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Marxism's Queer Harvest By: Richard J. Rosendall
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, January 15, 2004


In May 2002, several months before he became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former President Jimmy Carter went to Cuba. As you may recall, Fidel Castro was so ashamed upon seeing the 39th President that he immediately scheduled democratic elections, released political prisoners, shut down censorship boards, unlocked the sanatorium doors, and resigned his office.

Well, no, but Mr. Carter did get to tour a biotech factory and meet some dissidents. One wonders how quickly the dissidents were back in chains breaking rocks, or alternatively how many openings there are for official dissidents in the state tourism agency. As to the biotech factory, I remember a scene from an old Frank Sinatra movie in which a Prohibition-era speakeasy quickly transforms into a revival meeting when word comes of an impending police raid. The moment Jimmy and his entourage are gone, everything turns inside-out again and the pharmaceutical plant happily resumes its germ warfare activities.

Be that as it may, I think it is safe to say that the evidence was in on Cuba before the publication of the Carter Center's report. [1] I myself had already heard from the vanguard of the Revolution right here in Washington. Some years ago, for example, I was invited to talk about gay marriage advocacy at what turned out to be a Trotskyite bookstore. There I was, handing out information and talking about civil marriage, and wondering what this would do to my government security clearance. After I spoke, another guy started explaining how gay marriage was connected to the international struggle of workers against capitalist exploitation. When I expressed skepticism, he told me that I had been brainwashed by the sugar barons. A man called out from the back of the room, "That's it -- the only answer is overthrowing the government." I thought fast and offered him a voter registration form.

As a gay political activist, I find myself in some strange places, and every once in a while I encounter someone who loves Fidel Castro so much, you'd think he was the guy they named the San Francisco neighborhood after. In fact, many leading voices in America's gay community talk as if capitalism is the special province of oppressive white males. This, of course, does not stop them from enjoying capitalist comforts. Among these latter-day purveyors of radical chic, it is unfashionable to notice that the greatest advances for gay and lesbian rights have been in free-market Western democracies like the one they themselves are living in.

Surina Khan, former executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [2], claims that economic exploitation is "directly related to the oppression of gay people," [3] without noting the increasing competition among Fortune 1000 companies to provide gay-friendly employment policies and benefits. Khan decries America’s military response to terrorist attacks, calling instead for "a response of solidarity and understanding" [4] and substantially blaming the attacks on the resentment she says America has caused around the world. She makes no mention of America's good works (which include the defense of Muslims on three continents), nor does she explain why her organization maintains its headquarters in the United States as opposed, say, to her native Pakistan.

Former National Gay and Lesbian Task Force [5] executive director Urvashi Vaid, an avowed anarcho-syndicalist, is on the payroll of the leftist Ford Foundation, [6, 7] whose funds ironically derive from an investment portfolio built on gifts and bequests from noted capitalists Henry and Edsel Ford. In a 1991 speech, Vaid said that America "has taken off its ugly white hood to show its sexist, racist, anti-gay and capitalist face." [8] When this was quoted to her, Vaid acknowledged having said it but accused her interlocutor of "McCarthyite red-baiting." This comment ignores the fact that, notwithstanding McCarthy’s reckless witch hunts, many Reds during the Cold War really did betray America. As the VENONA decrypts [9] reveal, members of the American Communist Party engaged in extensive spying for the Soviet Union. In any case, Vaid’s inclusion of capitalism in a litany of oppression is not made reasonable by the sins of her critics.

Richard Goldstein, editor of Village Voice and author of The Attack Queers: Liberal Media and the Gay Right, [10] tells us "how race, class, gender and sexuality intersect to produce a social hierarchy," [11] and refers to gay conservatives as "a masculinist group of gay writers" [12] whose issues of equal marriage rights and military service are a threat to feminist values. (He doesn’t explain how defending one’s country or obtaining partner benefits is harmful to women.) Using the latest thirty-year-old rhetoric, he calls for "integrating the homosexual agenda into the heart of progressive politics, so gay people can see that their interests coincide with the larger struggle for social justice." Social justice, of course, is a code phrase for a long list of leftist proposals that all right-thinking people are expected to endorse without asking whether they are effective, appropriate as functions of government, or socially just.

The anti-capitalist caucus is well represented by African Americans, who seem to contribute more than their share of bourgeois progeny slumming as proletarians. One such is black gay (pardon me, same gender loving) author Keith Boykin, whose half-hour speech at the Millennium March on Washington in April 2000 included this:

"I Speak To Resist
the commercialization
and commodification
of a mainstream 'gay lifestyle'
that enriches a privileged few
and impoverishes the masses
with a bankrupt culture of uniformity" [13]

I wonder where Boykin sees the uniformity in such a contentious community, or how he feels oppressed by major corporations that happily sponsor gay pride and film festivals featuring all manner of non-mainstream subjects. The next time I saw Boykin after the Millennium March was at the opening Friday evening reception for DC's Black Lesbian and Gay Pride Day [14] a month later. When the organizers thanked the event's corporate sponsors from the podium, I glanced over at Boykin and wondered if he would also object to this example of capitulation to capitalist exploitation. Not a word.

