On the 25th anniversary of homosexual law reform: gay liberation or crumbs from parliament?

by Sean Kearns

This Saturday, July 9, marks the 25th anniversary of the 1986 partial liberalisation of New Zealand’s by then outmoded and draconian anti-homosexual laws. On July 9, 1986, 14 months after it was first introduced to parliament, the first section of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, legalising consensual sexual activities between males 16 years and over, was narrowly passed by parliament (49 to 44).[1]  The second section, which would have made anti-gay discrimination illegal, didn’t pass.

The battle over the 1986 reform and the struggle over the 1981 Springbok tour were defining points in NZ politics, part of the shift away from old forms of conservatism and towards the domination of liberal ideas in the political mainstream.

New Zealand laws on homosexuality originally derived from Britain.  In 1867 New Zealand adopted the English 1861 law which made men committing buggery liable for life imprisonment.[2]  All sex between makes became illegal in England in 1885 and this was followed by the New Zealand parliament adopting a new criminal code in 1893.  This code contained a section on “Crimes against Morality” which made liable to imprisonment with hard labour for life anyone who “commits buggery either with a human being or with any other living creature”, with the offence being “complete upon penetration”.  They could also be flogged once, twice or thrice, depending on their age.  Anyone who attempted to commit “buggery”, assaulted someone with the intention of committing it and any male who “indecently assaults any other male” was liable to the same kind of flogging and to ten years imprisonment with hard labour.  The 1961 Crimes Act removed life imprisonment as the sanction against anal sex, but all male homosexual activity remained illegal.

The following year a gay men’s social group, the Dorian Society, was founded in New Zealand.  As Britain moved to decriminalise homosexual activity among consenting adult males in 1967, a Homosexual Law Reform Society was established here.  It was a moderate, lobby group which relied on support from respectable heterosexual figures and in 1968 presented a petition, signed by 75 such people, to parliament calling for law reform.  A public and militant struggle for gay rights did not begin until several years later, when the first gay liberation groups were established in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  These groups were part of the youth revolt of the time and most of the activists had already been involved in protests against the Vietnam War and other causes of the day.  The gay liberation activists were generally also anti-capitalist.

In the early 1970s, when this movement emerged, Labour was dominated by social conservatives.  It was a National Party MP, Venn Young, not a Labourite who in 1974 introduced the first bill to liberalise the laws on same-sex activity.  Prominent Labour MPs denounced Young’s bill and argued that homosexuality was a perversion.  The Labour caucus was still so anti-gay that they purged former Agriculture Minister Colin Moyle from their ranks on the slightest suggestion he was gay.  And it was National who had the first out gay MP, Marilyn Waring, well over a decade before Labour’s out gay MPs started appearing

It was not until the mid-1980s that a significant section of the parliamentary Labour Party swung behind the idea of liberalisation.  By this stage, NZ’s anti-homosexual laws were thoroughly outmoded, public attitudes had changed – no thanks to the Labour Party itself! – and NZ was very much out of sync with the rest of the developed capitalist countries in terms of maintaining repressive anti-gay laws.  Moreover, the fact that the laws were so outmoded meant they were fairly openly flouted; it was in the state’s interest to reform such laws.  The 1986 reform legalised homosexual acts for those 16 and over, but it did not outlaw discrimination against gay women and men.  This did not change until 1993 under National.

Labour MP Fran Wilde’s 1986 bill was given a conscience vote, which allowed the most socially and morally reactionary Labour MPs to oppose it.  Of course, when it came to attacks on the working class, Labour imposed the whip so that all their MPs would have to vote for privatisation and punitive industrial legislation.

The 1986 reform passed through at the same time that the Labour government was implementing the biggest attacks on workers’ living conditions since the Depression.  One of the characteristics of the fourth Labour government was to liberalise social policy while attacking the working class at the economic level.  This had the effect of splitting potentially powerful opposition forces.  The liberals largely stayed behind Labour, and the working class got the knife in the back.

Labour MPs Sonja Davies and Fran Wilde, Gay Task Force leader Bill Logan and liberal theologian Lloyd Geering: the self-limiting strategy of 1986 was an indication that the original militant struggle for gay liberation had been abandoned

This state of affairs may have ensured liberal hegemony, but it set back radical politics by further dividing economic issues from broader political and social issues.  On the one hand, the leaders of the labour movement refused to champion struggles against exploitation and oppression; on the other hand, leaders of movements like gay rights, especially the leadership of the movement around the Wilde Bill, were not prepared to challenge Labour more broadly and make common cause with workers.

In fact, the gay movement and its straight supporters in 1986 pursued a self-limiting strategy, essentially all getting in behind Wilde and Labour, although Wilde herself was clearly an anti-working class Labour MP and a supporter of the assault on the working class.  The absence of any revolutionary politics or leaders in the gay rights movement of the time ensured that Labourites like Wilde were allowed to determine the politics of the movement, while the “radical” gays did a lot of the legwork.  This is, in fact, how much of what passes for radical politics operates: the activists do the hard yards but line up politically behind Labour which sets the agenda and ensures there is no challenge to the wider system of exploitation and oppression.

One of the results of the “getting in behind” approach was that the section of the bill which would have banned anti-gay discrimination was not passed.  It was not until the 1993 Human Rights Act, that such discrimination became illegal.

Two decades on, Labour played the same “rely on us” game with the civil union legislation of 2005.  Interestingly, it was ex-Tory MP Marilyn Waring who saw through this.  As she noted, civil unions are not marriages.  They are a separate and unequal form of legal relationship, compared to marriage.  Moreover, civil union legislation can serve to close the door to gay marriage, rather than be a step towards it.  Unfortunately, the liberal nature of gay politics meant that many gay people were simply grateful for this reform, rather than demanding more.

Although New Zealand mainstream thinking likes to pride itself on its liberalism and Labour likes to see itself as a liberal party, both the New Zealand and Labour record on gay rights stack up pretty poorly in the global context.

The first country to get rid of anti-gay laws was the Soviet Union, shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917.  This was done by the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, although later reversed during the Stalin years.  In the near-century since, only one or two capitalist countries have come anywhere near putting heterosexuality and homosexuality on the same legal footing, never mind educating the society about the need for equality.

It was not until 1968 that a partial reform of anti-gay laws was introduced in Britain and not until 1986 that NZ’s laws were liberalised.  In 1989 Denmark passed legislation giving same-sex partners similar rights to married (heterosexual) couples, but has continued to deny gay couples the right to marry.  In 1996, similar laws were passed in Iceland, Norway and Sweden and, in 2002, in Finland.  In 2001 the Netherlands began allowing full civil marriage rights to gay couples.  In Belgium, similar legislation was passed in 2003.  Spain and Canada legalised gay marriage in 2005.  Six states in the United States plus the District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon now have gay marriage.

In the face of powerful opposition from the Catholic Church, in a country with a strong Catholic tradition, the Spanish parliament passed a bill put forward by the social democrats for gay marriage.  In Canada, one of the two major traditional capitalist parties (the Liberals – roughly the Canadian equivalent to the Nats) introduced legislation for gay marriage.  The Liberal premier said that you cannot cherry pick which groups in society will have which rights, and homosexuals had to have the same rights as heterosexuals.

In NZ Labour managed to get away with introducing something substantially less than what a Tory party introduced in Canada and what a fellow Labour party introduced in Spain, historically a bastion of the Catholic Church.  It’s a particular comment on how crappy the NZ Labour Party is and how unprepared they are to champion basic equal rights, even for communities that support them, that the Canadian Liberals introduced more advanced legislation in relation to gay rights, and argued for it on a more egalitarian basis, than Labour did in NZ.  Moreover, Canada has a bigger backwoods Christian movement than NZ does.

Part of the problem is that in NZ there is not a militant movement for equal rights for gay women and men or a wider labour movement which sees all issues of oppression and discrimination as its concern.  In the early 1970s there was a gay liberation movement demanding full equality and emancipation.  It wasn’t interested in ‘respect for difference’ – it fought for liberation for gay women and men in a liberated overall society.

A chunk of the old ‘new social movements’, however, – the gay movement, the women’s movement, etc – disappeared into the murky pit that is the Labour Party and this has done no favours for the people whose oppression those movements set out to fight, although it has been a good career move for some middle class women, middle class Maori, middle class gays.

The official labour movement leadership is also little interested in fighting for workers around even bread and butter issues, let alone educating and organising against discrimination and oppression in the wider society.  The old workers’ slogan of “An injury to one is an injury to all” is rarely trotted out and, in practice, means next to nothing in the official labour movement.

The most reliable political movements for implementing equality for gays remain those which champion equality and liberation across society as a whole.  Today, the road to gay liberation is illuminated more by revolutionary movements than by capitalist governments.  Take the revolutionary movement in the Philippines as an example.  The CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines, a Maoist organisation) and its military wing, the NPA (New People’s Army) staunchly champion the liberation of gay women and men as an integral part of the emancipation of the mass of the people of their country from imperialist domination and local capitalist exploitation and oppression.  They do this in the face of the strong legacy of machismo implanted in Philippines society by hundreds of years of Spanish colonialism and a century-long domination by the United States.

