Friday, 27 April 2018




There was lightness, seen from the inside of a cloud, white light that came from all directions, somehow came from inside him as well as out, and he opened his eyes.

The white light did not go away, grew more intense with his eyes open.
`Can you feel this?` Somebody pinched his legs and it hurt. He swore.
`That is good. Move something now, move this foot…`
the boy started to focus and saw that what he thought was white light was really the shirt of the old man reflecting the glare from the bulb hanging in the shed where they slept.

He moved his foot then his hands and arms, each as he was told to move, and at last his neck. By now an older woman – at least forty – was there and she said something in Spanish and felt his neck and shoulders, then smiled at him with even white teeth and said something more.

`She says you are young and green and did not break,` the old man said. `I thought surely a bone or two would have snapped. You fell such a distance,` he laughed, `and even when you were senseless you did not let go of the pigeon.` He smiled. `You must be a true hunter.`

Which made the boy feel proud because he had hunted, had thrown himself at the woods to escape the drinking and fancied himself a good hunter. `I hurt.`

`As you should. The ground shook when you fell. But it will be worse tomorrow when you awaken – you must sleep now.`

The boy rolled onto his side and then rose to his knees. He did not want to appear weak in front of the old man or the woman kneeling next to him or the two girls standing off to the side, so he stood, wobbling, and made his way to his sleeping area and fell onto his bed of feed sacks and was asleep, or unconscious again, instantly.

In the morning he thought, I am paralysed. He had slept on his right side, a rolled-up feed sack for a pillow, and he had drooled and his head was pressed into the wetness. He wanted to move it away but he could not.

His body screamed with pain. Every bone, every muscle, his head, even his teeth, ached and when at last he made something move – he swung his leg sideways – it was pure agony.

He rolled slowly onto his back and opened his eyes. There was daylight, bright sun, cutting into the gloom of the shed and he knew that he was very late – it must be close to nine – and that all the Mexicans were gone to the fields and would get so far ahead of him he would never catch up. In his life he would never catch up, he thought, and then he saw the farmer’s wife come in the door.

His sleeping area was way in the back of the shed, tucked in a dark corner so that somebody coming in from the bright sun would not be able to see to the rear where he lay. He held his breath, watching her, wondering.

She wore a loose red-print dress that hung on her like a drape. She stopped at the first bed on the left side – the men slept on the left, the women on the right – and reached down to pull a sack up from the floor. She held the sack in her left hand and put it to her face, her cheek, and then to her nose and smelled it and breathed the odour of the sack and at the same time she slid her other hand down her body.

The boy forgot the pain and felt him self grow hard and at the same time confused because she had said she hated the Mexicans and didn’t want the men to get her and yet here she was breathing in the smell of them.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Solidarity in Liberty: The Workers' Path to Freedom (1867)

From this truth of practical solidarity or fraternity of struggle that I have laid down as the first Principe of the Council of Action flows a theoretical consequence of equal importance. The workers are able to unite as a class for class economic action, because all religious philosophies, and systems of morality which prevail in any given order of society are always the ideal expression of its real, material situation. Theologies, philosophies and ethics define, first of all, the economic organization of society; and secondly, the political organization, which is itself nothing but the legal and violent consecration of the economic order. Consequently, there are not several religions of the ruling class; there is one, the religion of property. And there are not several religions of the working class: there is one, the piety of struggle, the vision of emancipation, penetrating the fog of every mysticism, and finding utterance in a thousand prayers. Workers of all creeds, like workers of all' lands, have but one faith, hope, and charity; one common purpose overleaps the barriers of seeming hatreds of race and creed. The workers are one class, and therefore one race, one faith, one nation. This is the Theoretical truth to be induced from the practical fraternal solidarity of the Council of Action organization. Church and State are liquidated in the vital organization of the working class, the genius of free humanity.

