Revolution or War n°25

(September 2023)

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How Capital Uses Leftist Identity Politics and LGBTQ Rights for its Imperialist Warfare

“The fight for Ukraine is also a fight for LGBTQ rights.” So proclaimed Vanity Fair in March 2022 with its article on Ukrainian LGBTQ activists during the Russian-Ukranian War. Such arguments have become increasingly common for NATO apologists who continuously use the language and logic of social justice to advocate for the continuation of the war and the general strengthening of NATO. NATO itself has positioned itself as a force for social justice. On International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (May 17 2023), Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave a speech on its importance to Nato. Stating that “NATO’s strength is our diversity,” Stoltenberg characterized himself and NATO as an “ally” of the LGBTQ community. [1] The United States Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, put out a similar statement at the beginning of LGBTQ Pride Month, stating that the Defense Department honors “the service, commitment, and sacrifice of the LGBTQ+ Service members and personnel who volunteer to defend our country. Their proud service adds to America’s strength.” [2] These statements indicate that the United States government and its allies believe it is necessary to utilize pro-LGBTQ rhetoric in times of imperialist war.

Such statements are clearly linked to the rising prominence of “intersectionality.” This idea rejects Marxist notions of class in favor of discussing various identities people share such as race, sexuality, and gender. As the IGCL has discussed before: “What is partly developed below has the task of demonstrating, particularly in the United States, in what and how this notion only serves the spheres of domination, in what way by categorising it reifies into a multitude of sub-categories by re-naturalising them in all the specificities and particularisms with the sole aim of diverting the class struggle, the proletariat from its true goal, the seizure of power and the establishment of its dictatorship.” Nowhere in our current situation is this made clearer than liberal justifications for the imperialist war in Ukraine.

Changing views about gender and sexuality, especially amongst young people, certainly, help explain why NATO and the United States present themselves as fighting for LGBTQ rights, even before the war in Ukraine began. Younger generations are less patriotic, and religious, and not inclined to join the armed services. [3] At the same time, they are much more likely to accept the reality of gay and trans people or to identify as gay or trans than their elders. [4] Whereas previous military recruitment campaigns have relied solely upon high degrees of machismo, an increasing number of NATO’s militaries have employed the language of inclusivity and diversity to increase historically low enlistment numbers. [5] In 2021 the US Army told the story of a corporal with two mothers as part of their “The Calling” campaign, and a 2018 ad for the British Army has a gay soldier assure the audience that they won’t need to hide their sexuality to join the military. [6] With the threat of imperialist war on the horizon, new commercials for the American military combine the diversity of previous ads with a whole new level of what can only be described as “war porn.” In the U.S. Marines’ latest commercial, a diverse set of characters blow up what appears to be an Arctic base and a Russian battlecruiser. Although this ad doesn’t say anything about inclusivity explicitly, this diversity points to the American military’s effort to be seen as an inclusive place for all genders and sexualities. [7] With this threat of imperialist war only increasing, it appears likely that the Department of Defense will continue making propaganda that presents the sterilized spectacle of battle as part of the struggle for sexual and gender inclusion.

Another reason Western imperialists present the war in Ukraine as an LGBTQ struggle is to demonize Russia as a civilizational opponent. The scale of the Russo-Ukranian War make it necessary for NATO apologists to not just criticize Russia’s government, but dehumanize entire peoples. In a Ukrainian Pride parade in Warsaw, activists have carried signs saying “Leave Homophobia to Russia,” and pundits have presented Russia as an agent of homophobia in a battle “between East and West.” [8] As will be discussed in a forthcoming article, the Russian government and their apologists are also eager to back this narrative, painting themselves as the defenders of traditional values and their opponents as advocates for “degradation and degeneration.” [9] This account does not stand under much scrutiny, as numerous governments in NATO have proven to be just as homophobic and transphobic as Russia’s government. Turkey, the holder of NATO’s second-largest military, arrested more than 100 LGBTQ activists as part of the government’s efforts to ban Pride parades. Poland’s government, one of Ukraine’s most important allies, is notoriously homophobic and transphobic, allowing the existence of “LGBT free zones.” throughout much of the country. [10] The United States, the largest supplier of arms to Ukraine, is of course no stranger to intolerance. Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education Law,” infamously known as the “Don’t Say Gay Law, prevents educators from discussing or lecturing on gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom, and other pieces of legislation allow individuals to ban any book with “inappropriate” sexual content. [11] This has effectively allowed both right-wing organizations and reactionary individuals to censor works for any sexual content whatsoever, leading the school board of Hillsborough County to restrict sections of Shakespeare and to prevent student participation in the Advance Placement psychology course and exam. [12] In addition to this rise in censorship, lawmakers in 37 U.S. states have introduced legislation to restrict gender-affirming care for trans-individuals. [13] It is hard to imagine Ukraine itself transforming into a paradise for LGBTQ people after this war as activists have suggested. With the Ukrainian Government recently raising the profile of newly released fighters from the Azov Regiment, a neo-Nazi organization that has physically targeted Pride gatherings, as “the Defenders of Mariupol,” it is patently absurd to suggest that the Ukrainian military is part of a civilizational struggle on behalf LGBTQ rights. [14]

