Josh and Da’Shaun: A Conversation between Black Queer Leftists Exploring Queerness, Socialism, and Decolonization
Da’Shaun: Josh, as you know, there’s not a ton of literature detailing the narratives of Black queer leftists (socialists, communists, marxists, respectively). So, seeing that much of the opposition to socialism seemingly comes from the fact that Karl Marx was a racist and that some countries that have adopted socialist ideologies (re: USSR, Cuba) have murdered LGBT people, how do you, as a Black queer socialist, reconcile race and sexuality relations with socialism?
Josh: I learned about socialism before I knew about the atrocities that have happened to LGBTQ+ folks under socialist leaders and during socialist revolutions. I would like to start off by saying there is no excuse for those atrocities, and I condemn them. However, even if I had known about the atrocities committed to people who look like me or love the way I do, it wouldn’t have changed my opinion on socialism vis-a-vis its ideologies, its principles, or socialism as a system of governing. Kwame Ture once made this point about how we don’t judge Christianity by Christians, we judge it based off its principles, but if we were to judge Christianity by Christians, most would agree that the religion should have been disbanded centuries ago, and I thoroughly agree with that sentiment. Therefore, I think we should judge socialism based off its principles and not individual socialists, or even individual acts committed under socialist governments. Unlike capitalism, socialist principles contradict bigotries of all forms, while capitalism cannot exist without them. With that being said, brutality against the marginalized and most vulnerable is a common occurrence, historically speaking. One that has taken place under a plethora of economic systems. I think it’s vital that we are critical of socialist regimes and revolutions of the past and the present, but also recognizing even our revolutionary heroes were human, they made mistakes, just as we do, and as we will throughout the struggle. I think that applies to Karl Marx, as well. We can be critical of the man while recognizing that Marxism, as a science and an economic and political theory, is sheer brilliance. It’s important to note that there is an inextricable link between racism and capitalism. We must recognize that the same cannot be said about socialism, which never ceases to amaze me because the only time I’ve ever heard the, “Karl Marx was a racist” or “Fidel Castro killed gay people” arguments are when they’re being used to contradict the legitimacy of socialism. By all means, these are valid concerns that we should definitely discuss, just not when they’re being weaponized to refute the legitimacy of Marxism, socialism, in our analysis of anti-capitalism.
With that, Da’Shaun, how do you — as a Black queer socialist — feel about the return of Marxism in Queer Theory, the return of radicalism in the struggle for queer liberation in an age where Homo-capitalism is so prevalent?
Da’Shaun: I think your response is beautifully written and gives a great account to a very nuanced discussion. Thank you.
In response to your question, I think it’s important to note that Marxism (re: socialism, communism, and the like) has been present in Queer theory for some time. Black Queer theorists and socialists like Bayard Rustin, Roderick Ferguson, and others have long sat at the intersection of radical queer and socialist thought. And it is because of intellectuals like the aforementioned that I feel sure in my decision to operate with a leftist politic.
In a time where corporations with profit-incentives are alluding to the incorporation of LGBTQIA+ rights in an attempt to assuage their involvement in the demise of many Black and brown queer people, I think socialism being highlighted in [Black] Queer Radical thought is one of the best things to happen to Queer theory. In my most recent piece, I talked about how businesses like Wal-Mart, Nike, and Jack Daniels announce Pride campaigns every year during Pride month while investing in the prison industry, slave labor, and enabling substance abuse within the queer community. It is because of the link between Queer theory and socialism that I, and so many others, have been able to articulate thoughts around rainbow capitalism and its detriment to the queer community.
In the US, we see rainbow capitalism in real time through things like the installation of rainbow crosswalks in cities that have an overwhelming amount of queer homeless people; the advertising of openly queer people in the military when it’s still legal in 28 states to fire individuals for being queer and/or trans (imperialism — though not inextricably so — is tied to capitalism); the promotion of rainbow-colored alcoholic bottles in a country where queer and trans people experience substance abuse at an exponentially higher rate than our cisgender, heterosexual counterparts; and through politicians’ echoing of Israel’s pinkwashing propaganda.
