By Jane Reed
While Pride Month has concluded, oppression based on gender and sexuality outside of the confines established in bourgeois society continues, and the bourgeois trends that hinder the revolutionary potential of the queer masses remain pervasive. Thankfully, we don’t have to limit ourselves to the confines of one month out of the year to critique these very trends.
If you found yourself scrolling through social media, inundated with videos in rainbows and various flags, there was a common theme amongst many of them regarding terms such “rainbow capitalism” and the like. There has been a conversation amongst the queer community on how to approach everything from the different pride collections at big box retailers to small “queer owned” business. However, there are issues that are pervasive in every single one of these videos that seem incapable of grappling with the core of the issue.
The conversation primarily begins with various influencers apologetically opening with “I know “rainbow capitalism” won’t save us…. but….,” then the video continues on, never really addressing how a “rainbow capitalism” is any different than capitalism generally, leaving us to infer that they likely mean commodities sold for the purpose of appealing to queer people. The videos then go into the variety of pride related products, from this year’s favorites of “live, laugh, lesbian t-shirt,” to least such as a bright green jumpsuit that simply says “gay.” The but however leaves open the question of why they should be concerned in the first place, with the videos touching on a final diatribe about how corporations don’t care about queer people and either leaving it there or elaborating further, alerting people to, or advertising specific, “queer owned small-businesses.” This, however, seems to misunderstand the issue entirely, and reflects the default bourgeois and petty-bourgeois sensibilities that the LGBT movement is no exception to. What is the Communist response to this? How can we more effectively agitate?
Commodity Fetishism and Queers
Commodity fetishism is severely misunderstood, even amongst self-proclaimed Marxists. What it isn’t, are luxury brands in of themselves, or the urge to buy things one doesn’t need, or sentimental value, or any myriad of distortion that can be so commonly seen. Commodity fetishism is described by Marx as escribing “special powers” to commodities. It is the nature of these “special powers” that is misunderstood, as it is in reference to value itself. The issue isn’t that value is applied where there is none, it is that the value in the minds of the masses seemingly falls from the sky. The commodity isn’t seen as something having value because of the labor applied to create it, it simply has value. This abstraction on the behalf of capitalist relations separates the masses from internalizing the exploitation that goes into the creation of the commodities they purchase, and thus further alienates the masses from the struggle against the exploitation of man-by-man, the struggle of the individual from their peers all over the world.
The queer community lacking a dialectical materialist analysis has also been subject to this. Thus, it struggles to wrestle with knowing that capitalism seeks to exploit them, but internalizes it as bigotry, malice, or a “flaw” in capitalism. They struggle with reconciling that the items that are designed to represent them and reflect their interest appeal to them, but to purchase them is necessarily to participate in a system that oppresses them, ultimately accepting that they are helpless participants regardless, but without any solution. So, they seek refuge in petty-bourgeois solutions, purchasing from small proprietors owned by petty-bourgeois queers, believing that this will minimize the “damage.” This ignores the fact that the petty-bourgeoise all aspire to become the bourgeoise one day and will either fail to maintain their precarious situation within the petty-bourgeois strata or will seek more exploitative methods to produce and sell commodities. Without Marxism, without understanding that commodities aren’t born from corporations, but human labor, the LGBT movement finds comfort in hopelessness, it finds joy in the smallest fire in the hell we are all trapped in.
Apathy, Inclusion, and Commodity Fetishism as Activism
It is crucial to further address this issue of the observation of apathy amongst the bourgeoise, with profit being their motive, which is true. However, this fact further perpetuates the moral quandary of whether someone should buy the rainbow-colored commodities they are faced with. Where a Marxist sees the issue is in the exploitation of labor, the queer masses are given the question “do I save money and buy from Target’s collection knowing Target doesn’t actually care? Or do I pay more and buy from a small queer business?”
The first question is often met with a sort of contempt, seeing corporations selling pride-themed commodities as “co-option,” as if the issue is sincerity. How dare they try to co-opt the queer movement for profit! This response comes into conflict with more liberal sensibilities, recognizing that their inclusion is in fact a good thing, rightfully worried about the more reactionary foot soldiers in bourgeois society who have been taught to suppress queer people and thus perform a crucial service on behalf of the maintenance of capitalist exploitation and domination. Thus, the more radical elements, misguided without revolutionary theory, are at a loss, a stalemate, where other elements become complacent and accept their role as consumers, approaching the second query with a resounding yes.
How should Marxists approach this moral quandary? We must look beyond the commodity. Its value lies in the expended labor of the exploited masses. We can accept that the sincerity of the bourgeoise and petty-bourgeoise is absolutely irrelevant in the matter. There is no moral superiority to be had in purchasing commodities from aspiring big capitalists for the sake of doing so, and there is no need to hope that one day, Target will be owned by the first Transgender, transexual, gender-fluid, pansexual billionaire to justify the positive aspects of capital seeking to find profit in anything and everything. Lastly, we approach it by dispelling the mindset that socialism will necessarily mean the end to “things.” That heavy industry and gray apartment buildings are somehow the goal of socialism, instead of being only a small part of meeting the larger economic needs of all people, in a system that will continue to improve over time, as socialism-communism’s primary objective is meeting those needs.
The task of the Communist must be to awaken the queer masses to the fact that socialism-communism offers the inclusion and items they enjoy, as it is labor that produced them in the first place, and it is socialism-communism that seeks to free labor from exploitation. We don’t need to engage with the discussion of who to purchase queer-themed merchandise, because it’s an irrelevant question, and the masses can spend their meager wages on whatever brings them fleeting happiness, and we don’t need to agitate by opening apologetically and mincing words about why the masses should be humiliated for liking these items. Instead, our task is to expose the international character of the exploitation of the working and oppressed masses, and help our queer peers recognize the need to fight for entirely new productive relations, to free themselves, to free all queer people, to free all workers.
“Live, Laugh, Lesbian’” is objectively funny and there is no need for you, dear worker, to resign yourself to which kind of self-hatred you wish to endure, when there is a revolution to be built, a factory the shirt was churned out of to be seized, and your peers who made the shirt to liberate.