by Rainbough Phillips for The Distributed Republic
In the early years of the cold war between the United States and Russia, shortly after world war II had ended when Russia was developing and testing atomic bombs of their own and the U.S. was mired in the paranoia that we later called McCarthyism, a connection was drawn between a political ideology, communism, and a sexual orientation, homosexuality.
You can’t hardly separate homosexuals from subversives. … Mind you, I don’t say that every homosexual is a subversive, and I don’t say every subversive is a homosexual. But [people] of low morality are a menace in the government, whatever [they are], and they are all tied up together.
— Senator Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska, New York Post, December 1950
Meanwhile, homosexuals who actually were members of the American Communist Party were consistently thrown out of the organization when their orientation was discovered. Though most non-state affiliated communist and socialist organizations of today tout the importance of equality and liberty for sexual minorities, the history of oppression of gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities by communist and socialist states (some of which continues to this day) is a long and sad one.
From its earliest roots Marxist ideology has struggled with the place and treatment of homosexuality in society.
From Wikipedia “Socialism and LGBT Rights“:
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. 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”.
Homosexuality was technically legal in the USSR until 1933 when it was criminalized by Stalin (lesbianism was not criminalized) and punishable by up to 5 years of hard labor. It was even treated as a criminal activity prior to 1933 in many provinces such as Georgia.
From Wikipedia “Gay Rights in Russia“:
The Soviet government treated homosexuality as crime against the state akin to espionage. The law was not repealed until after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 1941 Nazi Germany invaded Russia, and Soviet propaganda – like Western propaganda – linked homosexuality to fascism. Stalin hoped to increase the Russian birthrate and reconcile with the Russian Orthodox Church, and saw homosexuals as not only being decadent fascists, but also tied to the limited capitalism that was allowed under Lenin.
Under Lenin, homosexuality was treated as a disease that needed to be cured and that attitude prevailed until well into the 90’s. Many individuals who were accused of homosexuality were forcibly treated at psychiatric hospitals rather than imprisoned.
From the ilga.com:
Until recently, it was exceedingly easy in Russia to commit someone to a psychiatric institution. Olga, 24, reports that when she was 17, a teacher at the technical school where she was a student found out she was having a relationship with another female student. The teacher contacted a psychiatric institution, and both young women were committed. Olga’s friend was released through the intervention of her parents, but Olga, who had only a mother who lived far away, remained in the hospital for three months. She says she was subjected to electroshock treatments and given drugs that severely altered her consciousness and caused hallucinations. After she was released from hospital, she was compelled to register with a local psychiatric clinic, where she was required to check in regularly, and her passport was stamped to indicate she had a psychiatric illness.
Ancient chinese culture and literature celebrated same-sex relationships, and even relationships considered taboo in most of the world today. However, with his rise to power, Mao sought to destroy all of what he considered to be deviant Western vice. With the rise of the Communist Party, homosexuality became a symbol of Western vice and decadence. Though not officially banned, homosexual activity was forced underground. Homosexuals in China were often forced into heterosexual marriages, harrassed by police, imprisoned, and occassionally disappeared. Mainstream Chinese society became intolerant of any sexuality that deviated from the traditional heterosexual view. In the 1960s to 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution, violence against sexual minorities escalated. Homosexuals were publicly humiliated, and often executed. Art and literature that referred to homosexuality, cross-dressing, or any untraditional sexual activity was destroyed en masse.
Today homosexuals are still harassed by police, though it is believed that imprisonment is rare. There are now a handful of gay bars where homosexuals can publicly congregate and several websites, though both are still occasionally shut down by police. There are no homosexual organizations and discrimination and gay bashing is ignored by the government.
Peter Tatchell writes on the treatment of homosexuals under Castro:
While Castro challenged many backward ideas as remnants of the old society, he embraced with enthusiasm the homophobia of Latin machismo and Catholic dogma, elevating it into a fundamental tenet of Cuba’s new socialist morality. Idealising rural life, he once claimed approvingly that “in the country, there are no homosexuals”.
When Cuba adopted Soviet-style communism it also adopted Soviet-style prejudice and puritanism. Ever since Stalin promoted the ideology of “the socialist family” and recriminalised gay sex in 1934, communist orthodoxy dictated that homosexuality was a “bourgeois decadence” and “capitalist degeneration”. This became the Cuban view. “Maricones” (faggots) were routinely denounced as “sexual deviants” and “agents of imperialism”. Laughable allegations of homosexuality were used in an attempt to discredit “corrupting” Western influences, such as pop music, with the communists circulating the rumour that the Beatles were gay.
The punishment for homosexuality during 1960s and 1970s in Cuba was “rehabilitation” in a labor camp. The camps subjected prisoners to hard labor, meager food rations, and violent gangs that physically and sexually attacked other prisoners.
The Cuban labor camp system was inspired by that of Stalinist Russia and set about to mold individuals into what their rulers thought they should be.
From The Washington Blade, “Che Guevara: liberator of facilitator:”
Guevara and other guerrillas set the model of the exemplary man of the revolution, and those who did not fit it were considered suspect by the regime from the start. In 1965, a plan was officially implemented to reform those whose behavior was perceived as being out of synch with the revolutionary model. It was known as the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), and its purpose was to fill a gap in the system by creating a program for men who were deemed unfit for the army.
According to Lumsden, although the camps ended up targeting gay people more than most, “there is no evidence that [they] were created with homosexuals exclusively in mind.”
Indeed, the camps also confined people from minority religious groups, conscientious objectors to military service, as well as people who did not agree with the revolutionary agenda.
The bitter pill that caused gay people to be targeted at a greater rate than other groups was the revolutionary belief, adopted from the Soviets, that homosexuality was a phenomenon of indulgent bourgeois society that would not exist in a pure communist state, the book states.
The treatment of homosexuals in both Cuba and China has dramatically improved in the last few decades. Where they were once rounded up and put into forced labor camps in Cuba and publicly executed in China, homosexuals in both countries now hold ambiguous legal status. They are subject to the occasional police raid, fines, and harassment by the state. They are banned from Party membership, and as a consequence, state jobs.
But as a show of their progressive, and liberal-minded policies neither country subjects sexual minorities to forced labor, torture, or murder anymore… as far we know.
Many communist and socialists activists in free countries today decry the treatment of homosexuals under Stalin, Castro, Mao, and other Marx-inspired dictators as inconsistent with the ideals of Marxism. However, a consistent pattern has emerged in countries that aspired to the ideals of Marx. Those governments claiming to elevate the workers and proleteriats of the world also subjugated those who did not fit their idea of an ideal citizen. Prejudices already prevalent in the cultures became intensified and led to the oppression and fear of those who were different. Rather than being self-contained incidents, this sort of oppression of sexual minorities and other dissidents has been and still is a hallmark of governments that claim inspiration and affiliation with the ideology of Marxism.