However, the radical left and LGBT movements have intersected and clashed in unique ways since they both emerged from 19th century Europe. Most writers agree that historically, the socialist movement’s record with regard to homosexuality has been mixed. In particular, authoritarian communist states have been strongly opposed to LGBT rights, and sometimes passed laws criminalizing homosexual relationships. On the other hand, LGBT activists have usually identified with the left, and a number of significant figures within socialism (particularly libertarian socialism) have been lesbian, gay or bisexual themselves.
However, these ideas would be dismissed by the influential socialist thinkers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who disparaged utopian socialists for being allegedly naive and lacking a proper understanding of society. Marx and Engels argued that it would be impossible to please everyone and unrealistic to expect a radical transformation of society by peaceful means; they said that the ideas of the utopian socialists were "phantasies, which today only make us smile. Marx condemned the sexual freedom advocated by Fourier and Saint-Simon as a relapse into a "bestial" state of "universal prostitution". Historian Saskia Poldevaart (1995) argues that:
sexuality and the problematic of femininity/masculinity were disowned as legitimate issues as Marxism came to dominate. Utopian socialism's methods — changing the relationships of production as well as relations between the sexes by problematizing sexuality, the family, and the public/private distinction — were narrowed by Marxism to class struggle; utopian socialism's goal — new social relationships between people — was restricted to a new economic order and redistribution of material goods.
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". He worried that things would go badly for heterosexuals like himself and Marx should homosexual rights be gained.
Known to both Ulrichs and Marx was the case of Jean Baptista von Schweitzer, an important labor organiser who had been charged with attempting to solicit a teenage boy in a park in 1862. Social democrat leader Ferdinand Lassalle defended Schweitzer on the grounds that while he personally found homosexuality to be dirty, the labor movement needed the leadership of Schweitzer too much to abandon him, and that a person's sexual tastes had "absolutely nothing to do with a man’s political character". Marx, on the other hand, suggested that Engels use this incident to smear Schweitzer: "You must arrange for a few jokes about him to reach Siebel, for him to hawk around to the various papers. However, Schweitzer would go on to become President of the German Labor Union, and the first Social Democrat elected to a parliament in Europe.
Engels condemned homosexuality among men of ancient Greece in two separate passages of The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, describing it as "morally deteriorated", "abominable", "loathsome" and "degrading". Marx apparently shared Engels' views, writing that "the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being and describing the author of a text promoting sexual freedoms as "that queer prick" ("Schwanzschwulen"). According to the socialist writers Hekma, Oosterhuis and Steakley, Marx and Engels saw any form of sexuality outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage as a kind of degeneracy fostered by capitalism, which could be cured by socialism. According to Engels, "natural moral principles" would flourish in the socialist future, when (heterosexual) "monogamy, instead of declining, finally becomes a reality — for the man as well, and homosexuality would simply disappear.
August Bebel's Woman under Socialism (1879), the "single work dealing with sexuality most widely read by rank-and-file members of the SPD, was even more explicit in warning socialists of the dangers of same-sex love. Bebel attributed "this crime against nature" in both men and women to sexual indulgence and excess, describing it as an upper-class, metropolitan and foreign vice.
The leading figure of the LGBT movement in Germany from the turn of the century until the Nazi government came to power in 1933 was undoubtedly Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld, who was also a socialist and supporter of the Women's Movement, formed the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee to campaign against the law "Paragraph 175" which outlawed male-male sex. Hirschfeld's organisation did a deal with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (of which Lassalle and Schweitzer had been members) to get them to put forward a bill in the Reichstag in 1898, but it was opposed by the rest of the parliament and failed to pass. Most of Hirschfeld's circle of homosexual activists had socialist politics, including Kurt Hiller, Richard Linsert, Johanna Elberskirchen and Bruno Vogel.
Contemporaries of Marx and Engels, Michael Bakunin and Sergei Nechaev were influential anarchists and, some believe, gay lovers. They didn't write about sexual liberation or speak publicly of any romance, but their passionate relationship is revealed in private letters. Bakunin wrote to Nechaev on June 2, 1870, after being betrayed by him: “I loved you deeply and still love you, Nechaev... how deeply, how passionately, how tenderly I loved you and believed in you!”
In Oscar Wilde's The Soul of Man Under Socialism, he passionately advocates for an egalitarian society where wealth is shared by all, while warning of the dangers of authoritarian socialism that would crush individuality. He later commented, "I think I am rather more than a Socialist. I am something of an Anarchist, I believe." Wilde's left libertarian politics were shared by other figures who actively campaigned for homosexual emancipation in the late 19th century, John Henry Mackay and Edward Carpenter. Several writers have noted that in the European Left of early 20th century, where a climate of hostility toward homosexuality prevailed, most of those who supported sexual freedoms such as homosexuality were anarchists.
