Queered Marxism and the Making of the Neo-Liberal Queer Reviews # 1.

Warped:  Accumulation Regimes and Class and Social Struggles.

By Gary Kinsman

Peter Drucker, Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015).

This is the beginning of a series of review essays on historical materialist queer writing that I am engaging with as part of my longer term work on the Making of the Neoliberal Queer and Resistance to it. For those interested two preliminary chapters in this project on the 1970s and the 1980s have now been published and are listed in the references below (Kinsman, 2016; Kinsman, 2017). I welcome suggestions and critiques.

I examine queered Marxist work both for insights and limitations in undertaking work on the emergence of the neoliberal queer. In my view historical materialism (or Marxism) is crucial for this investigation and for it being related to class and social struggles. In my view only an expanded and transformed historical materialism has the capacity to grasp the dynamics of capitalist social relations, the mediation with other forms of social oppression, and to be able to map the social relations of struggle we find ourselves engaged in.

But the question is what kind of Marxism or historical materialism is useful to this project? In my view this Marxism not only needs to be a queered Marxism defined by learning from anti-racist and feminist organizing but also one that is non-reductionist, non-economistic, that is anti-colonial, anti-Eurocentric, anti-Orientalist and recognizes the specificity of anti-Black racism, that emphasizes the self-organization of the oppressed and that critiques reification and fetishism through making as visible as possible the social practices of people. This approach puts the emphasis on class and social struggles as I draw inspiration from currents influenced by autonomist Marxism (Kinsman, 2005).

The first book I examine is Peter Drucker’s Warped, Gay Normality and Queer Anticapitalism.  While I am quite taken with Warped as a title I also appreciated Natalie Kouri Towe’s critique at the Toronto launch for Drucker’s book for the implication that there has been a warping of some sort of ‘natural’ trajectory for queer politics.

I first met Peter as part of the Lavender Left Network which was organizing in the US in the late 1970s. He was then involved in what had been a section of the New American Movement that called itself Solidarity, A Socialist Feminist Network. He was a gay and AIDS activist for years in the US and Drucker would become part of the broader regrouped revolutionary organization calling itself Solidarity in the US and in the Fourth International (an international revolutionary organization inspired by the ideas of Leon Trotsky).His first book was on Max Shactman (1994). Although not a Trotskyist in any narrow sense Drucker worked with the Fourth International’s International Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam. He now lives in the Netherlands.

Uneven and Combined Sexual Construction

His edited collection Different Rainbows in 2000 on ‘third world’ queer organizing (see my review on this site — http://radicalnoise.ca/2015/03/13/from-the-archives-different-rainbows-third-world-queer-liberation/) was a major contribution to a global perspective on queer politics. Drucker provided an insightful Introducton and Conclusion where he developed his notion of uneven and combined sexual construction through extending the Trotskyist method and analysis of combined and uneven development which lies at the basis of the theory of permanent revolution, to sexual and queer experiences.  This theory allowed for bypassing a ‘stages’ theory of revolution,  for instance, although Russia was still largely feudal in character the initial, uneven, but significant development of capitalist relations there in the early 20th century created the basis for a transition to socialism combining both bourgeois democratic and working class tasks. Drucker carries this forward in Warped where he continues to see the uneven and combined development between indigenous erotic and gender practices and the hetero/homo polarity being exported from the ‘west.’ He continues to critique the ideology often common in the ‘west’ and in global NGO organizing that LGBT experience in the west is the top of the LGBT evolutionary ladder. In Warped he further complicates global sexual politics pointing out that given this uneven and combined construction of sexualities and global migration it is now hard to talk about any purely indigenous sexuality (pp. 64-65).

Contributions – Accumulation Regimes and Same-Sex Formations

Warped is a very ambitious (probably over ambitious) contribution committed to ‘totality’ in grappling with capitalist social relations and queer politics, although Drucker notes that a “genuinely global analysis is more than I can manage” (p. 61). This also means that this is a longer review essay given the detail and complexity of Drucker’s analysis. At the same time I cannot possibly address all the dimensions of his important contribution and my focus here is on the period since World War II and is far more on the impact of Drucker’s approach in ‘western’/imperialist countries than on those in the ‘global south.’

