- Category: Feminism & Sexuality
- Created on Tuesday, 02 August 2011 13:58
- Written by Mike Ely
by Mike Ely
One of the most remarkable events on Kasama this summer has been the outpouring of discussion over the treatment of gay people in the previous communist movement.
Libri Devrim, opened the door, with her piece "My life in a red closet" -- a heartfelt remembrance written with deliberate restraint.
We experienced two responses, very different in kind:
Response #1: Rushing through the open door
There was a heartening outpouring of interest, experience and discussion. Kasama published six different, unsolicited new posts.
Three of them detailed experiences with the RCP's red closet:
- Suzie’s story: Queer, isolated, invisible
Three other posts dealt with experiences and summations from outside the RCP:
- Closet Rules: My Story of Survival
- 1975: Early Maoist critique of anti-gay bigotry among Maoists
- The Cahokian: Homophobia & the value of thoughtful excavation
There were (all together) about 200 comments and over 6,000 page views of these threads.
Excavation and Self-Criticism
For a number of reasons, the discussion focused largely on excavating the methods of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA.
Previously, it has been widely known that the RCP (and quite a few other communist organizations before them) argued theoretically that gay people were inherently non-revolutionary or reactionary. But there has never previously been an open exposure of the methods this gave rise to and (in turn) justified: The pressure for gay supporters to live as heterosexuals, the shunning or expulsion of those who refused, and so on.
"[W]hat was going on within the RCP was not just a stubborn and arrogant 'error of line'– it was also an actual practice that had an impact on real people and real struggle. That is what I want to write about, including what it was like to live 'in the closet' inside a communist organization."
And then Libri peeled back what that practice had meant (in her case):
“I want to talk about what it was like to be attracted to the dream of revolution – and then be told that my lesbian feelings were ideologically part of a corrupt and oppressive world order, and that I force myself to have sexual relationships with men in an effort to develop the sexual feelings I was told I was supposed to have, as part of being a revolutionary. “
“I was pushed into the closet as a price for being considered a revolutionary by those I respected. And this was doubly painful: I was forced to deny my own feelings in public self-criticism, and I was being trained to confront my continuing feelings as reactionary in the privacy of my own mind.”
And each of the remembrances that followed on Kasama contained new details of what this line had justified. And these essays also contained common features -- that help sketch a larger picture of what were clearly generalized, national practices implemented over years.
A process of communist summation
This enables us to soberly confront and explore how things had gone so wrong -- how this could happen in a communist movement that prided itself on revolutionary disdain for tradition, on a stand with the oppressed and on a supposedly objective form of analysis.
How had it been possible to be so wrong in the evaluation and treatment of gay people? And how could it have gone on for thirty years (through the AIDS crisis, through several program rewrites, through pretenses of theoretical re-evaluation)? (We won't try to capsulize the engagement over those questions, but this thread is a good place to look.)
For those who participated in this period, as members and supporters of the RCP, our Kasama discussions have been an occasion for self-examination, for self-criticism and a real sense of apology.
One thing that is worth examining more deeply is that this abuse was not just rooted in pervasive anti-gay sentiments (seeping from larger society into revolutionary ranks.) This was clearly also facilitated by a particular, over-centralized form of organization where the membership was generally kept in the dark and powerless (even as many of them were increasingly eager to champion equality and justice for gay people).
There was misuse of security culture (and centralism) that literally meant that the actual practices and policies of the RCP were often unknown even to their own members. Until the moment Libri started this discussion on Kasama, these practices were still not known.
Even the people who experienced these practices personally (the denunciation, isolation, bombardment meetings, shunning, pressure to sexually conform, secret expulsion) did not quite realize these were elaborated national practices.
It also stands out that those same methods then became much more generalized in the organization -- in the period of so-called "rectification" following Avakian's 2003 self-coup. Organizational techniques previously used to isolate and expel gay people were already in place, and put to use in the more generalized purges that gripped the RCP in 2005-8.
These Kasama threads have represented one collective contribution -- in excavation, self-critical examination, and in seeking lessons for future forms of communist organization.
"I feel it is a cautionary story for our common future – because in the grip of dogmatism, ignorance and arrogance even revolutionaries can do awful things. We should be aware of how much we often remain ensnared in the views of the very system we seek to overthrow. We need to see how easily we sometimes set ourselves up as the arbiters of right and wrong – often with little investigation or serious analysis – posturing perhaps as revolutionary or scientific, but in reality merely reflecting backward views that are quite common in the society around us."
Response #2: Demanding the door be slammed shut
The other response came this week from the current RCP. It is both revealing and disturbing.
A day or so ago, the RCP reposted a 2008 denunciation on their main website page.
This essay is (strangely enough) labeled a "Glossary" entry -- which proportedly defines the term "Counter-Revolution." It was originally posted as one of the RCP's early public response to the Kasama's discussions of communist experience. We answered it at the time.
Now they have reposted this Glossary essay, presumably as their response to this new discussion of communist history (focused on the mistreatment of gay people).
And so they repeat their earlier claim, that unauthorized discussion of such experiences is "counter-revolution."
Here is one operative passage from that longer "Glossary" piece:
"The whole culture these days is shaped way too much by tabloid voyeurism, made up of superficiality plus 'narratives'—my personal story, my personal reality, 'the more sensational the better.' We live in a culture which makes hounding and exposing the lives of prominent cultural and political figures a national pastime; unfortunately this same mentality also has been taken up by people playing at revolution. We get National Enquirer sensationalism in the "movement" fired by personal careerists who build themselves up by posturing as 'those in the know'—which fosters a climate where people think it is OK to publish and broadcast lies about people, to ask about people's whereabouts, to speculate and gossip about the role of different individuals, and try to provoke people into responding to this level of discourse."
It is rather stunning to compare the discussions on Kasama, with this white-knuckled demand for silence from the RCP. It needs to be said, the victims of these policies don't "posture as those in the know." They actually are in the know.
Carefully appropriating a common history
This historic communist experience involves matters of sexuality, security used to prevent accountability, false claims of science, uncritical promotion of reactionary ideas by communists, unprincipled standards of recruitment, and methods of protracted denial.
And clearly that experience does not belong solely to those who still use the name Revolutionary Communist Party. This is a common history of revolutionaries in the U.S. as well as the personal history of those who were victimized. This history is not the personal property of the RCP's leading core, it is our common legacy.Communists have every right to appropriate this history (piece by piece by piece) and sum it up critically. In fact this discussion is not about them.
Of course they can participate and engage if they choose. There is old Maoist expression: "Be both target and motive force for the wave of criticism" -- why not join us in trying it?
In the absence of that, empty accusations of "counter revolution" can't deter communist summation of communist history. The RCP rump organization doesn't set the rules for communist summation or define who is revolutionary. This all goes on utterly without them or their permission.
Libri spoke to that in her initiating essay:
"I guess for the RCP it was all over and done with, but for me it wasn’t.... the RCP has still (to this day) not acknowledged that they banned gay people from their ranks, or that their party had a 'closet' within its ranks, or publicly accounted for the cost of this to people like me and to the movement for radical change."