It is because of both socialism and Queer theory that we are able to inform views like these, and so I feel proud. I am ecstatic to know that our foremothers, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, didn’t cast the first stone (brick and bottle) in vain; that, specifically, Black and brown queer and trans people have picked up the work of resisting White, cisgender, gay and lesbian domination — which is usually who rainbow capitalism extends its solidarity to.
Following up, I want to ask you: how do you think gender and sexuality are shaped by capitalism? Accordingly, what could we possibly expect gender and sexuality (specifically, queerness) to look like under socialism?
Josh: As usual, Da’Shaun, your brilliance astounds me. To answer your question, gender and sexuality oppression, much like racial oppression, have become intrinsic to modern society. Sexuality, gender, and race serve as a basic organizing principle of the economic structure of global capitalism. It often fluctuates as the difference between paid, unpaid, and domestic labor, whether it’s emotional, physical, intellectual, etc. The result of this is an economic structure that provokes gender and sexuality-based exploitation, economic marginalization and deprivation. Which, we all know, are the basic commodities of capitalism. That said, we must remember how heteronormativity is a constitutive feature of gender and sexuality, which is entangled in material economic conditions. What is often forgotten in leftist spaces is that, sexuality isn’t just a minor piece of an individual’s identity. It is a vital constituent of how our society is structured. It is an essential feature of family and kinship relations, gendered social interactions, sexual desire, etc. The Marxist perspective looks at how the needs of the economic structure shapes other spheres of our society. In capitalism, dominant ideas about sexuality are prevalent in medical and psychological practice, in media and culture, in law, in the domestic/family sphere to take on a certain form in society. The dominant norms, ideas, laws, and so forth that regulate sexuality in capitalist societies are oppressive. They force people into submitting to expectations and requirements that are unlike them/us. These dominant ideals produce asymmetrical social relations in which non-cis, and non-heterosexual people are maligned, marginalized, subject to violence, denied rights, and exploited.
The Socialist remedy would be to radically change the basic structure of social institutions in society so that we could free ourselves from the shackles of compulsory heterosexuality. Society is not shaped by the speculation of past generations, but by the decisions and actions of the present, history has proven this. But, we, as scientific socialists, apply a materialist analysis to the development of history and society, or in other words, make hypotheses about the future, based on the evidence from the present and the past. While there is no exact blueprint for how families, identities or relationships will transform under socialism. A socialist society will put people in full control of their identities and productive forces rather than having their lives driven by social structures and economic forces that they do not control. Socialism is not just about economic justice, but human liberation. And if your idea of human liberation isn’t liberating gender and sexuality as part of a general struggle for global liberation with workers at its core, it’s not liberation that you’re interested in.
But I must ask, Da’Shaun, considering that we’re in the midst, if not end, of a long plight of neoliberalism and rampant speculative capitalism, and for the first time in a while, in organizing movement spaces, it seems as if people (especially millennials) are not only waking up but are radically questioning the status quo. Do you see any aspect of this political climate as evidence for a radical societal shift, at least in expanding people’s understanding of what is possible? Do you think any of it can be sustained beyond a politics of reform?
Da’Shaun: In short, I do. Several outlets have reported that more people, especially millennials, are committing to socialism; since the murders of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown, we’ve seen an ever-growing commitment to the Black Liberation Movement and the Movement for Black Lives; Black and brown solidarity has been extensive — from Palestine, to Syria, to Libya; and a dedication to the crossroad at which Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality and Alice Walker’s sector of feminism, womanism, meet has been ever-present.
Through hashtag campaigns and other online, social media-based work, and extensive on-the-ground, grassroots efforts, it is clear to me that we have arrived at a point of political consciousness that is impossible to ignore and is forcing its way through unimaginable, nearly impenetrable barriers. Slowly, but surely — as people start to more heavily engage the work of Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, and so many others — it is made evident that more people believe in the abolishment of prisons, police, courts, the military — the State, by and large. And it is because of this that I believe that this work can be sustained beyond reform.
Mao, Lenin, Marx, Stalin and the like have all put a heavy emphasis on the importance of including and educating the masses, as this is the only way socialism (and ultimately communism) can work. Cuba, Nicaragua, China, and Venezuela have shown us how successful a socialist ‘state’ can be. Void of global capitalism and western domination around the globe, communism is not a far-fetched utopia that’s unobtainable. We have the capacity to build and sustain a true free world.
