rcp’s homophobic line and program (gay and lesbian members and would be members) but this is so much bigger and pervasive. It not only has deeper ramifications – but has everything to do with one’s outlook for a future society.

    (Emphasis Miles. From comment #3.)</blockquote>

    And I will venture a guess, that one of the reasons there is a lot of commentary, emphasis and/or some continued <i>disbelief </i>at the 25-year-old reactionary line of the rcp concerning sexual orientation and homosexuality, is precisely because the rcp, along with other organizations or even movements, did make some very positive contributions to the overall struggle for revolutionary change.