Communism and homosexuality
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Views on LGBT rights and homosexuality throughout the history of communism have ranged from acceptance to apathy to condemnation. While homosexuality has been labeled by some communists as "one of the effects of capitalist sociality" and the product of the bourgeoisie, some communists have more recently argued that gay liberation and LGBT equality is a key issue.
Karl Marx himself spent very little of his time discussing sexuality. Friedrich Engels condemned male homosexuality and associated it with pederasty in ancient Greece. A large influence on communist thought historically were the principles of the Soviet Union. In 1917 in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Vladimir Lenin decriminalized homosexuality, and allowed openly homosexual people to serve in the government. Joseph Stalin re-criminalized homosexuality in 1933 (Stalin's criminal code punishing gay men by up to five years in prison with hard labor) and the law withstood through the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was only repealed in 1993 under Boris Yeltsin.
- 1 Early history
- 2 Gay men and communist party membership
- 3 Association of communism with homosexuality by anti-communists
- 4 Status in Communist states
- 5 Status in former communist states
- 6 Non-governing political party opinions
- 7 Same-sex marriage
- 8 See also
- 9 References
Communist leaders and intellectuals took many different positions on LGBT-rights issues. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels said very little on the subject in their published works. Marx in particular commented rarely on sexuality in general, and the revolutionaries around him had no sense of a definitive agenda or ideology on the matter. Norman Markowitz, writing for politicalaffairs.net, writes that: "Here, to be frank, one finds from Marx a refusal to entertain the subject, and from Engels open hostility to the individuals involved." This is because, in private, Engels criticized homosexuality and related it to ancient Greek pederasty.
The German Communist Party, during the Weimar Republic, joined with the Social Democrats in support of efforts to legalize private homosexual relations between consenting adults. Yet, the situation for LGBT rights in the first Communist government in Russia was somewhat mixed.
The Communist Party abolished all Czarist laws and its subsequent criminal code in the 1920s, did not criminalize non-commercial same-sex sexuality between consenting adults in private. It also provided for no-fault divorce and legalized abortion. However, homosexuality remained a criminal offense in certain Soviet Union states in the 1920s.
In 1933, Joseph Stalin added Article 121 to the entire Soviet Union criminal code, which made male homosexuality a crime punishable by up to five years in prison with hard labor. The precise reason for Article 121 is in some dispute among historians. The few official government statements made about the law tended to confuse homosexuality with pedophilia and was tied up with a belief that homosexuality was only practiced among fascists or the aristocracy.
According to RT, the law against homosexuality led to "several hundred people [being] charged with it every year" and it "was also a convenient tool for smears and was tacked onto spying allegations during the NKVD purges".
Gay men and communist party membership
Gay men were sometimes denied membership or expelled from communist parties across the globe during the 20th Century, as most communist parties followed the social precedents set by the USSR. However, this was not always the case.
Notable gay members of Communist parties include:
- Mark Ashton (founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and LGBT rights advocate) – member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
- Harry Hay (gay rights activist, labor advocate, Native American civil rights campaigner, Mattachine Society founder, co-founder of LA Gay Liberation Front) – member of the Communist Party USA.
Association of communism with homosexuality by anti-communists
Events leading to the association of communism with homosexuality
There are specific events which glbtq.com ("an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer culture") claims to have contributed to the linkage of communism with homosexuality:
...For example, in 1948, Whittaker Chambers, an editor and writer at Time magazine and a former Communist Party member and courier in a Soviet spy ring infiltrating the American government, accused Alger Hiss, head of the Carnegie Endowment, of perjury and, implicitly, of Soviet espionage. The vast media coverage of the scandal hinted that Chambers had a crush on Hiss, establishing a link between Communism and homosexuality. Chambers was only too eager to strengthen this link, declaring to the FBI that his homosexual activities had stopped once he had left the Communist Party. In addition, the 1951 flight to the Soviet Union of gay British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean also helped fuel the association of homosexuality and treason in the public imagination.
During the height of the McCarthy era (in the late 1940s and early 1950s), American senator Joseph McCarthy associated homosexuality and communism as "threats to the "American way of life." In both cases, association with sickness and disease provided means of legitimating isolation from impressionable young people." Homosexuality was directly linked to security concerns, and more government employees were dismissed because of their sexual orientation than because they were left-winged or communist politically. George Chauncey noted that, "The specter of the invisible homosexual, like that of the invisible communist, haunted Cold War America," and homosexuality (and homosexuals) were constantly referred to not only as a disease, but also as an invasion, like the perceived danger of communism.
