On Jumping The Broom

It’s an odd feeling. It’s the same odd feeling I had returning home for winter break in 2008 after Obama won the election. Looking onto my mother’s smile as we sat in her section 8 apartment, void of heat in the middle of the winter thanks to faulty city government controlled heating, going over our whereabouts during the historic announcement of Obama’s victory. There was almost something heartbreaking about my silence, I felt as if I was betraying her. She was elated and went on and on about the change that was sure to come, the long struggle of Africans in this country was sure to be on an upswing. The Obama victory, transcended the physical and political for her, and many that grew up in the filth of segregation and the muck of South during that time. The victory was spiritual, sending waves of energy, renewal to Black people everywhere, pulling them up. My concern at the time, and still is today, was where the “up” may lead. As I sat there I felt a profound sadness, that my mind was full of thoughts that contradicted her optimism, that I could only think the Obama presidency would serve to pacify a once radical and active part of the nation, that Black people would trade raised fists and revolution for business suits and capitalist dreams (not to say that the Black population was previously immune to the desire to want to assimilate to the white capitalist oppressor’s idea of success). The presidency makes Blacks and other people of color in this country want what they can never truly have; to be amerikkkan in every sense, while blinding them to the on going brutality of the capitalist system because the great hope sits in the white house. As my mother went on I retreated deeper into meditation on how decades of extreme oppression could have led to a belief and acceptance of the system, all the while she was beaming, near tears.

I find myself in a similar situation now with the overturning of prop 8 in california, which now means it’s legal for gay couples to marry in this state. As a parade marches down Market street I sit finding little joy in the situation and feeling terrible about it. I want to see people happy, and it means the world to me to see people who have been beat down, by this barbarous system, experience some piece of happiness. However, as someone committed to radical change and someone who believes that the fight for revolution is just as much one about ways of thinking as it is about physical change, I cannot be completely happy or silent in this victory, just as I am not with many reforms the state throws down. I find little joy in the fact that my decision to couple monogamously has been approved by the state and that I may now enter into bourgeois property relations with another, just as my hetero counterparts do.

I have arrived at my conclusion, as I stated before, because I don’t believe in the institution of marriage. Marriage serves as one of the pillars of the capitalist system, supporting racism, sexism and the like. To understand this, one must understand the history and function of marriage in the capitalist state. The institution of marriage has served a means of power accumulation through the merging of property, and wealth. Womyn, in this scheme have been made into pawns, things to be traded. It is partially through marriage that bourgeois society has been able to accumulate, and maintain wealth. Currently, it maintains this function but also serves as it’s purpose to a higher degree when the factor of race coupled with class come into play. Meaning, it (marriage) has served to maintain the economic gap between whites and non whites, in particular Blacks and Latinos, who find themselves in lower social economic levels. This gap is kept by the fact that usually people marry in their same socio-economic bracket, thus wealth in the higher brackets finds it easier to consolidate and accumulate while it has disastrous effects in the lower ones, due to existing economic oppression and political repression. All of this is said in the hopes that I can give a basic outline of how marriage is a.) a tool of bourgeois society, b.) a engine in the capitalist machine, and c.) an institution which helps to maintain racism and sexism. One reading this can then ask the question: “But aren’t there benefits to marriage? and doesn’t gay marriage help to break down the old order?”

The benefits found in marriage, esp the ones being used as reason to vote “yes” on gay marriage, are privatized rights and incentives. For example, being visited in the hospital shouldn’t be something controlled by the state in the first place and shouldn’t be limited. People, who are capable of being in control of themselves should be able to assert their judgement over who is and isn’t allow. In this sense, as in many others, gay marriage serves only to strengthen state authority and capitalist social relations through the allure of obtaining what should already be yours.

Proponents of gay marriage also usually state that legalized same sex marriage can serve to break down patriarchy and sexism through it’s inherent radicalism. This is another false statement, seeing as though the basis of the campaign is assimilation and built on exploitation. One of the chief things at work in the organizing to legalize same sex marriage is racism and patriotism rivaling manifest destiny. The rights of immigrants have haphazardly been thrown around stating that many same sex couples consist of amerikkkans coupled with immigrants. Usually this picture consist of a white and a non white immigrant, and paints the picture of an immigrant of color bound to the hellish conditions of the third world while their white partner offers them “freedom” in this new world we call amerikkka. Never once, however, has the gay rights movement sought to link itself to the struggles of immigrants of people of color in any way which is genuine and parasitical. Slogans of “Gay is the New Black” seem cheap and hollow when Black queers were reported to be attacked at anti prop 8 rallies with the rhetoric of the Black vote deciding the prop 8 verdict in the air. It all seems pretty cheap when never once has a position on the immigrant struggle been taken by the leaders of the gay rights movement. In San Francisco, where I live, the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) has never mobilized to go down the street to the Mission (a predominantly Latino community) and intervene in the terrorist ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) raids that occurred frequently. This lack of solidarity makes the blanket statements claim otherwise seem transparent. It must be realized that this movement is led by the bourgeois sectors of the gay community and thus fought with their ideology. And what of womyn? What has this male centric movement done to address sexism and incorporate queer womyn? It has often been the case that queer womyn have gone to bat, protested and fought for gay rights and all the while the word “gay” may as well be replaced with “male”. The gay thing in many cases has always been about the dick. As violence against womyn through the state apparatus increase, in particular in the case of abortion, the gay rights movement has been dangerously silent. Where was GLAAD when Missouri enacted a law stating that womyn considering abortion must be made to listen to the heartbeat of the unborn, that they must undergo psychological evaluations as if they are not adults in control of their own bodies and lives? A car made of faulty parts is inherently faulty and made worse when it is pointed and steered in the wrong direction. It is important that we continue to make these arguments, that despite momentary excitement, we stay critical and argue for what we believe is correct because if we don’t then we become slaves to reformism and not advocates of the revolutionary society we ascribe to.

Earlier today I had a conversation with someone about the nature of this newest reform by the state and it’s connection to the revolution. They referred me to a piece written on the subject by Sherry Wolf on the website “Socialist Organizer” (http://socialistworker.org/2008/11/20/case-for-gay-marriage). In this piece, Wolf argues that the left mustn’t denounce the battle for marriage equality, which I agree with, but should work within the struggle. The point of divergence from my agreement with Wolf comes when she states:

“Leftists take these stands for reforms because we understand that the capitalist system and its imperial might won’t fall in one fell swoop. Reformist struggles themselves create the organizational and human material necessary for a further transformation of society. Moreover, it does make a difference in the here whether workers have more pay and couples have more rights.

As Rosa Luxemburg put it in Reform or Revolution, “Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.”

In other words, professing hostility to gay marriage in the name of opposing the “hetero-normative institution” of marriage is like attacking demands for an end to the death penalty because the criminal injustice system would remain otherwise intact.”

It is in this part of the piece that she begins what is all to common in the left, especially in the Trotskyist tendency, she begins to negate criticism and debate of the currents guiding a movement and advocates a system of reformation as a means to achieving revolution. She quotes Luxemburg, from the piece “Reform or Revolution” without realizing that in the same piece Luxemburg also says:

But doubly important is this knowledge for the workers in the present case, because it is precisely they and their influence in the movement that are in the balance here. It is their skin that is being brought to market. The opportunist theory in the Party, the theory formulated by Bernstein, is nothing else than an unconscious attempt to assure predominance to the petty-bourgeois elements that have entered our Party, to change the policy and aims of our Party in their direction. The question of reform or revolution, of the final goal and the movement, is basically, in another form, but the question of the petty-bourgeois or proletarian character of the labour movement.

It is, therefore, in the interest of the proletarian mass of the Party to become acquainted, actively and in detail, with the present theoretic knowledge remains the privilege of a handful of “academicians” in the Party, the latter will face the danger of going astray. Only when the great mass of workers take the keen and dependable weapons of scientific socialism in their own hands, will all the petty-bourgeois inclinations, all the opportunistic currents, come to naught. The movement will then find itself on sure and firm ground. “Quantity will do it”

What does all of this mean? Luxemburg is stating that the ultimate goal of revolution cannot be made through reform and especially not through paternalistic relations between the revolutionary tendency and the proletariat when it comes to a fundamental class consciousness and understanding. Meaning that the method of entering into reformist battles without any provocation from the more class conscious elements as to the direction and character of the movement, without any objective of raising consciousness and building networks and structures that can challenge capital is misguided and counter revolutionary and serves the movement no justice.

To hear incorrect views without rebutting them and even to hear counter-revolutionary remarks without reporting them, but instead to take them calmly as if nothing had happened. This is a sixth type.