The Verband Fortschrittlicher Frauenvereine (League of Progressive Women's Associations), a turn-of-the-century left-wing organisation led by Lily Braun campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Germany and aimed at organising prostitutes into labor unions. The broader labour movement either attacked the League, saying they were utopians, or ignored it, and Braun was driven out of the international Marxist movement. Helene Stöcker, another German activist from the left wing of the women's movement, became heavily involved in the sexual reform movement in 1919, after World War I, and served on the board of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. She also campaigned to protect single mothers and their children from economic and moral persecution.
Across the Atlantic, in New York's Greenwich Village, "bohemian" feminists and socialists advocated self-realisation and pleasure for women (and also men) in the here and now, as well as campaigning against the first World War and for other anarchist and socialist causes. They encouraged playing with sexual roles and sexuality, and the openly bisexual radical Edna St. Vincent Millay and the lesbian anarchist Margaret Anderson were prominent among them. The Villagers took their inspiration from the (mostly anarchist) immigrant female workers from the period 1905-1915 and the "New Life Socialism" of Edward Carpenter, Havelock Ellis and Olive Schreiner. Discussion groups organised by the Villagers were frequented by the Russian anarchist Emma Goldman, among others. Magnus Hirschfeld noted in 1923 that Goldman "has campaigned boldly and steadfastly for individual rights, and especially for those deprived of their rights. Thus it came about that she was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public. In fact, prior to Goldman, heterosexual anarchist Robert Reitzel (1849–98) spoke positively of homosexuality from the beginning of the 1890s in his German-language journal "Der arme Teufel" (Detroit).
|The writings of Daniel Guérin offer an insight into the tension sexual minorities among the Left have often felt. A leading figure in the French Left from the 1930s until his death in 1988, Guérin was also bisexual. After coming out in 1965, he spoke about the extreme hostility toward homosexuality that permeated the left throughout much of the 20th century. "Not so many years ago, to declare oneself a revolutionary and to confess to being homosexual were incompatible," Guérin wrote in 1975. In 1954, Guérin was widely attacked for his study of the Kinsey Reports in which he also detailed the oppression of homosexuals in France. "The harshest [criticisms] came from marxists, who tend seriously to underestimate the form of oppression which is antisexual terrorism. I expected it, of course, and I knew that in publishing my book I was running the risk of being attacked by those to whom I feel closest on a political level. After coming out publicly in 1965, Guérin was abandoned by the Left, and his papers on sexual liberation were censored or refused publication in left-wing journals. From the 1950s, Guérin moved away from Marxism-Leninism and toward a synthesis of anarchism and communism which allowed for individualism while rejecting capitalism. Guérin was involved in the uprising of May 1968, and was a part of the French Gay Liberation movement that emerged after the events. Decades later, Frédéric Martel described Guérin as the "grandfather of the French homosexual movement.|
Anarchism's foregrounding of individual freedoms made for a natural marriage with homosexuality in the eyes of many, both inside and outside of the Anarchist movement. Emil Szittya, in Das Kuriositäten-Kabinett (1923), wrote about homosexuality that "very many anarchists have this tendency. Thus I found in Paris a Hungarian anarchist, Alexander Sommi, who founded a homosexual anarchist group on the basis of this idea.” His view is confirmed by Magnus Hirschfeld in his 1914 book Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes: “In the ranks of a relatively small party, the anarchist, it seemed to me as if proportionately more homosexuals and effeminates are found than in others.” Italian anarchist Luigi Bertoni (who Szittya also believed to be homosexual) observed that “Anarchists demand freedom in everything, thus also in sexuality. Homosexuality leads to a healthy sense of egoism, for which every anarchist should strive.”
Anarcho-syndicalist writer Ulrich Linse wrote about "a sharply outlined figure of the Berlin individualist anarchist cultural scene around 1900", the "precocious Johannes Holzmann" (known as Senna Hoy): "an adherent of free love, [Hoy] celebrated homosexuality as a ‘champion of culture’ and engaged in the struggle against Paragraph 175.” The young Hoy (born 1882) published these views in his weekly magazine, ("Kampf") from 1904 which reached a circulation of 10,000 the following year. German anarchist psychotherapist Otto Gross also wrote extensively about same-sex sexuality in both men and women and argued against its discrimination. In the 1920s and 1930s, French individualist anarchist publisher Emile Armand campaigned for acceptance of free love, including homosexuality, in his journal L’en dehors.
