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The Internationalist
  June 2016

Democrats and Republicans Push Reactionary Response

Horrific Anti-Gay Massacre in Orlando

On June 13 thousands gathered outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City in remembrance of the victims of the Orlando massacre the night before. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

On June 12, a deranged and hate-filled gunman murdered 49 people at the gay Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. An additional 53 people were wounded in the attack at Pulse – “Orlando’s Premier Gay Nightclub” – which was holding a Latin music night. The scene of bloody anti-gay violence and mayhem caused shock waves of grief and horror around the country and the world. Fifty thousand attended a vigil in Orlando in remembrance of the dead, and commemorations were held from Barcelona and London to Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia.

For many across the U.S., it was a deeply painful reminder that despite official trumpeting of the idea that gays and lesbians “have finally made it into the midstream,” virulent homophobia has deep roots in this profoundly violent and irrational society. Historians called it the worst anti-gay massacre in the United States since the arson attack against New Orleans’ Upstairs Lounge which killed 32 people in 1973. Now in 2016, what was supposed to be a “safe space” – in the soothing language of Obama-era “inclusiveness” – became the scene of a bloodbath.

Virulent homophobia was clearly a central motive for the 29-year-old assailant, Omar Mateen, who was killed by a police SWAT team. Much else, however, remains murky. He accumulated selfies in NYPD gear, and had a history of domestic abuse. He apparently called 911 from the Pulse bathroom on June 12 to “pledge allegiance” to the Islamic State (I.S.), but had claimed in the past to have connections to Hezbollah (a Shiite group counterposed to the Sunni I.S.). For some time he was “on the radar” of the FBI, but still worked as a security guard for G4S, which describes itself as “the leading global integrated security company” and provides mercenaries for the “war on terror.”

The media jumped on the purported links to what the presidential candidates went out of their way to dub “radical jihadists” (Clinton) and “radical Islamic terrorism” (Trump). Yet The Politico (17 June) web site observed: “Based on the accounts of his acquaintances and family, Mateen ... appears to have been a deeply conflicted and possibly self-loathing homophobe who drank heavily, took drugs, dated men, frequented the same club he later attacked, Pulse, and used a gay dating app.” This was “not the sort of behavior one would expect” of a “faithful” jihadist. It went on to note that Mateen had no known connection to the I.S. or Al Qaeda, had not gone overseas for training and “wasn’t getting operating orders from abroad”:

“Mateen appears, in fact, to have been less a soldier than yet another deeply disturbed American (born in Trump’s own home borough of Queens), who was full of hatred and uncontrollable anger....”

The capitalist politicians saw the events as grist for their mill of hypocrisy and repression. Predictable pat phrases against violence and discrimination came from President Obama. He is commander in chief of a country whose police forces gun down black people every day, and that rains death from the sky in bomb and drone strikes (that Obama signs off on for every attack, as Hillary Clinton did when she was secretary of state) against people around the world. His administration has deported over 4.5 million immigrants, far more than any other president in U.S. history, while carrying out what undocumented transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez denounced as the “torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers” when she interrupted the president’s rainbow-tinted White House “Pride Month Speech” one year ago.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Clinton seized the occasion of the Pulse massacre to make a stump speech for increasing police-state measures (“hardening our defenses”) at home and ramping up wars abroad ostensibly aimed at “defeating international terror groups.” Most sinister and ominous was her reference to the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which she called to “get back to the spirit of those days, spirit of 9/12” – the prelude to the USA PATRIOT Act and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Clinton – whose party sees gays and lesbians as a reliably supportive voting bloc – boasts on her campaign site that she “has spent her life fighting for equality for all” (quite a claim for this Wall Street mouthpiece), “and has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights throughout her career.” Brazen chutzpah from the candidate who openly opposed something so basic as same-sex marriage in her 2008 campaign, and didn’t come out for it until 2013 after she resigned as secretary of state.

As for the open, raving bigot who is now the official Republican contender, the Orlando events provided a platform for Donald Trump to strike a pose as a friend of gay rights – despite the GOP’s blatant and ongoing history of stoking anti-gay bigotry. “LGBT is starting to like Donald Trump very much lately,” he gabbled days after the attack.

Trump’s central theme, of course, consisted of shamelessly exploiting the massacre for his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim demagogy. The attack was the result of “a failed immigration system,” he ranted, unfazed as always by facts – like the fact that Mateen, the son of Afghan parents, was born in the U.S. Viciously inciting attacks on Muslims in particular, Trump claimed the U.S. Muslim population “know[s] what’s going on” regarding possible attacks, and vowed “big consequences” against those who do not “cooperate.”

