Socialism and LGBT rights

Socialism and LGBT rights

thumb|right|150px|Qiu Jin (1875-1907), Chinese left-wing revolutionary cross-dresser.] While gay rights is seen by many in the western world today as a left-wing political issue, sexual minorities and gender variant people do not belong as a group to the Left or Right of politics. Different currents within socialism (and within political ideologies of the right) have both opposed and supported gay rights, their attitudes often matching the prevailing values of the broader society. As with other issues of sexual politics such as pornography, attitudes regarding sexual minorities tend to be divided along authoritarian and libertarian rather than right/left lines; as sociologist Jeffrey Weeks noted in 1989, a belief that homosexuality is "something to be reviled and prevented" may be one of the few political viewpoints shared by both Fidel Castro and Margaret Thatcher. [Weeks, Jeffrey, 1989. "Sexual politics", New Internationalist magazine, Issue 201; November 1989. [ online text] ]

However, the radical left and LGBT movements have intersected and clashed in unique ways since they both emerged from 19th century Europe. Most writers agree that historically, the socialist movement’s record with regard to homosexuality has been mixed. In particular, authoritarian communist states have been strongly opposed to LGBT rights, and sometimes passed laws criminalizing homosexual relationships. On the other hand, LGBT activists have usually identified with the left, and a number of significant figures within socialism (particularly libertarian socialism) have been lesbian, gay or bisexual themselves.

The sexual politics of utopian socialism

The first currents of modern socialist thought are now often described with the phrase utopian socialism. Gender and sexuality were significant concerns for many of the leading thinkers, such as Charles Fourier and Henri de Saint-Simon in France and Robert Owen in Britain, as well as their followers, many of whom were women. For Fourier, for example, true freedom could only occur without masters, without the ethos of work, and without suppressing passions; the suppression of passions is not only destructive to the individual, but to society as a whole. Writing before the advent of the term "homosexuality", Fourier recognised that both men and women have a wide range of sexual needs and preferences which may change throughout their lives, including same-sex sexuality and "androgénité". He argued that all sexual expressions should be enjoyed as long as people are not abused, and that "affirming one's difference" can actually enhance social integration. [Charles Fourier, "Le Nouveau Monde amoureux" (written 1816-18, not published widely until 1967: Paris: Éditions Anthropos). pp. 389, 391, 429, 458, 459, 462, and 463.]

However, these ideas would be dismissed by the influential socialist thinkers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who disparaged utopian socialists for being allegedly naive and lacking a proper understanding of society. Marx and Engels argued that it would be impossible to please everyone and unrealistic to expect a radical transformation of society by peaceful means; they said that the ideas of the utopian socialists were "phantasies, which today only make us smile." [Friedrich Engels, 1882. "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific", in 'Marx and Engels, Selected Works in One Volume', p. 403.] Marx condemned the sexual freedom advocated by Fourier and Saint-Simon as a relapse into a "bestial" state of "universal prostitution". [Karl Marx (1844). "Economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844". ed. Dirk J. Struik, translated by Martin Milligan (Moscow: Progress; New York: International, 1964). p. 133] Historian Saskia Poldevaart (1995) argues that:

sexuality and the problematic of femininity/masculinity were disowned as legitimate issues as Marxism came to dominate. Utopian socialism's methods — changing the relationships of production as well as relations between the sexes by problematizing sexuality, the family, and the public/private distinction — were narrowed by Marxism to class struggle; utopian socialism's goal — new social relationships between people — was restricted to a new economic order and redistribution of material goods. [Poldervaart, Saskia. 1995. "Theories About Sex and Sexuality in Utopian Socialism". In 'Journal of Homosexuality.' New York: Sep 30, 1995. Vol.29, Iss. 2/3; pg. 41]

Marx, Engels, Ulrichs and Schweitzer

From the earliest European homosexual rights movements, activists such as Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld approached the Left for support. During the 1860s, Ulrichs wrote to Karl Marx and sent him a number of books on Uranian (homosexual/transgender) emancipation, and in 1869 Marx passed one of Ulrich's books on to Engels. [Most of the information on this incident is taken from: Kennedy, Hubert, "Johann Baptist von Schweitzer: The Queer Marx Loved to Hate". In: 'Journal of Homosexuality' (ISSN 0091-8369) Volume: 29 Issue: 2/3, pp 69-96. Hereafter, original sources cited by Kennedy are given.] Engels responded with disgust to Marx in a private letter, lashing out at "pederasts" who are "extremely against nature", and described Ulrichs' platform of homosexual rights as "turning smut into theory". He worried that things would go badly for heterosexuals like himself and Marx should homosexual rights be gained. [The letter, dated June 22 1869, is published in Marx, Karl, Engels, Friedrich: "Collected Works", vols. 42, 43 (New York: International,1988), 43: 295–96]

Known to both Ulrichs and Marx was the case of Jean Baptista von Schweitzer, an important labor organiser who had been charged with attempting to solicit a teenage boy in a park in 1862. Social democrat leader Ferdinand Lassalle defended Schweitzer on the grounds that while he personally found homosexuality to be dirty, the labor movement needed the leadership of Schweitzer too much to abandon him, and that a person's sexual tastes had "absolutely nothing to do with a man’s political character". [Linsert, Richard. 1931. "Kabale und Liebe: Uber Politik und Geschlechtsleben." Berlin, Man.
See also:
*Footman, David, 1947. "Ferdinand Lassalle, Romantic Revolutionary" (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1947; reprint, New York: Greenwood, 1969), p. 182.
*Mayer, Gustav, 1909. "Johann Baptist von Schweitzer und die Sozialdemokratie, ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung" (Jena: Gustav Fisher, 1909). p 91
] Marx, on the other hand, suggested that Engels use this incident to smear Schweitzer: "You must arrange for a few jokes about him to reach Siebel, for him to hawk around to the various papers." [Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: "Collected Works", vols. 42, 43 (New York: International,1988), 42: 120] However, Schweitzer would go on to become President of the German Labor Union, and the first Social Democrat elected to a parliament in Europe.

