posted by Eve Mitchell.
I was catching up on some reading a few weeks ago and came across a post from Noel Ignatiev (former member of the Sojourner Truth Organization and Race Traitor editor), where he claims that historically revolutionaries never win over the working class but exploit divisions among the ruling class. He gives two contemporary examples of such divisions and argues that these are the weak points on which revolutionaries should be pushing: race and Zionism. While I have many issues with the post, the one that stood out most to me, and the one I want to discuss here, can be found in a footnote where Ignatiev writes:
“While individuals from any social class may entertain various opinions on [homosexual rights], no sector of capital has a material interest in whether people who like to have sex with members of their own sex be allowed to marry or whether it be legal for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies; yet these issues provoke intense popular feelings and play a large role in shaping contemporary political alliances.”
I 100% disagree. I just happened to read Ignatiev’s post the week that New York legalized gay marriage, a measure that was supported by Wall Street executives who were somehow talked into leveraging $1 million in lobbying power in a matter of weeks in support of gay marriage. Ignatiev might want to chalk this up to “various opinions” or “popular feelings” among the ruling class, however, I know from history that this is an example of a division among the ruling class fueled by class interests.
What interest does the ruling class have in gay marriage? Free reproductive labor. As Selma James writes, when a worker is married, the capitalist gets two workers for the price of one. The worker goes to work, puts hir heart and soul into hir work, actually loses a part of hirself. Ze comes home hungry, with a sore back and hir spouse is there to rebuild hir. The spouse cooks hir food, rubs hir back, provides hir with entertainment, joy, love, and the worker is ready to go back to work the next day. Meanwhile the person doing the domestic labor, while likely working a job hirself, gets tax breaks, insurance and social service benefits as the (non)payment for hir domestic work. While this reality is increasingly distant for working class people today, the idea that a capitalist can get two workers for the price of one is still prevalent since domestic (reproductive) labor is still unwaged and marriage as an institution yields its benefits.
Gay marriage is necessary for the capitalist class to maintain their buy-one-get-one-free stronghold. A recent study released by the U.S. census showed that increasingly, people are marrying later in life, if at all, and divorce rates have continued to climb over the last few decades. This means that workers are less likely to be married within the years that we are most valuable to capitalists. And so the two for one scenario is vanishing. Capitalists need gay marriage to help supplement that loss.
On the other hand, the more the working class is divided, along lines of race, gender, sexuality, etc., the weaker we are in fighting capitalism, and the more alienated we feel, the more natural our exploitation feels. This is the contradiction within the ruling class: gay marriage both benefits and harms them. Since there is no giant board meeting where the rulers can all get together and do a cost/benefit analysis and see whether legalizing gay marriage will help or harm them, the contradiction will play out as it has in other historical circumstances. There will be a division among the rulers on this question until the working class pushes them into crises and they will coalesce in the unified interest of capital. Ignatiev give a historical example in his post – there was a deep contradiction between propertied classes around slavery and John Brown pushed the rulers into crises; the result was emancipation.
So the question is, what do we do here and now? Many queers on the left have critiques of gay marriage for various reasons including it is not inclusive of polyamorous/nonmonagamous people, there is no room for trans*liberation, it asks the state for permission to live how we want, etc. And it is becoming clear that the gay marriage movement is doing the work of capital.
But it is also creating a division among the rulers. How do we take advantage of this division, in a real material way?
We cannot make the mistake that so many other radical queers have made in casting aside the struggle for gay marriage. This fight is tapping into the deep alienation we feel as queer people – the way the gender and sexuality caste system plays out in our everyday lives. We must build something that exploits the ruling class’ division, builds power and democracy for working class queers, and wins material gains in the here and now. We could fight at our schools, workplaces and in our communities for +1 benefits for all workers, wages for domestic labor, access to free health care (including cosmetic/gender reassignment surgeries, abortions, midwives, STI and HIV testing and treatment, etc.), the legal right to appoint our chosen family, community-run safehouses for queer street folks and sex workers, where survivors build communities capable of standing up to their batterers. There are many more fights to be had.
These small, localized campaigns are strategic and build the power of queers to define our families, regain control over our bodies, and deconstruct the alienation we feel because of our sexuality and/or gender. These campaigns will strengthen the working class as a whole because they will benefit us all and unite us in a common struggle that will forefront the demands of the most oppressed layers. As radical queers, we should not smash on the gay marriage movement but instead build our own organizations and campaigns that will attract and develop working class organizers, fighting in their own interests, while maintaining principled critiques of what gay marriage does for capital. With these campaigns, we will win over people who feel excluded or disillusioned by the gay marriage fight. And we will kick some capitalist ass in the process.