The cynical calculus of bourgeois politics means that for the professional traffickers in fear and deception, every tragedy has a potential “up” side. For Trump it feeds the flames of his call to ban Muslim immigration and “build the wall” on the Mexican border. Democrats see it as a golden opportunity to push through more stringent gun control. On-line petitions have proliferated in tandem with the filibuster by Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and statements from Bernie Sanders and New York governor Andrew Cuomo that Orlando shows the need for “gun reform.”

This is a popular stance in the liberal milieu, including much of the U.S. gay population. And here, as on a whole range of key issues, the revolutionary outlook and program of Marxism stand counterposed to bourgeois liberalism. By far the biggest armed threat to the people of the world, and the rights of the working class and oppressed in the U.S., is the racist American capitalist state. While Marxists uphold the right of self-defense – notably for black people, and most definitely for gay and lesbian people in a violently homophobic society – liberals have confidence in the capitalist state, which seeks to maintain its “monopoly of armed force.” As we have explained in some depth (see, for example, “Who Controls the Guns?The Internationalist No. 34, March-April 2013), present-day gun-control laws derive from the backlash against Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and other advocates of armed black self-defense. 

Liberal gun-control advocates would have us believe we would all be safer if it is only the cops and armed forces that have access to guns. They leave aside the fact that Pulse assailant Mateen was himself a member of the licensed U.S. security apparatus (and an avid fan of the New York Police Department). Students of gay history should be aware that the most notorious massacre of gays in New York City was the “West Street Massacre” of 1980, carried out by a former transit cop who mowed down gay men with an Uzi. In San Francisco, another former police officer, the raging homophobe Dan White, assassinated gay-rights campaigner and liberal politician Harvey Milk, as well as the mayor of San Francisco, two years previously.

While Clinton makes a ritual obeisance to “inclusiveness” by using the letters “LGBT,” the truth is that the police forces she and the other Democrats (and Republicans) champion routinely harass, beat – and kill – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As for America’s notorious system of mass incarceration – massively ramped up by the “anti-crime” measures pushed through by Bill and Hillary Clinton – more attention has been drawn over the recent period to widespread violence and sexual abuse against transgender prisoners, largely from the prison guards themselves. The armed fist of the capitalist state – police, prisons, courts – is by qualitative orders of magnitude the greatest danger to the oppressed. The gun control drive is aimed at strengthening its power.

The Orlando massacre of gay people who just wanted to have a night out dancing and were mowed down by a hate-crazed madman was the largest such incident on record. But the deadliest gun massacre in U.S. history occurred not in Florida but in the state of South Dakota, in December 1890. It was carried out not by a lone gunman but by the United States Army, against unarmed men, women and children at Wounded Knee on the Lakota reservation. When the mechanized murder was carried out, between 150 and 300 bodies littered the plains – which capitalism’s armed forces were given the task of “clearing” for the expansion of the profit system. Let the advocates of “gun control” by the capitalist state ponder these facts.

As revolutionary Marxists, we point out that the defense of the basic rights of all is ever more clearly incompatible with the basic set-up of the society we live in. Capitalism is a system of exploitation that feeds off of and continually reproduces every form of oppression, backwardness and bigotry.

As we wrote in “Gay Rights and Socialist Revolution” (published in the CUNY Internationalist Clubs’ newspaper Revolution No. 7, September 2007):

“Marxists seek to build a genuine revolutionary party that, as Lenin put it in What Is To Be Done? (1902), acts as a ‘tribune of the people … able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears,’ mobilizing the power of the working class, whose emancipation cannot be accomplished except by uprooting all social oppression.”

At the June 19 Portland, Oregon Gay Pride march the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 10 marched with banner declaring “Hard Hats for Gay Rights”  (CSWP)

A sign of that power was raised amidst the shock and grief following the Orlando massacre, when the building trades workers and supporters of Class Struggle Workers – Portland carried a banner at the Portland, Oregon Gay Pride march reading: “HARD HATS FOR GAY RIGHTS!” To unchain the power of the multiethnic working class and bring it to bear in the fight against oppression, it is crucial to break from the Democrats and all capitalist parties, and join the fight for socialist revolution. That is the crucial beginning for those who want a society without homophobic and racist violence, anti-immigrant bigotry, war, and all the social conditions that breed such endless horrors as the massacre in Orlando. ■