Engels condemned homosexuality among men of ancient Greece in two separate passages of "The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State", describing it as "morally deteriorated", "abominable", "loathsome" and "degrading". [Engels, Friedrich. "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State" (New York: International, 1972), pp. 61–62.] Marx apparently shared Engels' views, writing that "the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being" [Marx, Karl. "Early Writings", trans. and ed. T. B. Bottomore. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964, in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (Third manuscript, section on private property and communism), p. 154.] and describing the author of a text promoting sexual freedoms [Boruttau, Karl. "Gedanken über Gewissens Freiheit", "Thoughts on Freedom of Conscience"] as "that queer prick" ("Schwanzschwulen"). ["Marx Engels Werke", vol. 32 (Berlin: Dietz, 1965). p. 124] According to the socialist writers Hekma, Oosterhuis and Steakley, Marx and Engels saw any form of sexuality outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage as a kind of degeneracy fostered by capitalism, which could be cured by socialism. According to Engels, "natural moral principles" would flourish in the socialist future, when (heterosexual) "monogamy, instead of declining, finally becomes a reality — for the man as well," [Engels. Friedrich, "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State". Translated by Alec West, in "Selected Works in One Volume" (Moscow: Progress; New York: International, 1968). p. 511] and homosexuality would simply disappear. [Hekma, Gert; Oosterhuis, Harry; and Steakley, James (1995). "Leftist sexual politics and Homosexuality: A Historical Overview." Journal of Homosexuality, 1995, Volume 29, Issue 2/3. ISSN 0091-8369 — Simultaneously published as: Gay men and the sexual history of the political left, Gert Hekma et al. Eds. Harrington Park Press 1995, ISBN 1-56023-067-3.]

August Bebel's "Woman under Socialism" (1879), the "single work dealing with sexuality most widely read by rank-and-file members of the SPD," [Hekma et al. (1995). p. 14] was even more explicit in warning socialists of the dangers of same-sex love. Bebel attributed "this crime against nature" in both men and women to sexual indulgence and excess, describing it as an upper-class, metropolitan and foreign vice. [Bebel, August (1879). "Woman under Socialism". translated by Daniel De Leon, New York: New York Labor Press, 1904. pp 164 - 165. In a footnote added in 1909, he remarked that the Eulenburg scandal proved that homosexuality was widespread in the upper classes.]

The Magnus Hirschfeld circle

The leading figure of the LGBT movement in Germany from the turn of the century until the Nazi government came to power in 1933 was undoubtedly Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld, who was also a socialist and supporter of the Women's Movement, formed the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee to campaign against the law "Paragraph 175" which outlawed male-male sex. Hirschfeld's organisation did a deal with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (of which Lassalle and Schweitzer had been members) to get them to put forward a bill in the Reichstag in 1898, but it was opposed by the rest of the parliament and failed to pass. Most of Hirschfeld's circle of homosexual activists had socialist politics, including Kurt Hiller, Richard Linsert, Johanna Elberskirchen and Bruno Vogel.

Libertarian socialism and LGBT rights

Contemporaries of Marx and Engels, Michael Bakunin and Sergei Nechaev were influential anarchists and, some believe, gay lovers. [Robynski. 1994. "Nechaev And Bakunin: Left Libertarianism's Lavender Lineage." Northcote, Vic: Autonomous Tendency.] They didn't write about sexual liberation or speak publicly of any romance, but their passionate relationship is revealed in private letters. Bakunin wrote to Nechaev on June 2, 1870, after being betrayed by him: “I loved you deeply and still love you, Nechaev... how deeply, how passionately, how tenderly I loved you and believed in you!” [Confino, Michael (ed.) "Daughter of a Revolutionary: Natalie Herzen and the Bakunin-Nechayev Circle", trans. Hilary Sternberg and Lydia Bott (LaSalle, IL: Library, 1974), pp. 273, 275.]

In Oscar Wilde's "The Soul of Man Under Socialism", he passionately advocates for an egalitarian society where wealth is shared by all, while warning of the dangers of authoritarian socialism that would crush individuality. He later commented, "I think I am rather more than a Socialist. I am something of an Anarchist, I believe." Wilde's left libertarian politics were shared by other figures who actively campaigned for homosexual emancipation in the late 19th century, John Henry Mackay and Edward Carpenter. [According to his biographer Neil McKenna, Wilde was part of a secret organisation that aimed to legalise homosexuality, and was known among the group as a leader of "the Cause". (McKenna, Neil. 2003. "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde".)] Several writers have noted that in the European Left of early 20th century, where a climate of hostility toward homosexuality prevailed, most of those who supported sexual freedoms such as homosexuality were anarchists. [" [P] rior to World War I and into the 1920s, German anarchists — especially when compared with the Social Democrats — intervened consistently on behalf of individual self-determination extending into the sexual sphere, even though an undercurrent of hostility toward homosexuals persisted within the leftist movement as a whole." (Fähnders, Walter. 1995. "Anarchism and Homosexuality in Wilhelmine Germany: Senna Hoy, Erich Mühsam, John Henry Mackay". Journal of Homosexuality Volume: 29 Issue: 2/3)]