Drucker uses an historical materialist approach informed by currents within socialist feminism including reproductive justice, along with more political economy derived approaches including Ernest Mandel’s theory of long waves of ‘economic development’ and French regulation theory. His major contribution is that sexuality and same-sex formations shift and change in relation to different phases of capitalist development. He describes same-sex formations as a “specific hierarchy of different same-sex patterns (like the transgender, intergenerational and lesbian/gay patterns) in which one is culturally dominant.” (p. 41). To some extent this aspect of the book reminded me specifically of David Greenberg’s analysis in The Construction of Homosexuality (1988) where he develops some similar typologies of the ‘homosexual’ but without the Marxist analysis and more generally with Max Weber’s ‘ideal-type’ analysis.

Each same-sex formation according to Drucker occupies a specific place in a capitalist regime of accumulation (p. 41). He correlates imperialism with what he describes as the ‘invert-dominant regime,’ Fordism with the ‘gay-dominant regime,’ and Neoliberalism with the ‘homonormative dominant regime.’ While Drucker convincingly makes the case for a relation between shifts in capitalist social relations and different same-sex formations this is also where elements of economic determinism and schematic periodization enter into his analysis. With an important focus on shifting gender relations and their impacts on sexual relations Drucker also stresses relations of imperialism, colonialism and racialization although this analysis could be deepened.

Much of the book lays out this periodization of same-sex formations with capitalist accumulation regimes but with more elaboration and development on neoliberal capitalism and the emergence of gay homonationalist normality and the emergence of an often oppositional queer politics. Drucker is excellent in pointing to the tendencies in neoliberal capitalism that lead to the moral deregulation of normalized gay and lesbian sexualities in part through the expansion of consumer markets and identifications based on this. He points out that legal formal rights in countries like Canada and the US emerge as social inequality expands meaning that these rights benefit the white middle class much more than others. While Drucker details moral conservative influences in eastern Europe, parts of Africa and the Islamic world, he tends to neglect how forms of moral conservative neoliberalism are still also very much alive and well in the ‘west’ including now around the Trump regime in the US and are very capable of being re-mobilized.

In developing this analysis Drucker moves beyond the limitations of intersectional analysis to view class as always lived through race, gender and sexuality and how racism is always very much about sex and sexuality. In his view sexual relations are part of the social relations making labour possible (pp. 36-37). His critique of both economist and limited identity politics could be extended further through the mediational analysis of Himani Bannerji (1995). As Bannerji argues all identifications need to be seen as historical and related to class relations. This mediational analysis allows for holding together both the moment of autonomy, or specificity, of distinct forms of oppression with how they are also mutually constructed through other social relations. While adopting a materialist social constructionist approach to sexuality Drucker correctly notes that despite the academic demolition of essentialist approaches a more popular essentialism thrives and is central to homonormative practice and to what I describe as the making of the neoliberal queer.

Drucker is able to demonstrate that neoliberal capitalism has led to the formation of pro-capitalist layers within queer communities which he partially characterizes as gay normality but also leads to a more oppositional queer politics in response to this gay normalization. This gay normalization is characterized according to Drucker by 1). defining itself as a stable, distinct and ghettoized minority (in part through popular essentialism) 2). through tendencies towards gender conformity 3) through the marginalization of sexual and gender minorities including trans people 4) through integraton into and  identification with the nation-state (including homonationalism and Orientalism) and 5) through forming homonormative families through marriage (p. 220 and 268).

Drucker points out that neoliberal capitalist relations have very different impacts in queer people’s lives depending on their class and social locations. While white middle class gay men assert their ‘right to privacy,’ for instance, Drucker insightfully points out that neoliberal policies lead to a growing denial of privacy for those on social assistance who are put under greater state and social surveillance (p. 233). This also points to the class character of private space, often tied to private property ownership, and how this is often denied to queers and other people living in poverty.