At the start of 2005, when the NZ parliament was preparing to pass the second-class civil union legislation, the NPA saw its first gay wedding.  Ka Andres and Ka Jose exchanged vows in front of local villagers, friends from the city and fellow comrades.  The two revolutionaries held each other’s hand and each held a bullet as well, symbolising their commitment to the armed struggle for the liberation of the Philippines and an end to imperialist domination and the local exploiting classes as well as their commitment to each other.  They were serenaded with revolutionary love songs.

Revolutionaries have no vested interests in defending systems based on exploitation and oppression.  The “gay-friendly” Labour Party’s prime reason for existence, however, is, like National’s,  to defend precisely such a system – capitalism – and the party’s MPs are paid well for doing this.  So it’s not rocket science to work out who – revolutionaries or Labour MPs – make more genuine fighters for gay rights.


[1] The passage of the bill made it an Act of Parliament, it was signed by the governor-general on July 11, 1986 and became law on August 8.

[2] Before 1861, English law prescribed the death penalty for buggery, so the 1861 law was actually a step forward!

49 comments

  1. To a generation which was experiencing police raids on gay saunas and harassment in the streets, decriminalisation seemed quite a big crumb. And on the whole the far left did not give a damn about it. If the huge layers of the gay community were taken in by the Labour Party, the far left had nobody to blame but themselves.

    With the exception of the Socialist Action League and a few individuals, people who called themselves Marxist were far too homophobic to have anything to do with the campaign against criminal sanctions on gay men in 1985-86.

  2. I agree with you about the far left, Bill. But the problem remained of a self-limiting strategy. When things are fought as single-issue campaigns, they almost invariably do not transfer their momentum into a broader challenge to cpaitlaist society. Instead the momentum just dissipates. Which means an important part of what happens, alongside the winning of a reform, is that capitalist society becomes more sophisticated. And single-issue campaigns pose no real threat to the system or to parties like Labour.

    I teach courses on the 1960s, mainly about the USA, and there’s an interesting book called something like Making all the Crooked Places Straight. And that’s kind of what the social movements did. As well as unquestionably winning important rights, the end product was that the crooked places in capitalist society, the wrinkles, were all straightened out and the system continued on its exploitative and oppressive way.

    In New Zealand that’s what happened after the 1981 tour and it happened after the 1986 reform. It happened also after the mass movement against the Vietnam War.

    One of the lessons of al these struggles is that this will always happen unless the struggles are connected consciously to the wider issue of the nature of bourgeois society. The early gay liberation movement actually did that, however imperfectly; but the 1986 campaign did not.

    Phil

  3. You are correct, Phil, that unless a broader strategy is introduced, then the struggle will be confined to the narrower strategy. The questions are: Who has the responsibility of introducing the broader strategy? And how can they get a hearing for that strategy?

    Introducing the broader strategy is the responsibility of revolutionaries, and that they can get a hearing for it by collective intervention in the narrower struggles of the day.

    It was not the self-limiting strategy of the gay community fighting against the immediate felt sources of their oppression which was the problem. What more might you have expected of them? The problem was a failure of revolutionary leadership–a failure of revolutionaries to intervene in the struggle, both supporting it and placing it in the larger perspective.

    Only by standing against all oppression including by joining limited struggles, can revolutionaries get a hearing for their larger objectives. If they join the partial struggles they are in a position to connect them consciously to the wider issue of bourgeois society. The classic example is the defence of Alfred Dreyfus.

    And the point is that the vast majority of the “revolutionaries” of the day simply kept away from the issue of the oppression of gay men.

  4. Bill, I don’t think anyone’s denying that the vast majority of the “revolutionaries” of the day simply kept away from the issue of the oppression of gay men.
    The point would appear to me, what should revolutionaries today be saying and doing about the issue of lesbian gay and transgender oppression?

  5. The movement in 1986 was a homosexual law reform movement, not a gay liberation movement.

    I’m not old enough to have been there at the time of the GLF (Gay Liberation Fronts) but from speaking to poeple who were and reading what they wrote, they were about liberation and anti-capitalism, and a radical alternative to the homsexual law reform movement.

    By 1986 the reformers were knocking on an open door. The law in New Zealand was ridiculously outdated and due to go, although the sound of the fury of the bigots might have made it a bit harder to see that was the case.

    I prefer the “damn your concessions, we want our freedom” approach to the “lets line up behind Labour MPs” approach.

    Sean

  6. Oops, that last sentence should have read *by comparison to the early radical gay liberation groups*.

  7. I don’t disagree with any of this in terms of Marxists and the responsibility of fighting oppression. But I wonder how you, Bill, as a Marxist, tried to push thngs beyond the self-limiting strategy. I also do think the self-limiting thing is a bit more complex.

    The early gay liberation groups, for instance, weren’t self-limiting. So it wasn’t as if there was no experience of a more radical stance.

    In the case of revolutionaries, it isn’t, as you rightly note, just about joining in existing struggles, but trying to take them in a more challenging direction and help radicalise them. From what I can see the idea of liberation has been replaced by a form of identity politics. The self-defined gay community is pretty respectable and timid by comparison.

    Phil

  8. You ask how I personally deported myself. Well I supported decriminalisation. Rather actively. And I explained the connections between the oppression of gays and the maintenance of the bourgeois order. Here is a piece I gave to people I was working with, actually written a little earlier and republished a couple of times.

    Poofters & Commies

    by Bill Logan

    This society uses all its resources to force people into a pattern of personal relations which one day will be seen to have been restrictive and bad for all its members. The education system, the courts, the framework of employment and unemployment, religion, the taxation structure, the politicians, the media, housing arrangements, a network of popular prejudice, and even the so-called Human Rights Commission all support and sustain that key sacred institution, the nuclear family. Although it gives most men certain paltry privileges, and it especially oppresses women, the family is an institution which oppresses all its members. But most people somehow, with more or less pain, and with more or less ability to hide that pain from themselves, are able to be squashed into the family system. Lesbians and gay men, however, do not fit at all, and society, through discrimination and oppression, takes its revenge.

    The modern family system

    The gay struggle for a fair go, for respect and equality within the existing framework of a family-structured society, can never be completely won. In some periods limited mitigation of oppression can be achieved, so it is an im¬portant struggle which can sometimes lead to the easing of the difficulties of huge numbers of people. But these gains are always in danger of reversal. Real and permanent gay liberation is only possible through a strategy for a totally new social structure in which the constraints on patterns of sexual life are removed, in which the family as we know it disappears, in which there are no externally imposed rules about living arrangements, and in which people can start to explore their personal needs in true freedom.

    The very idea of this is threatening to most of us. We are at least familiar with the family. Though they hurt us, families are also the providers of much of the solace available to us in a hostile society. A world without families is beyond our experience, and no visionary can describe the forms we will develop to replace them. But there is no need to feel threatened. The develop¬ment of human society beyond the stage of the family will not be a matter of ripping people from the bosoms of their beloved; rather it will be achieved by removing restraints and allowing people to make choices freely.

    Two “reforms” which would start to remove some of the constraints and which all liberationists would support are voluntary, free, high-quality, twenty-four hour child-care facilities, and voluntary, free, quality dining rooms. They are of course impossible, but not because of the expense. They would use resources more efficiently than our present way of arranging things. These reforms are impossible – within the existing social system – precisely because they would tend to undermine the compulsions which force us to organise our personal lives around the family.

    Reproduction under capitalism

    To develop a strategy for liberation from the family system we must under-stand why the family is so entrenched, we must understand what it does that makes it so valuable to society. Most obviously the family is the unit of reproduction. But this society needs reproduction not of real human beings, but of human beings dehumanised by being shaped to fit different special so¬cial roles – class roles. And the modern family is a machine finely tuned to perform this function. In particular its very restrictiveness inculcates a de¬gree of discipline and docility in the workforce necessary in order that the ruling class can rule and can reap profits. By making some of its members dependent on others, who must be mindful of their responsibilities as bread-winners, it helps stem industrial militancy. And at the same time it puts some of its members in positions of power over others, and provides a “harmless” escape valve for feelings of powerlessness and frustration arising from the workplace. In his family, as husband and father, the working man is boss. This creates an ideal environment of discipline-training for tomorrow’s workforce.

    It is its dehumanising restrictiveness which makes the modern family system so valuable to this inhuman society. It is an institution then of a particular kind of society, a society in which ownership and control of the economy is in the hands of one class, while the work is done by another class which must be kept under control. The family is an instrument of capitalism. As long as capitalism survives the family system will be maintained at all costs, and les¬bians and gay men will be oppressed – and most other people, too, to a greater or lesser degree.

    Only through the destruction of capitalism, the removal of the power of the class who own and control the means of production and whose interests shape the web of social institutions which determine the patterns of our lives, can liberation be achieved.