It has been stated that Protestantism established liberty in Europe. This is a great error. It is the economic, material emancipation of the bourgeois class which, in spite of Protestantism, has created that exclusively political and legal liberty, which is too easily confounded with the grand, universal, human liberty, which only the proletariat can create. The necessary accompaniment of bourgeois legal and political liberty, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, is the intellectual, anti-Christian, and anti-religious emancipation of the bourgeoisie. The capitalist ruling class has no religion, no ideals, and no illusion. It is cynical and unbelieving because it denies the real base e of human society, the complete emancipation of the working class. Bourgeois society, by its very nature of interested professionalism, must maintain centers of authority and exploitation, called States. The laborers, by their very economic needs, trust challenge such centers of oppression.

The inherent principles of human existence are summed up in the single law of solidarity. This is the golden rule of humanity and may be formulated this: no person can recognize or realize his or her own humanity except by recognizing it in others and so cooperating for its realization by each and all No man can emancipate himself save by emancipating with him all the men about him.

My liberty is the liberty of everybody. I cannot be free in idea until I am free in fact. To be free in idea and not free fact is to be revolt. To be free in fact is to have my liberty and my right, find their confirmation, and sanction in the liberty and right of all mankind. I am free only when all men are my equals (first and foremost economically.)

What all other men are is of the greatest importance to me. However independent I may imagine myself to be, however far removed I may appear from mundane considerations by my social status, I am enslaved to the misery of the meanest member of society. The outcast is my daily menace. Whether I am Pope, Czar, Emperor, or even Prime Minister, I am always the creature of their circumstance, the conscious product of their ignorance, want and clamoring. They are in slavery, and I, the superior one, am enslaved in consequence.

For example if such is the case, I am enlightened or intelligent man. But I an foolish with the folly of the people, my wisdom stunned by their needs, my mind palsied. I an a brave man, but I am the coward of the peoples' fear. Their misery appalls me, and every day I shrink from the struggle of life. My career becomes an evasion of living. A rich man, I tremble before their poverty, because it threatens to engulf me. I discover I have no riches in myself, no wealth but that stolen from the common life of the common people. As privileged man, I turn pale before the people's demand for justice. I feel a menace in that demand. The cry is ominous and I am threatened. It is the feeling of the malefactor dreading, yet waiting for inevitable arrest. My life is privileged and furtive. But it is not mine. I lack freedom and contentment. In short, wishing to be free, though I am wise, brave, rich, and privileged, I cannot be free because my immediate associates do not wish men to be free; and the mass, from whom all wisdom, bravery, riches, and privileges ascend, do not know how to secure their freedom. The slavery of the common people make them the instruments of my oppression. For me to be free, they must be free. We must conquer bread and Freudian in common.

The true, human liberty of a single individual implies the emancipation of all: because, thanks to the law of solidarity, which is the natural basis of all human society, I cannot be, feel, and know myself really, completely free, if I an not surrounded by men as free as myself. The slavery of each is my slavery.

It follows that the question of individual liberty is not a personal but a social economic question that depends on the deliverance of the proletariat for its realization. That in turn, involves the spontaneous organization and capacity for economic and social action through the voluntary and free grouping of all workers' organizations into the Council of Action. The Red Association of these who toil!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The End of an Error?

Disclaimer, this one's going to be rather petty.


Yesterday I came across some unexpected news. Unexpected but easily believable, it seems a local councillor for the Labour party  Matthew Brown, has been caught passing on information to the Conservative party to attack his fellow party colleagues and candidates. The news was leaked on a local facebook discussion group ( but soon snowballed from there. A friend of mine was the first one to notice this as it was being shared on twitter by socialist activists from Newcastle and other places. In response Matthew Brown has deleted his entire social media presence.

The incriminating messages:

I've been informed by several Labour members that Brown has been reported to the regional Labour party and that he's been withdrawn as a candidate. Unfortunately it shouldn't have gotten this far. I've known Matthew Brown for years, back when he was just Matthew Brown and had not yet gained his highly coveted Council seat and Cllr title. This is why I had no trouble believing it when he had been exposed yesterday. This isn't even the first time its been discovered that he tried to switch parties, earlier in the week the local Tories exposed the latest attempt to formerly ditch the party.
 Party disloyalty is really the least of his incredibly poor behaviour for years he's openly harassed people betrayed their confidence and insulted them. He has a long history of talking to women in incredibly insulting tones. I remember one time when he entered the Town Hall in Grimsby the young woman on the reception desk -who was new- didn't recognise him. He proceeded to stand in front of the desk and talk down to her and accuse here of being an idiot and bad at her job for not recognising him a Councillor.