The indivualist anarchist Adolf Brand was originally a member of Hirschfeld's Scientific-Humanitarian committee, but formed a break-away group. Brand and his colleagues, known as the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen, were heavily influenced by homosexual anarchist John Henry Mackay. The group despised effeminacy and saw homosexuality as an expression of manly virility available to all men, espousing a form of nationalistic masculine Lieblingminne (chivalric love) that would later be linked to the rise of Nazism. They were opposed to Hirschfeld's medical characterisation of homosexuality as the domain of an "intermediate sex". Brand "toyed with anti-Semitism", and disdained the Jewish Hirschfeld. Ewald Tschek, another homosexual anarchist writer of the era, regularly contributed to Adolf Brand's journal Der Eigene, and wrote in 1925 that Hirschfeld’s Scientific Humanitarian Committee was a danger to the German people, caricaturing Hirschfeld as "Dr. Feldhirsch".
Russian Communist Maxim Gorky infamously remarked in his 1934 essay Proletarian Humanism: "Exterminate homosexuals, and Fascism will disappear. While orthodox Marxist analyses of fascism have generally portrayed fascism as an advanced state of capitalism, leftist writers who have proposed psychosexual theories linking fascism to homosexuality include the Frankfurt School Marxist theorists Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, and later Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Lacan. Historian Carolyn Dean notes that members of the interwar German Left were the first to posit such a link. The Social Democratic Party of Germany's Münchner Post ran a series of articles entitled 'National Socialism and Homosexuality' with headlines like 'Stammtisch 175' and 'Brotherhood of Poofs in the Brown House'. The party's Rheinische Zeitung warned, 'Parents, protect your sons from "physical preparation" in the Hitler Youth.' Harry Oosterhuis, writing about anti-fascism in the 1930s, observed that "such socialist theorists as Wilhelm Reich tended to view homosexuality sociologically and psychologically as a typical rightist, nationalist, and above all fascist aberration... Against the presumed immorality and perversion of the Nazis, the antifascists stressed their own rationality and purity. Mark Meyers writes: "Indeed, although historians have mostly overlooked it, a wealth of evidence suggests that the construction of the fascist man as effeminate and/or homosexual has circulated in Western culture without interruption since the 1930s.
The few recorded statements Vladimir Lenin made about sexuality are devoted to criticising arguments for sexual freedom as a legitimate issue for the Left. One group of leftist writers wrote: "According to Lenin, the very notion of sexual emancipation was typical of capitalist societies and a symptom of bourgeois degeneracy. Clara Zetkin records Lenin's words:
"It seems to me that this superabundance of sex theories [...] springs from the desire to justify one’s own abnormal or excessive sex life before bourgeois morality and to plead for tolerance towards oneself. This veiled respect for bourgeois morality is as repugnant to me as rooting about in all that bears on sex. No matter how rebellious and revolutionary it may be made to appear, it is in the final analysis thoroughly bourgeois. It is, mainly, a hobby of the intellectuals and of the sections nearest to them. There is no place for it in the party, in the class-conscious, fighting proletariat.”
Historian Jennifer Evans reports that the East German government "alternately viewed [same sex activity] as a remnant of bourgeois decadence, a sign of moral weakness, and a threat to the social and political health of the nation. These three characterisations imbued the policies and practises of all the Communist states, as well as those of the socialist/communist organisations that followed their lead.
Productivity and uniformity is paramount in Communist states, and sexual minorities are viewed as unproductive and nonconformist; Communists generally associate male effeminacy with luxury, leisure and the upper classes. Effeminate and homosexual males in some cases have been forced into "re-education" programs involving hard labor, conversion therapy, psychotropic drugs or confinement to psychiatric hospitals.
Gay writer and Cuban revolutionary Reinaldo Arenas recalled that soon after Castro's Communist government came to power, "the persecution started and concentration camps were opened... the sexual act became taboo while the 'new man' was being proclaimed and masculinity exalted. Similar programs of "moral reform" were instituted in the USSR, Communist China and East Germany, as part of building a solid foundation for the new socialist republics. Following the uprising of 1953 in East Germany, the East German government championed the traditional family, while homosexuality was seen to contravene "healthful mores of the working people".
