Gay victims of Communism
There is another imbalance. We know a fair amount about the theoretical bases of homophobia in Marxism and Marxist regimes, but relatively little about the actual persecution of gay and lesbian people.
Hubert Kennedy wrote an invaluable article on the personal homophobia of Marx and Engels, showing how they deployed innuendo of this kind in an effort to destroy a political opponent, Johann-Baptist von Schweitzer, who had been entrapped in a German public park. ("Johann-Baptist von Schweitzer: The Queer Marx Loved to Hate," Journal of Homosexuality, 29:2.3, 1995, pp. 69-96,) Other things being equal, this penchant might not have mattered, any more than, say, Marx's preference for Greek classical art over medieval art. During the 1920s, however, the world Communist movement began to adopt the rhetoric of decadence, including the idea that dying capitalism fosters perversion. Conversely, it is a feature of utopianism to exclude all sorts of things, from cabarets to street life, that the utopian thinkers regard as undesirable. Despite claims to the contrary, Marxism is a utopian, quasi-religious ideology. Some aspects of contemporary life were destined to find no place in Paradise.
In my view it would take an international committee to document the crimes of Communism against gay people. Yet there seems little appetite for this.
This is part of a larger asymmetry. As far as I know, none of the Stalinist criminals still alive in Russia has been brought to justice. Most of the gulag sites are disappearing, unlike Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other places which have been rightly retained, at least in part, as a perpetual reminder of Nazi barbarism. There is still time to interview actual gay and lesbian victims of Communism. But not much more time.
Let me focus first on a country that is near at hand—Cuba. Sometimes I bring up the issues of the UMAP "reeducation" centers for gays in the sixties and seventies, and the enforced isolation of people with AIDS in the eighties. My interlocutors tend to respond: "Oh, that was a long time ago. Things are just fine now." They are not just fine. While the more overt measures of repression have ceased, discrimination persists. Being gay is not consistent with being a good Communist.
An atmosphere of "let bygones be bygones" prevails, no doubt reflecting the notion that Communism must be judged by its ostensibly noble ideals and not by its sordid practice. We are told that homophobia in Cuba reflects a confluence of Hispanic machismo and (ostensibly misunderstood) leftist puritanism. The principle blame, it seems, must be laid primarily at the door of the Spanish conquistadores. Such a view has been espoused by "El" himself (Fidel).
Another reason why people do not want to discuss past persecution and present discrimination applied to gays in Cuba is that this issue does not fit with the left-liberal narrative that the Cuban problem results entirely from the US embargo. We are supposed to engage constructivelye. Yet the Canadians and Europeans have found that does not work.
Together with North Korea, Cuba remains one of the two sole remaining orthodox Communist countries. Yet some shrink from even calling it Communist.
Internet sites on gays in Cuba are clogged by official Castroite propaganda alleging that all is well, and by small groups of pro-Castro gays, who serve the well-known function of useful idiots.
Fortunately there remains a book, by an honest leftist, Allen Young, Gays Under the Cuban Revolution (1981), if you can find it.
More generally, I think that the problem of documenting the oppression of gays under Communism needs to be divided into five sectors: 1) the former Soviet Union; 2) the Warsaw Pact countries of East-Central Europe; 3) the People's Republic of China; 4) Vietnam; and 5) Cuba.
In the rest of this posting I will only deal with the first. The Bolshevik Criminal Code of 1922 eliminated same-sex acts between adults. However, matters darkened in the late twenties, leading to full recriminalization in 1934. This pattern has been interpreted by gay Trotskyites as indicating that all was well under Lenin; it was Stalin's "aberration" that caused the difficulty. However, Simon Karlinsky has pointed to interviews with Lenin in which he indicated that all forms of sexual freedom were inimical to Marxism. In several articles Karlinsky did valiant work in opposing leftist myths, but I am not sure that he has kept up with the most recent developments.
On the site GAY.RU one can find a good piece by Igor Kon, a Russian sex researcher who moved to this country. Kon's earlier work was superficial, but this seems better. What I don't know is the extent that Russian gays were able to take advantage of the brief window of opportunity that opened in the archives post 1991.
A well documented episode is the visit of the great French writer André Gide to the Soviet Union in 1936. He went as a fellow traveler and returned deeply shaken. He wrote two books about the experience, the first circumspect, the second more outspoken about the social misery and absence of freedom of expression in the USSR. The Communists and their allies turned viciously on him. Some relied on innuendo, speaking of his problems with "morals" and his devotion to young men. The Communist pundit André Wurmser went further, producing a scurrilous article entitled "A Poor Bugger: André Gide." Another role, then, that homophobia played among Communists was to punish those who stepped out of line by advertising their proclivities. Something similar happened when Alger Hiss, after his exposure as a spy for the Soviets, sought to discredit his accuser Whitaker Chambers by talk about his homosexuality—-as if this had anything to do with the matter of Hiss' guilt.