Free love and anarchy

In Europe and North America, the free love movement combined ideas revived from utopian socialism with anarchism and feminism to attack the "hypocritical" sexual morality of the Victorian era, and the institutions of marriage and the family that were seen to enslave women. Free lovers advocated voluntary sexual unions with no state interference [See, for example, Heywood, Ezra, 1876. "Cupid's Yokes: or, The Binding Forces of Conjugal Life: An Essay to Consider Some Moral and Physiological Phases of Love and Marriage, Wherein Is Asserted the Natural Rights and Necessity of Sexual Self Government." Princeton, MA: Co-operative Publishing.] and affirmed the right to sexual pleasure for both women and men, sometimes explicitly supporting the rights of homosexuals and prostitutes. For a few decades, adherence to "free love" became widespread among European and American anarchists, but these views were opposed at the time by the dominant actors of the Left: Marxists and social democrats. Radical feminist and socialist Victoria Woodhull was expelled from the International Workingmen's Association in 1871 for her involvement in the free love and associated movements. [Messer-Kruse, Timothy. 1998. "The Yankee International: 1848-1876". (University of North Carolina)] Indeed, with Marx's support, the American branch of the organisation was purged of its pacifist, anti-racist and feminist elements, which were accused of putting too much emphasis on issues unrelated to class struggle and were therefore seen to be incompatible with the "scientific socialism" of Marx and Engels. [Ibid.]

The "Verband Fortschrittlicher Frauenvereine" (League of Progressive Women's Associations), a turn-of-the-century left-wing organisation led by Lily Braun campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Germany and aimed at organising prostitutes into labor unions. The broader labour movement either attacked the League, saying they were utopians, or ignored it, [Poldevaart, Saskia, 2000 "The Recurring Movements of ‘Free Love’", Written for the workshop ‘Free Love and the Labour Movement’, Second workshop in the series ‘Socialism and Sexuality’. International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, 6 October 2000] and Braun was driven out of the international Marxist movement. [Karlinsky, Simon. 1981. "The Menshivik, Bolshevik, Stalinist Feminist", January 4, 1981, New York Times. [ full text online] ] Helene Stöcker, another German activist from the left wing of the women's movement, became heavily involved in the sexual reform movement in 1919, after World War I, and served on the board of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. She also campaigned to protect single mothers and their children from economic and moral persecution. [ [ Researching the "Father of the Homosexual Movement" and the "Godmother of the Homo-Sexual Reform Movement"] - The Magnus Hirschfeld society of Berlin.]

Across the Atlantic, in New York's Greenwich Village, "bohemian" feminists and socialists advocated self-realisation and pleasure for women (and also men) in the here and now, as well as campaigning against the first World War and for other anarchist and socialist causes. They encouraged playing with sexual roles and sexuality, [Sochen, June. 1972. "The New Woman: Feminism in Greenwich Village 1910-1920." New York: Quadrangle.] and the openly bisexual radical Edna St. Vincent Millay and the lesbian anarchist Margaret Anderson were prominent among them. The Villagers took their inspiration from the (mostly anarchist) immigrant female workers from the period 1905-1915 [Cott, Nancy. 1987. "The Grounding of Modern Feminism", New Haven/London.] and the "New Life Socialism" of Edward Carpenter, Havelock Ellis and Olive Schreiner. Discussion groups organised by the Villagers were frequented by the Russian anarchist Emma Goldman, among others. Magnus Hirschfeld noted in 1923 that Goldman "has campaigned boldly and steadfastly for individual rights, and especially for those deprived of their rights. Thus it came about that she was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public." [Katz, Jonathan Ned. "Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A." (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976)] In fact, prior to Goldman, heterosexual anarchist Robert Reitzel (1849–98) spoke positively of homosexuality from the beginning of the 1890s in his German-language journal "Der arme Teufel" (Detroit).

European queer anarchists

Anarchism's foregrounding of individual freedoms made for a natural marriage with homosexuality in the eyes of many, both inside and outside of the Anarchist movement. Emil Szittya, in "Das Kuriositäten-Kabinett" (1923), wrote about homosexuality that "very many anarchists have this tendency. Thus I found in Paris a Hungarian anarchist, Alexander Sommi, who founded a homosexual anarchist group on the basis of this idea.” His view is confirmed by Magnus Hirschfeld in his 1914 book "Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes": “In the ranks of a relatively small party, the anarchist, it seemed to me as if proportionately more homosexuals and effeminates are found than in others.” Italian anarchist Luigi Bertoni (who Szittya also believed to be homosexual) observed that “Anarchists demand freedom in everything, thus also in sexuality. Homosexuality leads to a healthy sense of egoism, for which every anarchist should strive.” [Hirschfeld, Magnus, 1914. "Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes" (Berlin: Louis Marcus)]

Anarcho-syndicalist writer Ulrich Linse wrote about "a sharply outlined figure of the Berlin individualist anarchist cultural scene around 1900", the "precocious Johannes Holzmann" (known as [ Senna Hoy] ): "an adherent of free love, [Hoy] celebrated homosexuality as a ‘champion of culture’ and engaged in the struggle against Paragraph 175.” [Linse, Ulrich, "Individualanarchisten, Syndikalisten, Bohémiens," in "Berlin um 1900", ed. Gelsine Asmus (Berlin: Berlinische Galerie, 1984)] The young Hoy (born 1882) published these views in his weekly magazine, ("Kampf") from 1904 which reached a circulation of 10,000 the following year. German anarchist psychotherapist Otto Gross also wrote extensively about same-sex sexuality in both men and women and argued against its discrimination. [ [ Otto Gross] ] In the 1920s and 1930s, French individualist anarchist publisher Emile Armand campaigned for acceptance of free love, including homosexuality, in his journal "L’en dehors".

The indivualist anarchist Adolf Brand was originally a member of Hirschfeld's Scientific-Humanitarian committee, but formed a break-away group. Brand and his colleagues, known as the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen, were heavily influenced by homosexual anarchist John Henry Mackay. The group despised effeminacy and saw homosexuality as an expression of manly virility available to all men, espousing a form of nationalistic masculine "Lieblingminne" (chivalric love) that would later be linked to the rise of Nazism. They were opposed to Hirschfeld's medical characterisation of homosexuality as the domain of an "intermediate sex". Brand "toyed with anti-Semitism", [Mosse, George L. "Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe." New York: Howard Fertig, 1985.] and disdained the Jewish Hirschfeld. Ewald Tschek, another homosexual anarchist writer of the era, regularly contributed to Adolf Brand's journal "Der Eigene", and wrote in 1925 that Hirschfeld’s Scientific Humanitarian Committee was a danger to the German people, caricaturing Hirschfeld as "Dr. Feldhirsch".

