Can you imagine a 100% male industry of miners acting in solidarity with communities of gays and lesbians? Can you imagine them dancing in queer spaces together, learning about each other over a beer? Can you imagine these men marching behind members of the queer community and under a queer banner in a parade? Seems hard to imagine . . .
Identity politics has long maintained that differences of identity along lines of race, gender, ability, and sexuality must be respected and tolerated. This has often been counterposed to what is characterized as the “class reductionist” approach of class unity above all else. The history of race riots, domestic violence, and macho heterosexism within the proletarian movement is all too real, and has provided the material basis for a form of postmodern politics in the 1980s towards today which has defensively fetishized forms of social difference.
Within this context, the communist movement has sought in various ways to reconcile the contradictions and move towards a higher plane of political unity. Unfortunately, often times these moves have ended up reifying differences – bowing to forms of sectoralism which keep differences static, with each “identity group” staying safe within its own silo – or attempts to paper over the real differences and antagonisms which exist in society and amongst the proletariat in particular, which amount to reifying the differences from another angle.
As a young generation of communists coming up in this context, we are seeking to carve out a space which can account for difference while also aiming towards the pedagogical development of radical understanding and unity amongst people of different backgrounds and identities. We seek out the common class interest amongst the proletariat in ways which facilitate the learning process amongst all its sectors – where male identified workers are able to break down the patriarchal values instilled in them since birth; where women workers are able to assert themselves amongst men and feel confident that they will not be silenced by a culture of machismo; where trans workers are able to occupy space with their fellow cis-workers and engage in radical dialogue that facilitates understanding between them, along with creating the space to strategize about taking down the boss.
This is a process of communist universalism, in which the common class interest amongst workers is sought neither by disregarding difference nor fetishizing it into sectoralism. It is a communist process which allows the sectors to commune with one another and seek the way forward through solidarity.
Some critics say that “privileged identities” such as straight white men are not willing to be in solidarity with “underprivileged” ones such as lesbians, and that communist universalism based on class conscious unity is a utopian dream at best, and dangerously misleading at worst. AS has been sympathetic to criticisms of reductionist logics, of trends within communism to squash the very real divisions and horizontal violences that accompany them. Since our inception as a collective, we have understood the basis of racial, industrial, sexual, gender, national, and in general, sectoral antagonisms as constituting the capitalist division of labor. We aspire to help build a communist movement that becomes victorious over the capitalist mode of production which depends upon a fractured labor process, split labor markets, the manipulation of social control buffer strata . . . all the tricks in the book to subvert the tendency toward unity that the proletariat historically gravitates toward.
We know that it is possible for the impulse of the working class to unite to ultimately triumph, because we see historical episodes of it, reaching as far back as the multi-gendered revolutionary resistance of European heretics in the late middle ages, to black/white/brown unity in resisting forced labor in colonial American history, to the central role played by women in the Mexican and Russian revolutions as they fought revolutionary wars for their class arm in arm with male counterparts. The list goes on and on.
Here’s one chapter in that limitless story of a class in the making, in the process of struggling to unite and become conscious of itself and its incredible depth of diverse aspects, its wells of human variety and creativity that capital subsumes along with all dimensions of social life to fuel the production of value. British gays and lesbians organizing to support blue collar community of (presumably) straight male industrial workers. This may sound strange to our post-modern ears, but it gets stranger . . . the blue collar families embracing the queer movement’s hand and promoting them to visibly represent their struggle!
The backdrop for this stranger than fiction episode is the ascendance of the neoliberal regime in Britain, where that country’s first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her bourgeois cronies sought to squash the organized labor movement in order to impose a program of austerity in the face of a long drawn out economic crisis. The keystone in this project was the privatization of the coal industry, nationalized in the 1940s, and a bastion of proletarian power crystalized in class-conscious communities and formally represented by industrial unions.
Below is an interview with two of the militants of the organization that is the subjects of this post. On the scene at that time in Britain, were collectives of gay and lesbian solidarity committees that organized amongst the queer communities in London in order to provide material aid the tens of thousands of striking miners. While being concerned with their particular oppression, these militants saw their fate bound up with the rest of their class and describe their work as
”…a double-issue campaign, because its a two-sided sword. The whole political idea, the fact that it is organized by lesbians and gay men who are taking gay liberation as one of the aims of the group, has been to take the ideas of gay liberation and lesbian liberation into the organized working class, the labor movement.”
And therein we see the synthesis of a sensitivity to the particular given its deepest manifestation through positively contributing to the whole, and therefore enriching the universality of class struggle praxis. Although they might not consider themselves marxist, by building an integrated queer-labor struggle and offering solidarity across sexual lines, the campaign of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners is a moving moment in a process of budding communist universalism. Its time for radicals, militants, oppressed, communists, and activists of 2011 to take the scattered seeds from these defunct buds and plant a garden of cross-bred hybrid synthesis of revolutionarily integrated projects!