To be among the masses and fail to conduct propaganda and agitation or speak at meetings or conduct investigations and inquiries among them, and instead to be indifferent to them and show no concern for their well-being, forgetting that one is a Communist and behaving as if one were an ordinary non-Communist. This is a seventh type. – Mao on Liberalism

This is easily applicable when we look at the severe lacking of class consciousness and critical analysis in the gay rights movement.

To make it clear I am against discrimination of any kind, but to oppose the oppression without analysis of the fight back is not scientific and not conducive to progressive results. A similar case can be found in the debate over “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” (DADT) Of course I want equality but I also will not hold back in discussing that entering the army means entering an institution, bankrupt of morality, that serves as the state imperialist arm as it seeks to find capital through expansion, genocide, and exploitation. We must have open criticism to have a successful movement, because all oppression and exploitation is connected under the world capitalist system and we cannot afford to gain at the cost of others.

Does this now mean that I am against gay marriage and should join the West Borough  Baptist Church as the claim that god hates fags? No. That’s the same foolishness and dogma, which draws these “pro gay”/ “anti gay” binaries, that has kept the discussion and critical thought at a minimum. This entire posting merely means that I am against the state objectification of social relations for the strengthening of capital. If people choose to couple monogamously that is their choice as is the opposite. However, bourgeois society has conditioned us to think negatively of the latter and believe that the former is perfected in a union under the state. And since the battle for liberation is also a battle for transformative thought, it is a dis-service to the movement to remain silent.


4 thoughts on “On Jumping The Broom

  1. This might seem like a tangent, but it’s really related.;)

    What speaks to me the most in this piece is the ambivalence of joy and sorrow — with the Obama election and now with the Prop 8 decision. When it comes to relationships with real people we love, sometimes they celebrate things that we feel are dubious at best and harmful at worst. How do we maintain our sympathetic joy with people while also staying true to our honest assessments?

    A situation like this came up for me recently when I spent a day accompanying a woman with the Faithful Fools. She benefits from some company while buying groceries for the month, making out her rent check, going to the dentist or optometrist, buying her cigarettes for the month, and running other errands, and going with her is a part of my “job” at this humanistic and radical non-profit. On this particular day, she showed up at the Fools seeming agitated, and very eager to adopt a cat. (This cat adoption plan had been in the works for some weeks.) Today was the day, goddamit, *she wanted her cat!*

    This woman is wise and inspiring in many ways, and she’s also going through some major challenges. Recovering from a lifelong drug addiction, recuperating from many years living on the streets, and nearing the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death (this week). The point is, she is lonely, insecure, and compulsive in many ways (as most of us are, to varying extents), and in this case I felt she was using the cat to fill a void in her life (as many pet owners do, including my parents to some degree), not purely to ‘give it a good home.’

    Obviously not on the level of Prop 8, but the dilemma is similar. I wanted to be happy for this woman in adopting a homeless animal companion. It was a joyous occasion on one level. At the same time, I could clearly see the craving, attachment, and self-centeredness that conditions most kinds of “love” in our society, whether toward animals, children, or lovers.

    These questions might seem apolitical, but I don’t think they are. “The working class” is not monolithic, and contains internal contradictions and disagreements. How do we orient toward these disagreements on an interpersonal level? How do we cultivate sympathetic joy while still being able to share compassionate criticisms?

    For me, a lot of it comes down to deeply considering timing. There is a time to share joy with others, and a time to engage in compassionate and rigorous debate. I feel like you would agree, and wouldn’t march up to a couple celebrating the fact that their marriage will remain state-recognized and be all like, “Marriage supports racist heteropatriarchal capitalist empire!” 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for the analysis and also for grounding it in the soulful complexities of love and struggle.



  2. Jamal,
    This is an interesting debate. I hope you are able to come out to the ISO discussion on Reform or Revolution tomorrow night. The debate here is not whether there is a need for a revolution to win sexual liberation, we agree on that, right?

    Your write:

    Meaning that the method of entering into reformist battles without any provocation from the more class conscious elements as to the direction and character of the movement, without any objective of raising consciousness and building networks and structures that can challenge capital is misguided and counter revolutionary and serves the movement no justice.

    The question is what exactly is the relationship between mass struggles for partial reforms, and the movement for revolution?

    Is it possible to fight for Gay Marriage,
    all the while explaining to your allies that we have to go further?

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