Anarchist homophobia

Despite these supportive stances, the anarchist movement of the time certainly wasn't free of homophobia: an editorial in an influential Spanish anarchist journal from 1935 argued that an Anarchist shouldn't even "associate" with homosexuals, let alone be one: "If you are an anarchist, that means that you are more morally upright and physically strong than the average man. And he who likes inverts is no real man, and is therefore no real anarchist." [Quoted in Cleminson, Richard. 1995. "Male inverts and homosexuals: Sex discourse in the Anarchist Revista Blanca", Published in Gert Hekma et al. (eds.)"Gay men and the sexual history of the political left" by Harrington Park Press 1995, ISBN 1-56023-067-3.] Such attitudes have continued in the anarchist movement through to the present day. [Howard, Martin, 1998. "Anarchism, Heterosexism and Secular Religions", Black Flag (newspaper), April 1998. [ full text online] ] Anarchist communist political theorist Daniel Guérin, who was himself bisexual, pointed out that Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the "original" anarchist thinker, was a sexual puritan [Guérin, Daniel, 1965. "Proudhon et l’amour "unisexuel" in Arcadie nos. 133 (January 1965) & 134 (February 1965); see also: Guérin, Daniel, "Proudhon oui et non" (Paris : Gallimard, 1978).] who condemned homosexuality as a bourgeois and not a working class phenomenon. [Copley, Antony. 1989. "Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Reassessment of his role as a Moralist." In: 'French History', Volume 3 no. 2 June 1989]

Fascism and homosexuality in the Left imagination

Russian Communist Maxim Gorky infamously remarked in his 1934 essay "Proletarian Humanism": "Exterminate homosexuals, and Fascism will disappear." [Quoted from Siegfried Tornow, "Maennliche Homosexualitaet und Politik in Sowjet-Russland," in Homosexualitaet und Wissenschaft II, Berlin: Verlag Rosa Winkel 1992, p. 281] While orthodox Marxist analyses of fascism have generally portrayed fascism as an advanced state of capitalism, leftist writers who have proposed psychosexual theories linking fascism to homosexuality include the Frankfurt School Marxist theorists Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, [Halle, Randall (1995). "Between Marxism and Psychoanalysis: Antifascism and Antihomosexuality in the Frankfurt school". Journal of Homosexuality, 1995, Volume 29, Issue 2/3. ISSN 0091-8369
see also: Žižek, Slavoj, [ Repeating Lenin] , for 1997/2001
] and later Jean-Paul Sartre [David Carroll, "French Literary Fascism: Nationalism, Anti-Semitism, and the Ideology of Culture" (Princeton, NJ, 1995), 147–58.] and Jacques Lacan. [Carolyn J. Dean, "The Self and Its Pleasures: Bataille, Lacan, and the History of the Decentered Subject" (Ithaca, NY, 1992), esp. 86 –97. Lacan wrote of the connection between "virile display" and femininity in "The Signification of the Phallus," in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York, 1977), 291.] Historian Carolyn Dean notes that members of the interwar German Left were the first to posit such a link. [Dean, Carolyn J. 2004. "The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust". (Ithaca, NY), chap. 4.] The Social Democratic Party of Germany's "Münchner Post" ran a series of articles entitled 'National Socialism and Homosexuality' with headlines like 'Stammtisch 175' and 'Brotherhood of Poofs in the Brown House'. The party's "Rheinische Zeitung" warned, 'Parents, protect your sons from "physical preparation" in the Hitler Youth.' [Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. 1993. "The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945". New York, Cambridge University Press. See excerpt: [ Hitler's Homosexual Policies] ] Harry Oosterhuis, writing about anti-fascism in the 1930s, observed that "such socialist theorists as Wilhelm Reich tended to view homosexuality sociologically and psychologically as a typical rightist, nationalist, and above all fascist aberration... Against the presumed immorality and perversion of the Nazis, the antifascists stressed their own rationality and purity. [Oosterhuis, Harry, "The ”Jews” of the Antifascist Left: Homosexuality and the Socialist Resistance to Nazism." in Journal of Homosexuality (ISSN 0091-8369) Volume: 29 Issue: 2/3] Mark Meyers writes: "Indeed, although historians have mostly overlooked it, a wealth of evidence suggests that the construction of the fascist man as effeminate and/or homosexual has circulated in Western culture without interruption since the 1930s." [Meters, Mark. 2006. "Feminizing Fascist Men: Crowd Psychology, Gender, and Sexuality in French Antifascism, 1929–1945", French Historical Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Winter 2006). Meyers gives the following references:
*Literary critic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick gives multiple examples to support the claim that an association of fascism with homosexuality is part of a "dangerously homophobic folk wisdom now endemic in both high- and middle-brow culture" ("Tendencies" [Durham, NC, 1993] , 49n14);
*Hewitt, Andrew. 1996. "Political Inversions: Homosexuality, Fascism, and the Modernist Imaginary" (Stanford, CA);
*Frost, Laura. 2002. "Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism" (Ithaca, NY);
*Slane, Andrea. 2001. "A Not So Foreign Affair: Fascism, Sexuality, and the Cultural Rhetoric of American Democracy" (Durham, NC)


