Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kasama: Coming to Terms with a Legacy of Homophobia

When I was active in the organized left many years ago, the world stage was still marked by the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, and depending on how you counted, by a strange three-way flux between the U.S., the U.S.S.R. and the People's Republic of China. Although its days were waning, the organized left counted numerous factions of every conceivable ideological variant in relationship to this grand world struggle, from loyal followers of a political line straight out of Moscow or Beijing (or Tirana) to heretical factions breaking from some line of orthodoxy and allegiance at a dozen spots along some timeline from the very beginning of the twentieth-century. With the seeming implosion of what claimed to be Marxism some twenty years ago many of these organizations disintegrated or faded away. Frankly, many of them deserved to fall into ignominy. Even though many of these organizations challenged the notion that the Soviet empire had anything to do with the working-class triumph envisioned by Marx, no stripe of socialist or communist organization seemed to weather that season untouched.

Now in a new millennium, in a world radically changed and realigned, it seems, at least to my eye, that leftists are trying to find their footing again. While my personal opinion of Marxism and Leninism remains unsettled, it's obvious to me that there is a crisis of leadership around the world. Whether it's militant workers action against an avowedly socialist government in Greece, or the mass protests in the Middle East, or even here at home where outside of the amazing Wisconsin protests most of the people taking their issues to the street are the right-wing teabagger mob, it's obvious that the people in power are staying in power because there is no clear ideology of opposition. I've been following a number of left-wing websites which strike me as attempting to re-grow a meaningful left. The most exciting part of this to me is that following the obvious failure or defeat of the left in the last century, the people engaged in this attempt are going over the dogma of the past and trying to find what to hang on to and what to discard.

The Kasama Project is an organization and website based in Chicago that has been running some really fascinating discussions on the legacy of the last-century's left movement (as well as information and discussion on today's struggles). Organized primarily around people with a history in Maoism, including former cadre of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Kasama's discussions are particularly thoughtful and challenging. While I often find much to disagree with, I give them full credit for daring to look backwards as well as forward.

I wanted to call attention to a discussion they've been having on the legacy of homophobia on the left, a subject dear to my own heart. In fact Kasama picked up my own story that I wrote here last year as part of their discussion. Their discussion has been ongoing and quite thorough and open. It's worth reading the main entries as well as the comment threads. Most of the people telling their stories went through the Maoist movement, so it's interesting to me, as a former Trotskyist, to compare notes and experiences.

Start with "My Life in a Red Closet," the story of Libri, a former RCP member. After reprinting my story, there's "Working with the RCP, Opposing the Homophobia," by another former RCP member. Then there's "Rejected by Comrades: My Love Was Just Love," by Andrew Copper who was refused membership in that party despite being a hard-working activist. Another recollection is "Suzie's Story: Queer, Isolated, Invisible." Today Kasama has unearthed an analytical document from the 1970s by a group of Maoist Lesbians: "1975 - Early Maoist Critique of Ant-gay Bigotry Among Maoists."

This discussion is amazing to me. I can't imagine the left as I knew it being so daring or honest with itself: and it's done with the intention of being constructive and healing. It's also incredibly encouraging to me that if anyone in this discussion has defended the old anti-gay ways of the left, I've missed it. Perhaps one day a left will rise out of the ashes that can move beyond the defeats and mistakes and betrayals that too often stained its path. What Kasama is doing gives me hope.

Update: Kasama excerpted this piece (thanks, Mike!), and notes that I've slightly misidentified the testimonies as being those of former RCP members when they're actually the testimonies of peripheral supporters or members of the RCP's youth group. So noted!)

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