    The revolutionary party of the working class

    Liberationists must have a strategy of creating a force capable of removing the power of the ruling class. The core of that force must be the class which is in direct and daily conflict with the ruling class – the working class. The social web tries to hold the working class within the framework of the capitalist system too, of course, and it is permeated by apathy and false con¬sciousness – sexism, racism and so on. And insofar as it today fights the ruling class it is for a few more dollars. But the working class can escape the web, and liberationists must prepare the way for that escape. For the working class to become a force capable of overthrowing the ruling class it must be¬come conscious of its interests as a class against the ruling class, and conscious of the web of oppressions and institutions which preserve capitalist rule. A revolutionary party must be built to fight for that consciousness in the working class, because there is today no revolutionary party, nor even a grouping with a programme which is truly revolutionary.

    Although in the early years of the Russian Revolution an important start was made in loosening the compulsions behind the family system, eventually the isolation of that revolution and the weakness of the Russian working class led to reverses. Although gains have been made in China, Cuba and the rest, both in dismantling capitalism and, if compared with the pre-existing situations, in personal life, the family system remains as a prop for the new power of bureaucrats. In all these countries the oppression of homosexuals continues. These are cramped, confined limited, deformed revolutions, based on material backwardness, international isolation and cultural deprivation. It is unfor-tunate that the revolutionary movement beyond their borders reflects their cramped, confined, limited, deformed revolutionism, and that as a consequence the different groups of would-be revolutionaries in New Zealand today do not have among them a revolutionary programme.

    A process of ferment, a process of criticism and political conflict among the different groups and individuals who seek a revolution is necessary to forge the programme capable of leading to revolution and the nucleus of a revolu-tionary party. Gay revolutionaries, by virtue of their ability to see the flaws of those countries which are the models of the left, and by their somewhat different perspective on the structure of oppression in capitalist society, are in a position to make a special contribution to the necessary process of fer-ment. And out of the process can emerge eventually a power which lays the conditions in which the human race can learn to live.

    [This article was first published in Salient, 6 July 1981. It was subsequently republished in Pink Triangle, September 1981 and in New Zealand Monthly Review, October 1981]

  9. I wasn’t so much interested in how you “deported yourself” as in how you tried to push things politically further ahead. It’s possible to make some propaganda – and I don’t see anything much to disagree with in your article – but what about in terms of actual arguments in the movement of that time. It did all seem rather cosy with the Labour Party and yet instilling awareness of, and frankly hatred for, the Labour Party is a necessity.

    On a somewhat different issue, capitalism has been able to remove almost all of the legal discrimination against gay men and women. Thirty years ago my answer to this question wuld have been “no”, now I’m not so sure – is it possible for the oppression of gays, as gays, to be ended under capitalism?

    My feeling, based on what has happened with forms of oppression over the past few decades, is that capitalism has been able to reform far more than most of the left would ever have expected back in the 1970s, when I first got active in left politics as a school student. This has partly been a result of the way in which issues like gay rights have been campaigned for – a kind of non-threatening way which was fairly easily co-opted. And partly because the one relation that is not up for change under cpaital is not gender relations or the relationships between different forms of sexuality, but the wage-labour/capital relationship. As long as that can be continued, how much do capitalists care about who is having sex with whom or who is looking after the kids or who has a white skin and who has a brown skin? Old reactionary types may still care, and there’s no shortage of them in this country, but the serious money, the capitlaists who actually control things, don’t much care.

    Phil

  10. A good example of the changes is that what you wrote in 1981, and which people like myself would have agreed with completely at the time, is the stuff about the family. Back then, especially in the Muldoon era, it seemed the family of male primary breadwinner, the wife at home and the 2.5 kids was here to stay. But a pretty high percentage of the population no longer live in families like that. Even if you look at TV shows, hardly anyone lives in that kind of family set-up, the set-up that was beamed out at people on TV shows for decades is now largely absent from the screen.

    Unfortunately, instead of being “ahead of the game”, Marxists in NZ in the 1970s and 1980s – and, frequently, today too – are behind the game. Many still belive that to campaign for this or that right is somehow challenging to the system. So you have socialist propaganda which is published off to the side and then you have your day-to-day work where existing consciousness in this or that movement or campaign is just followed along behind or alongside at best.

    Phil

  11. The decriminalisation of gay men (and more particularly the considerable but incomplete changes in popular prejudices against homosexuality which occured during the campaign) represented a reduction of oppression and an important reform. If the Homosexual Law Reform Bill had failed to pass that would have been a significant defeat — and it is a defeat which might very easily have occurred.

    To paraphrase a notable 20th century Marxist, revolutionaries should be tribunes of the people, fighting in every battle and active against all types of oppression. A united front is usually for a specific immediate reform which you believe to be worthwhile and allows you to unite with non-revolutionists. Revolutionaries seek to go beyond the limits of the immediate objective, but they don’t always succeed immediately, as I did not succeed in this struggle.

    The results would likely have have been greater if there had been a Marxist caucus in the 1985-86 campaign, preferably linked to a revolutionary nucleus. But that was not available.

  12. It does seem rather unfair for some of the Redline Contributors to keep shifting the goal posts in this exchange/debate. The article is basically a historical article about the Homosexual Law Reform movement of the 1980s. So, it is quite reasonable for Bill to focus on offering an alternative viewpoint on the events of the 1980s. Yet we have Redline Contributors effectively saying: “Oh well, never mind about that, but what are you going to do about it today?” or “Your 1981 article doesn’t apply to the situation in 2011”, which seems a bit much to ask.

    Ben

    • There’s no moving of any goalposts Ben. It’s a perfectly reasonable attempt to *continue the discussion beyond the scope of the article*; this frequently happens on websites when a discussion starts. (The term “moving the goalposts” refers to a quite different phenomena it’s when people change the rules or the criteria in a single discussion, not when people feel it’s useful to continue the discussion into what’s happening today.)

      It’s good that Bill is giving his views because he was a key player in the events of the time. Also, since I said that I agreed with the 1981 article broadly, I think it’s unfair for you to caricature things as if anyone said, Oh but that doesn’t apply today. That was clearly *not* a criticism of the article; indeed, it was pointed out that, as I thought I made clear, *no-one* on the left back then seemed to have worked out that the changes to the family that have taken place were on the agenda. I was in the SAL, and we certainly thought the family structure as it was would continue and that the ruling class would keep trying to impose it. (And, of course, there was a real basis for that mistaken view, because the Muldoon government, and the Labour lot that preceded it, were very interested in bolstering the ‘traditional’ family). So it’s *not* a criticism of Bill’s article in particular – it’s a comment (with hindsight) about the entire left..

      Later, I’ll post something that is critical of the fact that, to the best omy knowledge, no-one in 1986 pushed a *class-struggle approach* to the issue. As Bill rightly notes (and deplores) the bulk of the Marxist left simply abstained – and I tend to agree with him that anti-gay prejudice was one of the reasons for that – but Marxists involved in the campaign didn’t push a class-struggle approach either from what I can see (and from what Bill has written here).

      Phil

      • It will be interesting to read Phil’s account of class struggle perspectives in the 1985-86 campaign. He might particularly look at the roles of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the Coalition to Support the Bill, two of the organisations I belonged to at the time and which made attempts in this direction.

        I should register disagreement with Phil if he thinks we don’t have to worry about the nuclear family any more. It changes, but it continues as a powerful and reactionary force.

        And yes, an informed discussion about a revolutionary perspective in queer and trans struggles today would be helpful.

      • Hi Phil,

        I withdraw my commentary-upon-commentary on the 1981 article. Apologies. Yes indeed, your discussion of the predictions Marxists made about the future of the family and capitalism are indeed useful and relevant to the discussion as a whole.

        As for the ‘shifting of goalposts’, perhaps I used the wrong metaphor. ‘Skimming over errors or omissions’ might have been better.

        I think that three shortcomings of the original article are 1) calling the Homosexual Law Reform a ‘crumb’, 2) omitting mention of the role of Marxists who abstained from the campaign in 1980s, and 3) omitting concrete examples of the propaganda efforts of the Marxists who were involved. Points 2 and 3 are particularly important for a website focusing on the far left. It is not certain that Redline readers would have been made aware of these omissions if one of the participants in the 1985-6 campaign had not pointed them out. In the case of some historical articles that one might write, the participants are no longer around to offer corrections, or are no longer interested etc.

        My thinking was that it would have been better for Redline contributors to respond by saying something along the lines of: “Thanks for pointing that out. Yes that was an omission on our part, one that should be looked at in more detail”, rather than “I don’t think anyone’s denying” that many Marxists abstained. Revolutionaries have a responsibility to do more than simply *not deny* errors or betrayals; they should also report and critique them.

        It does seem that the article might be the start of series that might look further into this period of history and LGBT issues in general, which is great. I was not aware of that when I posted yesterday.

