Gays and capitalism

Among the demands of campaigners for homosexual equality is that there should be an end to the discrimination towards gays and lesbians in the armed forces. Everyone, whatever their sexuality, should be treated equally in their military training, the opportunity to join “elite” units and their chances of promotion. And they should be encouraged to kill other people just as efficiently and ruthlessly as any other soldier, sailor or airperson. Welcome to the world of “equality”.

We can spend a lot of time considering the nature of prejudice against homosexuals and how deeply this might be rooted in the bigots’ anxieties about their own sexuality. In the case of the armed forces, with their emphasis on disciplined, uniform devotion to the task of wiping out other human beings, it is no surprise that the prejudice should be particularly strong and cruel. But, typically of a prejudice, it is not a theory supported by any evidence; the assumption that military gays have to be confined to work in the cookhouse because they couldn’t be trusted in the frontline has no basis in reality. In the First World War, for example, soldiers like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were homosexuals who were as reckless of their own safety in carrying out their grisly “duties” as the most bloodthirsty commander could have wished.


Owen went back to the trenches from the hospital where he had been treated for—but not apparently cured of—shell shock and concussion. At the front he wrote of how exhilarating it was “baffling the machine guns with quick bounds from cover to cover”. In the final weeks of the war he was out in the leading units breaking through the German lines and he was decorated for it—until he was killed a little before Armistice Day. Sassoon’s exploits in battle were so impressive that he earned himself the sobriquet of Mad Jack. After one particularly reckless episode he too was decorated. He then developed some doubts about the war but then became reconciled enough to go back to the Front.

So there is absolutely no reason for the armed forces to have any qualms about filling their ranks with a mixture of heterosexuals and homosexuals in the confidence that they will all work together in a disciplined employment of the latest weapon technology to destroy as much of the “enemy” as possible. This is all in the best interests of the British ruling class; capitalism depends on the support of its people, in peace and war, boom and slump, whatever other differences they may have. We have recently seen how this principle applies to the governments of capitalism and to what is significant about their operation.

There is no reason to believe that Members of Parliament—no matter what image of themselves they project—are any different in terms of their sexual preferences from the people they are supposed to represent. So we can assume that there are proportionately as many homosexuals in the Commons as in the world outside (although there are persistent rumours that there are rather more). But for various reasons it was considered politically advisable to disguise this fact and there was a powerful, united effort to do this.


Tom Driberg, for example, was a Labour MP elected in 1945 whose sexual exploits—at a time when homosexual activity was illegal—were renowned for what might be called their reckless audacity. But Driberg was never exposed, even when he had landed himself in a police station, facing a criminal charge. On the other side of the House the Tory MP Harvey Proctor mixed his homosexuality with a nastier type of racism but he was protected until one of his associates blew his cover. When he had to leave Parliament his friends continued to stand by him, helping him out with loans to open a clothing shop. There were persistent, lurid rumours about more than one prominent member of Thatcher’s cabinets—in one case it was said that his withdrawal from the brightest of the limelight was enforced by a frantic police interest in his activities.

By the time we got round to Ron Davies, Peter Mandelson and Nick Brown the situation had changed. Perhaps it was because the fact had finally sunk in, that the law had been reformed some years ago. Perhaps it was because one or two MPs—most prominently Chris Smith—openly announced that they are gay and that this would not prevent them doing their job as administrators of capitalism. Whatever it was, the steam had clearly gone out of the whole thing so that even the Sun could point out that Mandelson’s sexuality is irrelevant to his performance as a minister—especially one who has to have an opinion on Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy Manchester United. In the Sunday Times of 15 November the Tory shadow chancellor, Francis Maude—whose gay brother died in 1993 of Aids—gave the view of ” . . . a classic, buttoned-up, middle class Brit”. Did he disapprove of his brother’s activities?

“It always seemed to me a bit pointless to disapprove of homosexuality. It’s like disapproving of rain.”


What are we to think, when the Let-It-All-Hang-Out Sun agrees with a buttoned-up Tory like Francis Maude? Perhaps times have changed enough to put the issue of sexuality into its proper place, so that the millions of people who buy the Sun and the millions who support the parties of Francis Maude and Peter Mandelson no longer think it is relevant to how they vote. One thing which is absolutely clear in the history of capitalism is that the personal characteristics, preferences and sexuality of its leaders have no bearing on how they run the system. The notion that personalities affect politics is part of the deception which persuades people that capitalism is not a society which must operate against their interests.

It is time that all politicians were outed. It is time to winkle them out of the closet in which they conceal the fact that they stand for a social system which can’t help but produce a mountain of human misery—of fear, destruction, neglect, disease . . . It is time for the workers to think in terms, not just of the “liberation” of a group of us but of our whole class.


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