Issue 168 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1993 Copyright © Socialist Review
Although Mark Brown's and John Parrington's articles on the gay gene debate (September SR) were excellent, I would like to add a couple of points.
Firstly, Mark left out a vital piece of evidence to explode the myth about the gay gene. If homosexuality was determined exclusively by our genetic makeup, then the proportion of people engaging in homosexual practices in single sex environments (such as prisons and public schools) would be no greater than elsewhere. The very much higher incidence of these practices in such institutions is crucial in destroying the gay gene theory.
But a second point must be made. In the week the British media launched the gay gene debate, the BBC allowed its Radio 4 Any Answers programme to be used as a forum for two kinds of homophobic bigots.
In one corner stood those who embraced this new 'scientific' evidence. They argued that the 'problem' of homosexuality can now be solved by screening for the gay gene, and aborting 'defective' embryos. In the other corner stood those on the fundamentalist religious right. Being as vehemently anti-abortion as they are anti-gay, they lack any incentive to accept the gay gene theory. No one is born gay, they argue. Homosexual practices are a result of 'sin'.
Socialists have to address themselves to the fact that the debate is currently being conducted in terms which, if unchallenged, can only benefit one or other kind of the anti-gay bigots.
It is certainly vital that socialists expose the shoddiness of the evidence supplied so far. But we need not rule out the possibility that more plausible evidence for a genetic component to sexual orientation might one day become available. I think Mark is wrong to deny even the possibility that there is a proportion of the population who are exclusively heterosexual and another exclusively homosexual.
There are certainly many workers today who genuinely believe themselves to be 100 percent heterosexual. Some of these will in due course change their minds. Others, however, will not. Socialists have nothing to gain by arguing that homophobic society represses heterosexual workers into denying one side of their sexuality.
Rather than denying outright the possibility of evidence for a genetic component to sexual orientation, it would be better for socialists to assert the complete irrelevance of such evidence.
Our task surely is not to deny that our genetic makeup might play some minor part in determining which of us engage in homosexual activities. Our task is to explain to workers that homophobia is used, as are racism and sexism, as a means of dividing workers.
Mike Gonzalez is too hard on Salvador Allende in his analysis of what went wrong in Chile (September SR). As a Chilean revolutionary socialist whose family members were involved in Popular Unity, I agree with the essence of the article--the bankruptcy of the parliamentary road to socialism.
Mike Gonzalez makes Allende out to be a forerunner of John Smith--just another conniving, treacherous parliamentarian. But he was much more than that.
The fact that he refused the offer of a helicopter to Argentina from the presidential palace and preferred to die with his gun in hand indicates that his was a different, vastly more principled brand of reformism.
Of course he was not a revolutionary, but to maintain that he attacked the copper miners, condemned their strike, and then invited the military into the cabinet is to present a far too simplistic account of a much more complex situation.
If that is in any way true, it was not Allende himself to blame but the position he found himself in as a result of ruling class pressure. Allende did all he could to serve the interests of the working class. It may not seem much now, but at the time the improvements in health, education and the nationalisation of the land were fantastic achievements, or at least intentions.
On 11 September the main problem was not that the Communist Party instructions never came. On the contrary, thousands of workers came out to defend the government--it was the arms that never came.
It's a pity Ian Birchall uses his obituary for Pierre Naville (167 SR) as the occasion for a misleading attack on André Breton. It was Breton, not Naville, who took the exuberant anarchism of Dada and fashioned it into the revolutionary artistic and political current that surrealism became in the 1920s and 1930s. It was Breton who led the surrealists first into the Communist Party and then towards Trotskyism.
Naville split with Breton by insisting that the surrealist movement should dissolve itself into the party and renounce all independent work, posing a crude choice between Marxism and surrealism.
Breton, on the other hand, tried to find a synthesis between engagement in revolutionary politics and surrealism's assault on the fetters binding the human imagination--an assault which he believed could only succeed once the proletarian revolution had transformed social conditions.
Who was right? Naville seems to have reflected the rigid Stalinist orthodoxy of the time. Breton, on the other hand, tried to build bridges between surrealism and Marxism, believing that surrealism could only flourish in the context of revolutionary politics.
This surely is the spirit of the 'Manifesto Towards a Free Revolutionary Art' that Leon Trotsky produced in collaboration with Breton and Diego Rivera in 1938. Here, and in Trotsky's letter to Breton on the independence of the artist, the mindless inflexibility of the Stalinists is firmly rejected. So too, by implication, is the reductionism of Naville.
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