Put for years I've heard details of times he's made suggestive comments to female members. He has been reported for misconduct on these grounds on at least one occasion that I know of. And in the aftermath of the revelations some more screenshots have surfaced over other incidents.

I'm sorry to say but back when I was young Matthew Brown was part of my circle of friends, I don't know why because honestly I never liked him, his personality was very different from mine and the rest of my mates, which may explain why he burnt his bridges with us all soon after. Though to be honest he's behaviour and comments to us was very instructive as to his behaviour.

And speaking of behaviour there's something that should be addressed. if you read the comments where this story is being discussed you'll probably see some variations on `When is he going to release a statement about his disabilities?` So allow me to explain. Matthew Brown has dyslexia, yes that is it, he has dyslexia (that's why some of those messages have very poor spelling).

I also have dyslexia along with a few other issues, which is why this blog also has some weird spellings and word choices now and then. I personally despise the way Matthew Brown has exploited his learning difficulties, and yes exploitation is the key word. He doesn't just use it to cover himself when he misspeaks or screws up a speech, he uses to get excuse his worst behaviour. Including sexual harassment.

 He has also never extended the same courtesy to other people with disabilities or learning difficulties. On the contrary he's spent years bullying and harassing a fellow labour member and Council colleague for his social awkwardness even though that member is openly autistic. Like I said I'm dyslexic, and in no way has that ever lead me to believe its ok to behave in the way Matthew Brown does. His repeated bullying and disgraceful behaviour is the result of his own rotten personality and the protections that come with even a tiny shred of power and influence.

Matthew Brown is a stain on local politics and the local Labour party, however he has not acted alone, and its annoying me that some of the people crowing the loudest about how disgusting his behaviour is were openly supporting him and protecting him. Their have been many occasions where Matthew Brown both on the council and in the party has been challenged and reported, and yet every time he had supporters quashing it. I'm not kidding when I say the things I've covered are a small fraction of the things he's done over the years. Indeed sickeningly some of his worst behaviour has been reflected by other members. Harassment and bullying of other members and members of staff has been carried out by other party members and councillors too. Indeed there's a rumour going around that now Brown has finally been caught crossing the line in a way that can't be covered up any more that he might start dishing out the dirt on some of the other rotten politicians.

I am not even overstating how obvious much of it was. You don't even have to look for much of this, you become aware of his toxic behaviour simply by living in the area and knowing someone who has ran in to him at some point in time.

So good riddance Mr Brown.

If you've read this far here's a reward

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Notes on Early Soviet Attitudes to Homosexuality

Note: Still in rough form, this text may be subject to change and editing.

Notes on Soviet Attitudes to Homosexuality
Article 121
Sexual relations of a man with a man (pederasty),
Shall be punished by deprivation of freedom for a term of up to five years.
Pederasty committed with the application of physical force, or threats, or with respect to a minor, or with taking advantage of the dependent position of the victim,
Shall be punished by deprivation of freedom for a term of up to eight years.’

(Butler, WE, Translator & Editor, Basic Documents on the Soviet Legal System, Oceana Publications, 1983, Page 344)

For the past couple of years there has been increased interest in the history of gay rights in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately outside of the queer community in the ex USSR most of this interest is less about learning and more about trivial point scoring either on “western society” or between sects of communists.

To demonstrate I’m going to do something I’d never thought I would do, quote someone from the Stalin society and agree with them (the quoted bit, I disagree with much of the rest of the article and will touch on some of them later).

The fact that homosexuality was criminally sanctioned under Soviet law is something that is often thrown in the face of communists in general, and used to “discredit” Comrade Stalin in particular. Indeed, “Stalin hated gays” is something I’ve seen posted online numerous times by trots and anarchists. I doubt Stalin ever wrote or spoke a single public word on the matter. In any event, such an accusation is by, its very nature, decontextualized and misleading.