The few recorded statements Vladimir Lenin made about sexuality are devoted to criticising arguments for sexual freedom as a legitimate issue for the Left. [Healey, Dan, 2002. "Homosexual Existence and Existing Socialism: New Light on the Repression of Male Homosexuality in Stalin’s Russia". In: 'GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies', Volume 8, Number 3, 2002, p. 353
* After reading Inessa Armand's pamphlet for women workers, Lenin wrote to her: “I suggest you delete altogether paragraph 3 dealing with ‘the demand (on the part of women) for free love.’ This is, in fact, a bourgeois, not a proletarian demand.” (Jan. 17, 1915 letter to Inessa Armand, "Collected Works" vol. 34).
* Clara Zetkin recalls that Lenin criticised the free love advocated by fellow Communist Alexandra Kollontai as "completely un-Marxist, and moreover, anti-social", presenting procreation within a monogamous marriage as a more legitimate context for sexuality. Zetkin also recounts Lenin's denouncement of plans to organise Hamburg’s women prostitutes into a “special revolutionary militant section”: he saw this as “corrupt and degenerate.” (Zetkin, Clara, 1934, "Lenin on the Woman Question", New York: International , p.7. Published in "Reminiscences of Lenin". Text online: [ translation 1] [ translation 2] ).
] One group of leftist writers wrote: "According to Lenin, the very notion of sexual emancipation was typical of capitalist societies and a symptom of bourgeois degeneracy." [Hekma, Oosterhuis and Steakley (1995). p. 23. The authors also cite: Fannina W. Halle, "Women in Soviet Russia", translated by Margaret M. Green (New Yoork, Viking, 1933). pp. 112-114] Clara Zetkin records Lenin's words:

"It seems to me that this superabundance of sex theories [...] springs from the desire to justify one’s own abnormal or excessive sex life before bourgeois morality and to plead for tolerance towards oneself. This veiled respect for bourgeois morality is as repugnant to me as rooting about in all that bears on sex. No matter how rebellious and revolutionary it may be made to appear, it is in the final analysis thoroughly bourgeois. It is, mainly, a hobby of the intellectuals and of the sections nearest to them. There is no place for it in the party, in the class-conscious, fighting proletariat.” [Zetkin, Clara, 1934. op cit.]

ocialist states

:"See also: Gay rights in Russia (USSR 1922 - 1991); Gay rights in Germany#East Germany (1949 - 1990); LGBT rights in Cuba (1959 - present)The low point in the history of the relationship between socialism and lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transpeople undoubtedly begins with the rise of Joseph Stalin in the USSR and continues through the era of Communist state power in the USSR, East Germany, China, Cuba and North Korea. In all cases, conditions for sexual minorities and gender variant people worsened under post-Stalin Communist states. Some in the West withdrew their support for Communism after seeing the severity of repression in the USSR, including gay writer André Gide. [Pollard, Patrick. "Gide in the U.S.S.R.: Some Observations on Comradeship", in Journal of Homosexuality (ISSN 0091-8369) Volume: 29 Issue: 2/3]

Historian Jennifer Evans reports that the East German government "alternately viewed [same sex activity] as a remnant of bourgeois decadence, a sign of moral weakness, and a threat to the social and political health of the nation." [Evans, Jennifer V. "The moral state : men, mining, and masculinity in the early GDR". In: "German History", 23 (2005) 3 , 355-370] These three characterisations imbued the policies and practises of all the Communist states, as well as those of the socialist/communist organisations that followed their lead.

Productivity and uniformity is paramount in Communist states, and sexual minorities are viewed as unproductive and nonconformist; Communists generally associate male effeminacy with luxury, leisure and the upper classes. Effeminate and homosexual males in some cases have been forced into "re-education" programs involving hard labor, conversion therapy, psychotropic drugs or confinement to psychiatric hospitals.

Gay writer and Cuban revolutionary Reinaldo Arenas recalled that soon after Castro's Communist government came to power, "the persecution started and concentration camps were opened... the sexual act became taboo while the 'new man' was being proclaimed and masculinity exalted." [Arenas, Reinaldo. "Before Night Falls". Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-015765-4] Similar programs of "moral reform" were instituted in the USSR, Communist China and East Germany, as part of building a solid foundation for the new socialist republics. Following the uprising of 1953 in East Germany, the East German government championed the traditional family, while homosexuality was seen to contravene "healthful mores of the working people". [Minning, Heidi, 2000. "Who is the 'I' in "I love you"?: The negotiation of gay and lesbian identitites in former East Berlin, Germany", In: 'Anthropology of East Europe Review', Volume 18, Number 2, Autumn, 2000]

All Communist states have banned associations of lesbians and gays, whether social or political, and have outlawed the publication of gay and lesbian materials. Often, particularly during the 1950s and 60s, lesbians and gays have been denounced, fired from their jobs, imprisoned, deported, and, in some cases, castrated or even executed. As in many parts of the world, conditions improved greatly for LGBT people living in Communist states through the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.

China: 1949 - present

:"See also Gay rights in China."While traditional Chinese culture had a place for certain kinds of same-sex love and transgender behaviours, the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 marked the end of an era. The emergent "socialist" May Fourth Movement looked to the future rather than the past, and China began to adopt Western medical models that saw homosexuality as abnormal.

Toward the end of the Qing era, a left-wing revolutionary, Qiu Jin, was known for flouting convention by wearing Western male dress. She also fought for women's rights. She was executed in 1907 after taking part in a failed uprising.

Little has been written about LGBT rights under the socialist government of the Kuomintang. Later, following the proclamation of the People's Republic of China by the Communist Party in 1949, repression of homosexuality became more severe. Chinese Communist leaders felt that homosexuality was a capitalist perversion that needed to be eliminated to ensure the success of the liberation of the peasant and working classes. Although no specifically anti-homosexual legislation existed, people suspected of homosexuality were subject to harsh prison sentences, forced castration, and even execution under a range of vaguely-worded laws designed to maintain social order. Anti-homosexual policies were enforced through ostracism and social programs such as compulsory marriage.