        Ben

  13. Bill, what about the Gay Task Force? Weren’t you a leader of that? I think an important problem was that the campaign involved an alliance with Labour MPs, who were made welcome on the platforms of the campaign and so on, right at a time when Labour was launching the biggest attack on workers’ rights since the 1930s. Far from undermining Labour. the campaign obscured class politics by its alliance with capitalist politicians. At a time when it was attacking workers’ rights, and socially liberal Labour MPs were part of that, they needed a fig-leaf of progressiveness. They got that partly through their nuclear ships ban – behind which they escalated NZ military involvement in the Pacific to levels not seen since WW2 – and through easy stuff that cost them nothing like being liberal in terms of an outmoded law on homosexuality.

    A class struggle perspective is *necessarily* an anti-Labour one, not one of alliance with the likes of Fran Wilde and Sonja Davies and co.

    A result of this was that the cause of workers and the cause of gay people (not to mention the cause of workers who are gay) were separated into two different boxes. The self-identified gay community of today, partly as a result of that, is about business and getting on and respectability and so on. The Hero Parade in Auckland featured a whole bunch of floats sponsored by prominent capitalist firms and that was treated as perfectly OK.

    The job of revolutionaries, as you once put it – and I recall it well because I agreed with you and thought it was a good way of putting it – is not to join and help run liberal campaigns, because the liberals themselves can and will do that; the job of revolutionaries is to promote revolutionary politics. A class-struggle approach in 1986 would have meant total organisational and political independence from the Labourites and the middle class liberals and an orientation towards workers, consciously linking the struggles for workers’ and gay rights. Maybe you and CHE went out to Porirua and went to factory gates and so on and I’m being unfair – but I’ve never heard of any such thing happening.

    You also mention that you wree a leader of the Coalition to Support the Bill. But the very name of that group is itself problematic. It shows the self-limiting nature of the politics and suggests that the politics being pursued were quite different from what you usually argue for (the positon mentioned at the start of the previous paragraph).

    In relation to the nuclear family, I don’t think it’s done for. However, the functions outlined in your earlier article – and this isn’t a criticism of the ealrier article, because all of us on the Marxist left would have said the same at the time about the nuclear family – are different today. When so many family units don’t actually have male heads, it’s not possible to say (as Marxists did for so long) that the family of today is about establishing a hierarchy in which the male occupies the bourgoeis role, the wife occupies the proletarian role and the role of the kids is to do what they’re told and be taught to mindlessly accept authority.

    The bourgeois family unit that Marx described in that way in the Communist Manifesto and that Marxists such as Bill and the Socialist Action League (which I was part of in my misguided youth) talked about in the 1970s and 1980s is simply not the family that exists for a very large part of the population today. And, far from showing any signs of making a big comeback, the trend is very much a shift further away from that unit.

    As I’ve said before one of the great weaknesses of the NZ left is that so much of it is always so far behind the actual trends in capitalism. An important role of Marxism is to be up with the trends and see where they are going. Otherwise Marxism just becomes a fossilised dogma and Marxists look like (and end up becoming) isolated cranks.

    Phil

    • Hi Ben,

      I don’t know that the article said the reform was a crumb. I took it be about *perspective* – ie whether the perspective is to be *liberation* or opting for what bits (crumbs) may be on offer from parliament. Perhaps it’s a rather fine distinction and a better heading could have been used.

      I think the main thing missing from the article was actually something different to what you do. I think the main thing missing was a consideration of the overall political context in 1986. I think the reason for this is probably that the article was written just a few years ago and was more about the relationship of the gay community to the Labour Party and how debilitating this was. For instance, the heading originally had “Labour crumbs” rather than “Crumbs from parliament”. I’m the person who suggested the changed heading, so I probably should have thought a bit more about how somoene outside might read the headline.

      I have suggested that a further update of the article is done, that does actually metnion the point that Bill raised (and that you mention above) about the backwardness of the Marxist left at the time. I had left the Socialist Action League by then, and I have no idea what role they played in that particular struggle if any. (I was also living 10,000 miles away and had no contact woith anyone in the League having been declared persona non grata after I left.)

      However, when I was a member I recall that there were quite a lot of gay members, most of whom were recruited from the gay liberation movement of the early 1970s and most of whom were industrial workers by the early 1980s. Gay SAL members worked in the Railway Workshops at Otahuhu, the meat works and in the car plants. I recall that the gay members at Otahuhu were gay-baited by management in the late 1970s in an effort to isolate them. It backfired and actually made them even more respected and popular among their co-workers in the workshops. One of those comrades was Dick Morrison, who was an early leader of the gay liberation movement and a bit of a theorist for Auckland gay liberation.

      Almost the entire SAL were industrial workers by 1986 and on big, powerful job sites in the main, especially in the meat works. So the SAL was well-placed to campaign *from inside the wokring class*.

      I think that’s an important point, because it’s not simply up to gay activists to go and campaign outside factories and door-to-door in working class areas, it’s also up to leftists in the workplaces, especially the industrial workplaces at that time, to campaign from *inside the class*. It would be interesting if Bill could comment on what, if anything, the SAL did.

      Lastly, to return to the context. The context is one of a particularly vicious anti-working class Labour government waging the biggest war on workers’ rights, living standards, pay and conditions since the depression. Their MPs should not have been welcomed anywhere near a *class struggle oriented campaign* for gay rights. And the primary role of revolutionaries invlved iin gay rights activities in 1986 should not have been to get in behind the bill – the liberals were quite capable of doing that sort of campaign themselves – but of organising independently (politically and in terms of actual formal organisation) and creating an alternative pole of attraction while, obviously, taking part in the wider mobilisations around the bill.

      Kind of like what the ACA did in relation to the antiwar movement in 2002 where it didn’t just join in with everyone else – it took part in all the wider activities but also built an alternative pole of attraction, such as the Anti-Imperialist Coalition in Auckland.

      Phil

  14. There are real political differences here. Let it be clear. I supported the decriminalisation of gay men and the extension of human rights legislation to cover gays and lesbians, and I fully admit there was nothing revolutionary about those reforms.

    The revolution will not be led by reform movements, or united fronts, or defence campaigns, or trade unions. It will be led by a revolutionary party.

    But reform movements and united fronts and defence campaigns and trade unions are means of defending the exploited and oppressed. And that is important, in and of itself. Furthermore such lesser struggles may sometimes allow revoutionaries to win authority and introduce their broader programme.

    In 1985-86 it was necessary to stand for unity with non-revolutionaries (including right-wing social democrats and liberals) for the limited objectives of homosexual law reform. I did that, and I also tried to make my revolutionary class struggle perspective clear to those I was working with, and (to the extent possible for an individual) to recruit to that perspective. We want to win the best of the people in such campaigns to revolutionary politcs, but that does not require us to scare them away by imposing on the reform movement they have joined a revolutionary programme they do not yet understand.

    Leaving aside the smallness of the scale and the absence of a revolutionary party in the situation, this perspecitve is consistent with a thoroughly orthodox Leninist view of revolutionaries as “Tribunes of the People” supporting all struggles against oppression, and appying the tactic of the united front to combine together with non-revolutionaries, with a view both to achieving some immediate less-than-revolutionary end and connecting and doing political work with wider layers of the oppressed.

    The result was not liberation, but it was, in its way, a success. That can be denied only if you believe that the criminal sanctions against gay men were a triviality.

    It is true it might have been a much greater success, but that would have required larger numbers accepting such an interpretation of orthodox Leninism.

    • I agree Bill that there are real differences here.

      Your claim that it was “necessary to stand for unity with. . . right-wing social democrats” (among others) indicates what was wrong with your approach, especially when at the very same time these social democrats were engaged in a massive attack on the working class.

      That approach is not in the slightest bit consistent with “a thoroughly orthodox Leninist view”. What it is consistent with is an approach which I have frequently seen and heard you attack when it is used by anyone else on the left.

      You are also deeply wrong about “the tactic of the united front”. In an earlier post (10.22 on July 12) you said: “A united front is usually for a specific immediate reform which you believe to be worthwhile and allows you to unite with non-revolutionists.”

      No, that’s not the united front tactic. That’s just an alliance of some kind with non-revolutionary elements like your “right-wing social democrats” and others.

      Lenin and trotsky were very specific about what the united front tactic was. Trotksy said that the united front didn’t even come onto the agenda until communists had already won over 20% or 25% of the working class. The point of the united front was to enable communists to win over the next big chunk of the working class and help destroy the hold that social-democracy still had over the working class at that time (early 1920s), in the context of the communists not being able to progress much further with the tactics they’d been using up to then. It was holding the social democrats of that time in a kind of killer-embrace. It had nothing to do with ocmmittees and campaigns and alliances with liberals aimed at securing an immediate reform. That is just another way of doing reformist politics.

      And, of course, the campaign of 1985-86 did not, unlike the united front tactic – as conceived by Lenin and Trotsky – weaken the Labour Party at all. In fact, what happened was that Labour’s hold over the gay community was *strengthened*. The absolute opposite approach of what the real (ie revolutionary) united front approach was.

