This is the text of a welcome address given at the inaugural meeting of the Radical Independence Queers, held in Dundee on 8 March 2020. We reproduce it here to give an idea of the principles on which our organisation has been founded.
I would first like to welcome you all to the meeting, and to thank you for your interest. I look forward to sharing the struggle for an unapologetically queer socialist republic with all of you in the weeks, months, and years to come. Ours is an ideal whose arrival is well overdue, as I’m sure any of you who’ve been following or participating in the bitter struggles around the Gender Reform Act will agree. The cause of trans rights is under attack from every single foetid nook and cranny of the political scene – and many of the most rotten champions of bigotry wave saltires or even worse, wrap themselves in the red flag. Meanwhile our identities have steadily become advertising material for the capitalists and the state, who sell guns, poison the environment, and drop bombs content that the death machine now employs an appropriate percentage of LGBTQ+ executioners.
Queer people are urgently faced by a double dilemma. On one front we are menaced by a legion of capital’s most reactionary lackeys, intent on withdrawing and destroying our civil rights. But at the same time the capitalist system approaches us with cynical offers of friendship, attempting to buy us off with increased representation so as to give a liberating appearance to the same old slaughter in the postcolonial world. Do we take the blood-slicked hand of the state and hope that we can protect ourselves from bigots by demonstrating our “worth” to capitalism? Do we forget about basic internationalist solidarity and pretend not to notice when British-made bombs rain down on Yemen?
Of course not!
We must refuse this dilemma and take a stand for ourselves. We will not be used! No, what we need now is autonomy and power, so that the freedom we cut from the hands of the capitalists will truly be our own. What is urgently needed is a militant, LGBTQ+, socialist organisation, one able to make the case that queer liberation can never be had under capitalism, one unafraid to bring the struggle for our civil rights into every corner of the independence movement, and most importantly, one ready to stand up to anyone, whether they be the traditional right-wing bigot or the false friend who hides their reactionary political line behind a hammer and sickle badge. Nobody will do it for us, and every moment we spend disorganised and un-coordinated is a moment that the independence movement is left open to forces whose ideal Scotland is no place for queer people.
And it is as an autonomous wing of the Radical Independence Campaign that we wish to build this queer socialist organisation.
For those new to it, the Radical Independence Campaign, or RIC for short, was formed to be the socialist alternative to the SNP’s view of independence. We are united by the fact that we don’t want a Scotland that benefits the bosses and the generals, but rather a socialist republic ran by the working class and for the working class. Our aim is to organise among the poor and downtrodden of Scotland not simply to break up the United Kingdom, but also to build a powerful force that will be able to take on our own homegrown capitalist class and win.
So where does a queer wing fit into all of this? Well, LGBTQ+ people have a special, indeed essential part to play in the struggle for self-determination and socialism. On this matter, as on many others, I take my cues from old Vladimir Lenin, who put forward a conception of the socialist militant that resonated with me. I ask that you forgive some indulgence on my part as I quote more or less directly.
What should be the ideal of the socialist? Not the paid trade union secretary or political party bureaucrat, but rather “the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all their socialist convictions and their democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
Lenin’s point was that Russian socialists shouldn’t simply be concerned with economic issues or election results, but that they must take up every single struggle for civil liberties and democratic rights against the Tsarist empire. It was only by doing this, he argued, that the organised working class could lead a genuinely popular revolution. Applied to our modern situation, I believe this passage serves as a call to socialists to become fearless champions of every oppressed identity. Our task is to investigate the varied and horrible brutalities of capitalism as they impact the lives of all the poor and downtrodden, no matter what religion, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, or gender identity they have, and to formulate all these grievances into a multi-layered, many-sided critique of capitalism that can link these diverse struggles and carry them forward together.
What that crucial task of investigation entails is that socialists must be patient and ready to listen and learn from oppressed groups. We understand that truth for the working class, why would it be any different for trans people or for refugees? As I’m sure we are all aware, there have been plenty of moments in history where broad swathes of the left have completely failed in their duty to act as tribunes of the people because they thought they could speak over or worse, ignore, oppressed groups. To take black rights as a specific example, the left were damned lucky that courageous black Marxists like C. L. R. James and Harry Haywood were eager to theorise the intersections between civil rights and class struggle, even after the U.S. labour movement’s shameful rejection of black workers in first half of the 20th century.
I’m sure you’ll agree, friends, that we cannot just wait and hope that the Scottish socialist movement, or the wider independence movement, will somehow spontaneously develop a decent line on LGBTQ+ issues without any principled involvement from queer socialists. We can and we must bring much-needed queer perspectives to socialism, just as militants like James and Haywood brought black perspectives to socialism. And we must do so daringly and energetically, even if we have to break down doors and tear down walls to do it.
Make no mistake – this is no plea for you to uncritically play the token queer best friend and coddle the bruised egos of cishet leftists. We intend to be fiercely autonomous, principled, and critical of the wider movement, even as we participate in it. Sometimes this will mean being curt, sharp even, but we owe nothing less to our martyrs. Genuine friendship, genuine solidarity, is built on honesty. And as the immortal Gramsci said, the truth is always revolutionary!
If you think so too – join us! We’ll be proud to have you.