In 1997 the Chinese government announced that it would no longer treat homosexual relations between consenting adults in private a crime, and in 2001 the government stated that homosexuality was no longer going to be considered a mental illness. However, the government censorship of the media prohibits the display or reference to homosexuality as being "going against the healthy way of life in China." [Homosexuality in China] Since 2001, NGOs serving and advocating for people living with HIV/AIDS have been harassed, hampered or forced to close. [ [ China: Police Shut Down Gay, Lesbian Event] , December 20 report from Human Rights Watch] In Henan, young activists who started an AIDS orphanage have been beaten and jailed, and many people living with HIV/AIDS who have sought medical care or assistance for their children have been harassed and incarcerated. [Ibid.] Chinese authorities have shut down websites offering information to LGBT people, and in December 2005, a planned gay and lesbian cultural festival in Beijing was banned by authorities, resulting in a police raid. [ [ Restrictions on AIDS Activists in China] , June 2005, Human Rights Watch]

1945 - 1968: The homophile movement — "politically neutral"

Post World War II, a sexually conservative mood dominated both the Left and the Right. McCarthyism in the US believed a "homosexual underground" was abetting the "communist conspiracy", while the USSR continued to imprison homosexuals for their "bourgeois capitalist vice". A number of homosexual rights groups came into being or were revived across the Western world, in Britain, France, Germany, Holland, the Scandinavian countries and the United States. These groups, now known as the "homophile" movement, were largely politically neutral, although their backgrounds were diverse: the American Mattachine Society and the Dutch COC originated on the left, [On Mattahine's left beginnings, see: John D'Emilio, "Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970". (Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1983). On the COC, see: Hans Warmerdam and Pieter Koenders, "Cultuur en ontspanning: Het COC 1946-1966" (Utrecht: NVIH, COC & Interfacultaire Werkgroep Homostudies, Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, 1987), p. 58.] while the French Arcadie circle sprang from the right. [Among the founders of Arcadie, André Baudry was a moderate, while Jacques de Ricaumont and Roger Peyrefitte were conservatives. See Jacques Girard, "Le mouvement homosexuel en France 1945-1980 (Paris: Syros, 1981); pp. 39-73.]

Harry Hay, who is seen by many as the father of the modern gay rights movement in the United States, was originally a trade union activist. In 1934, he organised an important 83-day-long workers' strike of the port of San Francisco with his lover, actor Will Geer. Despite being an active member of the Communist Party, his founding of the Mattachine Society in the early 1950s got him unceremoniously kicked out. A few years earlier (in 1949), Marxist poet and film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini had also been expelled from the Communist Party in Italy after being arrested for a homosexual act. Homosexuality would continue to be grounds for expulsion from most socialist and communist groups for decades.

1968 - 1985

Gay liberation and the New Left

The emergence of the new social movements of the 1960s and 1970s forced the Left to review its relationship to gender, sexuality and identity politics. Socialist feminism critiqued Marxism for not properly engaging with gender oppression and subsuming it beneath a broader class oppression.

Emerging from a number of events, such as the May 1968 insurrection in France, the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US and the Stonewall riots of 1969, militant Gay Liberation organisations began to spring up around the world. Many saw their roots in left radicalism more than in the established homophile groups of the time, [ [ Gay movement boosted by ’79 march on Washington] , Lou Chabarro 2004 for the Washington Blade.] such as British and American Gay Liberation Front, the British Gay Left Collective, the Italian Fuori!, the French FHAR, the German Rotzschwule, and the Dutch Red Faggots.

The then styled Gay Lib leaders and writers also came from a left-wing background, such as Dennis Altman, Martin Duberman, Steven Ault, Brenda Howard, John D'Emilio, David Fernbach (writing in the English language), Pierre Hahn and Guy Hocquenghem (in French) and the Italian Mario Mieli. Some were inspired by Herbert Marcuse's "Eros and Civilization", which attempts to synthesise the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Although 60s radical Angela Davis had studied under Marcuse and was greatly influenced by him, she didn't come out until 1999.

In France, gay activist and political theorist Guy Hocquenghem, like many others, developed a commitment to socialism through participating in the May 1968 insurrection — despite the fact that the young far-left "soixante-huitards" ('68ers) were initially hostile to "supposedly bourgeois homosexuality". [Martel, Frédéric. 1999. "The Pink and the Black: Homosexuals in France since 1968" (translated by Jane Marie Todd). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8047-3273-6 or ISBN 0-8047-3274-4] Hocquenghem, like Harry Hay in the U.S, was an active member of the Communist Party who was expelled because of his homosexuality. He later joined the Front Homosexuel d'Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR), formed by radical lesbians who split from the Mouvement Homophile de France in 1971, including the left ecofeminist Françoise d'Eaubonne. That same year, the FHAR became the first homosexual group to demonstrate publicly in France when they joined Paris’s annual May Day march held by trade unions and left-wing parties. However, many on the traditional left opposed their presence: "the Communists characteristically declared in 1972 that “this disorder does not represent the advance guard of society, but the rot of capitalism in its decline.”" [Sibalis, Michael, 2005. "Gay Liberation Comes to France: The Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR)", French History and Civilization. Papers from the George Rudé Seminar. Volume 1.]