Slightly switching gears here, I have noticed a bit of confusion from people who have a genuine interest in socialism being unsure of what government looks like under socialism. Would it even be referred to as government? What is the difference between private, public, and personal property, and what can people expect these three things to look like in a socialist society?
Josh: I believe in very little to no government, but as Lenin (in State and Revolution) says, a state will be necessary during the transition from capitalism to communism. And I concur with that belief, and my personal wishes are less important than the needs of the people, and the betterment of society. As we know, socialism doesn’t look the same everywhere. Socialist states, especially those who feel the wrath of western imperialism and opposition, are often forced to adjust and modify their regimes for survival. So I don’t expect all versions of socialism to look or feel a certain way, the idea is to do whatever is best for the people, by any means necessary. With that being said, abominable waste that occurs under capitalism (in resources and employment) will be abolished and a democratically planned economy will take its place. Wage rates, working conditions and prices will no longer be set by multinational corporations, but by a democratic government.
The main difference between private and personal property is profit and the right to own. Private property is that what you clearly don’t own through use and occupancy, but a piece of paper given by the state grants your right to ownership (often times, on indigenous land), and serves to protect that unjust right. Private property is defined by extraction of surplus value in the form of wage labor. It is capital that is used to create more capital. Socialists advocate extensively for social or public ownership of the means of production, that includes stores, factories, raw materials, and other productive assets. This differs from personal property, which is houses, clothing, cell phones, etc. Under capitalism, the rights and powers to private property typically include the right to use, control, transfer, alter, destroy, and to generate income from the thing owned, as well as the right to exclude non-owners (often those who the owner exploits) from interacting with the owned thing in these ways. But the means of production belong to all the people. Anti-socialists will lie to you by telling you that under socialism you can’t have your own personal property. What most don’t know is that personal property would be safer under socialism, than it ever was under capitalism. Under capitalism, you may think you own your personal property (home, car, boat), for the vast majority, wages are too low to be able to buy outright all the things they need so they have to go into debt to get them (whether it’s a bank or auto dealership). That bank, auto dealership, or wherever source you went to has a right to take your perceived ‘personal property,’ if you miss a payment or didn’t read the fine print on your contract, in which they said they’ll still have legal ownership over your home after 30 years of paying mortgage on it. Capitalism protects capital, over all else. Private property is used to exploit workers and create profits. Under socialism, the “right” to exploit other people doesn’t exist.
And finally, as communists we talk about a borderless society, one in which the rightful land is returned to indigenous peoples. What would that look like, not only for indigenous folk, but oppressed peoples worldwide?
Da’Shaun: In Jose Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia, he says that queerness is not yet here. That, as a philosophy, queerness is a future thought/existence that we may never touch, but know what we must do to disrupt the status quo/systems of domination which keep us from it. Similarly, in response to your question, it is nearly impossible to imagine such a reality because we don’t yet know what it means to return to an existence void of global capitalism, much like we don’t know what queerness’ existence looks like free of cisheteronormativity. Additionally, as there are over 500 indigenous tribes in America, decolonization will look different for each tribe.
However, it is fair to suggest that, even without knowing what it means to operate uninhabited by global capitalism, to return land to its rightful indigenous owners looks like African people gaining what was originally ours, too — Africa. And that a borderless society must mean globalization, or integration of economies, societies, and foreign policies, which is the end to imperialism and colonialism. In other words, imagining a world in which we return lands to its indigenous people looks like the end of this socio-political-economic climate as we know it and reasoning to the best explanation suggests that the only ideology which assists in that is socialism via pan-Africanism. Whereby I’m really referring to the movement that embraces liberation for continental and Diaspora African people under a new socio-political culture and economy.
Liberation for indigenous people in the Americas, and globally, means a deconstruction of anti-blackness, reparations for African people, and a return to formerly-colonized lands. Which literally means that we can’t imagine a borderless society, or a world where indigenous people have direct and total ownership of this land, without also giving language to the imagination of total Black liberation — understood to be pan-Africanism.