Homosexuals Life In Stalins Propagandist Russia History Essay
This essay will attempt to understand Homosexuality in Stalinist Russia and this will be done because very little is known regarding the History of Homosexuality in Russia. What is known seems to have been written in the context of its development in certain section of society rather thaan an attempt to understand why it was used as a method of opression and scandal for propagandndist purposes. Before the second world war, not much was written on the topic of homosexuality by academic historians of the west. There were however a number of eye witness accounts of the treatment of people, one example being that of Lev Samuilovich Klein. Even more tragically, not much is known about the idea of homosexuality even in a burgeoning 21st century Russia which was in essence the turning point for the West and Russias relationship. From the perspective that the West at this stage was an academic boiling pot filled with new universities and indeed new disciplines, one can only assume that the lack of proper investigation into sexuality in a Russian context and from Western-academic perspectives was to put it bluntly, an illustration of pure disinterest in the Iron Fists growth either as a people or as a section of the world. This is particulry striking when the West seemed to have its nose in everyone elses business at this time in aid the furtherance of democratic interests. Even though homosexuality might not have been on the agenda for most of societies interested parties, it is quite obvious it was not on the Wests agenda. This essay will endeavor to examine Russian conceptions of same-sex love and relations in an attempt to uncover the social practices that might have corresponded to or inspired such ideas from a social, political and cultural understanding while discussing the use of homosexuality as a propogandist and opressionist methodology.
Soviet society was for most of its existence morally conservative. This legacy is not necasarily problematic when Soviet society is compared to most societies of the time but from the point of view of homosexuality and homosexuals it is. Homosexuals where a repressed grouping in a Soviet Union, of the 1930s which was still in its infancy. It was facing new challenges and the memory of the old monarchy was still fresh in everyone's memory.
Homosexuality, at the time, was largely associated with the lavish bedroom lives of the old elite, and wasn't seen as a social minority but more like a perverse product of the ultra-right. This was propaganda and the use of propaganda can be traced back through generations of Russian/Slavic and Soviet History. In the early 1870's, the intelligentsia's idealisation of the peasantry and frustration with its own situation and its prospects for political reform led to a spontaneous mass movement which best exemplified the Populist aspirations – the "going to the people" of 1873 – 4. Thousands of students and members of the intelligentsia left the cities to go to villages, sometimes envisaging themselves as enlighteners of the pesantry, sometimes more humbly seeking to aquire the simple wisdom of the people, and sometimes with the hope of conducting revolutionary organisation and propaganda. It is obvious now that little had changed between then and the Stalinist era.
What was quite well known in the time of the Stalinist reign (which is one of the the worst yet most obvious of abuses at the hands of the Soviet power men) was that there were many reputable homosexual Soviets, even in the communist party. Of course, they were all married. This is a prime example of the hypocrisy within the bourgeois morality that existed. An indictment of Stalin and his Soviet power men was written in 1936 and it describes Stalins regime as Thermidorian, "that rested on the support of an emergent Soviet bureaucratic class and reflecting its essentially bourgeois values". In the Stalin years the Soviet Union recriminalised homosexuality in a decree signed in 1933.
The new Article, Article 121, punished muzhelozhstvo with imprisonment for up to 5 years saw raids and arrests increase at a dramatic rate. Article 121 was often commonly used to extend prison sentences and to control dissidents. Among those imprisoned were the film director Sergei Paradjanov and the poet Gennady Trifonov. At Nikolai Yezhov's trial during 1930s he was accused of being gay. Another accused was Lev Samuilovich Klein. The prison memoirs of Lev Samuilovich Klein, an academic imprisoned under article 121 of the Soviet Criminal Code outlawing homosexual activity, were published in the journal Neva. While neither confessing nor denying a homosexual orientation, Klein, using the pseudonym Lev Samoilov, suggested that, as in the case of the philologist Konstantin Azamovskii, there was a political motivation behind his incarceration: "the authorities were always bothered by how I did my professional work - too independently, that is, on my own, as I see it, with a pull toward innovation." Moreover, the book version which was published didnt question Klein's sexuality or make any mention of homosexuals. It chose instead to focus on the vagaries and violence of a thoroughly politicised criminal justice system. All this would appear to support Kevin Moss's claim that "in East European culture of the Soviet period the major axis of definition that structures thought is not sexual, but political: dissident and pro-Soviet."