McCarthy often used accusations of homosexuality as a smear tactic in his anti-communist crusade, often combining the Second Red Scare with the lavender scare. On one occasion, he went so far as to announce to reporters, "If you want to be against McCarthy, boys, you've got to be either a Communist or a cocksucker." Some historians have argued that, in linking communism and homosexuality and psychological imbalance, McCarthy was employing guilt-by-association if evidence for communist activity was lacking.
Senator Kenneth Wherry similarly attempted to invoke a connection between homosexuality and anti-nationalism. He said in an interview with Max Lerner that "You can't hardly separate homosexuals from subversives." Later in that same interview he drew the line between patriotic Americans and gay men: "But look Lerner, we're both Americans, aren't we? I say, let's get these fellows [closeted gay men in government positions] out of the government."
Connections between gay rights groups and radical leftists were not merely a figment of the imaginations of demagogues. The Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay rights groups in the United States, was founded by Harry Hay, a former member of the Communist Party USA, who was kicked out of the gay rights group he'd founded for his ties to the party.
Famous ex-communist former Soviet agent Whittaker Chambers notably spent his time in the left-wing underground purusing both homosexual and heterosexual affairs, but he kept his liaisons quiet since his communist associates despised homosexuality. Chambers later monogamously married the pacifist painter Esther Shemitz, working as a journalist and editor.
In recent times, some on the American right wing have endorsed conspiracy theories regarding communism, homosexuality, and LGBT rights. For example, in addressing the Dean Bible Ministries Men's Prayer Breakfast, Rafael Cruz (father of American Republican Senator Ted Cruz, backed by the Tea Party Patriots) has claimed that same-sex marriage, evolution and LGBT rights are all part of a communist/socialist plot to destroy God, America, and the nuclear family.
Status in Communist states
China (People's Republic of)
Homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997 and was removed as a mental illness in 2002. Chinese society itself is becoming somewhat more tolerant to homosexuality, and Li Yinhe, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, is an LGBT rights activist. Same-sex marriage bills have been routinely proposed before the government since 2003, though none have yet made it out of committee.
Prior to the Cuban Revolution, Cuba had laws which criminalised and targeted gay male individuals, termed maricóns, (a term similar to "faggot" in English), and was deemed a "profitable commodification of sexual fantasy" and "a shameful and guilt-ridden experience." Male homosexuality was a major part of Cuba's prostitution industry for American visitors and servicemen and was associated with gambling and criminal activity.
Shortly after the Cuban Revolution, the position of the Cuban leadership on the issue of homosexuality was negative, and tolerance for LGBT people declined in Cuba. LGBT people who already had lived largely abroad moved away permanently, and LGBT individuals were treated as counterrevolutionary and a threat to military order. Fidel Castro termed maricóns (gay men) as "agents of imperialism", saying that "a deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant Communist must be," and saying that "in the country, there are no homosexuals".
However, in 1979, sodomy laws were repealed and in July 2007, a civil union law was proposed to the government, but has yet to be voted on. The move was supported by Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, who has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights.
In 2009, Cuba signed the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity which sought to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide.
Since the Pathet Lao took over in 1975, the Lao government has been completely silent on LGBT rights and homosexuality itself. Homosexuality is not a crime in Laos, but female homosexuality is relatively frowned upon while male homosexuality is widely more tolerated. A growing acceptance of homosexuality in Laos continues.
Vietnam's state-run media in 2002 referred to homosexuality as a "social evil"; comparing it to prostitution and gambling, and supporting laws against it. As of 2009[update], such laws have not been introduced. There have been no recorded laws against same-sex contact in Vietnam for all of the country's several thousand years of existence and the matter is generally not discussed. Until 2000, laws against cohabitation were in place and the government used these to arrest same-sex couples. The Communist Youth Newspaper, on the other hand, ran a story that stated "some people are born gay, just as some people are born left-handed". According to a study taken at Ho Chi Minh City in 2007[update], only 20% of high school children in Vietnam believe that being gay is "bad", and that 25% of Vietnamese schoolchildren believe 10% of their classmates may be gay.
On 5 August 2012, Vietnam hosted its first gay pride parade. Despite the protesters not having a permit, the police made no attempt to stop the demonstration, nor were there any reports of negative reaction. The event followed a surprise proposal by the country's Justice Ministry in July to amend Vietnam's marriage laws to include same-sex couples. Public officials say that the country is on the verge of recognising same-sex marriage, which would make Vietnam the first Asian country to do so.
Status in former communist states
Homosexuality was deemed illegal under the majority of former communist states, particularly in Europe, but in certain cases, such laws had pre-existed before the establishment of Soviet-influenced doctrine. Homosexuality was also illegal in the People's Republic of Mongolia, but the extent to which these laws were enforced remain unknown.
