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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 country.

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 movement.

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:

  1. Reaffirmation of the League’s support for gay liberation.
  2. The question of what a revolutionary party should or should not adopt lines on.
  3. The League’s strategy for the gay movement.
  4. 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 appropriate manner.

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 Marxist-Leninists."

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?

Answer: Yes.

"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. Statement.

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 to 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 capitalist institutions."1

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 questions:

  1. The centrality of the nuclear family to gay oppression.
  2. 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 socialism.
  3. Our understanding and use of such terms as "discrimination," "oppression," and "repression."
  4. "Out of the Closets and Into The Streets!"
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. Which way forward for the Lesbian movement? The current child custody cases. Lesbian autonomy within the gay and women’s movements.


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 system...."

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..

April 1977

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