      Bill’s approach towards this particular campaign reads increasingly like the “best builders” approach he frequently attacks. Get involved in a liberal campaign, be the best builder, pass around a few articles and so on. That’s what groups like the SAL and SWP did in the anti-Vietnam War movement. And their repsonse to any criticism was the same as Bill’s here – oh, the antiwar mvoement is a success and that can only be denied if you trivialise the Vietnam War issue.

      It is precisely because imperialist wars, class exploitation and the various forms of oppression in class society are crucially important that revolutionaries take them seriously and attempt to organise independently.

      Earlier I gave the example of how the ACA, which at the time only had three members in Auckland (one of whom was Ben) helped build an independent, left pole of attraction within the antiwar movement there in 2002. The ACA didn’t just join in the existing movement. It participated in it but it did so as part of the Anti-Imperialist Coalition with the AIC’s own leaflets and own orientation.

      In Christchurch we did the same. We participated in the rather peacenik antiwar group but we simultaneously built an independent pole of attraction and carried out most of our work through that. One of our activities was that, during an antiwar picnic in 2003 in the central city organised by the ‘wider’ group, we went and postered around the corners of the little park that this was a Labour-free zone, handed out our anti-imperilaist/anti-Labour leaflets etc, Labour of course being the government that sent NZ troops to help invade Afghanistan and army engineers to Iraq. We continually counterposed what we were doing to the Labour Party and we totally opposed having capitalist politicians like the Labur fakers on antiwar platforms.

      That sort of approach to the capitalist Labour Party wasn’t done in 1985-86, *despite the fact that the Labourites – including ‘liberals’ like Fran Wilde and old Labour fakers like Sonja Davies – were part and parcel of the biggest attack on workers’ rights and living standards in half a century.

      No-one, not the abstentionist (and backward) left – and not Bill either – did that kind of work. Because Bill has fronted up here the debate has tended to be between those comrades who have the same views as expressed in Sean’s article and Bill. But to my mind a bigger problem was people like the SAL who back-pedalled on the gay rights issue and didn’t do the kind of work in their workplaces that could have been done. Although the SAL was involved in the gay liberation movement at the start, the dead hand of the US SWP soon made itself felt and work around gay oppression was pretty much given the heave. And the SAL of that time had a pro-Labour orientation that was just absurd.

      Phil

  15. Actually, I’ll add some other thnings about the SAL, since we’re going beyond Sean’s piece. Also, because the fact that Bill is here means the debate appears to be with him whereas, if the SAL were here, the debate would probably be more with them and Bill and I would probably be saying some of the same things.

    Because the SAL came into existence in 1969 and consisted overwhelmingly of participants in the “youth revolt” of that time – it was mainly students but did include a small layer of young blue-collar workers, although most of them dropped away early on – the SAL was part of the same process that produced the early women’s liberation and gay liberation groups and there was a certain degree of cross-membership, especially with the women’s liberation groups. In Auckland, a chunk of Auckland Gay Liberation, including the group’s leaidng theorist types, joined the SAL. The key figure was Dick Morrison.

    A serious problem the SAL faced from birth was the existence of a Mother Ship, namely the US Socialist Workers Party. The SAL was attached to it as if by an umbilical cord – or maybe a better metaphor would be by remote control. The SWP woud adopt a position, the SAL would automatically adopt the same position.

    This was one of the things that screwed up SAL politics in general, including in relation to gay liberation. The SWP’s original rsponse to the emergence of the gay liberation movement in the United States was to support it in their paper but ban homosexuals from joining the SWP! This was rationalised on the basis of ‘security’ (gay members could be blackmailed by the state, as male homosexuality was illegal – not sure how they justfied the same ban in relation to lesbians, but it was also to do with ‘security’). The ban, in relaity, had nothing to do with security and everything to do with prejudice in the central leadership clique. It didn’t last long – the fear of losing their credibility – as opposed to realising that the ban was totally wrong – meant it was dumped.

    However, the SWP’s position remained contradictory. The central leadership really, really didn’t want the organisation involved in the gay liberation movement at all. So a new more supposedly “marxist” argument was put forward – the ‘social weight’ argument. This was that oppressed sections of society like blacks and women had massive social weight and gays very little, plus the oppression of blacks and women was crucial to the maintenance of capitalism, whereas gay oppression was merely marginal – an offshoot of women’s oppression. Therefore, struggles by women and blacks had massive social weight and presented a real threat to the system while struggles by homosexuals did not.

    There were two problems with that argument. One was that beneath a Marxist veneer it was really just a rationalisation for a decision they already had made – don’t go near the queers. If they hadn’t used that argument, they would have dreamed up something else. The second problem is that it wasn’t really a Marxist argument anyway.

    A Marxist approach is more along the lines of: what questions does the working class have to get right in order to reach a level of consciousness at which they can challenge the capitalist system? And the answer to that is that as long as workers go along with prejudice and oppression they won’t really be able to advance very far politically, so struggles against prejudice and oppression are actually very important *politically*.

    That was an argument that a section of the Christchurch branch tried to make in about 1974. None of us were gay, but we were certainly part of the youth radicalisation that welcomed the free expression of sexuality and thought it was important and none of us were comfortable with the SAL leadership’s position on the issue. We actually made up a small majority of the Christchurch branch at the time and put forward a document to the SAL conference. We wren’t surprised when the leadership opposed ur document but we were rather surprised when the gay comrades of the time supported the leadership against the pro-gay document.

    I was very young at the time, having first gotten involved in politics at the start of high school. The response to that document, and I was its main author, was one of the first things that tipped me off that all was not as well as I had thought when I first joined the AL. However I was far too young and politically inexperienced to take that feeling anywhere and I hung around in that organisation for another half dozen years, including several years as a full-timer in which I came much more face to face with the unhealthy poltical culture of the organisation and in particular the misogynistic and homophobic (and rather violent) national secretary of the organisation. I got out of there by going abroad, where I realised there was a wholebig wide radical world that wasn’t like the SAL – although, unfortunately, it turned out that way too much of the big radical world was just as unhealthy as the SAL!

    From what I could see, gay members of the SAL, even before the ‘turn to industry’ and especially after it, rather quiet about their sexual preferences. What was really crazy about that was that a helluva lot of bkue-collar workers wree nowehere near as backward on the issue as what the SAL leadership seemed to think. When two gay members of the SAL were gay-baited by the management at the Otahuhu Railway workshops it completely backfired on the management and workers went up to those gay comrades to say they supported them and didn’t have any problems with their sexual preferences. Plus there were, of course, plenty of gay industrial / blue-collar workers. But the SAL leadership didn’t really want to recruit them – it was like they were afraid that the organisation might become “too gay” or something. Interertsingly, while all the straight members who had been involved in the 1974 document dropped away from the organisation, the people from Auckland gay liberation who had joined mainly stayed and became (or appeared to become) happy with that state of affairs.

    It surprised me but, as they say in Yorkshire, there’s nowt so queer as folk.

    Anyway, it’s time for me to go home and have tea.

    Phil

  16. The question is whether it is good for revolutionaries to bloc with bourgeois politicians against repressive legislation. I think so. (I also think, incidentally, revolutionaries appropriately participated in the campaign to stop the Springbok Tour of 1981.)

    Phil says I attack this approach on other issues, and I would like to hear a fuller report on those attacks.

    It is true that I am opposed to revolutionaries blocking with bourgeois politicians (including social democrats in their current incarnation) in elections or to form a government, or in favour of any general social programme. The types who inhabit parliament today can only be a fetter on any government in which revolutionariies would participate. And a bloc with bourgeois politicians for “peace” or “gay liberation” can be nothing but a fraud, for several reasons, not least of which is that these politicians are not and cannot be for peace or gay liberation. But they CAN be for removing abortion from the Crimes Act, or decriminalising gay men, or freeing a given class-war prisoner.

    Alongside the questions of principle there are also questions of historical fact and judgement, in which Phil seems a bit unreal to me, perhaps conditioned by being 10,000 miles away at the time of these events. Perhaps Sean Kearns was at a similar location. Both of you seem to think that it was pre-ordained that the reform would be achieved, that the political elite had decided that the law was against the interests of the state, and that the campaign was kicking in an open door. That simply wasn’t the case, it was all on a knife edge. It is true that during the campaign there had been a massive ideological shift, but it was hard fought right to the end, and If three of the Members of Parliament who had voted for the bill had in fact voted against it, then it would have lost. And there were more than three threatening to vote against it, pushing for the age of consent to be raised. The final vote very nearly happened a week earlier than it did, and if that had happened it would almost certainly have been lost.

    And if it had been lost, that would have been an enormous victory for the moral right. Things would not have gone back to the way they had been. Repression against gay men would have increased. Gay-bashings would have increased. The heat would have been on lesbians, too. There would have been moves to further restrict access to abortion. It would have been a very bad time.