Albania (People's Socialist Republic of)
The People's Socialist Republic of Albania penalized homosexual relationships until 1 June 1995, often very aggressively (including long prison terms, bullying and ostracism). Article 137 of the Crimes against Societal Moral of the Penal Code stated that: "Pederasty is punishable or up to ten years of freedom privation". Here, "pederasty" was used as a code word for sex between two consenting adults or sex between an adult and a child of any gender.
Documents regarding individual cases of homosexuality in the People's Socialist Republic of Albania were found from 1920s in the Minister of Internal Affairs, where a number of personal stories were uncovered by LGBT activist Kristi Pinderi, with detailed analysis of every individual involved (for example, they detailed who was the top or bottom during the relationship).
Following the Second World War, many gay men left West Germany to live in East Germany, as their situation was better there. Homosexuality was officially decriminalized in the German Democratic Republic in 1967, a year ahead of the Federal Republic of Germany. The age of consent was later equalized in 1987, and in 1988 in West Germany.
According to historian Heidi Minning, attempts by lesbians and gay men in East Germany to establish a visible community were "thwarted at every turn by the G.D.R. government and SED party." She writes:
Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralized censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.
Towards the end of the 1980s, attitudes began to change, and the East German government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin. Gay social clubs and groups were allowed to organise themselves freely, so long as they made tenuous links with Protestant Churches. This was because the official position of the SED party was to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but to otherwise ignore that gay relationships existed. However, on 11 August 1987[update], the East German Supreme Court officially affirmed that:
Homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, represents a variant of sexual behavior. Homosexual people do therefore not stand outside socialist society, and the civil rights are warranted to them exactly as to all other citizens.
In North Korea, LGBT rights are very limited and the subject of homosexuality remains a taboo subject. While the government proclaims tolerance for gay people and has stated its belief that homosexuality is not a choice and rather due to genetic factors, it rejects the alleged "promiscuity and classism" of gay culture in the West.
The Russian Soviet criminal code decriminalised homosexuality in 1917. However, sodomy remained a crime in Azerbaijan (officially criminalised in 1923), as well as in the Transcaucasian and Central Asian Soviet Republics throughout the 1920s. Similar criminal laws were enacted in Uzbekistan in 1926 and in Turkmenistan the following year.
Originally, the Soviet Union sent delegates to the sexology research institute in Germany (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft), and expressed support for the legalization of adult, private, and consensual homosexual relationships. However, in the 1930s, LGBT themes faced official government censorship, and a uniformly harsher policy across the entire Soviet Union was put into place, with homosexuality being officially labelled as a disease.
Non-governing political party opinions
The Revolutionary Communist Party USA's policy that "struggle will be waged to eliminate [homosexuality] and reform homosexuals" was abandoned in 2001. The RCP now fully supports the gay liberation movement. Meanwhile, the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the US released a memo stating that gay oppression had less "social weight" than black and women's struggles, and prohibited members from being involved in gay political organizations. They also believed that too close an association with gay liberation would give the SWP an "exotic image" and alienate it from the masses. Several non-governing communist parties have made statements supporting LGBT rights, such as the Communist Party USA, which supports extending marriage to same-sex couples and passing laws against discrimination based on one's sexual orientation. The League for the Revolutionary Party, a communist party based in New York, issued a statement shortly after the passage of California's Proposition 8 condemning the amendment; reaffirming their support for same-sex marriage and expressing their views on how gay liberation is essential to the communist philosophy.
The New People's Army, a communist insurgency within the Philippines has also made several statements supporting equal rights of same-sex couples and gay individuals; performing the first same-sex marriage in the country and officially endorsing such legislation if they were to come to power. They also went farther to express their support for same-sex relationships, and gay and lesbians were allowed to serve in their forces before the entire country. Other communist parties present in Germany and other European countries have also officially endorsed LGBT rights, including the right to same-sex marriage, and some even have extensive LGBT platforms in their parties. The general secretary of the Communist Party of Finland is openly homosexual and the party also participates in the LGBT working group of the European Left Party. In recent elections held in Jawaharlal Nehru University, the student's wing of CPI(M) nominated a gay person as its candidate for key position
The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), viewed the working-class as male and heterosexually masculine. The accounts of gay party members show that homosexuality was widely seen as incompatible with a working-class identity during this era, despite Mark Ashton (founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) being General Secretary of the Young Communist League (the youth wing of the CPGB) "without compromising the politics of their sexuality".
Many people believe that the Communist Manifesto does not agree same-sex marriage, and supports the dissolution of the institution of marriage altogether, whilst noting that "for Marx, conservative arguments against gay marriage would have been nothing more than the reactionary justification of oppression, exploitation, and the perpetuation of existing power structures," with a footnote in later versions of the Communist Manifesto calling marriage "legalized prostitution".
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