Socialist groups in the English-speaking world responded to Gay Liberation in one of two main ways. Some, especially those taking their lead from the Soviet Union or China like the Communist Party USA and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (USA), continued to oppose gay rights and expel homosexual members. The Revolutionary Communist Party's policy that "struggle will be waged to eliminate [homosexuality] and reform homosexuals" [Revolutionary Communist Party. "On the Question of Homosexuality and the Emancipation of Women." Revolution. Spring 1988.] wasn't abandoned until 2001. [ [ RCP Draft New Programme] 2001]

Other socialists bemoaned the perceived decline of the traditional left and the shift of focus from the labour movement to what they saw as middle-class "side issues", distracting from or watering down the class struggle. Many socialist organisations began to recognise "lesbian and gay oppression", but opposed any separate organising. The large and influential 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 organisations. [ [ SWP and Gay Lib] ] They also believed that too close an association with gay liberation would give the SWP an "exotic image" and alienate it from the masses. [ [ Lesbian and Gay Liberation: A Trotskyist Analysis] ]

In 1977, a group of socialist film critics noted that "the left, broadly speaking, has been very reluctant to support gay liberation and much of the left has actively opposed it, reproducing same of the worst antigay attitudes of straight society". [ "The Last Word: Gay liberation", by Michael Beer, Peter Biskind, Laura Brousseau, Julianne Burton, Daniel Cetinich, Leslie Clark, Stephanie Goldberg, Linda Greene, John Hess, Judith Hess, Chuck Kleinhans, Robin Lakes, Ernie Larsen, Julia Lesage, Sherry Miner, Gerald Peary, Dana Polan, Ruby Rich, Kimberly Safford, Robert Stam, Anna Marie Taylor, William Van Wert, Linda Vick, Linda Williams. Published in "Jump Cut", no. 16, 1977, pp. 39-40 [ text online] ] As the Gay Liberation movement began to gain ground, some Socialist organisations' policies evolved, and a small number of groups actively campaigned for gay rights. Notable examples are the feminist Freedom Socialist Party and Socialist Party USA, the latter of which was the first American political party to nominate an openly gay man for President, running David McReynolds in 1980.

Anti-gay laws and civil rights

Meanwhile, at least in the Western World, a broader political trend of extending civil rights to minorities had been developing since the 1960s, which both contributed to Gay Liberation and was furthered by it. Various countries and administrative divisions began to repeal sodomy laws — many were led by socialist or labor party governments, [England (1967), West Germany (1969)] while others were liberal, Christian Democrat [The Netherlands (1971)] or even conservative. [In the US and Australia, where sodomy laws are part of state (not federal) legislatures, they have been repealed by both major parties.] Sometimes this decriminalisation of certain sex acts coincided with an increase in prosecutions of homosexuals; this occurred in England [Weeks, Jeffrey, (1977), "Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present". (London: Quartet, 1977). p. 176] and France, [Jan Willem Duyvendak and Mattias Duyves (1993). "Gai Pied after Ten Years: A Commercial Success, a Moral Bankruptcy?" in Journal of Homosexuality 25. 1-2 (1993) p.211.] while both were under social democratic governments.

1985 - present

In recent years, significant social and political gains have been made by LGBT communities, while traditional Left has declined. As a result, the Left is more likely to accept or even support sexual and gender diversity than they have historically, while LGBT public figures are somewhat less likely to support the Left. In countries with a degree of social acceptance of homosexuality, a new voice of gay conservatives has emerged — although political conservatism has also been found to be a strong predictor of prejudice against lesbians and gays. [*Estrada, A. X., & Weiss, D. J. (1999). "Attitudes of military personnel toward homosexuals." Journal of Homosexuality,37, 83 – 97.
*Mohr, J. J., & Rochlen, A. B. (1999). "Measuring attitudes regarding bisexuality in lesbian, gay male and heterosexual populations." Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46, 353 – 369.
*Victor, S. B. (1996). "Measuring attitudes toward lesbian mothers and their children among school psychologists: A new scale and correlates to the attitude measure." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, City University of New York.
*Gonzalez-Rivera, Milagrito (2006). "Attitudes toward homosexuality among U.S. residents of Mexican descent." The Journal of Sex Research; 5/1/2006. [ Article online] .
] Some leftists blame the decline of the Left on "identity politics" (which includes LGBT social movements). [Gitlin, T. (1994) "From universality to difference: Notes on the fragmentation of the idea of the Left," in C. Calhoun (ed.) Social Theory and the Politics of Identity. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell: 150–74.
Also: Gitlin, T. (1995) "The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars." New York: Metropolitan Books.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Socialist Action League was an early supporter of lesbian and gay rights. This Trotskyist organisation could be relied upon to field activists for causes like pro-abortion counter-demonstrations against anti-abortion activists at local abortion clinics and supported homosexual law reform in the mid-eighties. ["Homosexual Law Reform: A Union Issue" Eileen Morgan and Russell Johnson, Labour Publishing Co-operative Society, Auckland 1985]

The International Socialist Organisation has shown support for gay rights in its publication "Socialist Review" [ [ Cat we come together?] "Socialist Review", Issue 3, Autumn 2000] and The Workers Party has gay rights as part of their platform [cite web |title=Workers Party Platform |work=Workers Party of New Zealand |url=]

United States

At the beginning of the 21st century, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transpeople have greater political purchase than ever before, while the socialist/communist left is in a greatly reduced state. LGBT communities and political movements are less likely than ever to identify with left-wing politics — a nationwide exit poll of the 2000 US election found that a quarter of gays and lesbians voted for rightist candidate George W. Bush, although the same poll showed that seventy percent of gay and lesbians voted for Al Gore and another five percent voted for Ralph Nader.

Some sectors of the right, emphasising individual liberties rather than social conservatism, have begun to champion a libertarian perspective on gay rights; gay groups in the US such as the Log Cabin Republicans and the Independent Gay Forum criticise the "left orthodoxy" of the LGBT movement and the perceived promiscuity and effeminacy of gay culture, while championing American "traditional values". The American business community has widely adopted anti-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation, including 460 of the Fortune 500 (as of 2006). [Equality Forum, “Fortune 500 Project,” October 31, 2005.] However, the most vocal opposition to LGBT rights comes from the religious right, and broadly speaking, the Left continues to be more supportive of sexual minorities and gender variance than the Right. An American democratic socialist group, the Democratic Socialists of America, endorsed gay rights as part of a larger endorsement of the policies of the Socialist International, although the group doesn't display such support openly on their official website. The Socialist Party USA again nominated David McReynolds as its Presidential candidate in 2000.