In contrast he suggests that queer identifications and cultures tend towards 1) non conforming sexual and gender identifications, 2). identifications with broader communities of oppressed and rebellious people 3). resistance to hegemonic gender norms 4). a highlighting of social power differences that homonormativity tends to hide and 5). attempts to form alternate family formations and communities (p. 269). I am less convinced of this than Drucker is, although there are certainly tendencies in these directions among people identifying as queer. But as Drucker notes there can also be areas of overlap and blurring between more normalized queer folk and those identifying more strongly as queer.

I share Drucker’s opposition to the displacement of class in much queer theory. In my view while sometimes exaggerating the radical potential of queer politics he does make visible aspects of the class basis of queer oppositional cultures. He suggests that many people identifying as queer are those who have been forced to the bottom of the working class through capitalist restructuring and the development of precarious labour (p. 266, 270). Despite my skepticism it is this general and rather diffuse queer milieu that created the basis for the members of Toronto Pride voting overwhelmingly in Jan. 2017 to support all the demands of Black Lives Matter including that there be no institutional police presence with Pride Parades and festivals. I also share with Drucker the aspiration of making ‘queer’ broader, more global, and more welcoming (p. 11).

Drucker describes queer politics in the overdeveloped/imperialist countries as to some extent a response to the emergence of queer normality in these countries but even in the global south (what Drucker often calls the ‘dependent countries’) he points out that LGBT people’s struggle is “in part directed against a global homonormativity: an attitude among the emerging global lesbian/gay elite that defines other sexualities as derivative and even inferior” (p. 35). In relation to developing an internationalist sexual politics Drucker points out the major shift in ruling politics towards same-sex eroticism. In the 19th century the accusation of ‘sexual perversion’ in the global south was an argument for imperialism and colonialism while now with gay rights, in a narrow sense, constructed as an identifier of ‘modernity’ and ‘civilization’ in the imperialist/western countries the lack of support for gay rights in the global south is now the signifier of their ‘backwardness’ and lack of ‘civilization.’(p. 63, 288-89 ). Taking this up is central to what a new critical internationalist sexual and gender politics needs to address.

In response to the campaigns for same-sex marriage which have been central to gay normalization (although I may be more critical of this than Drucker is) I like the emphasis Drucker places on struggles around chosen families (and how quickly this has been forgotten in mainstream gay circles); non-monogamy and broader struggles over kinship and familial relations. I also enjoy his use of Rosemary Hennessy’s notion of ‘outlawed needs’ (where labour and desire meet. p. 28); Alexandra Kollontai’s ‘winged eros’ from the early years of the Russian revolution; and his use of polymorphous perversity (p. 345) drawn from Freud and especially Marcuse as a refusal of genital primacy, and an eroticization of more diverse bodily based pleasures.

Finally we share the need to extend the critique of neoliberalism into a challenge to capitalist social relations. The problem is not simply one form of capitalism and the solution is certainly not returning to Keynesianism as many on the left continue to suggest. The development of a deeply rooted community-based anti-capitalist queer politics (that also takes up racialized and gendered capitalism) is crucial for this project. I share Drucker’s concern that queer politics without a strategic project may remain marginal (p. 309).

Drucker’s suggestions for queer anti-capitalist organizing are broad ranging and suggestive. They include the need for a pro-trans critical gender politics; the undermining of the gay/straight binary; opposition to homonationalism and Islamophobia; re-affirmation of the importance of the personal is political method through queering relationships, domesticity and intimacy; and the queering of democracy, unions, social movements and the left.

Limitations – Needing More on Social and Class Struggle.

The central limitation of Drucker’s analysis is the other-side of his main contribution in the elements of a rather determinist approach that inform his analysis of the periodization of same-sex formations and capitalist accumulation regimes. He has a tendency at times to use somewhat determinist formulations like “sexual relations and ideologies can be understood as by products of the shifting social and cultural formations that result from the combination of different modes” of production and reproduction (p. 43-44) and that “economic long waves are ultimately determinant for the shift from one same-sex formation to another” (p. 60). At the same time he makes important qualifications that this relation is not direct and that there is no one to one correspondence between accumulation regimes and same-sex formations. Drucker is grappling with crucial questions here and while I appreciate his analysis this approach tends to grant agency regarding same sex formations to shifts in these accumulation regimes and not to the struggles and agency of queers and other people.