Unlike in the west where sexual orientation has long been seen as a key to unlocking the secrets of an individual's behavior and psyche, in the USSR "the kinds of knowledge that it is felt needful to cover in secrecy" were not, Moss argues, primarily sexual. There was not therefore the same degree of suspicion surrounding an individual's sexual identity, nor the same imperative to dissimulate, which explains why some Russian homosexuals today express a certain nostalgia for a time when homosexuality, though criminalised, was largely invisible.
Medieval Russia was apparently very tolerant of homosexuality. There is evidence of homosexual love in some of the lives of the saints from Kievan Rus dating to the 11th century. Homosexual acts were treated as a sin by the Orthodox Church, but there were no legal sanctions against them at the time, and even churchmen seemed perturbed by homosexuality. Even nine or so centuries later the Russian Orthodox Church "turned a blind eye" to nonmarital sex and did not differentiate homosexual and heterosexual relations outside marriage. Bathouses and workshops were recurrent sites for Russian male-male sexual relations that were not problematic to those involved or to the courts or to very many modernising moral entrepreneurs.
Foriegn visitors to Russia in the later centuries repeatedly express their amazement at the open displays of homosexual affection among men of every class. Sigismund von Heberstein, Adam Olearius, Juraj Krizhanich, and George Turberville all write about the prevalence of homosexuality in Russia in their travel and memoir literature. The first laws against homosexual acts appeared in the 18th century, during the reign of Peter the Great, but these were in military statutes that applied only to soldiers. It was not until 1832 that the criminal code included Article 995, which made muzhelozhstvo (men lying with men, which the courts interpreted as anal intercourse) a criminal act punishable by exile to Siberia for up to 5 years. Even so, the legislation was applied only rarely, especially among the upper classes. Many prominent intellectuals of the 19th century led a relatively open homosexual or bisexual life. Among these were the memoirist Philip Vigel, the explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky, the critic Konstantin Leontiev, and the composer Peter Tchaikovsky. The 19th century historian Sergei Soloviev writes that "nowhere, either in the Orient or in the West, was this vile, unnatural sin taken as lightly as in Russia."
The turn of the century saw a relaxation of the laws, and a corresponding increase in tolerance and visibility. In 1903 Vladimir Nabokov, father of the writer and a founder of the Constitutional Democrat party, published an article on the legal status of homosexuals in Russia in which he argued that the state should not interfere in private sexual relationships. The period between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 was the Silver Age in Russian literature, but something of a golden age for Russian homosexuals. Many important figures led open gay lives, including several members of the Imperial Court. Sergei Diaghilev and many of the members of the World of Art movement and the Russian ballet were gay. In 1906 Mikhail Kuzmin published his semi-autobiographical coming out novel Wings, which became the talk of the literary world in Russia. This, it would seem was a time of definition for Russian homosexuals as the fight for rights began to make an appearence both publicly and privately.
Scholars disagree about the effect of the Bolshevik Revolution on homosexual rights. Some argue that the Soviets were at the forefront of humanity in decriminalising homosexuality while others have the view that the Bolshevik doctrine and distaste for sexuality of any kind set the movement back. While it is plausible that the precedent of the French revolutionary regime's decriminalisation was known to the law codifiers, and although it is clear that this decriminalisation was trumpeted in propaganda about the new social order for western consumption.
