Tag Archives: homophobia

Dolly Bellefleur, “Stop, Stop, Stop, Putin!”

On April 8, 2013, thousands of people protested in Amsterdam against President Putin’s homopobic laws and the general lack of human rights and free speech in Russia. “Beauty with Brains” Dolly Bellefleur made a protest song especially for this occasion

Thanks to the Free Pussy Riot! Facebook page for the heads-up.

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Hello, Amsterdam!

Amsterdam welcomes the Russian president:

Thanks to Comrades Alexander and Elena for the heads-up. This posting was edited on April 14, 2013, after the Vimeo video originally featured here was removed.

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International Women’s Day Special: Elena Kostyuchenko on Fighting Russia’s Anti-LGBT Law

March 8 marks the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the first in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

Journalist and LGBT activist Elena Kostyuchenko was interviewed by Filipp and Tikhon Dzyadko on January 24, 2013, for the TV Rain program The Dzyadko Three. The following day, January 25, the Russian State Duma passed in its first reading a law bill banning the “promotion of homosexuality” among minors. The bill will have to undergo two more readings, and then by ratified by the Federation Council and signed by the Russian president before it becomes law.

 

 

Dzyadko Three: Our guest is the LGBT activist and outstanding Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchenko. Today, we would like to discuss the latest incredible decision our legislators are about to make or are, at least, discussing. That is, the Duma intends to pass a law banning the promotion of homosexuality among minors.

There are many details to this, which we’re going to talk about now. This week, a protest against it called the Day of Kisses took place, and our guest, Elena Kostyuchenko, was one of the organizers. Please tell us about what happened. Basically, everyone more or less knows what happened. Everyone they managed to get hold of got beat up, and that was it, right?

Elena Kostyuchenko: This was actually the second time we staged the Day of Kisses. This time, more people came out; there were about thirty people. TV Rain reported that these were members of the LGBT community, but actually, it was about fifty-fifty LGBT and heterosexuals who came out to support us. There were also people who call themselves Russian Orthodox activists, and some roughnecks itching for a fight. Two of my friends got their noses broken, and they beat up my girlfriend. They attacked people during the protest, as protesters were approaching the protest site, and when they were going back to the metro. They were waiting for most of the people to leave and then attacked those who were left.

DT: But you knew this would happen?

EK: Well, I had anticipated the possibility because they had been discussing on VKontakte [a Russian social network modeled on Facebook—trans.] about whether to take baseball bats and knuckledusters with them.

DT: What do you think of today’s demonstration? Did it come off? Was it worth it?

EK: Of course it was.

DT: Why?

EK: Because doing something is always better than sitting at home and waiting around for Duma deputies to declare you a second-class citizen.

DT: Could you describe background of this law? Discussion of most of these [legislative] initiatives has been going on for almost a year, yes?

EK: These kinds of laws were first passed in several regions, and the other regions are now rushing to pass these laws in order to kowtow to the federal center in anticipation of the law being passed nationally. For instance, they’re rushing to pass a law in Kaliningrad, but there [they’re planning to ban] the promotion of homosexuality in general. If you want to watch the film Total Eclipse and you’re from Kaliningrad, the government will take care of you. Naturally, it is the United Russia party [the ruling party in Russia—trans.] that is primarily pushing all of this through.

DT: And yet the party’s leader [former president] Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with the big five TV channels that he doesn’t see the point of the law.

EK: We all know that his leadership is a formality. He doesn’t actually decide anything.

DT: Have you considered appealing to him?

EK: No, I haven’t considered it.

DT: Whom does it make sense to appeal to?

EK: To the public and to the people who call themselves Duma deputies. Aside from our protest action, we’ve launched a website, loveislegal.ru, where anyone can submit photographs of themselves and voice their stance against this law. Last time round, we submitted more than six hundred photographs. Tomorrow, we’ll deliver a hundred and fifty more.

DT: To where? To the Duma?

DT: Speaking of your website, here is an excerpt of a text you can read there, addressed to the Duma. “We hope that before you discuss and vote on this bill, you will familiarize yourselves with the academic literature on the subject and learn that homosexuality is not a disease and that promoting it, like promoting left-handedness, is impossible.” I read this text, and it’s right, there is just one thing I don’t understand.

EK: This text doesn’t come from the website. It’s an excerpt from one of the letters we submitted with the photographs.

DT: That you submitted to the Duma. If there are people you need to tell that homosexuality isn’t a disease and, like left-handedness, it is impossible to promote it, then besides that, you need to explain to these people they shouldn’t snort laundry detergent but use it to wash clothes, or that toothpaste isn’t dangerous if it is used correctly. These are obvious things. Can there be any hope if you have to explain these basics to people?

EK: You have to explain the basics to people because the lawmaking and rhetoric that has been going on lately in the Duma gives one the impression that the people saying these things don’t have a higher education and may not have even finished high school. When I travel and speak to vocational school students, many of them make better arguments and are more articulate in expressing their views than certain Duma deputies. Yes, there are people who don’t know that homosexuality has long since been removed from the list of diseases. They really don’t know that if a child hears the word “lesbian,” it won’t make him or her a lesbian, and so on and so forth.