Central here is that Drucker adopts a political economy derived reading of capitalism which he has expanded to address questions of gender and race. But in Marx’s critical analysis capitalism does not equal the ‘economic. ‘ Marx saw his work as a critique of political economy and not the generation of another economics and was opposed to the hiding of human social practices under economic forms which is central to his opposition to reification. This leads Drucker to not always emphasize rebellion and revolt.

While Drucker is committed to opposition to reification and fetishism when it comes to sexuality this is undermined by his taking on board the reification of the ‘economic.’ Here he participates in turning social relations between people into relations between things. This notion of ‘economics’ at times seems to be both outside of and also determining of social practice. The theory Drucker takes up tends to give power to economic accumulation regimes and to capital and not to social movements and struggles. His valuable attempt to develop a non-reductionist approach gets undermined by his commitment to political economy. In my view this leads to an analysis which often seems to be defined by systems and structures that are not clearly produced by people, and to a schematic mode of periodization. Instead I suggest more focus on how people’s social practices and struggles (people’s doings) create the social worlds that we find ourselves in and that we lose control over. This would allow Drucker to see that these same sex formations are also the results of struggles and doing in the historical /social contexts of capitalist relations and state formation. Clearly the depth and character of these struggles are not constant and shift in different historical settings being much stronger in their impact in some contexts than in others. This limitation also helps to account for how it is that some people find it hard to get into reading this book – since people and their lives can tend to be disappeared in this type of analysis.

One area to begin to see this in is the question of what brings about the transformation from one accumulation regime to another — for instance from Fordism to neoliberalism? This is not simply an internal economic transformation as largely seems suggested by Drucker and the theorists he draws upon but also comes out of a global cycle of struggle, including working class insurgencies and third word national and social liberation movements that lasts from the 1960s into the early 1970s. While Drucker maps out important aspects of these struggles and organizing he generally gives more emphasis to the accumulation regimes and their dynamics.

It is, however, this vibrant cycle of struggles, that includes the emergence of the gay liberation and lesbian feminist movements, that puts capitalist profitability and social relations in question. This is what produced the conditions for the shift towards neoliberalism and its central attack on the working class, and poorer and oppressed people around the world. Seen in this way people and our struggles are fully inside critical social analysis and we do not give power simply to shifts in accumulation regimes as the agency in social transformation.

We can also read in Drucker’s analysis of the emergence of Fordism and the ‘gay-dominant regime,’ which he largely suggests rests on the determinations of the Fordist accumulation regime, that it is far more complex than this. I would argue instead that while this ‘Fordist’ regime, which itself also comes out of class and social struggles and ruling responses to them in the 1930s and late 1940s, that the ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in the sense Drucker is referring to them do not fully emerge until the very late 1960s and early 1970s in the overdeveloped/imperialist countries as ‘Fordism’ moves into crisis as it is both expanded and undermined by these global struggles.

This creates the social basis for more queer and trans people to be out and visible and not only those who were previously defined as ‘overts.’ Drucker provides important insights into and descriptions of organizing in the 1960s and 1970s. The emergence of gay and lesbian formations are directly related to broader social and class struggles and to struggles of queer and trans people ourselves. Like in the making of the working class — queer and trans people — participate in our own social making. We can see a dialectical and reflexive relation between the development of capitalist social relations and the opening up of potential social spaces that this leads to and the active seizure and opening up of social spaces by those who will become queer and trans people. There is a response by state agencies and the police to these open cultures and queer and trans people resist these attacks and movements and politicization emerge (Kinsman, 1996). One central feature of this ruling response to queer struggles that Drucker sometimes neglects is the institutionalization of heterosexuality in state and social policy.

Drucker correctly notes the tensions in the 1950s and 1960s between middle class and professional men who engaged in sex with other men but had to be ‘covert’ about it given the sexual organization of class relations in the capitalist and middle classes that excluded ‘homosexuality’ and those who were working class, poorer or were hair dressers and interior decorators who were able to be ‘overt’ and were responsible for seizing queer space. But Drucker does not fully note that this was in part (along with butch/femme relations) also part of a class struggle within gay/lesbian network and community formation that was not simply reducible to the respectability of the homophile movement. This question of class struggles within gay and lesbian community formation could be much stronger in Drucker’s analysis since it is also crucial in the formation of the homonormative neoliberal queer and the battles against this class layer.

