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Gay rights – a class issue

Capitalism does all it can to preserve its form of the family and with it the oppression of women, lesbians and gays.

The working class has no interest in doing so – indeed quite the opposite. By fighting for womens liberation and the ending of lesbian and gay oppression, it increases the forces fighting its class enemy. The working class movement must become, in Lenin’s words, the Tribune of all the exploited and the oppressed. Thus we must fight for lesbian and gay rights as long as capitalism exists. But only by creating a new social and economic reality where exploitation of labour power for profit is a thing of the past – classless communism – can social oppression finally be ended.

What are the implications of this for the struggle itself, and for the lesbian and gay and workers’ movements? Middle or even upper class gays and lesbians have taken up the fight for equality, but are also often able to avoid the worst effects of oppression. And being oppressed does not automatically turn you into a rebel.

Working class lesbians and gay men formally share the same oppression as their middle or upper class counterparts, but in more extreme forms, and with much less opportunity to escape either the family environment or oppression in the workplace. Furthermore, the class interests of working class and upper class lesbians and gays are quite antagonistic.

To be successful, therefore, a movement for lesbian and gay liberation needs to do two things. First, it must develop a strong, class conscious working class core, able to work out a programme that challenges the social basis of oppression. Second, the movement has to resist separatism or autonomism and ally itself with the broader workers’ movement – unions and political parties – ensuring these become bastions of the struggle for equality, and that lesbian and gay liberation becomes integral to the struggle for working class liberation and socialism.

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