From its inception, the global capitalist ruling class has tried to separate LGBT+ and anti-imperialist movements.
Using their corporate media and petty-bourgeois academic institutions, they control the narrative on how these movements have fought and won important struggles. Most importantly, they present these struggles in ways that ignore their intersections to artificially separate them.
Regrettably, some anti-imperialist activists have diminished the importance of standing in solidarity with oppressed LGBT+ people. While others oppose it altogether.
In Zimbabwe and Iran, for example, both of which form part of today’s anti-imperialist bloc, much remains to be done in the realm of LGBTQ+ liberation. Both countries have strict laws against same-sex sexual activity and marriage.
Conversely, some in the LGBT+ movement, especially in the First World, have supported imperialist projects under the banner of “human rights.”
Take the case of Wider Bridge, a North American LGBT+ organization with strong ties to the zionist and settler-colonial Israeli government. Jimmy Pasch from Jewish Voice for Peace exposed the group as having “a long history of ignoring and covering up Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians by touting Israel’s ‘gay-friendly’ reputation.”
These circumstances serve as examples of incongruences between the LGBT+ and anti-imperialist movements that the global capitalist ruling class has exploited for its benefit.
These circumstances, however, shouldn’t detract from the fact that both important struggles are inextricably linked and interdependent. That’s because capitalism, an economic system based on profit and private ownership, facilitated the rise of both LGBT+ oppression and imperialism.
The Roots of LGBT+ Oppression
Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx’s theoretical collaborator, wrote extensively about the roots of LGBT+ and women’s oppression in his “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.” There, he provides anthropological and historical evidence correlating the rise of heteronormativity and patriarchy with the ascendancy of class society — especially capitalism.
Engels explains that humans began living in heteronormative family units fairly recently, placed within the context of humanity’s over 200,000-year-old existence. Rigid adherence to gender and sexuality norms intensified with the proliferation of capitalism.
Once the accumulation of profit and private property became the norm, especially with the colonization of the Third World, wealthy men began strictly adhering to the practice of inheritance. Inheritance can be defined as the act of passing down one’s belongings, most oftentimes profit and private property, to your children. Almost always did first-born sons receive the bulk of inheritance.
Men who didn’t pass down stolen profit and private property to their children and women who didn’t birth children to inherit those fortunes were seen as “useless” within the burgeoning capitalist society. Consequently, gay men, lesbian women and transexual people became marginalized, since they were seen as “unproductive” to the growth of capital. Under capitalism, those who are unable to accumulate profit and private property are tossed aside like a banana peel.
Moreover, oppression of LGBT+ people became normalized through media as well as religious and political institutions dominated by the aforementioned wealthy male colonizers. Discrimination of people who didn’t conform to bourgeois gender and sexuality norms became commonplace.
As Marx said, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas of society.” Unfortunately, the ideas of wealthy, homophobic and transphobic men remain the ruling ideas today, but they are not new.
The Roots of Imperialism
Coupled with the rise of LGBT+ oppression throughout capitalism’s ascendancy was the genesis of imperialism. Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin described imperialism as “the highest stage of capitalism” in his earth-shattering 1917 pamphlet on the subject.
Using extensive economic research, he found that capitalism had reached an irreversible point during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. At this juncture, capitalism had spread all over the planet as the dominant economic system and all inhabitable continents had been colonized, limiting opportunities for new sources of profit.
Let’s remember that the colonization of the “New World,” Africa and Asia that began in the 15th Century provided Europe with a newfound source of natural resources and slave labor, allowing it to leave the Dark Ages to begin the Renaissance. The Renaissance signaled the “rebirth” of a continent that arrogantly saw itself as the pinnacle of human civilization.
But now that all corners of the planet had been carved up and colonized among the capitalist invaders, the global economic system hit a dead end, like a parasite that has sucked all of its host’s blood.
Competition between industrializing nations fighting over land and resources intensified, creating a propensity for world wars. Financial capital, a form of capitalism based on bank debts and loans, created wealthy creditor nations and impoverished indebted nations. And a handful of companies like United Fruit and Standard Oil began creating global monopolies.
All of these burgeoning conditions of capitalism, according to Lenin, created a new imperialist era marked by non-stop war, growing poverty and unrelenting economic and political crises. There’s no doubt that his theory has become a reality today. One only has to look at desperate U.S. attempts to redivide and recolonize Latin America, Africa and Asia, especially the Middle East.
Unite to Win
It remains clear that imperialism and its crises arose alongside the ascendancy of capitalism, just like structural and systemic LGBT+ oppression. Similarly, the destruction of capitalism will help bring about an end to both cruel and inhumane systems.
Until then, however, LGBT+ and anti-imperialist activists must recognize their shared role in the broader struggle against capitalism-imperialism, treating their liberation as one. Real-life cases of this type of solidarity aren’t hard to find.
In Cuba, for example, the ruling Communist Party has created thousands of government jobs for LGBT+ people who were previously dependent on low-paying sex work under the capitalist dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Not only are LGBT+ people no longer forced to sell their bodies to foreign imperialists who treated the island like a giant brothel. They are also able to organize heterosexual and cisgendered people within the socialist government to support important struggles, like the fight for free sex change operations for transexual people.
And in Venezuela, groups like the National Congress of the Sex-Gender Diverse and the Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance have supported the Bolivarian Revolution against U.S. imperialist aggression. Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly is also in the process of rewriting the country’s Constitution, incorporating protections for land and resources from foreign multinationals as well as LGBT+ rights.
Ultimately, LGBT+ and anti-imperialist solidarity must and will continue to fortify as long as capitalism-imperialism maintains its oppressive grip on LGBT+ people and the Third World.