L’Osservatore Romano, the Pope’s very own newspaper has just praised Oscar Wilde as “a lucid analyst of the modern world”. This is not bad. After more than a century of nastiness about Oscar the penny has finally dropped: homosexuals can be articulate, witty, talented and observant! I wonder if it will take as long for Holy See to give a positive spin to the observations of Sacha Baron Cohen?
This is particularly relevant, now that Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie, Brüno is being released worldwide. The discussion of the film’s contribution to homophobia will greatly exercise those appalled by the appallingly camp Austrian far beyond the first, second and third circles inhabited by Benedict XVI and his boys. However, this worry will probably only afflict the humourless among the laity, or those straight-acting gay men who can’t abide being remotely associated with effeminate Nancy Boys. However, this kind of discussion will paradoxically be restricted to places where homosexuality is openly acknowledged and widely accepted. In other less liberal places, they won’t even attempt to get the joke.
For example, Ukraine’s culture and tourism ministry is set to ban Brüno throughout the country. This is expressive of the widespread hostility present in Ukrainian society towards homosexuality. The east of the country is dominated by Soviet era heavy industry and the sort of communities and social attitudes that went with that, while the cultural life of Western Ukraine is dominated by Catholicism of both the Eastern and Roman Rites. In this respect, Ukraine is not greatly dissimilar from Poland and a number of other post-Soviet societies dominated, either by large populations of conservative peasant or collective farmers, or by communities that arose around Soviet era heavy industry. In these sorts of societies, anti-Semitism, hatred of Gypsies, and fanatical hostility towards homosexuals is the ‘normal’ state of affairs.
Anti-gay political parties run by conservative Catholics or fascists are not, of course, restricted to Eastern Europe, but it is here that they have real purchase and real social weight within society: what they think matters in Poland or Hungary or, indeed, pretty much anywhere east of Berlin, Prague and Ljubljana.
Poland’s Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc [PiS]), provide a relatively moderate example of the sort of the attitudes which flourish in lands where the Communist Party once ruled the roost. The party’s chairman, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said, “The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization. We can’t agree to it.” Jaroslaw and his brother Lech Kaczynski are at the centre of a welter of Polish institutions like the League of Polish Families and Radio Maryja, all dedicated to pumping out this kind of trash. These organizations are replicated throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia and anywhere where the struggle to defend civilization from dissolution and moral decay is at its hottest.
Now, as capitalism begins to develop on the ruins of state-directed economies, peasant and collectivised agriculture, and Soviet era heavy industry, the public existence of homosexuals and gay rights have begun to be contested matters within society. Gay Pride marches are called and promptly banned, gay organizations arise, and the battle with nationalist and religious reaction is joined with a vengeance. The attitudes which homosexual people face in these situations are not really caused by religious obscurantism as much as by the pre-capitalist or early-capitalist nature of the social circumstances and social relations, which obtain in much of the post-Soviet world.
If we trace the modern emergence of public homosexuality over the last couple of centuries, and then of the achievement of the widespread acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships we can see, that in all circumstances, we are looking in the first instance at the growth of large capitalist cities and conurbations, and in the second (or latest phase), at the emergence of economies founded upon services, batch production, and communications, rather than those dependent upon the rigid gender, social, and functional hierarchies which dominated industrial working class communities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was not until the decline of economies organized around these hierarchies began in the late fifties and early sixties, that the successful struggle to articulate the defence of difference, the fight for the full emancipation of women, of black people, of homosexuals, and finally of the disabled, could come to the fore.
There is an inescapable relationship between the full development of modern capitalist relations and the emancipation of lesbians and gay men throughout most of the big cities of the rich world. Plainly, highly developed capitalism is not a sufficient condition for gay liberation, but it certainly does appear to be a necessary condition. It appears to be the case that it is only when capitalist relations reach a certain kind of density and the organization of the labour process begins to depend more upon articulate modes of cooperation, rather than upon the direction and command of socially homogeneous labour forces, that acceptance of difference begins to gain the upper hand. It is the decay of the need for modes of social organization which rest upon everybody sharing a similar race, class, and social outlook, that has opened up a public space for homosexuals and which has made it possible for lesbians and gay men to fight successfully for their rights. This public space has, of yet, only be produced within fully developed capitalist economies – it is absent everywhere else.
Evidently, this strange emancipatory aspect of capitalist development needs to be investigated more thoroughly.