The Vanity Fair piece on Ukrainian LGBTQ activists contains an anecdote that certainly undermines this “woke” bourgeois case for war even further:

“Many queer Ukrainians are serving in the Ukrainian military, but many trans people—who are illegible for a medical exemption from the order that all men ages 18-60 remain in the country—are being blocked at the border by Ukrainian officials who see an “M” on their official documents, according to reports from many NGOs assisting them.”

This paragraph recognizes that many trans people are understandably trying to flee Ukraine in order to avoid being conscripted but still presents queer service in the Ukrainian military as a commendable service. Through obfuscation the author, J. Lester Feder, presents this treatment as proof that the fight for LGBTQ rights is not over within Ukraine and that military victory against Russia is necessary for future advances. It is quite convenient for NATO apologists that the only queer Ukrainians that speak to are two activists, Olena Shevchenko, and Lenny Emson. Why don’t the trans-Ukrainians, detained by border officials in order to send them to the front lines, have a voice as to whether this conflict is “a fight for LGBTQ rights”? Is it perhaps that trans-Ukrainians do not share political interests based on their sexual identity? Having LGBTQ activists discuss the importance of Ukrainian military victory while other trans-Ukrainians try desperately to avoid conscription, thus undermining their nation’s war effort, proves the mystifications both in Vanity Fair’s presentation of the conflict and in the framework of “intersectionality” itself. These trans-Ukranians at the border certainly face their own unique challenges but in terms of political interests, they are in the same position as straight and cis-Ukrainian draft dodgers, not the queer activists eager to send them into battle. It is quite revealing that these activists now wield signs demanding the freedom of neo-Nazi Azov fighters despite Azov’s attempts to sue Shevchenko for using Ukranian symbols at an LGBTQ rally before the war. [15] There is no time like an imperialist war to spark bourgeoisie unity while splitting the proletariat through various identitarian lines.

Even adherents to identity politics who reject the imperialist war in Ukraine are incapable of challenging the bourgeoisie. While some would suggest that an intersectional lens does not get rid of class as a category, the compartmentalization of class as another mere category of human existence fails to explain how gender and sexual relations are determined by material relations. As Marx says in the Communist Manifesto:

“On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie.” [16]

More importantly, intersectionality utterly fails to offer a solution to bourgeois war. As Lenin states in The State and the Revolution:

“The overthrow of bourgeois rule can be accomplished only by the proletariat, the particular class whose economic conditions of existence prepare it for this task and provide it with the possibility and the power to perform it. While the bourgeoisie break up and disintegrate the peasantry and all the petty-bourgeois groups, they weld together, unite and organize the proletariat. Only the proletariat — by virtue of the economic role it plays in large-scale production — is capable of being the leader of all the working and exploited people, whom the bourgeoisie exploit, oppress and crush, often not less but more than they do the proletarians, but who are incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation.” [17]

Intersectionality treats oppression alone as the catalyst for revolutionary activity, but what Lenin illustrates is that it is the proletariat’s proximity to the means of production while being the oppressed class that allows them to carry out revolutionary activity. Marx’s Communist Manifesto also makes this clear:

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.” [18]

It should not be necessary for a Marxist publication to make this point, but even self-described “Marxist” publications have tried to put forward a defense of intersectionality. [19] Communists do not reject identity politics simply because it engenders the sort of liberal apologetics for imperialism seen in this article, but because it divides the proletariat and divorces it from its historical strength. This does not mean the communist movement should ignore discrimination against LGBTQ peoples. The Stalinist recriminalization of homosexuality is just one example of how homophobia and transphobia are dangerous to internationalism as they not only divide the working class, but empower traditionalist chauvinists who justify societal divisions. Rather it means that the proletariat under party leadership is the only force historically capable of the root cause of both imperialist war and bigotry. The Ukrainian Army and an intersectionalist approach are incapable of fighting for LGBTQ rights. Only the proletariat with a communist approach can.

Fred, August 2023



[7 It is worth noting that this commercial has not received any sort of backlash from social conservatives unlike the aforementioned avertisements. It appears that the DoD has realized as long as it includes enough explosions, it can continue trying to present itself as an inclusive institution without receiving any ire for being “too woke.”

[19 The Advanced Placement Exam is a method for high-school students to obtain college credits.