Most of the rest of the article including the rest of the paragraph I cut off is full of half truths, fabrications and weak justifications. But from what I’ve seen -including that article- the first part isn’t really wrong. Indeed much of the discussion relies on the repeating of misunderstandings, generalisations and outright myths, and that’s after you cut out the homophobes and social conservatives masquerading as communists.

So I’m writing down what I’ve learned in the hopes that it’ll add some clarity and stop the reproduction of at least a few myths. I should point out this isn't meant to be the last word on the subject, on the contrary I'm still finding information on this subject and period, work is slowly being translated and some articles are leaking out of the pay walls.[1] 

To start with lets just handle some factual inaccuracies.

Common myths about the USSR and gay rights:

The Soviet Union was the first government to decriminalised homosexuality: I used to see this one a lot when Western states started passing same sex marriage legislation. Its not as common now but it does still pop up. The answer is it simply isn’t true. Ignoring nations and societies that never had laws against same sex relations, and leaving aside that quite a lot of the laws against it often specified male same sex relations, the USSR was beaten by several societies and nations.

Probably the first nation to decriminalise sodomy was the French Republic in 1791 when its new penal code (one of many) was enacted which contained no references to sodomy. I say probably because for much of world history decriminalisation of same sex relationships hasn’t been explicit, usually a new code or constitution would be adopted that just removed it as a category of crime. This was also the case with the Bolsheviks, they decriminalised by declaring the old Tsarist code and published a new one.

Other notable earlier decriminalisations were the 1830 Imperial penal code of Emperor Pedro of Brazil, the Ottoman Empire in 1858 who largely adopted a Napoleonic legal code, and Japan in 1880 striking down a law enacted in 1872.

It may seem harmless on the face of it, but the prevalence of this myth does show some of the problems with the discourse on this subject.

The Bolsheviks Were Unique in Decriminalising Homosexuality: This is tied to the first myth. Its not entirely accurate and obscures some important details. Before and during the early days of the revolution there actually was some public agitation to decriminalise homosexuality. However curiously the Bolsheviks were absent from this. The most prominent advocate was from a group of Cadets (Constitutional Democrats) most importantly Vladimir Nabokov and some anarchists, Berkman and Goldman’s advocacy in the United States having made an impression on some in the Russian Empire.[2]

This is important to remember because it explains quite a bit of what happened after the Revolution. There was no real pressure from within the Bolshevik party to decriminalise homosexuality, they decriminalised in a de facto manner by abolishing the old code in its entirety, as a result they never took any initiative to combat homophobic prejudices. On the contrary the few people who publicly tried to combat homophobia soon became the enemies of Bolshevik government.

The law against homosexuality was against paedophilia: This is something else that you see dug up from time to time. The text of the law Stalin’s government drew in 1934 Article 121 refers to Pederasty. So some have argued that it didn’t actually criminalise homosexuality at all, but protected children. This despite that the article defines all sexual acts between men as pederasty regardless of age. The article I quoted at the start makes this excuse later on for an example.

Stalin had no role to play in the recriminalisation of homosexuality
: This is an odd one, but its not surprising given how many Stalinists are squeamish about homophobia, but don't want to admit a fault. I’ve seen it argued repeatedly that Stalin had nothing to do with the revised criminal codes, or he did but not the anti homosexuality articles. For example the text by the Stalin Society says this “I doubt Stalin ever wrote or spoke a single public word on the matter” odd since the recriminalisation of homosexuality was carried by the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of which he was the general secretary.

To be completely accurate in the 1934 criminal code the article against homosexuality was originally listed as Article 154-a but the text remains unambiguous.

“154-a. Sexual relations of a man with a man (pederasty)--

deprivation of liberty for a term up to five years.

Pederasty, done with the employment of force or use of the dependent situation of the victim, --

deprivation of liberty for a term from five to eight years.
[1 April 1934 (SU No 15, art. 95)].”

The Soviet Union Legalised Gay Marriage: There is no evidence of this. There are records of gay couples having marriage ceremonies in the aftermath of the revolution, which probably explains the confusion. However none of them received official recognition or any of the civil benefits of marriage that heterosexual couples enjoyed. And in at least one case a lesbian couple -discussed later on- who got married were ordered to dissolve their union, and when they refused to comply the couple were taken to court.

The Soviet Union Decriminalised Homosexuality: This is actually a big one, to be clear at no point did the Soviet Union abolish legal sanctions against homosexuality. It was decriminalised only in the Russian part of the Union, officially the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). In the other territories controlled by the Bolsheviks, the Central Asian Republics, and Georgia, laws against homosexuality remained in force. So yes even under Lenin men were still being legally punished for homosexuality in territories controlled by the Bolsheviks.

In effect the USSR did not decriminalise but the Russian territory the RSFSR did until 1934. This my seem pedantic but I think its important to keep I mind. I have seen the 1934 recriminalisation of homosexuality depicted as a sort of unprecedented event, but it had plenty of precedent. I haven't seen any details but I have read that after 1934 some of the Soviet Republics actually updated their anti homosexuality laws to be even harsher than the Soviet punishments.

Homosexuality in the early Soviet period
Now that we’ve got these two out of the way I’d like to address some misconceptions instead. Its not entirely accurate to credit Lenin with decriminalising homosexuality. Well at least not in the way its usually done. Typically this is depicted as a benevolent act from a progressive government consciously correcting a great social evil. Its not entirely incorrect the law codes  for the Russian territory used to contain bans on homosexual activity (article 516 in the last code to be enforced), then at some point after November 1917 the new codes in use did not, but it leaves out a lot of important context. Some of which I’d like to address here.

The often-overlooked Provisional government formed after the February Revolution had made a start on dismantling the old Tsarist framework,

“which hesitantly assumed responsibility for affairs of state after the fall of the monarchy in February 1917, represented the liberal impulse among the political elite. Cautious in regard to formal niceties, the new rulers refused to consider themselves the nation’s legitimate successor government until the anticipated convocation of a constituent assembly. They nevertheless began piecemeal to dismantle the legal structure of the old regime. It was under the Provisional Government that women achieved civil rights, that religious and ethnic discrimination was abolished, along with the death penalty and deportation to Siberia, and that the possibility of divorce was enlarged.”[3]

But it didn’t get to the decriminalisation of sodomy. That would have to wait until the October Revolution when the Bolsheviks declared the rest of the code obsolete and worked on a new one.

“By contrast, when the Bolsheviks came to power in October, they showed no timidity in overturning the legal basis of the old regime. Indeed, they immediately ordered the newly instituted ‘‘people’s courts’’ to obey Soviet decrees and to reflect ‘‘revolutionary legal consciousness,’’ while selectively applying only those existing laws that did not contradict socialist principles. By the end of 1918, the Soviet authorities had prohibited the application of any tsarist law. To fill the legislative gap, the new government issued numerous decrees imposing penal sanctions for specific transgressions but failed to introduce any clearly defined order or precise definitions on which the courts could rely. During 1920-21 the Commissariat of Justice authorized the production of a new criminal code, which went into effect on June 1, 1922, to be revised four years later”[4]

As stated previously the absence of a criminal charge for same sex acts only applied to the RSFSR, but even then, the authorities were mixed in their approach. For example in 1930 an entry by the medical expert Sereisky in the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia reads as such, “Soviet legislation does not recognise so-called crimes against morality. Our laws proceed from the principle of protection of society and therefore countenance punishment only in those instances when juveniles and minors are the objects of homosexual interest.”[5]

However another expert the Psychologist Vladimir Bekhterev who worked with the Bolsheviks after the revolution including organising the First Conference on Scientific Organization of Labour in 1921publicly testified at a trial of Russian homosexuals that “‘the public demonstration of such impulses might attract unstable people into the ambit of perversion. The introduction of homosexual tastes and activities to the broad public…is socially harmful and cannot be permitted. The creation of clubs or dens for such purposes must be punished under the criminal law.’

