Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Queers and the USSR: A not so fabulous record on LGBT rights

This was originally part of this but I decided to split it for the sake of brevity. 

If you're a (in)frequent reader of this blog you may have noticed a curious omission from my early post on Gay Rights in Russia. Where was the Communist Party, that last bastion of resistance to Putin's right wing autocracy? Well it was there all right, the reason you had a hard time seeing them was because they were dwarfed by United Russia whom they were standing shoulder to shoulder with.

The communist group leader says he and his 350 members were ready to protest in the streets if the gay singer did not dress ‘less gay’.
The communist group leader says he and his 350 members were ready to protest in the streets if the gay singer did not dress ‘less gay’. - See more at:
You may also recall that the anti Gay "propaganda" law passed with only one abstention, and only one Deputy bothered to question the amendment relating to foreigners, and he was from the Just Russia party. This is despite the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) having 92 deputies. Now apparently the attitude of the CPRF in regards to Gays is surprising to some (mostly younger lefties) it isn't to me the opposition of a Communist party to LGBT is nothing new. In fact they're just continuing their "proud" tradition of copying word for word the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). I've seen speeches by Zyuganov and its embrassing, he acts like its still the 1950's all of his policies were about another round of industrialisation. Why? Russia is already heavily industrialised and has a hard time maintaining the industrial infrastructure it already has. The answer for this obsession is simply that's what the CPSU did in its glory days. Which is funny given that its official ideology is a "Socialism of the 21st century" when beyond referencing the "New World Order" there is nothing remotely new about it. But don't take my world for it look for yourself

  • Stop the extinction of the country,(What?) restore benefits for large families, reconstruct the network of public kindergartens and provide housing for young families. (From the 1930's)
  • Nationalize natural resources in Russia and the strategic sectors of the economy; revenues in these industries are to be used in the interests of all citizens. (From the 1920's)
  • Return to Russia from foreign banks the state financial reserves and use them for economic and social development. (From the 1920's)
  • Break the system of total fraud in the elections. (This one is new, but then so are elections)
  • Create a truly independent judiciary. (There were reforms similar to this in the 1980's)
  • Carry out an immediate package of measures to combat poverty and introduce price controls on essential goods.(Price controls been around since 1917)
  • Not raise the retirement age.(Retirement was raised under the Soviet Union but the also promised not to)
  • Restore government responsibility for housing and utilities, establish fees for municipal services in an amount not more than 10% of family income, stop the eviction of people to the streets, expand public housing. (Been Soviet policy in one form or another since the 20's)
  • Increase funding for science and scientists to provide decent wages and all the necessary research. (Since the 1920's)
  • Restore the highest standards of universal and free secondary and higher education that existed during the Soviet era. (I'm not sure which period of the Soviet Union this refers to)
  • Ensure the availability and quality of health care.(See above)
  • Vigorously develop high-tech manufacturing. (Been a priority since the 30's)
  • Ensure the food and environmental security of the country and support the large collective farms for the production and processing of agricultural products. (Environmental protection is new, collective farming ain't)
  • Prioritize domestic debt over of foreign (to compensate for household deposits, burnt in the disastrous years of "reform"). (Again a fairly standard policy of the USSR)
  • Introduce progressive taxation; low-income citizens will be exempt from paying taxes. (This is actually new)
  • Create conditions for development of small and medium enterprises. (Glasnost and Perestroika period)
  • Ensure the accessibility of cultural goods, stop the commercialization of culture, defend Russian culture as the foundation of the spiritual unity of multinational Russia, the national culture of all citizens of the country. (Again 1930's)
  • Stop the slandering of the Russian and Soviet history. (1920's)
  • Take drastic measures to suppress corruption and crime. (October 1917,)
  • Strengthen national defense and expand social guarantees to servicemen and law enforcement officials. (Again since War Communism and Lenin)
  • Ensure the territorial integrity of Russia and the protection of compatriots abroad.(Since Stalin)
  • Institute a foreign policy based on mutual respect of countries and peoples to facilitate the voluntary restoration of the Union of States. (Reminiscent of COMECON in the 50's)
 In fact there are only two major breaks with the CPSU, the CPRF wants to work with the Orthodox church and idolises Stalin.

That is Zyuganov campaigning for the last Duma Elections
So why then is the CPRF also standing in line to give the Gays a kicking? Two reason but they intertwine heavily. Russian and most former Soviet and and Soviet Aligned states (with a notable exception being East Germany) have a very entrenched homophobic culture. And since we are all merely products of our environment its only natural that a large organisation like the CPRF who have that environment rub off on at least some of its membership. The other reason and a partial explanation for such entrenched homophobia in nations run by State Atheism and hostility to religion was that the CPSU was itself a highly homophobic organisation that actively promoted hostility to homosexuality and sought to suppress the LGBT community. In fact the current laws being passed in the State Duma as nasty as they undoubtedly are don't come close to the level of repression given out during the Soviet period.