Cleo Manago, a leading proponent of "same gender loving" as an Afrocentric term for "gay," made it to Havana long before Jimmy Carter did. When he got back home, Manago wrote a valentine to Castro's Cuba [15] in which words like "American" and "civilization" and "gay" are consistently placed in scare quotes, and in which every single problem is blamed on the U.S. embargo of that island [16] rather than on Castro's disastrous policies. Here is a sample passage:

"Cuban homosexuals are not interested in building a separate sexuality based community. This idea is foreign to Cuban consciousness. Often what's called homophobia by "gays" who visit Cuba is cultural imperialism on the part of these "gays" who tend to think the white "Gay Pride" social model should be adopted by all same gender loving people throughout the world. This divisive practice also causes a rift between communities of color and "gays" in the US."

Manago appears utterly unaware of the searing memoir Before Night Falls by gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, who described the censorship, persecution, imprisonment, and torture he endured for twenty years at the hands of the Castro regime. Before he escaped with the Mariel boatlift in 1980, his manuscripts were confiscated by the revolutionary government, and he had to go to great lengths to hide his writings and smuggle them out of the country. Of a lecture he gave in Florida in June 1980, Arenas wrote, "This was my first lecture before a free audience." No capitalist cheerleader, Arenas declared that "the difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream." [17]

In a vote by the United Nations Economic and Social Council on April 30, 2002, Cuba joined those who successfully opposed granting consultative status to the International Lesbian and Gay Association. [18] Evidently, respect for the rights and voices of gay people is foreign to Castro’s consciousness.

Manago assures us that "Fidel and his government simply want to do things their own way. Their way has had some impressive results, especially considering that they have been living with the boot of the U.S. blockade on their necks since 1959. We who believe in freedom should advocate the lifting of this useless, racist and barbaric blockade."

I would agree that four decades of embargo (which Manago falsely terms a blockade) have shown it to be a failure and a waste, as well as an arbitrary contradiction of the "constructive engagement" philosophy used to justify doing business with despotic American allies, and an infringement on the rights of free trade. But the embargo can hardly be racist when its principal advocates are of the same nationality as those being embargoed. It is also unclear what Manago means by "freedom" if that word can embrace a murderous despot who has shackled his people to a bankrupt ideology, and whose vaunted educational system steals children from their parents for indoctrination by the state. America has its problems, but our open system is far better at addressing and correcting them than is possible with the ruthless tyrant in whom Manago refuses to see anything but virtue. In this he resembles earlier leftists in their denials about Stalin. As Marx himself wrote in elaboration of Hegel, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce."

Conveniently, Manago and other Castro apologists return from their Cuban pilgrimages to a country whose free markets and individual liberties have brought more prosperity and happiness to more people than any other system ever devised. It is odd how these proud anti-Americans can denounce the coercive proposals of right-wing fringe groups while denying or ignoring the real, pervasive left-wing coercion of the Cuban dictator. Of course, they cling proudly to their own fringe-group status, and -- as with True Believers of every stripe -- their self-imposed insularity creates an echo chamber from which all challenging voices have been banished.

I would love to see Cleo Manago, or any of the other Castro fans in this country, go to Cuba and spend an entire year in the style of a native Cuban rather than a visiting American. He could learn what life there is actually like, as contrasted with a brief, tour-guided vacation. Let him see what it is like getting published and going about his business as a same gender loving man free of Yanqui cultural imperialism. Let him enjoy the fruits of a command economy. Then he can come back, if he is permitted to leave the island, and tell us all about it. I would be happy to write letters to U.S. immigration officials and the Carter Center on his behalf.

Richard J. Rosendall (rrosendall@starpower.net) is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on the Independent Gay Forum http://www.indegayforum.org.

Notes

1. Jimmy Carter, "President Carter's Cuba Trip Report," The Carter Center, May 21, 2002.

2. International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission website,
http://www.iglhrc.org/

3. Surina Khan, "Gay Conservatives: Pulling the Movement to the Right," PublicEye.org, Vol. 10, No. 1 (undated).

4. Michael Bronski, "Surina Khan" (interview), The Boston Phoenix, October 18-25, 2001.

5. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, official website,
http://www.ngltf.org

6. "Peace & Social Justice," Ford Foundation website,
http://www.fordfound.org/program/govern.cfm

7. Alyssa A. Lappen, "Ford Has a Better Idea: One Nation Under Allah," FrontPageMagazine.com, December 30, 2003.

8. Stephen H. Miller, "Betwixt Left and Right," The Weekly News (Miami), July 1999.

9. William P. Crowell, "Introduction to the VENONA Project," National Security Agency website.

10. Richard Goldstein, The Attack Queers: Liberal Media and the Gay Right, Verso Books, 2002

11. Richard Goldstein, "Queering the pitch," Guardian Unlimited, May 15, 2002.

12. Jennifer Vanasco, "Richard Goldstein’s Heresy Hunt," Chicago Free Press, November 14, 2001.

13. Keith Boykin, Remarks at the Millennium March on Washington, April 30, 2000.

14. Black Lesbian and Gay Pride Day, Inc. website (Washington, DC),
http://www.dcblackpride.org/

15. Cleo Manago, "My Love Affair with a Secret Place," 1995, personal website,
http://home.earthlink.net/~blkembrace/cuba.htm

16. "Cuba," U.S. Department of State website,
http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/c2461.htm

17. Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls, translated by Dolores M. Koch, Viking Penguin, 1993

18. International Lesbian and Gay Association website,
http://www.ilga.org/




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