While Drucker notes the important struggles of the 1960s and early 70s that produce conditions for rupture with earlier same-sex formations (pp. 195-210) he tends to also emphasize a certain continuity between the homophile organizing (after the overthrow of the early left leadership in Mattachine) of the 1950s and early 1960s that emphasized middle class and gendered respectability with the ‘normality’ constructed from  the later 1970s on in middle class, racialized, and gendered terms leading up to what I call the neoliberal queer. He suggests that there are: “some striking similarities between the homophile movements that grew up before the mid-1960s and the gay right of recent decades – leapfrogging over the radical legacy of the liberationist interregnum between them” (p. 286). While gay liberation and lesbian feminism was a rebellion against the limitations of homophile organizing rooted in a previous historical period it this revolt was not as clear as it needed to be on a critical engagement with class relations and class struggle and the need for an anti-capitalist perspective. While I also see the connections Drucker points to between homophile organizing and gay normalization they occur in very different social and historical contexts and at very different points in a shifting class organization of sexualities that I now briefly explore.

A major shift that takes place that helps to set the stage for the emergence of the neoliberal queer is that the mass struggles of bar and working class gays,  lesbians and trans people from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s –largely against police repression — ironically creates the social basis for white middle class and professional gay men to now be out and to be accepted as part of the white middle class, to speak for the gay ‘community’ in an administrative fashion and to develop their own class politics that gets put forward as the politics of the ‘community.’ This shifting class organization within gay and lesbian community formation related to social struggles helps produce the basis for the neoliberal queer.

Another area that is only briefly mentioned existing at the point of transition from what Drucker describes as the ‘gay normative’ to ‘homonormative’ periods  is the public/private and adult/youth regulatory strategy laid out in the 1957 Wolfenden report but not implemented in England and Wales until 1967 and in Canada until 1969. This strategy attempted to privatize gay sexualities and led to escalating sexual policing in the broad ‘public’ realm as well as attempts to deny sexual rights to younger queer people. This strategy was partially subverted by gay and lesbian community formation and movement organizing that resisted sexual privatization and instead used the reforms to seize more public space. In fighting back against the police repression that came down as our sexualities became more ‘public’ this led to more people coming out and to more publicly visible communities and sexualities. This was also part of creating the social basis for a gay middle class that could now be ‘out.’ I cannot go further with this here since this is only a review essay but I hope to have shown that an analysis can be produced of what Drucker characterizes as ‘same sex formations’ that makes people’s struggles much more visible.

This raises questions of how what Drucker refers to as same sex formations get transformed? While he notes that each same-sex regime has generated resistance he does not really clarify what the social basis for this resistance is and he also points out that the transition from one accumulation regime and same sex formation to another are more likely to bring about movements and struggles (p. 59). It is almost as if these movements and struggles that bring about these transformations are outside his central analysis which gives much more weight to accumulation regimes. Instead we need to see class and social struggles and queer and trans movements as fully inside these practices of social transformation.

Drucker’s use of the same sex formations schema tends to collect differing sexualized and gendered practices together and much does not easily fit, and this schematic periodization is not good at capturing variation, diversity, and social transformation. For instance at one point he seems to conflate inverts with trans people, at another the houses portrayed in the film Paris is Burning with that of hirja’s in India (pp. 277-278). As I already mentioned he also constructs continuities between homophile organizations in the 1950s and 1960s and the gay normalization in the late 1970s and into the 1980s despite their very different social  and class contexts. Drucker sometimes has problems in reading past sexual and gender formations on their own terms and not only in relation to later history and the historical present. This is sometimes compounded by problems with some of the sources he relies on.