In 2005 the Communist Party USA issued an official statement endorsing LGBT human rights at its national convention and promised to create a national party commission to address the issue, although the party did not aplogize for kicking out gay men from the party [] .


Most Leftist groups in Europe now support gay rights. One rare exception is the fringe German Marxist group "Neue Einheit", which maintains a [ web page] denouncing homosexuality and opposing same-sex marriage. ["Labour Movement and the Rejection of Homosexuality"; (1998).]

Great Britain

Left and socialist groups in Great Britain are generally supportive of LGBT rights. There is some controversy surrounding RESPECT The Unity Coalition, a new socialist political party whose leadership is dominated by Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party. At its party convention there was some argument over the lack of explicit support for gay rights in the party manifesto. Some party members, along with other groups on the British left, accused the party leadership of backpedaling on gay rights in order to satisfy the demand of one of the political party's major financial backers, Dr Mohammed Naseem [] . Naseem is the founder of the Islamic Party of Britain, and gay rights activists and socialists accused the Respect Party leadership of pandering to the homophobia of conservative Muslim constituents as opposed to working with progressive Muslims and standing up for the rights of gay Muslims. Naseem, however, stated that the Islamic Party was now little more than a thinktank, and furthermore, disagreed with the statements on the Islamic Party website which Tatchell pointed to, stating his views on homosexuality as follows: "These things are a matter of personal choice... I am not concerned with what people do in their bedrooms." [,,1650525,00.html] Naseem was also present at Respect's 2005 conference, where the vote to reaffirm Respect's support of LGBT rights was passed unanimously. [] . The Respect Party website does include its official position on gay rights issues [] . Respect split in 2007. One of its two successors, the SWP backed Left Alternative held a float at the 2008 London Pride, promoting itself as a pro-LGBT organisation.


Online news site reported that a gay pride march in 2006 was violently attacked by communists, alongside right-wing patriots and Orthodox christians. The leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Gennady Zyuganov also publicly condemned the gay parade, stating that it was an 'unhealthy' idea. [ [ French communists end relations with Russian Communist Party because of gay scandal] , by Pyotr Alekseyev, 09.06.2006, for Pravda.Ru]


Vimla Farooqi, of the National Federation of Indian Women, the women's wing of the Communist Party of India, opposed a gay conference in Bombay in 1994, stating that homosexuality was a western capitalist import. [The Pioneer (daily), 1 November 1994.] The All India Democratic Women's Association, the women's movement associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has demanded that homosexual relations be decriminalized. In 1996, a Marxist, H. Srikanth, argued at length that homosexuality was a decadent bourgeois perversion that Marxists would proscribe, try to reform by psychiatric treatment, and if these failed, would ‘not hesitate to use force against such homosexual activism.’ [‘Natural is not always Rational’, Economic and Political Weekly, 13 April 1996.]

Middle East

The rise of Pan-Arab Socialism in the Muslim Middle East has viewed homosexuality as a capitalist disease and a violation of the teachings of Islam. Socialist and Communist political parties prefer to ignore the issue of gay rights, with the Worker-Communist Parties being the rare exception. Governments in the Middle East have traditionally been hostile to homosexuality, and prevailing public opinion tends to be on their side. In the Republic of Iraq the ruling Baath Party treated homosexuality as a crime under various laws governing indecency and made it a capital crime in 2001. Egypt, like Iraq until 2001, said nothing about homosexuality or sodomy in the criminal code but views homosexuality as a crime under similar laws against Satanism, spreading false religious teachings, immorality and indecency. Most other countries in the region have specific laws prohibiting homosexual relationships.


The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) claim to be recruiting homosexuals to their guerrilla forces. However, the CPN's treatment of has recently come under fire. According to Human Rights Watch, in March 2007 Nepalese Maoist forces detained two women accused of having a sexual relationship and attempted to forcefully conscript them. [] The Communist Party of Nepal has also been known use violence against homosexuals and their families as well as using anti-gay rhetoric publicly.


The Communist New People's Army gave its support to legal recognition for same-sex marriages on February 4th 2005. The paramilitary organization performed a marriage ceremony between two male guerilla fighters [] . The government cited such actions as proof that the Communist guerilla fighters have no moral values or a belief in God.


Although the main queer political organisation of Juchitán de Zaragoza supports the dominant right-wing Institutional Revolutionary Party, "muxe" (third gender) activist Amaranta Gómez Regalado campaigned as a congressional candidate in the 2003 Oaxaca state elections on a radical left-wing platform, becomg the first transgender person to run in a Mexican election.


"See main article: Gay rights in Venezuela"

ee also

* The left and feminism
* Triple oppression


Further reading

*"Journal of Homosexuality", 1995, Volume 29, Issue 2/3. ISSN 0091-8369 — Simultaneously published as: "Gay men and the sexual history of the political left", Gert Hekma et al. Eds. Harrington Park Press 1995, ISBN 1-56023-067-3.
*"Hidden From History: Reclaiming The Gay and Lesbian Past" 1988.
*Eileen Phillips (editor), (1983), "The Left and The Erotic", London: Lawrence and Wishart, 184 pages, ISDN 5315 584 4
*"Engels, Homophobia and the Left" By Max Elbaum 2002. [ online text]
*"Marxist Theory of Homosexuality" 1993. [ online text]
*"Homosexual Existence and Existing Socialism New Light on the Repression of Male Homosexuality in Stalin's Russia" By Dan Healey. 2002. GLQ 8:3, pp. 349 - 378.
*"Sex-Life: A Critical Commentary on the History of Sexuality", 1993, Don Milligan. []

External links

* [ Gay Left] entry in GLBTQ encyclopedia.

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