In practise generally speaking homosexuality was treated as a social illness to be cured if possible. To quote Sereisky again “while recognising the incorrectness of homosexual development… our society combines prophylactic and other therapeutic measures will all the necessary conditions for making the conflicts that afflict homosexuals as painless as possible and for resolving their typical estrangement from society within the collective.”[6]

Its not perfect but it sounds like an improvement, though it would depend on the procedures actually used. At this time “therapeutic measures” for homosexuality were often very brutal. Such as aversion “therapy” which was practised at the time. So far I’ve not been able to find any information on what was typically practised by therapists at this time in the Soviet Union. I have however come across some information on how young lesbians were treated in the 80s which involved commitment to psychiatric wards and mind altering drugs.

“A typical scenario, recounted by more than a dozen young Russian lesbians ages 15-19 who were interviewed from 1991 to 1993 by Masha Gessen (1994), involves a parent or other guardian (such as a teacher at a residential school) finding out about a lesbian relationship and committing one or both of the - usually - very young women. A diagnosis and a relatively brief hospitalization - two to three months - and forced treatment with mind-altering medication followed. After her release from the psychiatric hospital, the patient was to remain registered with a local psychiatric ambulatory clinic, (pp. 17-18)”[7]

Now that’s a different time and political climate, but my knowledge of therapeutic cures at that time doesn’t fill me with optimism.

However that was official policy and just like in every other society on earth there’s major differences between how things are supposed to be and how they actually are.

I think a good introduction of immediate post-revolutionary period its called 1917 Russian Revolution: The gay community's brief window of freedom

And it’s a selection of stories from 1917 to the early 1920s about Russia’s queer community. The first story is from 1921 when a member of the secret police staged a fake gay wedding to round Petrograd’s gay community. He arrested 95 people in all. Fortunately for them he couldn’t get anything to stick, but its still not a good sign. And indeed in 1922 the year the Bolshevik government published its first criminal code, there were at least two public trials for homosexuality even though the criminal code contained no such category.

There’s also the issue that the early Bolshevik government was open about punishing people even when they had not technically committed a crime. To give an example of this bizarre attitude in 1921 at a national congress Alexndra Kollontai for example admitted that sex workers were being sent to labour camps despite the fact that there was no actual law against sex work. Indeed she criticised party members who had been looking into drafting some laws against sex work, but maintained her support for the current policy that including sentencing sex workers to labour camps.  

A prostitute is not a special case; as with other categories of deserter, she is only sent to do forced labour if she repeatedly avoids work. Prostitutes are not treated any differently from other labour deserters. This is an important and courageous step.”[8]

This legal arbitrariness is not unprecedented; indeed, it was a common feature of the Tsarist period.

“While it is true that few men were ever prosecuted in tsarist courts for the crime of consenting (homosexual) sodomy, it is not the case that imperial legislation, or even the dominant opinion among progressive legal scholars and lawmakers, exempted sodomy from repression. The tsarist regime was notorious both for ignoring the law (acting through imperial fiat or passing ‘‘emergency legislation’’ that superseded formal procedures and guarantees) and for its laxity in implementing the laws it did endorse. The relative neglect of sodomy in the courts may say more about the inefficiency of the legal system than about active tolerance for sexual diversity.”[9]

The early Bolshevik regime fighting a civil war also had severe issues with upholding its laws and even determining clearly what was and was not a crime.

“the definition of crime was itself in flux, as the violence of revolution and civil war created its own exceptional standards. It was not considered murder, for example, to kill in defense of the revolution or as a matter of ‘‘class justice.’’ Such conduct was thought the stuff of heroism, not delinquency. Yet the absence of codified laws and the state of general uncertainty did not mean that all behavior formerly considered criminal was now officially sanctioned or left unpenalized”[10]

Indeed technically the Bolsheviks had decriminalised murder at the same time that they decriminalised homosexuality, and while decrees covering that crime were quickly instated it took years for the Bolsheviks to codify a proper legal sanction against it. But in practise the courts where they existed continued to hand out sentences for guilty verdicts in the meantime.

The penal code of 1922 is very important, as it finally clarified the official views of the government. And the absence of an article against same sex relations is also important. Its absence shows that while the Bolshevik government wasn’t interested in the rights of homosexuals, at the time it wasn’t interested actively prosecuting them. In Russia, anyway the code was for the RSFSR, it still didn’t apply to the other republics.[11]

However even after 1922 there is a problem causing confusion. The Penal Code allowed for the prosecution of people for acts which were not against the letter of the law in the name of public welfare. This lead to a number of strange cases including the two trials of homosexuals in the RSFSR in 1922 mentioned earlier.