The October Revolution of 1917 did away with the entire Criminal Code, and the new Russian Criminal Codes of 1922 and 1926 eliminated the offence of muzhelozhstvo from the law.  Unfortunately, decriminalisation in the early Soviet period did not mean an end to persecution. The modern Soviet fervor for science meant that homosexuality was now treated as a subject for medical and psychiatric discourse, an illness to be treated and cured. Furthermore, in the popular mind, homosexuality was still associated with bourgeois and aristocratic values. As Shiela Fitzpatrick so eloquently states in The Russian Revolution, "despite their reservations about sexual liberation, the Bolsheviks had legalised abortion and divorce  shortly after the revolution and strongly supported womens rights to work; they were popularly regarded as enemies of the family and traditional moral values" and obviously homosexuality alongside these goes against the tradition of the "family". Fitzpatrick goes further and admonishes that "motherhood and the virtuess of modern family life made a comeback in the 1930's which may be read as a reactionary move, a concession to public opinion or both at once. Gold wedding rings reappeared in the shops, free marriage lost its legal status, divorce became more difficult to obtain, and persons taking their family responsibilities lightly were harshly criticised, an example of this being that a "poor husband and father cannot be a good citizen" while there began an indoctrination of children.  Abortion was soon back on the agenda though when it was outlawed after public discussion that showed support for both the pro- and anti- abortion viewpoints  while male homosexuality was criminalised without publicity. To communists who had assimilated the more emancipated attitudes of an earlier period, this all came very close to the dreaded philistinism of the bourgeoisie, especially given the sentimental and sanctimonious tones in which motherhood and the family were now discussed".
Cultural life was to an extent smothered by the regimes new position. Life as people knew it was once again being stripped before their very eyes. A comparison can be made with many other regimes at the time and one would assume that these repressions had played out in the underground and out of the eye of the public, but that would be an incorrect assumption and would do injustice to the people that suffered at the hands of the people in power. The people in power not only justified these repressions but did so in the most narcicistic, arrogant and inhumane way as to justify them as being best for the people at large. Although this might be a 21rst century view it is no less relevant in the interprestation of a homosexual life under Stalinist rule. Cultural behaviours and interests were the most visible signs of elite status that the communist officlas where expected to display. This is a very typical demonstration of a "top down" mentality. A demonstration of "power over the powerless". Just to illustrate to what extent the ruling party where hypocrites one only has to look at the broad relationship between the old "beourgeois intelligentsia" and the communist officials. Non-Communist professionals which are the old "beourgeois intelligentsia" belonged to the "new elite" and they mixed socially with Communist officials and for the most part shared the same advantages and priveleges as they did.  They did what they want, when they wanted.
An oppressed people like homosexuals who, if they where not of the same circle or postion as the above would recieve no allowance for who they where, not that they wanted special treatment, just equal in the positive sense. This comes back to an earlier point which has been made regarding the married elite who had had sexual relations with men. Even though some men of the elite laid with other men, it was considered to be a private thing and as long as those men represented the party without calling it into disrepute then not much more would be said about these married mens conduct. This is another dire demonstration of the hypocricy that existed alsongside the propoganda which was used to control and torment those who disagreed or did not toe the party line.
Of histories written in the Soviet Union before the war, pride of place must be given to a work written under Stalin's close supervision, the oft viewed notorious "Short Course in the History of the Soviet Communist Party" which was published in 1938. As the reader may guess, this was not a scholary work but a work which was designed to lay down the correct "party line" and that is the doctrine and propoganda which is to be absorbed by all Communits and which was to be taught in all schools.
The communist propoganda was essentially based on the Marx and Lenin ideology which was used to promote the Communist party line.  The main Soviet censorship body, Glavlit, employed seventy thousand full-time staff not only to eliminate any undesirable printed materials, but also "to ensure that the correct ideological spin was put on every published item". Publising or displaying anything that went against the "Party line" was punishable with imprisonment. Some historians believe an important goal of communist propaganda was "to justify political repression of entire social groups which Marxism considered to be antagonisitc to the class of proletariat.  From 1922 to 1933 there was no single official position on homosexuality, at least in the Slavic heartlands, but it was treated with suspicion as being "unproletarian;" i.e, decadent, bourgeois behavior that would naturally disappear from the social revolution and the suppression of monasteries. The socialist German sex-reformer Magnus Hirschfeld, visiting in 1926, "realised that no open, organised group of homosexuals existed in the new Russia and that Soviet journalism and literature were silent about the question"
Social "cleansing" accelerated from 1929 through 1932 as part of forced rapid industrialisation and
collectivisation necessary for "socialism in one country" As Hirschfeld stated, there might have been no official position on homosexuality but there is no doubt that the Comminist Party knew how to behave towards the subject. The Communist Party systematically used the issue of homosexuality as a way of carrying out Decossackization.