    ***

    [Incidentally I have no brief for the Socialist Action League which I believed then and believe now was a reformist organisation, but I’d like to note two of their gay comrades, Dick Morrisson who Phil mentions, and Malcolm McAlister, who played staunch and honourable roles in 1985-86. If anyone knows what they’re up to, I’d really like to be in touch with them. It would be good to have a drink with them.]

    • One of the problems of Bill Logan’s account is that he is concentrating too much on the moral right rather than the ruling class. He says the result of a defeat in 1985-6 would have been intensified oppression of gay men. This ignores the fact that the trend was in the opposite direction throughout the capitalist world. It’s not the moral right who control these things, it’s the ruling class.

      Bill Logan is looking at the issues through the eyes of a gay rights single-issue campaigner, rather than a class-struggle activist. Allying with Labour polticians, especially when Labour is in power trying to cut the throat of the working class is not class-struggle politics – it obscures, it doesn’t clarify, the nature of society, how different oppressions fit in and who the main enemy is.

      The idea that a loss in 1985-86 around the Fran Wilde bill would have led to things like further atempts to restrict abortion means misunderstanding where the ruling class was at in this period. Bill Logan seems to think that the moral right was the main power in the country, not the ruling class.

      The ruling class in New Zealand was moving away from formal legal discrimination and have continued to do so. The door was more open than shut on law reform.

      As for blocking with capitalist politicians, it’s inconsistent, to say the most least, to argue that you can ally with them for Fran Wild’es bill but not for gay liberation or peace. Allying with anti-working class politicians, like people involved in that Labur governent, helps creates illusions in them and helped give Labour a nice liberal cover at the time it was pursuing class war against workers.

      One of the results is that the campaign did not weaken Labour but strengthened Labour. Did not weaken the system but made it more acceptable. Did not lead to a new gay liberation mmovement but marked the end of gay struggle for a long time. When fought the way the 1985-6 campaign was, the system can incorporate that type of ‘challenges’ and not hiccup. The reforms fought for like this make things smoother for the system by modernising it.

      I think this website is about *Marxist* analysis of capitalism today, and part of that is looking at where the ruling class is at, not where some bigots are at who do not represent real social and economic power. That’s not Marxist analysis.

      At some stage I will update the article and take into account points about the default of much Marxist left layers, and include more about the political context of the time, the Labur government, the neo-liberal economic reforms – that context makes Bill Logan’s postion worse in my view.

      We aren’t going to agree about allying with Labour and the single-issue, everybody aboard approach, but we could go round and round in circles discussing it. I just get dizzy from that, so will leave it there.

      Sean

      • Oooo, guuurrrrl, Sean’s attitude makes LaQuisha ANGRY.

        So what – we (queers) should have just kind of hoped that the ruling class in NZ (at the time) would have decriminalised? And don’t even get me started on the campaign for the human rights amendment.

        Sean – as I said below, the law reform is our (queer) issue. You can fuck right of with your criticism of our community’s elders.

        Also, for the record – am I right in assuming you are heterosexual, and cis-gendered?

  17. @joel – it seems he would have had us (queers) fall on our sword rather than break some rule he has in his head about finding allies in the wrong (by Phil’s definition) place.

    I’d also like to point out that the queer community is heterogenous, with political beliefs ranging from Thatcher-loving conservatives, to died in the wool Marxists.

    I don’t think the far left can really stake any claim on our (queer) political agitations.

    From my (queer) perspective, it’s up to the far left to entice us into their fold. Rather than the other way around.

  18. Phi and Sean say that gay men should not have worried in 1985-86 because the tides of history were in their favour, and it is true of course that there has been a gradual liberalisation of laws on sexuality in the Western world over the last century or so (and particularly since popular access to effective techniques of contraception). But the fact is that within that broad historical sweep there have been significant and sometimes lengthy reversals.

    There seems to be something of an “after Hitler us” mentality in Phil and Sean’s approach, like the Stalinists of the Third Period who refused to bloc with the Social Democrats to defend trade unions against the Fascists. After all, they argued, the Social Democrats had been responsible for the deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht just a few years before. Let things get worse, so that then they can get better. And so things got worse.

    Phil and Sean appear to proclaim a doctrine of the ruling-class pre-ordaining particular decisions related to the moral sphere, but this is not how it works. The ruling class is simply not the kind of organism which generates a single coherent “opinion” on issues such as abortion or homosexuality, at least in this period. Bourgeois ideology informed many of the spokespeople on both sides of the debate in 1985-86, but most elements of the ruling class accepted that the conditions for the maximisation of profits would be best achieved by leaving the decision on decriminalisation to the interplay of popular struggles.

    LaQuisha is right that Phil and Sean’s approach is a little blind to the actualities of queer oppression. They wonder why gay members of the Socialist Action League in the late 1970s and early 80s spurned the advice of straight supporters to come out of the closet, and were instead rather quiet about their sexual preference, especially in some workplaces, in conformity with SAL leadership advice. It can be simplified. We got beaten up. At home. At work. In the streets. Being a bit careful in the late 1970s and early 80s was good advice. They wonder why in 1985-86 we thought it was important to win when the country was polarised over homosexual law reform. Well that can be simplified, too. We were getting beaten up. The upsurge in violence was palpable. Oh, we were fighting back, but it wasn’t an easy time. And if the reform hadn’t gone through in 1986 (as it nearly did not) that would have represented a huge military reverse.

    In the first half of this year there were four significant known queer-bashings on the streets of Wellington. That’s outrageous. Three times in the last couple of months I have had to help find emergency accommodation for trans teenagers physically abused in their families. The situation remains terrible. But it would have been a lot worse if Phil and Sean had been playing a leading role.

    • Bill Logan says: “They wonder why gay members of the Socialist Action League in the late 1970s and early 80s spurned the advice of straight supporters to come out of the closet, and were instead rather quiet about their sexual preference, especially in some workplaces, in conformity with SAL leadership advice. It can be simplified. We got beaten up. At home. At work. In the streets.”

      Bill, no-one said that. I gave an account of where a group of Christchurch SALers had written a document about the importance of the gay struggle. Nowhere did I, or that document, call on anyone to come out of the closet. In fact, I’m completely opposed to anyone being pressured to do so. I’m not sure where you got that reading from.

      This is going to be my last post, because I also think we’re getting to the point of repetition. I’ll try to make it short with a few key points.

      Bill’s whole argument is essentially a liberal/se ctorlaist argument rather than a Marxist one. Adovcating and defending making aliances with anti-working class politicians whose party is in power and launching the biggest attacks on workers’ rights in 50 years is not a Marxist approach; it’s liberal sectoralism.

      Moreover, if it’s fine for gay rights activists to make alliances with MPs from parties that are launchking such attacks on workers then, logically, it must be fine for other activists – Maori activists, trade union activists, to make alliances with anti-gay bigots who are attacking gay rights.

      This is the perspective of every oppressed and exploited group being in their own spearate boxes, advancing their own separate causes, by making alliances with *each other’s enemies*, as in the alliance with anti-working class polticians in the 1986 law reform campaign.

      In relation to LaQuisha Redfern, in order to get soloidarity you have to be prepared to extend solidarity. If gay rights activists ally with the enmeies of the working class, which they did in 1986, that’s basically giving the finger to the working class.

      The way forward is actually by uniting all the oppressed and exploited and to do that you have to start from the level of society and how it operates, not from the level of sectoral concerns.

      LaQuisha Redfern’s queer perspective may be fine if the only goal is to be queer and mark out some space to be queer within the context of the conti nuance of an oppressive and explitative social system. But a queer perspective, by its very nature, simply cannot mobilise the mass social forces necessary to end all oppression and exploitation. And that’s the difference between marxism and a queer perspective.

      Phil

  19. To bloc with bourgeois politicians on decriminalising gay men is indeed logically consistent with blocking with homophobic (or otherwise rotten) politicians on Maori land claims. And why not? A doctrine which holds that there can be no bloc with any force unless it is consistently against all oppression and exploitation would leave very few struggles to join. There is at present no force which can mobilise all the oppressed and exploited, but such a force—a revolutionary party—can be built only by joining in every partial and incomplete struggle against oppression and exploitation, including every struggle led by a flawed and inadequate leadership.

    In fact queers have always been expected to make blocs with anti-queer bigots, and the most far-sighted of them have no trouble with that—for example by joining or supporting a strike. Historically and internationally most trade unions have been led by anti-queer bigots, but that should not stop us from blocking with those bigots in any struggle against the bosses or the state. Most liberation struggles, not to speak of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and Castro’s Cuba have all for long periods of time been run by vicious homophobic bigots. And we should have been blocking with these forces against imperialism and capitalism.

    We are not talking about making strategic alliances here. We’re not talking about calling for votes in elections or supporting their general social programme, whether Rogernomic privatisation, or bureaucratic rule over the trade unions, or Stalinist repression, or whatever. We are talking about the necessity of having limited blocs with the devil himself and his grandmother for specific ends: winning a strike, gaining a particular legislative objective, defeating an imperialist enemy.

    And why should queer activists join such blocs? For two reasons. The first is that despite the misleadership, achieving the objective of the bloc would make the world a better place. And the second is that by joining these struggles queers start to expose anti-queer bigotry, start to make it a less viable political stance. When queers join such struggles they can lay the basis for driving homophobia out of leadership positions in trade unions and other movements.

    The decriminalisation of gay men required the votes of a majority of Members of Parliament, and in this historical period all Members of Parliament are pro-capitalist. So the decriminalisation of gay men required a bloc with pro-capitalist politicians. It was not a bloc which implied support for their wider social programme, and nobody at the time interpreted it as that.

    Working class militants and reformist leftists did in fact join that struggle in significant numbers, but few of those who laid claim to revolutionary credentials participated. And they ought to have, both because its objective was important and to explain revolutionary politics to politicising queers. Their failure to do so left the Labour Party with very little competition among queers. I can’t accept particular responsibility for that.

    • I had finished, but then Bill goes and raises a series of strawmen arguments, which I simply can’t let pass because they have nothing to do with what has actually been argued here.

      Strawman one:
      Bill says, “To bloc with bourgeois politicians on decriminalising gay men is indeed logically consistent with blocking with homophobic (or otherwise rotten) politicians on Maori land claims. And why not? A doctrine which holds that there can be no bloc with any force unless it is consistently against all oppression and exploitation would leave very few struggles to join.”

      But no-one here has ever suggested any such doctrine. What has been criticised is allying with enemies of the working class, especially right at the time they are launching the biggest attack on workers’ rights in 50 years. Not crossing a class line isn’t some way-out exotic idea; it’s fundamental.

      Strawman two:
      Bill says, “In fact queers have always been expected to make blocs with anti-queer bigots, and the most far-sighted of them have no trouble with that—for example by joining or supporting a strike.” Ah, so joining or supporting a strike means blocking with anti-queer bigots. What an odd view Bill has of striking workers. Most workers are not anti-queer bigots. Sections of workers may well be somewhat backward on gay rights, but there’s a world of difference between that and being “anti-queer bigots”. It’s the kind of conflation that can only be made by someone totally removed from the working class and working class struggle. (It also implicitly assumes that people who are gay don’t also have interests as workers, but privileges one particular form of identity (identifying as gay or as queer) over class.

      Moreover, the comparison with what Bill and co did – allying with capitalist politicians at the very time they were launching the most massive attacks on the working class in 50 years – would be something like Hone Harawira making an alliance with leading representatives of Destiny Church right at the time that Tamaki and his henchpeople were launching their biggest ever attack on gay rights. If Hone Harawira did such a thing *in that context*, it would be interesting to see Bill justifying it among the gay community.

      All Bill’s arguments are liberal-sectoralist. It’s simply not Marxism. It’s the perspective of all the oppressed and exploited groups in society being in their own separate boxes and making alliances with each other’s enemies – moreover, right at the time those enemies are in the midst of huge atttacks on the groups they oppress.

      Marxism suggests the opposite – a holistic approach that starts from the level of society as a whole and how different forms of exploitation and oppression are the product of particular forms of society – today, capitalism – and how the oppressed and exploited can be united and support each other’s struggles, and see each other’s struggles as their own, rather than uniting with each others’ oppressors.

      Phil

  20. LaQuisha Redfern says:”I’d also like to point out that the queer community is heterogenous, with political beliefs ranging from Thatcher-loving conservatives, to died in the wool Marxists.
    I don’t think the far left can really stake any claim on our (queer) political agitations”

    Correct, it can’t. What the far left can, and should do, in regard to any issue is make its own analysis and openly go out to bat for that. My experience has been that when the far left actually do that there is immediate and strident objection to them raising their ideas at all.

    • I find some of the context of this discussion confusing. Perhaps because I value the lifting of legal sanctions on homosexuals more than the use of the pro-bill movement to recruit for the revolutionary left. The promise of liberation after the revolution is cold comfort to those who must live their lives in fear of prosecution. The bill proposed by Fran Wilde offered the prospect of ending that risk in the foreseeable future.

      To my knowledge, it was the proposal of this legislation that elicited the movement to support it. I recall no preceding groundswell from the public in that direction. The prospect was of a limited move in a progressive direction. Had there been a popular movement to force the hand of parliament then the possibilities for the left might have been considerable. As it was, it was a parliamentary initiative and the for and against forces formed around the idea of Wilde’s bill. There would be a vote, yes or no.

      The choice in these circumstances is as stark, to do something or nothing. As has been observed, some Marxists abstained, possibly due to homophobia, or perhaps to retain their impeachable political credentials by not associating with those who do not share their view. These abstentions are an interesting phenomenon. As is clear from this discussion, some Marxists undoubtedly subscribe to the concept of equality for gay people, but by no means all. In this discussion it is taken for granted that the former would be in power post- revolution. I wonder…..

      So, groups were formed to lobby for decriminalization. These groups may have contained a number of people with views inimical to Marxists. It is a well worn procedure when trying to influence politicians to form a single-issue coalition. One of the strengths of such associations, especially on an issue with so-called ‘moral’ dimensions is that it makes it difficult for reactionary media to label and thus marginalize such groups. The legislation passed, so the coalition was a success. The single issue is, however, just that. Singular. To try and use it for a vehicle to advance other causes might easily fracture it. I am glad of it’s success, it helped bring about something humane. Such opportunities are rare, on such a scale.

      It is advanced in this discussion that the passage of the decriminalization bill somehow enabled or helped the Labour party to enact the new-right agenda by providing a base of support from gay people and those who support a liberal social agenda. Labour governed for eight years and homosexual law reform was one piece of legislation. The broad attack on the people was enacted in numerous other acts. I don’t think that the law reform was so dazzling that it blinded people from other government activities. In fact, the new-right or neo-liberal agenda was sweeping the English-speaking world and had the open support of media and ‘popular’ commentators. I think it is here one might look for explanations as to the support Labour commanded.

      I read with interest the comparison between rights granted to homosexuals in other jurisdictions. They may more closely resemble the rights of straight people, but most likely it is still a resemblance. While heretonormativity reigns, my rights, and those of other gay people have to be legally constructed. If one is hereto sexual, one can anticipate that the world is arranged to facilitate one’s preferences. All that is not expressly prohibited is permitted. Gay people have had to obtain a series of permissions, and laws are passed to enforce these. When any person can anticipate that same rights as any other as a given, and not a a specific gift or act of patronage from hereto sexuals, then I will call that liberation.

      A revolution might provide the opportunity for just such a change. But this is far from certain. I think that a thorough critique of the Marxists who avoided action at this juncture would be more fruitful, I am questioning the utility of questioning those who did and venting expectations that they should have advanced revolutionary Marxism in that context. As things stand, in the event of a revolution, I think that homophobic Marxists would be more dangerous to us all than any capitalist.

  21. “As things stand, in the event of a revolution, I think that homophobic Marxists would be more dangerous to us all than any capitalist.”

    At least in the context of New Zealand today, I doubt you would find many Marxists to be homophobic. In other parts of the world homophobia does still exist within Marxist organisations to certain degrees perhaps but many Marxists are strongly in favour of eqaul rights for all irrespective of sexual preference, also. The communists in the Phillipines, if I remember rightly, perform gay marriages for example.

  22. Nick: I find your claim about homophobia in the NZ/Aotearoa Marxist community surprising. Particularly when it is practically proven that (by way of example) that Sean and Phil don’t give a fuck whether gays are decriminalised or not. At least one half of this discussion has the wiff of homophbic thought about it.

    • The original article from Sean is an uncompromising championship of gay liberation.

      Phil’s first sentence in this exchange actually says: ” I agree with you about the far left,Bill.”

      What is the point of inventing and ascribing attitudes that are not there?

  23. > The original article from Sean is an uncompromising championship of gay liberation.

    Really? He seemed to be hitting the law reform movement with a big stick for choosing a particular ally that displeased his ideological beliefs.

    > What is the point of inventing and ascribing attitudes that are not there?

    Honey, trust me, the attitudes are alive and well.

    Since I’ve disclosed my sexual orientation, why don’t you?

    I’d wager money that you are heterosexual, and as such, are blind to the myriad nuances of homophobic moment of micro-aggression, which this entire conversation is littered with.

    • With : “I’d wager money that you are heterosexual, and as such are blind to the myriad nuances of homophobic moment of micro-aggression”, LaQuisha Redfern shuts off any possible exchange of ideas. If human thought really is immutably predetermined by sexual orientation then we are all condemned to ignorance for eternity.

  24. With: “LaQuisha Redfern shuts off any possible exchange of ideas. If human thought really is immutably predetermined by sexual orientation then we are all condemned to ignorance for eternity.”

    Don declares his heterosexuality.

  25. David Jones writes: “I think that a thorough critique of the Marxists who avoided action at this juncture would be more fruitful, I am questioning the utility of questioning those who did and venting expectations that they should have advanced revolutionary Marxism in that context.”

