Leftist Sexual Politics and Homosexuality: A Historical Overview

H. Oosterhuis, G. Hekma*, J Steakley

*Corresponding author for this work

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For almost a full century now, the revolutionary prospect of socialism has fuelled opening forays first of the homosexual emancipation and later of the gay liberation movements, both in Europe and in North America. It inspired Edward Carpenter and Magnus Hirschfeld at the turn of the century; Andr? Gide and Richard Linsert in the post-World War I years; Harry Hay and Jim Kepner in the post-World War II era; and the British and American Gay Liberation Front, the Italian Fuori!, the French FHAR, the German "Rotzschwule," and the Dutch Red Faggots following the Stonewall rebellion. While the official socialist parties of Northwestern Europe may have made only limited contributions to homosexual emancipation, they certainly have a better record than conservative and Christian parties and even the liberals, who have consistently, if contradictorily, underlined the freedom of private life. Even so, parties across the entire political spectrum have gradually come to endorse at least some of the movement's goals. As it has advanced, the gay movement has changed as well, and it now finds itself pulled in divergent directions. Gay leftists who still subscribe to the ideals expressed in Marxist and utopian socialist writings now find themselves at demonstrations shoulder-to-shoulder with members of ACT UP and Queer Nation, to say nothing of gay conservatives and gay Christians. The successes achieved by the contemporary gay movement despite or precisely because of its diversity support Foucault's argument that "there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case...." At the close of the twentieth century, the welfare state has reached its apogee in Northwestern Europe. As blue-collar workers historically committed to class struggle have become relatively well-to-do and minoritarian, socialist parties have increasingly lost their traditional base of support and been forced into the defensive. Depending only on the socialists would mean relying on an ineffectual partner, for nowhere are they in a stable position of power. Long before the collapse of "really existing socialism" in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, gay and lesbian movements began developing their own autonomous politics independent of parties. They moved in this direction in part because the coalition with leftism so frequently led to disappointment, particularly when gays and lesbians working within socialist parties were called upon to subordinate or abandon their own goals in favor of party platforms. In other cases the gay-left coalition failed to yield results because a single-minded reliance on one party placed limits on lobbying other parties and entering compromises. We have reached a time when inherited ideologies are no longer capable of laying claim to the undivided loyalty of the gay movement, if indeed they ever were. As it has developed autonomous theories and practices, the gay movement's choice of coalition partners has increasingly come to be based on pragmatism and success in advancing the gay agenda. Indeed, the roles of the gay movement and political parties have undergone a notable switch in recent years, with parties currying the support of the gay movement rather than vice versa. This signals a shift from the desire for politics to a politics of desire, going far beyond traditional socialist ideologies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-40
JournalJournal of Homosexuality
Issue number2/3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1995

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