Some Background

The Tsarist criminal code listed homosexuality as a crime, not surprising given that Tsarism was another Conservative Autocratic regime that enjoyed the support of the Orthodox church. When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 they abolished the Tsarist legal system in its entirety and began substituting there own and resurrecting the parts they liked. This technically makes the Soviet Union one of the first societies to decriminalise homosexuality, but before you get carried away Moscow wasn't covered in rainbows. The Bolshevik's were not known for open sexuality, Alexandra Kollontai a senior Bolshevik and friend of Lenin got into a lot of trouble for pushing what could be called a "Free Love" lifestyle, and opposing marriage.Also since most of the openly Gay Russians before 1917 where from Aristocratic or artistic backgrounds homosexuality was considered a "Bourgeois Deviation" obviously something frowned upon in the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat". So unofficial repression remained.

Then in 1933 when Stalin the man the CPRF revere was in charge the anti gay laws were brought back in by decree. This was probably part of his regimes drive to increase family sizes, in same period divorce was made more difficult and the "Bachelor/spinster" tax on single adults was introduced while married couples with children received tax breaks. But Stalin took the Gay bashing rhetoric further, in 1933 relations between the USSR and the Fascist states of Germany and Italy were very strained and the rise of fellow traveller movements in Easter Europe like the Iron Guards in Romania meant that the Soviet Union began preparing for conflict. So the justification for the reintroduction of Anti gay legislation was that Homosexuality wasn't just Bourgeois it was Fascist. Maxim Gorky a party member and novelist, and unofficial spokesperson for the party made this explicit "eradicate homosexuals and fascism will disappear." Of course Nazi Germany criminalised homosexuality a little later in 1934, so either that's bollocks (which it is) or its evidence of Fascism's suicidal tendencies.

 The new law became Article 121, and punished homosexuality with a sentence of Five years (insert joke about how ironic it is to send gays to prison here) but it gets worse. Not only was homosexuality a crime but homosexual acts occurring within in prison were grounds for extending a sentence and if some former prisoners are to be believed they didn't distinguish between consensual sex and rape. So that meant that certain prisons after being brutalised in an horrific event could then have that event used to justify keeping him in prison. By the 1980's males arrested for homosexuality averaged about 1000 a year.

In addition to prison sentences homosexuals were often blackmailed into becoming informants, and any attempt to establish a Gay rights network or support group was broken up by the KGB. It wasn't until the chaos of the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
 In 1984 a handful of gay men in Leningrad attempted to form the first organization of gay men. They were quickly hounded into submission by the KGB. It was only with Gorbachev's glasnost that such an organization could come into existence in 1989-90. The Moscow Gay & Lesbian Alliance was headed by Yevgeniya Debryanskaya, and Roman Kalinin became the editor of the first officially registered gay newspaper, Tema. Organizations and publications proliferated. The summer of 1991 saw the first international conference, film festival, and demonstrations for gay rights in Moscow and Leningrad. This was followed almost immediately by the attempted coup. Reversion to a more conservative regime would clearly have threatened their recent gains, and legend has it that many gay activists manned the barricades protecting the Russian White House and that Yeltsin's decrees were printed on the xerox machines of the new gay organizations.
 That last part may also explain the vehement opposition that some on the Russian "left" have towards Gays in contemporary Russia, there's this bizarre collective guilt doctrine that means that if you in anyway resemble or are affiliated with another group you are also responsible for all of its negative aspects. Every German is responsible for the Holocaust, every Communist responsible for the Katyn massacre etc. That's a stupid mindset to have no matter who its directed at but there you go.

 Another reason is that a lot of Russian "Communists" are nothing of the sort, they're a bunch of Nationalists dissatisfied with Russia's decline and are nostalgic for those glory days. You can add the CPRF to that list since there's nothing Socialist or Communist in its program, and its constant idolisation of the "Russian People" and the "Russian Nation" expose it. Socialism is the democratic control of the means of production, the CPRF is interested in nationalisation which is the control of the economy by the state. Communism is about the destruction of class and state boundaries, the "Integrity of the Russian nation" is incompatible with it. Since they can't get the basics right its not surprising they see nothing wrong with traditionalistic bigotry.

You know what's really sad? this isn't a joke it actually exists

Though in fairness that isn't a Russian phenomenon, most Communist controlled "Workers states" from Poland to Cuba were just as bad, and many Western Communist parties were and are hostile to Homosexuality. And Nationalists all over the world are quite happy to embrace people and organisations that were hostile to nationalism. In Ireland a lot of Nationalists including explicitly racist and right wing groups see no problem at all evoking the names of James Larkin and James Connolly, men who believed in International Socialism and ending capitalist exploitation everywhere not just kicking the Brits out.

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