All Communist states have banned associations of lesbians and gays, whether social or political, and have outlawed the publication of gay and lesbian materials. Often, particularly during the 1950s and 60s, lesbians and gays have been denounced, fired from their jobs, imprisoned, deported, and, in some cases, castrated or even executed. As in many parts of the world, conditions improved greatly for LGBT people living in Communist states through the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
Toward the end of the Qing era, a left-wing revolutionary, Qiu Jin, was known for flouting convention by wearing Western male dress. She also fought for women's rights. She was executed in 1907 after taking part in a failed uprising.
Little has been written about LGBT rights under the socialist government of the Kuomintang. Later, following the proclamation of the People's Republic of China by the Communist Party in 1949, repression of homosexuality became more severe. Chinese Communist leaders felt that homosexuality was a capitalist perversion that needed to be eliminated to ensure the success of the liberation of the peasant and working classes. Although no specifically anti-homosexual legislation existed, people suspected of homosexuality were subject to harsh prison sentences, forced castration, and even execution under a range of vaguely-worded laws designed to maintain social order. Anti-homosexual policies were enforced through ostracism and social programs such as compulsory marriage.
In 1997 the Chinese government announced that it would no longer treat homosexual relations between consenting adults in private a crime, and in 2001 the government stated that homosexuality was no longer going to be considered a mental illness. However, the government censorship of the media prohibits the display or reference to homosexuality as being "going against the healthy way of life in China. Since 2001, NGOs serving and advocating for people living with HIV/AIDS have been harassed, hampered or forced to close. In Henan, young activists who started an AIDS orphanage have been beaten and jailed, and many people living with HIV/AIDS who have sought medical care or assistance for their children have been harassed and incarcerated. Chinese authorities have shut down websites offering information to LGBT people, and in December 2005, a planned gay and lesbian cultural festival in Beijing was banned by authorities, resulting in a police raid.
Post World War II, a sexually conservative mood dominated both the Left and the Right. McCarthyism in the US believed a "homosexual underground" was abetting the "communist conspiracy", while the USSR continued to imprison homosexuals for their "bourgeois capitalist vice". A number of homosexual rights groups came into being or were revived across the Western world, in Britain, France, Germany, Holland, the Scandinavian countries and the United States. These groups, now known as the "homophile" movement, were largely politically neutral, although their backgrounds were diverse: the American Mattachine Society and the Dutch COC originated on the left, while the French Arcadie circle sprang from the right.
Harry Hay, who is seen by many as the father of the modern gay rights movement in the United States, was originally a trade union activist. In 1934, he organised an important 83-day-long workers' strike of the port of San Francisco with his lover, actor Will Geer. Despite being an active member of the Communist Party, his founding of the Mattachine Society in the early 1950s got him unceremoniously kicked out. A few years earlier (in 1949), Marxist poet and film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini had also been expelled from the Communist Party in Italy after being arrested for a homosexual act. Homosexuality would continue to be grounds for expulsion from most socialist and communist groups for decades.
The emergence of the new social movements of the 1960s and 1970s forced the Left to review its relationship to gender, sexuality and identity politics. Socialist feminism critiqued Marxism for not properly engaging with gender oppression and subsuming it beneath a broader class oppression.
Emerging from a number of events, such as the May 1968 insurrection in France, the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US and the Stonewall riots of 1969, militant Gay Liberation organisations began to spring up around the world. Many saw their roots in left radicalism more than in the established homophile groups of the time, such as British and American Gay Liberation Front, the British Gay Left Collective, the Italian Fuori!, the French FHAR, the German Rotzschwule, and the Dutch Red Faggots.
The then styled Gay Lib leaders and writers also came from a left-wing background, such as Dennis Altman, Martin Duberman, Steven Ault, Brenda Howard, John D'Emilio, David Fernbach (writing in the English language), Pierre Hahn and Guy Hocquenghem (in French) and the Italian Mario Mieli. Some were inspired by Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization, which attempts to synthesise the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Although 60s radical Angela Davis had studied under Marcuse and was greatly influenced by him, she didn't come out until 1999.
In France, gay activist and political theorist Guy Hocquenghem, like many others, developed a commitment to socialism through participating in the May 1968 insurrection — despite the fact that the young far-left soixante-huitards ('68ers) were initially hostile to "supposedly bourgeois homosexuality". Hocquenghem, like Harry Hay in the U.S, was an active member of the Communist Party who was expelled because of his homosexuality. He later joined the Front Homosexuel d'Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR), formed by radical lesbians who split from the Mouvement Homophile de France in 1971, including the left ecofeminist Françoise d'Eaubonne. That same year, the FHAR became the first homosexual group to demonstrate publicly in France when they joined Paris’s annual May Day march held by trade unions and left-wing parties. However, many on the traditional left opposed their presence: "the Communists characteristically declared in 1972 that “this disorder does not represent the advance guard of society, but the rot of capitalism in its decline.”