In Warped Drucker uses the expression ‘same-sex’ and here he mostly seems to be drawing on notions of sex as in some ways ‘biological’ in character. But just as with gender  — knowledge about sex is also socially made and I still sometimes prefer using same-gender to emphasize this socially made character. This is no solution to the complexities of gendered sexual life and we need more work to clarify the character of various regimes of sexual /gender definition, identification, and regulation. While Drucker is excellent in his critique of biological determinist explanations of ‘homosexuality’ he could go further in deepening his critical analysis of biological determinism in relation to sex and gender as he begins to do later on in the book (p. 319).

While Drucker clearly addresses ‘homosexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’ as historically specific it is less clear for transgender. While he mostly addresses trans as historically specific at times he denies this for instance when he claims that trangender people have existed for millennia (p. 271). Rather than fully explicating the social organization of genders where 3rd and 4th genders have existed as a very different social organization of gender he usually simply reads this as another instance of transgender people (p. 77), at one point referring to “transgendered  berdaches” (p. 77). But there is no transhistorical transgender person and transgender like the homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual has particular social and historical conditions of existence.

Drucker unlike many queer men who address these questions explores the gendered character of work but at the same time he tends to focus too much on paid labour neglecting the importance of unpaid reproductive and domestic labour, especially given his emphasis on relationships and intimacy. He tends to focus on struggles in unions and waged workplaces as “the main location where the working class organizes to identify as a working class” (p. 364) tending to neglect other forms of class-based community struggles and struggles against unpaid labour. In this respect he could expand his analysis by looking at the ‘social factory’ analysis leading up to Wages For Housework regarding the significance of unpaid reproductive labour and domestic labour in the production of capitalist social relations and of labour power itself. This analysis of the Importance of autonomy for oppressed groups within the working class and challenging power relations within the working class that came out of autonomist marxist feminism can also produce a useful strategic perspective moving beyond the limitations of identity politics.

Drucker also draws on some left traditions far more than others. At times there is too much reliance on Lenin and Kautsky even while he notes that recognizing the significance of Lenin’s analysis does not require dodging the question of Lenin’s contribution to establishing “the preconditions for Stalinist tyranny.” (p. 33). In contrast while Drucker notes the significant influence of anarchism in queer milieus there is a general lack of learning from anti-authoritarian and anarchist currents (in contrast see Chris Dixon’s Another Politics in the references), nothing on No One Is Illegal and its profound challenge to borders and boundaries, and only one brief mention of the Zapatistas in Mexico who have articulated a significant gender and sexual politics. There is a need to learn from other strands of radical organizing and theorizing.

Conclusion: Reading against tendencies towards economic determinism and schematic periodization.

Drucker’s Warped is a major contribution with vital insights and important limitations. In our active readings we need to take from it what is useful and transform the context of some of its insights freeing them from elements of economic determinism and schematic periodization and making class and social struggles more visible and central. Despite its limitations for those of us interested in anti-capitalist sexual and gender politics this is a must read.

Reference list

Himani Bannerji, Thinking Through: Essays on Feminism, Marxism and Anti-Racism , (Toronto: Women;s Press, 1995).

Chris Dixon, Another Politics, Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements,  (Oakland: University of California Press, 2014).

Peter Drucker, Max Shactman and his Left, A Socialist’s Odyssey Through the “American Century,” (Amherst, New York: Humanity Press, 1994).  

Peter Drucker, ed.,  Different Rainbows, (London: Millivres/Gay Men’s Press, 2000).

David Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

Gary Kinsman, The Regulation of Desire, Homo and Hetero Sexualities, (Montreal: Black Rose, 1996).

Gary Kinsman, “The Politics of Revolution: Learning From Autonomist Marxism,” Upping the Anti, No. 1, 2005, pp. 41-50 and at: http://uppingtheanti.org/journal/article/01-the-politics-of-revolution/

Gary Kinsman, “Queer Resistance and Regulation in the 1970s: From Liberation to Rights,” in  Gentile, Kinsman and Rankin ed., We Still Demand! Redefining Resistance in Sex and Gender Struggles (UBC Press, 2017), pp. 137-182.

Gary Kinsman, “From Resisting Bath Raids to Charter Rights: Queer and AIDS Organizing in the 1980s,” in Carroll and Sarker, ed., A World to Win, Contemporary Social Movements and Counter-Hegemony (ARP Books, 2016), pp. 209-232).