Los Angeles — At precisely the moment of the largest gay upsurge of protest and self-defense in history, the Red Flag Union — formerly Lavender and Red Union — has chosen to announce its cynical abandonment of the gay movement.
Their June 10-12 conference, “Stonewall’ 77 — What is the Importance of Gay Liberation in the Revolutionary Struggle,” was completely devoted to a bitter faction fight within the organization. About 85 conference attendees witnessed the pitiful and ironic spectacle of the RFU majority members vilifying their own gayness and past struggles in order to fuse with the notoriously anti-gay and anti-feminist Spartacist League.
Present for the performance were a dozen independents and representatives of Radical Women, the Freedom Socialist Party, the Socialist Union, the Union of Sexual Minorities, the Revolutionary Socialist League, the New American Movement, the Socialist Workers Party and the Spartacist League.
The major political formations emerged during the course of the conference: the socialist feminists, represented by FSP and Socialist Union; an anti-feminist and anti-gay wing composed of Spartacist League and the RFU majority; and a pro-gay but anti-socialist-feminist combination of the RFU minority and the Revolutionary Socialist League (a split-off from International Socialists).
Back to the Closet!
The major topic of conference debate was the impending fusion of the majority faction of the Red Flag Union with Spartacist League, whose arrogant sexism is exceeded only by its holier-than-thou sectarianism.
The RFU majority seems to breathe well in the rarified air of the peculiar “reality” inhabited by the Spartacists. In fact, the harangues against gay liberation and feminism from the former gay liberationists of the RFU were even more vicious and bitter than those from the Spartacists themselves.
One RFU majority leader, trying on his Spartacist credentials, expressed this weird revolutionary sentiment: “I say to hell with my oppressed sector as a gay person. If you become a communist you are not a gay liberationist. If you become a communist you are not a feminist — you are a communist and that is a very different thing.”
Gay SL members are forbidden to come out on the job under any circumstances because of the dangerous threat of a “secondary” issue intruding upon their “serious” political work, which doesn’t include defense of gay rights — except on paper.
The minority faction within the RFU furiously condemned the swiftly approaching fusion and leveled its guns at the SL’s “closet rule.” The socialist feminists together with virtually all the independents joined the RFU minority in a strong denunciation of SL’s treachery.
The Russian Question
The original cause of the RFU split was differences over the Russian question. The minority sees the Soviet Union as state capitalist, in essence no different from the U.S. This view, first put forth on the eve of World War II by a disillusioned petty-bourgeois tendency in the Socialist Workers Party, has long served as an excuse to refuse to defend the gains of the Russian Revolution.
The RFU majority holds the traditional Trotskyist view that through the nationalization of industry and land in the USSR and the abolition of the capitalist class, the Soviet Union became a workers state, although terribly degenerated because of the stranglehold of the privileged Stalinist bureaucracy. FSP and SU forces endorsed the RFU majority’s stand on this issue.
But both RFU factions agree on the “secondary, or non-strategic importance of gay liberation,” despite their heated debates over practice within the gay liberation movement. To both sides the question of gay liberation is merely “tactical” having no real social weight. They therefore place gay liberation on the bottom layer of their rigidly structured hierarchy of social issues — such as class, race, sex and sexuality.
During a panel discussion entitled “Separatism, Autonomy and the Party,” Los Angeles FSP spokesperson Stephen Durham presented a socialist feminist view of the importance of gay liberation. He explained that gay oppression is necessary to a capitalist society as an integral part of the oppression of women and the maintenance of a sexual division of labor.
“The struggles of women, minorities and gays are objectively revolutionary because they call into question the most basic aspects of American capitalism,” Durham stated. “The job of the American party is to bring together the struggles of all the oppressed in a program which provides leadership to the class struggle and builds the American revolution.”
Zaslow Pulverizes SL
Milt Zaslow, from the Los Angeles-based Socialist Union, supported Durham and other FSPers. “Gay liberation is a principle,” he said, “and principled revolutionists defend gay rights everywhere.”
Zaslow was also an eloquent spokesperson for the defense of a strong, independent women’s movement. Quoting Lenin’s support of such a movement, Zaslow refuted the ridiculous SL charge that the Russian Bolsheviks were anti-feminist.
They’ll None of Them Be Missed
Despite their frenzy, the empty slogans and contemptuous insults of the SL phrasemongers fooled no one at the conference except the RFU group already aligned with them. Several independents present, along with representatives of the FSP and the SU, have since consolidated in the formation of a new gay organization in Los Angeles based on multi-issue solidarity.
This promising development, and the immovable integrity of the socialist feminists and gay liberationists at the conference, amply demonstrate that it will take more than SL’s amateurish intimidation tactics to keep gay people from fighting for their freedom. And the few gay Uncle Toms from the RFU majority will never be able to shuffle away the movement’s dynamic force, vitality and future.