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News ::
01 Jul 2003
Bob McCubbin, author of the germinal work, "The Roots of Lesbian and Gay Oppression," published in 1976 by WW, was spoke at a June 7 forum of People of Color in Crisis, a community-based service organization for gay men of color in Brooklyn, N.Y. His booklet, the first Marxist analysis of the origins of sexual oppression, was groundbreaking for the lesbian and gay as well as the Marxist movements.
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 3, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


[Bob McCubbin, author of the germinal work, "The Roots of Lesbian and Gay Oppression," published in 1976 by World View, was invited to speak at a June 7 forum of People of Color in Crisis, a community-based service organization for gay men of color in Brooklyn, N.Y. His booklet, the first Marxist analysis of the origins of sexual oppression, was groundbreaking for the lesbian and gay as well as the Marxist movements.
The following are excerpts from his talk.]

In 1963, before I had become an activist, I avidly followed the
nationwide struggle against racial segregation and for civil rights for Black Americans. I already disliked both the Democratic and the
Republican parties. I still, however, held out hope that there might be someone in the Democratic Party who was sincerely committed to the goal of racial justice.

In August of that year, I had the good fortune to attend the historic
civil rights gathering in Washington, D.C., where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his great dream. I was tremendously inspired, both by the size of the demonstration and by Dr. King's words. But I noted with anger that John F. Kennedy did not deign to attend or even acknowledge the importance of that pivotal event in the city where he resided. My alienation from the U.S. Establishment--from what I have since come to understand is the U.S. ruling class-- was, from that time on, complete and final. I have never since looked to them for solutions for any of the increasingly grave social illnesses that plague this country.

I joined Workers World Party in 1967. Workers World had an explanation for Kennedy's absence I didn't hear anywhere else: The interests of the rich are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the working class and oppressed peoples. And so I began to understand that racism isn't just some defect in the socialization process. It is a conscious strategy promoted in a thousand different ways by the powerful to protect their privileged status in capitalist society.

At the time I joined Workers World, the Black Panthers were, on the
domestic front, scaring the ruling class half to death. And they were at the same time inspiring millions of Black people and others all over this country to believe that real change in the deplorable conditions of their lives was possible. The Vietnamese people were proving that "The Man's" technology--the overwhelming military superiority of the Pentagon--was no match for a united people fighting for their freedom and independence.

I became a full-time organizer for the Party's youth group at that time, Youth Against War & Fascism, and I began studying the Marxist classics.

Try, if you can, to put aside for a minute the many negative references to Marxism you've probably heard. Let me offer two complementary definitions of Marxism.

First, Marxism is the science of human society and human social

Second, in a complementary way, Marxism is a guide to revolutionary
action against social injustice.

Karl Marx spent his life fighting for social justice. He spent his life in poverty and he spent it talking to workers about their historic role as the gravediggers of capitalism and the birthmothers of socialism. He used his genius to expose the dynamics of the economic system that now dominates the globe. It is a system based on greed and theft. He showed that working people produce all the wealth of the world. And he showed how the capitalists expropriate most of this wealth for themselves.

He showed how change arises on the basis of struggle, social change on the basis of the class struggle. His predictions are firmly rooted in scientific investigation and analysis. The power of his ideas is
confirmed by the fact that the most widely read book in human history is not the Bible, but rather the Communist Manifesto.

There is much more than this to be said about Marxism. It is a large and impressive body of information, analysis and theory. But I'm going to have to leave it to your own curiosity and initiative to explore.

One book that particularly caught my eye was Frederick Engels' "Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State." In this work, Engels demonstrated how the world historic oppression of women developed. He based his arguments on what anthropological information was available at the time. Another hundred-plus years of anthropological research since the publication of this book have only strengthened his findings.

In brief, Engels showed that women have not always been oppressed. In
communal societies--that is to say, in the human groupings based on
cooperation and sharing that existed for hundreds of thousands of years before society began to divide into economic classes of rich and poor--women were highly respected, held leadership positions, and introduced many technological innovations, such as the domestication of small animals and the cultivation of plants. And of course their role in the production of new human life positioned them at the very center of human society.

Engels showed how, as human control over nature increased, so did
surplus resources and the issue of ownership of them resulted in the
division of society into classes and the overthrow of matrilineal
societies. With the introduction of private ownership of material
resources, women themselves came to be viewed as property. Their loss of equal rights and consequent inferior social status is thus directly attributable to the introduction of private property and is another important reason for us to fight for socialism, for an economic system based on human needs and sharing rather than competition and private profit.

I was, of course, against the oppression of women and very happy to have scientific proof that their oppression by men was not some immutable aspect of our species or some unchangeable part of men's genetic makeup. But there was another, secret reason for my excitement.

If women's oppression could be explained scientifically on the basis of Marxist historical analysis, wasn't it possible that so too could the oppression of lesbians and gay men?


I was still in the closet, but news of the Stonewall Rebellion, the
historic uprising of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in
Greenwich Village in 1969, forced me to face the fact that I was
avoiding an issue of paramount importance to my life, that is, my
sexuality. Inspired by the new Gay Liberation Movement, I did find the courage to come out, six months after the Stonewall Rebellion. Then I quickly plunged into a search for material that would provide a historical explanation of our oppression. The booklet, "The Roots of Lesbian and Gay Oppression," was the result, six years later.