Socialist groups in the English-speaking world responded to Gay Liberation in one of two main ways. Some, especially those taking their lead from the Soviet Union or China like the Communist Party USA and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (USA), continued to oppose gay rights and expel homosexual members. The Revolutionary Communist Party's policy that "struggle will be waged to eliminate [homosexuality] and reform homosexuals wasn't abandoned until 2001.
Other socialists bemoaned the perceived decline of the traditional left and the shift of focus from the labour movement to what they saw as middle-class "side issues", distracting from or watering down the class struggle. Many socialist organisations began to recognise "lesbian and gay oppression", but opposed any separate organising. The large and influential Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the US released a memo stating that gay oppression had less "social weight" than black and women's struggles, and prohibited members from being involved in gay political organisations. They also believed that too close an association with gay liberation would give the SWP an "exotic image" and alienate it from the masses.
In 1977, a group of socialist film critics noted that "the left, broadly speaking, has been very reluctant to support gay liberation and much of the left has actively opposed it, reproducing same of the worst antigay attitudes of straight society". As the Gay Liberation movement began to gain ground, some Socialist organisations' policies evolved, and a small number of groups actively campaigned for gay rights. Notable examples are the feminist Freedom Socialist Party and Socialist Party USA, the latter of which was the first American political party to nominate an openly gay man for President, running David McReynolds in 1980.
In recent years, significant social and political gains have been made by LGBT communities, while traditional Left has declined. As a result, the Left is more likely to accept or even support sexual and gender diversity than they have historically, while LGBT public figures are somewhat less likely to support the Left. In countries with a degree of social acceptance of homosexuality, a new voice of gay conservatives has emerged — although political conservatism has also been found to be a strong predictor of prejudice against lesbians and gays. Some leftists blame the decline of the Left on "identity politics" (which includes LGBT social movements).
In New Zealand, the Socialist Action League was an early supporter of lesbian and gay rights. This Trotskyist organisation could be relied upon to field activists for causes like pro-abortion counter-demonstrations against anti-abortion activists at local abortion clinics and supported homosexual law reform in the mid-eighties.
Some sectors of the right, emphasising individual liberties rather than social conservatism, have begun to champion a libertarian perspective on gay rights; gay groups in the US such as the Log Cabin Republicans and the Independent Gay Forum criticise the "left orthodoxy" of the LGBT movement and the perceived promiscuity and effeminacy of gay culture, while championing American "traditional values". The American business community has widely adopted anti-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation, including 460 of the Fortune 500 (as of 2006). However, the most vocal opposition to LGBT rights comes from the religious right, and broadly speaking, the Left continues to be more supportive of sexual minorities and gender variance than the Right. An American democratic socialist group, the Democratic Socialists of America, endorsed gay rights as part of a larger endorsement of the policies of the Socialist International, although the group doesn't display such support openly on their official website. The Socialist Party USA again nominated David McReynolds as its Presidential candidate in 2000.
In 2005 the Communist Party USA issued an official statement endorsing LGBT human rights at its national convention and promised to create a national party commission to address the issue, although the party did not aplogize for kicking out gay men from the party
Left and socialist groups in Great Britain are generally supportive of LGBT rights. There is some controversy surrounding RESPECT The Unity Coalition, a new socialist political party whose leadership is dominated by Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party. At its party convention there was some argument over the lack of explicit support for gay rights in the party manifesto. Some party members, along with other groups on the British left, accused the party leadership of backpedaling on gay rights in order to satisfy the demand of one of the political party's major financial backers, Dr Mohammed Naseem Naseem is the founder of the Islamic Party of Britain, and gay rights activists and socialists accused the Respect Party leadership of pandering to the homophobia of conservative Muslim constituents as opposed to working with progressive Muslims and standing up for the rights of gay Muslims. Naseem, however, stated that the Islamic Party was now little more than a thinktank, and furthermore, disagreed with the statements on the Islamic Party website which Tatchell pointed to, stating his views on homosexuality as follows: "These things are a matter of personal choice... I am not concerned with what people do in their bedrooms." Naseem was also present at Respect's 2005 conference, where the vote to reaffirm Respect's support of LGBT rights was passed unanimously. The Respect Party website does include its official position on gay rights issues Respect split in 2007. One of its two successors, the SWP backed Left Alternative held a float at the 2008 London Pride, promoting itself as a pro-LGBT organisation.