One was similar to the events in the BBC story, Secret police raided what they thought was a political meeting of sailors only to find that it was a meeting of homosexuals and cross dressers. They arrested them and tried as an offence to public welfare, its was at that trial where Bhekterev made his testimony urging the crackdown on public displays of homosexual behaviour.

“The first case arose when the local security police (Cheka) noticed that small groups of men, mostly sailors (voenmory), often congregated in a Petrograd apartment. Interrupting one such meeting, which they suspected of harboring a political agenda, the officers were surprised to discover a peaceful domestic scene apparently consisting of brides and grooms, gentlemen and ladies, decked out in appropriate attire. Upon closer inspection the participants all turned out to be men. They were not political conspirators, the press report indicated, but members of a ‘‘club’’ or ‘‘den’’ (priton) for ‘‘sexual perverts,’’ who presented no less of a public danger. ‘‘Homosexual behavior,’’ the report warned, ‘‘spreads not only among people obviously afflicted with organic abnormality, but also by attracting suggestible people, drawn to their example by curiosity, who accidentally succumb to perverted urges.’’[12]

The second case in 1922 involved a lesbian couple (Well one of the pair may have been transgender or impersonating a man to take a wedding certificate the reports allege fabrication of documents). Which appears the first time in Russian history.[13]

“The other 1922 case concerning homosexuality evoked that same conflict between public interest and private right. It involved the conduct of a woman from a provincial town who changed her name from Evgeniia to Evgenii, adopted male attire, and settled down in marriage with another woman. Instructed by their employers to dissolve their ‘‘marriage,’’ the two refused, claiming that ‘‘no one had the right to interfere in their intimate lives.’’ ‘‘Unsuccessfully defined’’ as a ‘‘crime against nature,’’ the press report noted, the case had bogged down in the courts as investigators tried--and failed--to find signs of abnormality in the defendants’ behavior. A psychiatrist, it was suggested, might have been more successful in defining as deviant the pair’s falsification of documents and stubborn refusal to part.”[14]

So even in 1922 in the territory of the RSFSR there was still some form of official persecution. Though by 1926 there does seem to have been genuine improvement, the revised RSFSR criminal code kept sodomy of the books and it doesn’t appear that similar trials or raids by the police took place, as far as I’m aware, thought I’m still finding more information. Curiously the most tolerant period seems to be the early years of Stalin’s rule. By this point Soviet experts where taking part in international conferences for sexual reform and supported the German Communist parties agitation against Germany’s law against sodomy Paragraph 175. The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia entry quoted earlier from 1930 also comments positively on Magnus Hirschfeld arguably Europe’s most important homosexual rights activist at the time.

Note: Dan Healy in his coverage of this case states that after the prosecutions case collapsed the Commissariat of Justice agreed to let the marriage stand. This is interesting although the source given [A.O. Edelshtein. “K klinike transvestitizma”] has not been translated as far as I know and all the other accounts of the case I'm aware of such as Engelstein and Igor Kon don't state this as a result of the trial, indeed all references I can find to this are either Dan Healy's work or others citing Dan Healy. In addition it seems the relationship collapsed soon after with Evgenii being transferred to Moscow in 1925 and then fired without a clear reason stated. Evgenii would go on to be rearrested in 1926 for impersonation and interviewed by a psychiatrist whom got Evgenii to write a short autobiography which was published under the title "History of my Illness".

So Evgenii's case may have extracted an important concession from the Soviet government, but it seems to be a case of them having to fight for their limited concession and it doesn't appear to have led to a change in the attitudes of the authorities after the incident.

As a final comment both of these trials against homosexuals were the subject of an article in the Commissariat of Justice's Journal arguing that homosexuals could still be tried under the Soviet criminal code the issue was that the local prosecutors inexperience resulted in flawed charges. The author believed the charge of "hooliganism" applied to the Evgenii case and had a good chance of resulting in conviction.

