Queer Liberation and Class Struggle Case Study: The Welsh Miner’s Strike

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!

Click Here to Download the Radical America issue with the article (pages 39-49)

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3 responses to “Queer Liberation and Class Struggle Case Study: The Welsh Miner’s Strike

  1. Advance The Struggle

    AS also recommends reading this article by one of our comrades in Seattle on queer liberation and class struggle:

    http://gatheringforces.org/2010/01/08/queer-liberation-is-class-struggle/

  2. Hmm this piece was interesting because it explores the important question of how queers participate in the struggle of the international proletariat to overthrow the international bourgeoisie, while simultaneously participating in the struggle of the queer proletariat to overthrow the patriarchal and heteronormative institutions of oppression that exist within the proletariat.

    What do people think is the main question that this piece is trying to answer? What do people think are the goals?

    If those are the goals, then perhaps communists should do both. Where workers fight the boss we should organize support, and we should additionally discuss with the workers and the public the necessity of taking over the workplace and smashing the state. And if we are organized as queers or communists or nurses to do so then we should make it clear that we, as “queers” or as “communists” or as “nurses” , support such and such strike because this is a necessary step towards the reappropriation of the life activity of the whole international proletariat from the bourgeoisie that enforces the alienation of our life activity into social institutions that oppress and exploit us, and as queers or nurses we share that common goal with x group of struggling proletariat. We should also point out the ways in which the capitalist class and their conscious exploitative activities specifically oppress us a queers, communists, or nurses.

    Where workers repress other workers for their sexuality, their race, their place in the division of labor, or the gender we should confront them openly and effectively and explain to them how that repression is reactionary. We should explain concretely how, for example, by making homosexuals invisible or hating people for their homosexuality they are oppressing the very people who grow their food, who built their home, who teach them at school, who make their goods on the assembly line, andwho drive their buses. They are oppressing the very people who suffer all of the same hardship, exploitation, state violence, imprisonment, expropriation, dislocation, and forced migration that they do. And they are oppressing their comrades in the historical struggle to smash and and supersede the capitalist class that benefits from the enslavement of the vast majority of humanity to the interests of value accumulation.

    Where confrontation and explanation is ineffective, revolutionary queers, or communists, or nurses, should militantly defend themselves from repressive sectors of the working class. If the media lies about who we are we must tell the truth. If workers are violent towards us we must defend ourselves.

    Where queers find their fellow queers unwilling to participate in the international revolutionary struggle, or communists find their fellow communists shirking their duties in favor of sectarian or dogmatic blabbering, or nurses find their fellow nurses indifferent towards a health care system based on profit and murder, we must try to reason with our would be comrades. We must not accept assimilationism into the cultural, material and ideological pillars of capital. We must not accept separatist isolation from our brothers and sisters in our enslavement by capital and our struggle for emancipation. Rather we must stand up for ourselves and our ideas and stand together with all others who have the consciousness and the will to do so, because our challenge is the greatest one that history has to offer.

    Those are some of my thoughts upon reading this post. How do people think capital benefits from violence against queers or making queers invisible in our society?

  3. Rev,
    One of the things that come to mind about the role of repression around sexuality and gender under capitalism is the need for capital to push through the inevitability of conforming our lives to capitalist norms. I think queer liberation is class struggle to the extent that class struggle is toward communism, a society of unalienated labor, joy, freedom and creativity. Queer lib and gender binary smashing reveal how our humanity is flexible and creative and bending. In our capitalist societies, our formally-free freedoms are made to fit the expectations that capitalism requires of us: the freedom to work or be broke and hungry, the freedom to get a mad student loan w high interest rates or get the worst jobs, the freedom to go through the legal immigration process or be condemned to a life of criminalization, the freedom to take out a credit card loan or be miserable judging your life in relation to everything you see on TV…our formal freedoms need to coincide with the norms that benefit and perpetuate capitalism. Sexuality and gender presentation strikes at the very core of how we perceive ourselves, our capacities, our emotions. If capitalism says: Go be free and smash the gender binary, transgress heteronormativity all you want! Then, you are saying people can e free on a very deep level, that people can confront very deep seated social norms. If this level of human depth is being confronted, so many other things seem like they can similarly be confronted. Honestly, if you can confront the fact that you no longer identify with the body that you were born with, and that your self expression and your body can indeed be your own creation and work of art, then, how much harder is it to confront other issues? I believe that those people in our society, who have undergone the experiences of transitioning, coming out, disabilities — experiences that require them to confront a very deep part of themselves for their own well being and survival, have the capacity for revolution. This is way above and beyond the ways that capitalism will allow us to know our own strength and freedom. So, the whole gay marriage stuff, is a way to curtail our own belief in our power. They give us some, hoping we will forget the potentials that our freedom to love and change ourselves, can bring us.

    I have felt in my own experience as a genderqueer person, that the gender binary and sexuality are one of those things that run so deep in maintaining capitalist society, but yet are one of the hardest things to pinpoint exactly how. But after mulling over this question over the years, I think that it is not because gender and sexuality are not integral to capitalism, but that the models, theories and visions of liberation and communism do not yet analyze exactly how deeply we are shaped by capitalism, and the visions offered do not discuss freedom in a way that feels personal and real and inspiring. The models of state capitalism with authoritarian dictatorships that have historically passed for communism, is a case in point. Any inspiring vision of communism needs to have a positive vision for trans liberation and queer liberation, otherwise it does not address human freedom and creativity as part of the vision for class struggle.

    This is not to say that I disagree with the importance of understanding the role of the nuclear family and how it is both a product and perpetuation of capitalism, or of the importance of understanding how divisions in the working class around gender, sexuality, race, etc are important ways that capitalism perpetuates itself. I think these are important points that are part of a holistic understanding of understanding queer and trans struggles today.

    I think what’s so hard, and yet also so inspiring about this case of the Gay and Lesbian solidarity with the mine workers, is the level of vulnerability and risk-taking that both communities are taking on with one another. The need for dialogue has been monopolized by the liberals, and made to be very pathetic and text-bookish. But the level of dialogue that is presented in this case is one that is very daring, that is done through action, that has consequences. And we need to reclaim this kind of dialogue and relationship building. One that has stakes involved.

    Thanks A/S for putting up this piece!!

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