Respectability and its discontents: Sexuality and marginalisation in the Marxist tradition in the United States

Twentieth Century Communism - ISSN 1758-6437
Volume 2021 Number 20 (2021)

Respectability and its discontents: Sexuality and marginalisation in the Marxist tradition in the United States
Paul C Mishler, pages 79-108

Abstract

Since modern radicalism emerged in the wake of the French revolution, radicals and revolutionaries have held divergent perspectives regarding the relationship between personal and social transformation. On the one hand, radicals recognised that the institutions of bourgeois democracy would never allow the working class to achieve the moral, economic and social standards of respectable life, due to poverty, lack of democratic rights, racism and exploitation. For these revolutionaries, the organisation of the working class would allow working-class families to achieve respectable families and community life. On the other, becoming a social revolutionary involved a transformation of personal life as well as social ideology. This was expressed in a critique of conventional sexuality and family life, and experimentation with non-respectable practices in their daily lives. This article explores the ways that this conflict played out over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It assesses the notion of ‘respectability’ – especially its ‘democratisation’ – among communists in the United States, and engages with questions of how respectability was to be achieved for the working class, where the notion of respectability came from, how it applied to sexuality, and whether it was challenged by a desire for personal liberation amongst those committed to the revolutionary project.

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To cite this article
Paul C Mishler (2021) Respectability and its discontents: Sexuality and marginalisation in the Marxist tradition in the United States, Twentieth Century Communism, 2021(20), 79-108

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