1980s >> 1988 >> no-1003-march-1988

Sexual Liberation and Clause 28

Socialism is not a mere economic proposition. It is about more than simply “us” owning the factories instead of “them”. It is about more than our standards and norms becoming the dominant ones instead of the norms and standards of capitalism. If socialism has any meaning it means freedom for human beings to determine their own lives in a society which is theirs. Not only freedom from the powers which oppress us now but freedom to aspire to new ways of living and co-operating and creating which are currently stultified by the money system.

In a socialist society we shall decide what our own needs are. We shall not be told by the DHSS that this much is what we need, or by advertisers that this is what the really fulfilled consumer ought to want, or by pseudo-scientists, such as psychiatrists, that this is how the properly satisfied human being shall behave. In a socialist society we shall trust our own desires and respect the freedom of those who are different to live as they wish.

It is under capitalism, where everything from the homes we live in to the food we eat and the way we love one another has become turned into a commodity to be marketed, that freedom is crushed. You want to eat good food, but in a buying and selling system rubbish is more obtainable than good taste and high nutrition. You may be house-proud, but if you are poor then you will be destined to dwell in a home which it is not easy to take pride in. Without free access to what you need, the market consumes your freedom to choose and spits it back in your face.

Because we all live in an extremely unfree society we are all conditioned to be unfree. Teaching the behaviour of conformity is one of the prime objectives of capitalism. If you are not “normal” you are a threat. The much advertised “individualism” which capitalism offers is totally bogus. Social survival under this system means obeying their rules, their morals, their code of living. Deviate and you are in trouble.

Capitalism does its best to turn sex into a commodity. The family is the official institution within which this commodity must be confined. If you have a certificate from the state and. usually, a ritualistic blessing from one of the god franchises, then it is unsinful to make love. Woman on her back; man on top — primitives called it “the missionary position” because they had never come across such oppressive and rigid ideas of love-making before the civilised merchants of capitalism came to show them how to make love the “normal” way.

Love for its own sake is a wicked deviation in a system where nothing is done for its own sake. Under capitalism you cook food to sell it; you have sexual intercourse to produce new labour power which can be exploited. Doing these things for their own sake is an indulgence to be frowned on. There is a time and a place for everything and the time will be when you are not being exploited (which is very little time for most people); and the place is within the family. Love and sex outside this straitjacket is an offence.

Because capitalism is an unfree system it legislates against certain free desires. In the last century sexual relations between men were outlawed. Fortunately for lesbians. Queen Victoria could not imagine that women would indulge in such deviant behaviour, so the anti-homosexuality laws applied to men only. Such laws led to decades of emotional agony for vast numbers of men who had to express their love in private, always fearing a knock on the door from the police or the ever-present blackmail threat. Even after the repeal of that law in recent times the anomaly remains that the age of legal consent for homosexuals is five years higher than for heterosexuals. What sort of unfree society is it that tells people that it is illegal to express their love until the state offers its consent?

AIDS, a disease which can be passed on sexually, has created a moral panic. It is seen as being the price that capitalism must pay for having slightly loosened the chains of moral conformity in recent years. A moral backlash is now underway as the chain-tighteners are looking for an excuse to fill in the cracks of freedom in capitalism’s sexual edifice. They want to pass laws to push “abnormal” sexuality back into the realm of criminality.

Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill, moved by those well-known Tory freedom-fighters, David Wilshire and Dame Jill Knight, seeks to make it illegal for local councils to show positive images of homosexuality. We must assume that the movers of this authoritarian law believe that millions of us are potential homosexuals and that if we are shown in schools or libraries or theatres or art galleries anything positive about homosexuality we shall all be making our way to the nearest sexual outlet. (Public school dorms, army officers’ messes and Tory clubs are the most readily accessible outlets for such desires, according to those who know.) They cannot have much confidence in what they assert unquestioningly to be “natural” and “normal” if they must ban its opposite in case their children are instantly convinced that that is the way to be.

The aim to control what images of sexuality we may receive is the action of totalitarian bigots who prefer repression to expression and law to love. They symbolise the fear which makes the moralists of the profit system ultimately worthless and historically fossilised. For example, the would-be sex controllers who moralise in hysterical terms about how “abnormality” must be crushed because otherwise our kids would not be safe from the attacks of devious homosexuals, always forget to note the obvious fact that the vast majority of cases of abuse against children (both sexual and violent) happens within the nuclear family and is perpetrated by heterosexuals. Research carried out in the USA has indicated that children of mothers in lesbian relationships are less likely to be abused than those in typical nuclear families.

Socialism will be a free society. The resources of the world will belong to us all as a human family. Production will be solely for use. We shall all have free access to the goods and services available. There will be no wage labour: each will work according to their ability and take according to their self-determined need. There will be no discrimination on the basis of gender, colour, or sexual orientation. Socialism will offer economic freedom and that will provide the basis for true cultural freedom. The two are inseparable.

Cultural and sexual freedom cannot exist within a capitalist society. How will we ever be free to behave as we want while the means whereby we live are not owned or controlled by ourselves? How can people inhibited by the restrictions of poverty be free to enjoy sexual pleasures to the full? The right to live as sensually happy co-habitants with nature will be possible once we have become free from a society which organises our lives for us, as if our humanity is an impediment to the real earthly purpose of making profits.

In a socialist society we shall co-operate without laws. Some of us will choose to retain many of the forms of living and loving which we have enjoyed under capitalism, only stripped of their moral and legal contexts. If we decide to live in families nobody will stop us. Those who wish to live monogamously will do so, not because it is economically necessary or socially the norm but because for some that is how emotional fulfilment works best. Others will choose other ways of expressing themselves and no state will exist to stop them, no psychological experts will tell them whether they are feeling the right feelings. Only in a socialist society will the basis for real liberation of human feelings and relationships be possible.

It is a sign of life that many teachers, librarians. theatre workers and artists are resisting with vigour the move through Clause 28 to ban and censor and repress what workers may be allowed to see and hear. But even if the battle to defeat Clause 28 is won and in the present climate of hysterical moral crisis that is not likely — all we will be left with is capitalism with the cultural chains minutely loosened. That is not good enough. Until there are no laws against loving, or bans on any books, or states legislating about what it is right to feel, or bigots pronouncing on the terms of normality, society will not be free and those of us who want it to be cannot rest.

Steve Coleman