    David, the job of revolutionary Marxists is to advance a Marxist perspective in any political context in which they are involved in struggle. One would expect people whose primary political identity is queer to advance a queer perspective, people whose primary political identity is feminist to advance a feminist perspective and so on. It’s odd how there seems to be a certain hostility or questioning only when it is Marxists advancing their ideas – slight cases of Marxistophobia perhaps?

    David writes further: “A revolution might provide the opportunity for just such a change. But this is far from certain.” A revolution challenges all existing social relations, including those of gender and sexuality. Fortunately the days are gone when many communists shared the same prejudices against homosexuals as were to be found in bourgeois society. In countries like the Philippines, communists are in the forefront of the struggle for women’s liberation and gay liberation. For instance, the revolutionary guerrilla army has gay marriage, unlike the Filipino state.

    However, a necessary prerequisite for gay liberation in a socialist society is a gay liberation movement. And that is one of the key things that has been raised here – gay liberation or just getting in behind capitalist politicians for whatever reforms any of them feel inclined to at any point in time.

    Phil
    I

    • Thanks for the idea of marxistophobia, I like it!

      Phil writes “One would expect people whose primary political identity is queer to advance a queer perspective, people whose primary political identity is feminist to advance a feminist perspective and so on.”

      Isn’t this a little simplistic? May not one have many perspectives and use one’s own judgement as to how best each may be advanced in a particular situation? Surely to be queer or Marxist, or both does not imply a straightjacket.

      Phil adds “In countries like the Philippines, communists are in the forefront of the struggle for women’s liberation and gay liberation. For instance, the revolutionary guerrilla army has gay marriage, unlike the Filipino state.”

      This is, I think, the third time the Philippines has been cited. I fear it is being over-used because there is no other example. Apart from Russia while Lenin still lived, I can think of no other. Perhaps the more learned amongst us can provide some.

      Phil concludes ” However, a necessary prerequisite for gay liberation in a socialist society is a gay liberation movement. And that is one of the key things that has been raised here – gay liberation or just getting in behind capitalist politicians for whatever reforms any of them feel inclined to at any point in time.”

      I am a little mystified by this. Perhaps someone can clarify. If gay liberation is part of the deal, why must there be a gay liberation movement in a post-capitalist society? Will we have to ‘get in behind’ Marxist politicians, ‘for whatever reforms any of them feel inclined to at any point in time.’?

      • Hi, its David. I submitted the above but didn’t realize it wouldn’t show my name. Sorry

  26. LaQuisha Redfern: “Nick: I find your claim about homophobia in the NZ/Aotearoa Marxist community surprising. Particularly when it is practically proven that (by way of example) that Sean and Phil don’t give a fuck whether gays are decriminalised or not. At least one half of this discussion has the wiff of homophbic thought about it.”

    Nither Phil nor Sean has shown that they “don’t give a fuck whether gays are decriminalised or not.” Quite the opposite in fact, they just think it should be fought for and won in a way that doesn’t ally with a capitalist government that is in the mids of the worst attacks on workers New Zealand has seen in recent times.

    You can call it homophobic if you want but it doesn’t make it true. Their perspective is merely different to yours. They see gay liberation as one part of a broader picture, namely the liberation of the entire working class and all descriminated against minorities. In that context it was not a good idea to ally with the Labour Party.

    David: While there is undeniably a history of discrimination in many Communist countries I don’t think it is the norm any longer for many communists, especially young communists. And since you want some more examples:

    Cuba repealed laws against same-sex affection in 1979 and has been considering a civil union law since 2007. Cuba has also signed the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    East Germany decriminalised homosexuality a year ahead of West Germany.

    None of the five officially communist states still existing (China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea or Vietnam) has laws that criminalise homosexuality directly, though other laws are sometimes used to descriminate against homosexuals and non-lawful descrinination certainly exists. Note some of these countries are no longer really communist except in name.

    I don’t think the point is what Communists have done in the past though. We all know that many Communist states had appalling positions in the past (as did Capitalist states), but what do communists think now? In developed countries I’d be surprised if you could find many communits NOT advocating full equality for individuals regardless of gender and sexual orientation. Poor asian and African countries and former Soviet states perhaps have much more mixed views but the capitalist mainstream parties there also do. The Filippino communits obviously are not backwards on this issue though. I believe also that the Maoists in Nepal have recently officially abandoned their very backwards approach to non-heterosexuals.

    I’d say on balance Communists are no more likely to be homophobic than non-communists and probably they are in fact more likely to be in favour of gay liberation these days than non-communists. That’s just my opinion of course. It would be interesting to have some statistics on communist attitudes today to gay liberation by country but I’m not away of any studies like that.

    Cheers

    Nick

  27. By the way David, and otheres, if you don’t want to appear as ‘anonymous’ you just need to enter your email address and whatever name you like at the bottom before clicking post comment.

  28. There is no real fear that a future mass revolutionary movement will be homphobic, but there is a real danger that it will be difficult to build a mass Marxist movement because potential adherents FEAR its possible homophobia. Some of the writers above seem determined to increase that fear.

    More important than any personal phobias they may display are their political programmes, and whether those would build or to dismantle oppression. And it seems pretty clear that some of them defend programmes in relation to 1985-86 which would have prolonged the criminal law which was a key element of our oppression.

    They sound so like so many of the Stalinist male left of the 1970s who said: “We support women’s liberation, but there are more important struggles for now, and it would undermine the main struggles of today to focus on the special interests of women.”

    Their uncompromising championship of gay liberation is frankly completely empty and meaningless drivel without a commitment to fighting against legal impediments to that liberation.

    Nick says that they in fact are for supporting the fight against the anti-gay law, but only in a way “that doesn’t ally with a capitalist government”. But the problem is that under capitalism the government is always capitalist and always attacking the working class. But yet we sometimes seek to win concessions from it. The Phil-Sean-Nick argument is not to fight for concessions from the goverment, because the government is nasty. And that is simply silly.

  29. But Bill surely conscessions can be won simply by a strong protest movement that doesn’t ally with any parties. I think there is a difference between winning conscessions from a Capitalist government and specifically allying with a section of the ruling class in the Labour Party.

  30. There’ are two kinds of answer to that. (1.) There was never any “specific allying” with “any party” over homosxual law reform in 1985-86; there was a limited, fragile and temporary single-issue bloc with a section of the governing Labour Party. (2.) No concession is ever made by parliament except through the agency of Members of Parliament, and with EVERY reform or concession there is some sort of bloc between those fighting for the reform or concession and some agents of the bourgeoisie.

  31. The problem Bill is not fighting for concessions from the government, but allying with Labour politicians and doing so right at the time they were ruthlessly attacking the working class. The whole approach of “a limited, fragile and temporary single-issue bloc with a section of the governing Labour Party” is wrong, from a *Marxist* viewpoint.

    As I’ve said before, all your arguments here are liberal-sectoralist ones. All the oppressed in their own little boxes, allying with enemies of the working class to advance their own position within the framework of the existing system. (And, as you’ve admitted, this means it’s perfectly logical for activists from other oppressed sectors to ally with elements of, say, Destiny Church, in pursuit of some reform). It’s a hopeless perspective in terms of human emancipation.

    A different approach is complete political independence from all the parties (and politicians) of capitalism and building a movement which is focussed towards and within the working class and which seeks to unite all the oppressed on an anti-capitalist basis. There is always some sectoral battle which can be fought, and so there is always some sectoralist argument that can be made to put off wider political considerations to some other time.

    I recall you pointing out, rightly in my view, at a Workers Party meeting in Wellington, that liberal campaigns will take place without revolutionaries, so the job of revolutionaries is not to build liberal campaigns but to advance revolutionary poltiics. And yet when it comes to actual practice around this particuilar campaign, that is all out the window, and you argue for your liberal-sectoralist approach.

    There is also this bizarre argument: “with EVERY reform or concession there is some sort of bloc between those fighting for the reform or concession and some agents of the bourgeoisie.” No, there’s not. Lenin noted that reforms are the by-product of revolutionary struggle. Your argument descends to the level where reforms are ends in themselves and are simply deals between representaives of the oppressed and representatives of the ruling class! Again, this has notning to do with Marxism. You argue as if you cannot conceive of a reform which MPs or governments feel compelled to pass because they are under massive pressure from a huge radical movement in society. That situation doesn’t involve any “sort of bloc” with “some agents of the bourgeoisie”.

    The radical movement in that situation maintains total independence and is able to use whatever concession the bourgeoisie is forced to grant to show what can be achieved by militant struggle and how much more can be achieved by relying on their own strength. So a concession doesn’t lead to the movement in the streets coming to an end, the way concessions negotiated by “some sort of bloc” with “some agents of the bourgeoisie” do.

    This is one of the most basic differences between a revolutionary view of reforms and a reformist view of reforms.

    Phil

Comments are closed.