Decossackization, which is a term used to describe the Bolsheviks policy of the systematic elimination of the Cossacks as a social group. Dekilakization was also used. Dekilakization was the Soviet campaign that consisted of political repressions which included arrests, deportations and the execution of millions of the "better off peasants" and their families btween 1929 and 1932. The richer peasants were labeled Kulaks and considered they where considered class enemies. The treatment of peasants was similar to the treatment of homosexuals and regarding this Richard Pipes wrote: "a major purpose of Communist propaganda was arousing violent political emotions against the regime's enemies." 
The censorship that existed in Soviet society was omnipresent and extremely pervasive as was proven above in the case of Lev Samuilovich Klein. There exited many, many more people in which the accusation of Homosexuality was used against to further the propogandist motivations of the Soviet rulers. Threat of prosecution was also used to blackmail homosexuals into informing for the police and the KGB. A deputy chief of the secret police (OGPU) Genrikh Grigor'evich Iagoda proposed recriminalising sodomy in 1933, because homosexuals "using the castelike exclusivity of homosexual circles for plainly counterrevolutionary aims, politically demoralised various social layers of young men, including young workers, and even attempted to penetrate the army and navy". Iagoda used "pederasty" as as his excuse (though not exclusively) for the proposition of the recriminalisation of homosexuality. Stalin noted that "these scoundrels must receive exemplary punishment and a corresponding guiding decree must be introduced in our legislation"  The recriminaliation of homosexuality (sodomy) was a pro-nationalist strategy in in the Soviet preparation for war. Iagoda sent Stalin a draft 13 December 1933 that was approved by the Politburo on 16 December, promulgated by various republics within three months, and defended by the cowed cultural spokesman Maksim Gor'kii in Pravda and Izvestiia on 23 May 1934 as necessary to block the moral degradation and seduction of the nation's youth, particularly its military personnel (as war with Nazi Germany loomed). Shame and frustration were even stronger since Communist propaganda focused on the intensly erotic aspects of young men and women proletarians, and the official art replayed the very often ambiguous socialist imagery. Group life intensified the notion of the forbidden, yet at the same time favored encounters and temptation.
The summer of 1991 saw the first international film festival, and a demonstrations for gay rights in Moscow and Leningrad took place. This was followed almost immediately by an attempted coup. The collapse of the Soviet Union that soon followed the failed coup only accelerated the progress of the gay movement. In 1993 a new Russian Criminal Code was signed thankfully and necesarily without Article 121. Men who had been imprisoned under the article began to be released. Gay life in Russia as we know it today is in the process of normalisation. Capitalism has brought the first gay businesses which include bars, nightclubs, saunas, hotels, restaurants and even a travel agency. While life in urban areas remains hard for gay men, Russian gays in the cities are beginning to create a community. The utopian vision of society in communist ideology was very much important not just because the government wanted to suppress, opress and censor anything or anyone who was deemed antagonistic to the class of the proletariat. This was because the broader Soviet society was morally conservative and the political motivation which where abundant in Soviet society far outweighed any right minded thinking because government saw homosexuality as a perverse product of the "unltra right" and these dissidents needed to be controlled in an effort to supress any form of independent thought or innovation which was anything but pro-Soviet and homosexuals where seen as being the holders of bougeois values and these went against the "party line". The "part line" was not only for the benefit of society within the Soviet state, it was also laced with propoganda about the new "social order" which was typically for western consumption. Decriminisation of homosexually formed part of this propoganda and an important aspect of that was to maintain the progressive image of the Soviet Union abroad and the purpose was to insist that the Soviet state was an ideal for all workers of the world. 
If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please click on the link below to request removal: