6th Nov, 2016
As recently as the start of the 21st Century, there was a prevailing sense even in the most progressive circles that Marxism had little to say about sexuality and vice versa. Indeed, as I observe in the archive article published here, Simon Edge could represent a hostile response from the ‘sexual’ community of scholarship and politics to Marxism. He represented a perspective that Marxism subsumed sexual oppression, prejudice and pathology into a sub-category of class oppression. This position, of course, ignored the work by Marxist scholars and revolutionaries, notably Alexandra Kollontai, Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse. It also failed to recognise the considerable overlap between radical left thinking and sexuality in the work of scholars such as John D’Emilio, Martin Duberman and Jeffrey Weeks .
In the last two decades, with the (uneven) erosion of formal legal and political prejudices in the 'West' and the substantive shift from radical sexual politics to homonormativity, Marxist scholarship has become more important in providing a critical framing that both emphasises the vagaries of capitalism and class but does not subsume the framings of gender, ethnicity and race and sexuality itself that shape the experience of non-heterosexuals in contemporary societies.
That includes Peter Drucker's magisterial Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism (2015), in the Historical Materialism Book Series, which maps same sex formations and regimes of pathology and resistance against the development of capitalist economies and draws together a framing for an inclusive 'queer Marxism'. This follows a number of contributions that have opened up a critical political economy of sexuality, from Nicola Field's (1995) Over The Rainbow: Money, Class, Homophobia and Rosemary Hennessy's (2000) Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism, to less overtly Marxist works nevertheless drawing from political economy, such as Amy Gluckman and Betsy Reed's (1997) collection Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community and Lesbian and Gay Life, and MV Lee Badgett's (2001) Money, Myths and Change: The Economic Lives of Lesbians and Gay Men.
More polemic and political texts include Sherry Wolf's (2009) Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation and Hannah Dee's (2010) The Red in the Rainbow: Sexuality, Socialism and LGBT Liberation. And there are critical texts that draw together strands of theory to advance a queer Marxism that engages with culture, the sexual psyche and everyday life in building rich critical analyses, such as: David Alderson's (2016) Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: From Liberation to post-Gay, Holly Lewis's (2016) The Politics of Everyday: feminism, Queer Theory and Marxism at the Intersection, and Kevin Floyd's (2009) The Reification of desire: Toward a Queer Marxism. And this is just a sample of peaks in a growing critical literature.
Recently, a Sexuality and Political Economy Network has been formed, affiliated to Historical Materialism, to take forward the queer Marxist agenda. Anybody interested in joining the Network can contact Paul Reynolds - firstname.lastname@example.org - or Holly Lewis - email@example.com