The article’s author, identified only as G. R., offered broad interpretations
of criminal code articles against “hooliganism” and brothelkeeping
to secure convictions against “homosexuals.” Charges of hooliganism
would presumably have proved successful in the women’s case,

Of course it didn’t last, by 7th of March 1934 homosexuality between men was again a serious crime and the official toleration and links with sexual reform movements were shutdown. The second edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia now said this

“The origin of H[omosexualism] is linked to everyday social conditions; for the overwhelming majority of people indulging in H[omosexualism], these perversions stop as soon as the person finds himself in a favorable social environment.... In Soviet society with its healthy mores, H[omosexualism] as a sexual perversion is considered shameful and criminal. Soviet criminal legislation regards H[omosexualism] as punishable with the exception of those instances where H[omosexualism] is a manifestation of marked psychic disorder. (Gomoseksualizm, 1952, p. 35)”[16]

In addition high profile Communist party members like Maxim Gorky and the then Commissar for Justice Nikolai Krylenko publicly attacked homosexuality.

Gorky 1934

“In the land where the proletariat governs courageously [muzhestvenno; also translated as manfully] and successfully, homosexuality, with its corrupting effect on theyoung, isconsidered a social crime punishable under the law. By contrast, in the ‘‘cultivated land’’ of the great philosophers, scholars, and musicians, it is practiced freely and with impunity. There is already a sarcastic saying: ‘‘Destroy homosexuality and fascism will disappear.’’

Krylenko 1936

“The laboring masses believe in normal relations between the sexes and are building their society on healthy principles. In this environment there is no place for such effete gentlemen

 [gospodchiki]. Who provides our main clientele for such affairs? The laboring masses? No! The déclassé riff-raff, whether from the dregs of society or the remnants of the exploiting classes. With nowhere to turn, they take up pederasty. In their company, in foul secret dens, another kind of work also takes place, using this pretext—counterrevolutionary work. These are the people who destabilize [dezorganizatory] the new social relations we are trying to establish between people, between men and women, within the laboring masses. And therefore it is these gentlemen [gospoda] whom we prosecute in court and deprive of five years of freedom”[17]

This attitude would continue until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but even today its effects are still being felt in the ex USSR.

In addition to the sources directly referenced in the footnotes below this essay relied on the information produced from the following sources.

Article published by the Stalin Society

Partial translation of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR

Constitution of the RSFSR

BBC story on homosexuals in the early years of the Bolsheviks

Speech by Kollontai in 1921

Translation (partial) of Soviet Criminal Code published 1936

Interview with Ira Roldugina "The inner lives of queer comrades in early Soviet Russia "

Soviet Homophobia by Professor Igor Kon

Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality a Multi nation Comparison

Soviet Policy to Male Homosexuality by Laura Fingelstein

The Pink Triangle the Nazi War Against Homosexuals by Richard Plant


1: I've made extensive use of the article Soviet Policy Towards Male Homosexuality. In order to read that article I had to pay £36 for the privilege of having access to it for 24 hours. 

2: Though to be clear I don't believe either group had a majority, Nabokov seems to have been a minority, occasionally solitary voice, and many anarchists don't appear to have made public statement at all on the issue. Tolstoy for example vilify a fictional homosexual activist in his novel Resurrection.

3: Soviet Policy Towards Male Homosexuality, Laura Engelstein.

4: Idib.

5: pg 593 of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, taken from Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality a multi nation comparison pg 224

6: Idib.

7: Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality pg 225-6


9: Soviet Policy Towards Male Homosexuality,

10: Idib

11: A partial translation of the RSFSR criminal code (revised in 1924) can be found here

12: Soviet Policy Towards Male Homosexuality

13: To be clearer, the court and the media treated the pair as a lesbian couple and accused Evgenii of posing as a man to trick the authorities.

14: Soviet Policy Towards Male Homosexuality

15: Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia

16: pg 35 of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, translation taken from Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality pg 224

17: Both quotations come from Soviet Policy Towards Male Homosexuality. Krylenko's are taking from a speech in 1936 given to the Central Committee

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