But it's important to explain that this work was not, by any means, a
solitary effort. My allies and collaborators in the struggle to develop an objective analysis of the basis of our oppression were really all my comrades. When, in 1971, I called a meeting for comrades interested in working on this issue, more than 50 responded immediately. The effort to develop a Marxist analysis of the issue as well as to reach out a hand of solidarity to the gay liberation movement of that time became a party-wide task.

Today there are bookstores full of books addressing every aspect of LGBT experiences. Back then there was very little. I gathered what I could find, followed leads offered by others, and after four and a half years of collecting material, sat down to write.

If we were to rewrite the book today, we could include much more
evidence to support our point of view. For example, there is much more information available now on the way humans lived in the long period of communal society preceding the development of class society. If women during this period were highly respected and held positions of leadership--and the evidence is overwhelming that they did--LGBT people were similarly respected and honored for their special contributions.

It must be admitted that our evidence is indirect, even if persuasive. The invention of writing and the habit of keeping records came only with the introduction of private property and the development of class society. Much of what we've learned about how our pre-class ancestors lived is from the reports of anthropologists, explorers and missionaries who spent time in areas of the world where communal and semi-communal societies survived as the world came to be dominated by class-based societies. And much of this evidence is tainted by the prejudices of the observers.

Nevertheless, it is very clear from the large body of subsequent
information now available that gender-variant people and homosexually
oriented people existed in all communal societies and were most often
specially valued and esteemed members and also leaders of these

A remarkable study by an openly gay white anthropologist is Walter
Williams' book-length report on these Two-Spirit Native people titled, "The Spirit and the Flesh" (Beacon Press, 1986). His book is a lengthy and detailed report of what he discovered by living with various indigenous peoples in widely scattered areas of the Americas. His research focused especially on Native groupings in the midwestern, western and southwestern U.S. and in Yucatan, Mexico.

The same year, Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Pueblo/Sioux Indian, published "The Sacred Hoop" (Beacon Press), which explored the honored role of lesbians in Native societies.

Gay American Indians published an anthology titled "Living the Spirit" (St. Martin's Press, 1988) that documented alternative sex/gender roles in 133 Native nations on the North American continent.

These and other truly remarkable findings with regard to the social
roles of sexually and gender variant people bolster the generalizations we made in the Roots booklet. And they are in harmony with historian/author and WWP member Leslie Feinberg's conclusions regarding the roots of the oppression of transgender, transsexual and intersexual people.

We Marxists think that it will only be when we rid human society of all the social, political, and economic inequalities and restraints, all the prejudices and repression, that is to say, when we are freed from the oppressive dictatorship of the capitalist class, that human sexual and gender expression will once again be free.

The final issue I was asked to address is the role, if any, that white LGBT people can play as allies in the struggle for Black gay liberation.

As a socialist, I am keenly aware that the struggle for socialism will only be won with the intervention of a united working class--and one that is conscious of and in solidarity with all the struggles for
justice, including, of course, the struggle for Black gay liberation.

In the opinion of my organization--Workers World Party--fighting racism, in the interests of building unity among the working class and its most oppressed sectors, is the most important task facing all of us who fight for social justice. And it is, first and foremost, a task that is the responsibility of white progressives and revolutionaries.

The slogan on every issue of our newspaper is: Workers and oppressed
people of the world unite!

But that can only happen if the less exploited and less oppressed take up the struggles of the more exploited and more oppressed with
commitment and determination. And that means that men must embrace the struggle for full equality for women. Straight people must defend
equality for LGBT people. Whites must join people of color in their
struggle for equal rights and an end to the scourge of racism. And the white LGBT community must stand in solidarity with the Black, Latino, Asian, Native and Arab LGBT communities.

Now, I understand that these sentiments might, at first glance, seem
very idealistic, even more like a utopian dream than a strategy for
political struggle and victory. But they have their origin in the very concrete and difficult struggles of the international working class over the past several hundred years. When people are in the heat of struggle, they are in a position to learn difficult lessons and solve difficult problems quickly and well.

First and foremost, of course, they want to win. When a political
struggle erupts, the daily interests and routines of our lives are more or less put on hold. Our attention and intelligence are focused
intensely on the task at hand. When we discover weaknesses in our ranks, we are highly motivated to correct them. And all too often the
weaknesses we discover involve divisions based on gender, sexual
orientation and race.

Leaders who are worth their salt must always be fighting all these
manifestations of injustice. But it is in the midst of struggle that the greatest inroads can be made in removing these divisions among the exploited and oppressed. It is in the heat of battle that the less exploited and the less oppressed are willing to listen, are prepared to change, are most able to put themselves in the shoes of their more exploited, more oppressed sisters and brothers, to understand what it means to face the daily racism, sexism and super exploitation of capitalist society, and to cast off their own backwardness in anger and disgust and do whatever is necessary to overcome the divisions that threaten the victory of all.

The LGBT communities need to start making more noise. We need to start challenging the rule of the bigots. We need to revive the spirit of Stonewall. Let's start raising the issues that fester in our communities, that hold us back, that make our lives less full than they should be.

We in Workers World Party pledge our support. Our white comrades will
explain to other white workers, patiently but firmly: While people of
color remain oppres sed, your own liberation is impossible.

- END -

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