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Queer Anti-Capitalism?

The fight for queer rights and the struggle against capitalism come hand in hand

Queer Resistance logo smashing through the darkness with the text "Queer Anti-Capitalism" above

If you identify as LGBTIQ+ there is no excuse but to also be anti-capitalist. Capitalism has not only created the oppression of LGBTIQ+ people, but it also continuously seeks to undermine wins for equality and acceptance. It is only through struggle that queer people have won rights, and it is only through smashing capitalism that all queer people around the globe will be liberated.

But, let’s take a step back and look at the origins of LGBTIQ+ oppression:

The oppression of queer people can be clearly linked to the rise of capitalism. Never before, either in pre-class societies or in feudalism, has ‘deviancy’ from heterosexuality and cisgenderism been so vilified, outlawed and demonised. In fact, the label “homosexuality” didn’t even exist before the 19th century. Of course, there were other words used to imply same sex attraction before this, but the idea that it was unnatural or a sickness only came about in the late 1800s during the Industrial Revolution.

The vilification of LGBTIQ+ people was created in order to form and naturalise the nuclear family. You see, during the Industrial Revolution the capitalists had a problem. They found that if you make children work fourteen hour days and you don’t give them very much to eat, they will probably die. The solution to this problem was the nuclear family. A unit of people who feel responsible for one another and who will not only clothe, feed, and school children, but have more children (and thus some more relatively healthy workers for the capitalist). To do this, they not only gave out minimal benefits for those who did live together as family units, but they demonised those who did not conform to the nuclear family model.

As Mary McIntosh wrote in 1968: “In the first place, it helps to provide a clear-cut, publicised and recognisable threshold between permissible and impermissible behaviour … Second, the labelling serves to segregate the deviant from others … The creation of a specialised, despised and punished role of homosexual keeps the bulk of society pure in rather the same way that the similar treatment of some kinds of criminals helps keep the rest of society law-abiding”. The family and its role in sexual conformity has always been present in class societies, but the modern form of the family and its particular demonisation of LGBTIQ+ people today can be directly linked to the rise of capitalism.

To show just how different the modern oppression of LGBTIQ+ people is, we can look at the various ways in which sexuality and gender were conceptualized in pre-class and feudal societies. In egalitarian societies with no class divisions and very fluid forms of marriage and parenting, same-sex attraction and gender fluidity have been recorded. For example, some First Nations people of North America have been found to have had an arrangement whereby a young man or woman who showed a preference for the tasks of the opposite sex, could, with the approval of the elders, be initiated into that gender role. They could assume all the tasks of that sex and take a husband or wife in that role, without social disapproval.

Even in feudal society this can be seen. In Japan, during the feudal period from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, sexual relations between male samurai warriors were part of the chivalric code of bushido. In other ancient societies like Ancient Greece and Egypt the whole conception of sexuality was different to today. In these societies the division of sexuality was based on the ‘passive’ and ‘active’ roles with no conception of ‘homosexuality’ or ‘heterosexuality’. Even during the early years of Christian hegemony, sinful indulgence was condemned without targeting a particular ‘type’ of sexual orientation. It was all sexuality, that was not for procreation, that was condemned and seen as wayward. In fact the word “sodomy” was used to describe a variety of sexual sins including incest, promiscuity, adultery, and sex with nuns. It was not deemed inherently sinful until the rise of capitalism in the late 18th century.

So we see, that if you’re queer you should be anticapitalist because our oppression as it exists today is intrinsically linked to the rise of capitalism.

You should also be anti capitalist because it’s only through struggling against the system that queer people have gained some semblance of visibility, acceptance and equality. In fact, when the family unit was being created in the 19th century the OG Socialists (the Utopian Socialists) were some of the first critiques of the family. Followers of Saint-Simonianism (a strand of Utopian Socialism) believed in a future where women would be equal to men and there would be “free Love”. Others like Charles Fourier, envisioned a socialist future where large, communal ‘phalansteries’ would replace individual family units. Famously,  Marx and Engels, proclaimed their belief in the abolition of the family as part and parcel of a socialist revolution.

More recently, it has only been through radical struggle that LGBTIQ+ activists have won civil rights. Famously, the Stonewall Riots, inspired by the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements, sparked the fight for equality and acceptance. The fight for marriage equality in Australia was only won through mass protests, widespread public pressure and the dedication of activists who organised for over a decade.

While we have come far since the executions of ‘deviants’ in the late 1800s, there is still so much to win. Capitalism is still alive and kicking and as it depends upon the family unit which is the basis for homophobia and transphobia – these oppressions also still exist. We can all remember the outrage from the government and media when the LGBTIQ+ anti-bullying program ‘Safe Schools’ was released, and then promptly defunded, as well as Mark Latham’s transphobic assertion that trans people shouldn’t be allowed to self-identity. Beyond Australia, LGBTIQ+  people are also vilified. In many countries being queer is still illegal, while the rise of the far right worldwide has made targeting LGBTIQ+ commonplace. In France last year, homophobic attacks increased by 15%.

I think this shows, that while queer people can win significant rights through struggle in capitalism, not everyone will win liberation until capitalism has been smashed. It’s so important to see that LGBTIQ+ oppression has not originated from ordinary humans, or fear of the other, in fact it has always been part of human communities for millenia. It is only due to the ‘divide and rule’ nature of capitalism that it has been systematically branded as unnatural and deviant, in order to create a nuclear ‘normal’ family. It’s only through struggle that we have won rights, and only through struggle and a revolution, that all queer people can be liberated. It is these reasons that make it absolutely imperative to be anti-capitalist if you’re queer.