DT: Let’s talk about methods a bit. Your Day of Kisses is clearly a provocative action to some extent. It’s what they call “trolling” nowadays. You’re going out to people you know for sure don’t accept you, and you know some lowlifes will show up and pour ketchup on someone, in the best-case scenario, and this will be an excuse for the press to cover it. TV Rain will broadcast a report, there will be photos on various websites, and it will generate buzz around the issue. Are you just protesting to be sensational?

EK: Absolutely not. I don’t consider our protest action provocative. We aren’t doing anything terrible. We are just going to the Duma with a mixed group of people, homosexuals, heterosexuals, couples, singles, and, for those who have them, significant others. If a person doesn’t have anyone to kiss, they just hug whoever is standing next to them. There is nothing provocative in expressing natural human feelings. We aren’t taking our feelings to the hideouts of the nationalists or the apartments of Russian Orthodox activists. We are walking through our own city and going up to a government building.

DT: But this action is aimed at causing conflict from the outset. You know that these people are against you, and that the Duma is going to pass this anti-gay law. You know that the Duma deputies are against you, and you read VKontake and see that the Orthodox activists are planning to go there and try and beat you up.

EK: Listen. If you’re afraid of bullies, you shouldn’t go anywhere. The scumbags go after us when we stand outside with placards; they follow us when we go to make a television appearance. Yesterday, after the taping on Kontr TV there was a whole group of them waiting outside for me.

DT: But when you protest like this, you’re the one provoking them.

EK: No. I am completely convinced I am not provoking them. For example, at protest action that took place on Tuesday, the Day of Kisses, the [Orthodox] activists showed up twenty minutes before it was supposed to start to take their places. Then the journalists showed up early as well to check out the scene, figure out where they should stand. But the activists were so eager to fight that even before the gay people came, they started attacking the journalists. Were the journalists provoking them by standing outside the State Duma with their cameras? No. These people just wanted to beat someone up. And by the way, I want to warn all the journalists who will be attending tomorrow’s protest. [The Orthodox activists] have been writing on their forums that they will be attacking journalists first and foremost in order to prevent them from filming the beatings and fights. They want to make the journalists know that they can’t come there and film the protests.

DT: […] What kinds of protest tactics are available today and how effective are they? What do you think will work? […] How else can you demonstrate that homosexuality is normal?

EK: Well, everyone does what he or she can. I am not the center of LGBT activism in Russia. I actually don’t do that much activism: I have a lot of other work. It’s just that I’ve been focusing on it this past week because I know that my life specifically will be severely affected for a long time, as will the lives of millions of gays and lesbians in Russia. We created this website because we have a guy who knows how to make websites. Some people in Petersburg, a group of specialists, doctors and psychologists, put together a thorough analysis of this legislative bill, an analytic report for Duma deputies, where they write about how homosexuality is not a disease and cannot be promoted. Some people go into the street with placards and do one-man pickets. Some people campaign for international support. Some try to get other governments involved in this issue. Everyone does what he or she can. That is why when people tell me that I’m doing this wrong, I say, “Do it yourself, you have the means.” It’s just that right now there is a week left. I think the majority of your audience has more than reasonable ideas on this issue. Homosexuals don’t feel like they need to hide from you, and the majority of you have gay and lesbian friends. If you don’t want these people to be officially declared second-class citizens within a week, if you don’t want them to be subject to fines for no reason or have to pay fifty thousand rubles [approximately 1,250 euros—trans.] every time they go out on the street, you should do something about it. There is not much time left. We are doing what we can. If you are concerned, you should also do what you can.

DT: If and when this law is passed, what threat does it actually pose to homosexuals?

EK: The problem is that “promotion” is not at all defined in the legislation. We know why this is: it is difficult to describe a phenomenon that doesn’t exist. Apparently, the deputies lack the literary skills to define it.

DT: Or they lack the imagination.

EK: Yes. In an explanatory note to the law, it says any reference to homosexuality as normal or same-sex relationships as being equal to heterosexual relationships is deemed “promotion.” Thus, this program we’re taping today will a month from now be deemed “flagrant promotion of homosexuality,” as they put it, and your channel will be fined half a million rubles [approximately 12,500 euros—trans.]. In a month, a show like this will be impossible. In addition, because it is the [Russian federal] administrative offenses code that is being amended, it will be up to the police to enforce the law. Thus, the police department of, say, the city of Bryansk, which knows full well who is gay in their precincts, may see a couple holding hands, approach them, and make some money off them [through fines]. Especially since the gay community, like the Russian population at large, is rather illiterate when it comes to legal matters.

DT: When we were putting together the issue of Bolshoi Gorod about homosexuality, back when they were passing this law in Petersburg, a number of experts told us that the main problem is that many young people who are homosexuals will [after passage of the law] have all the more reason to be closeted, which leads to a large number of suicides. In the end, we will be left without any means for dealing with this huge problem.

EK: Unfortunately, we have very little data on suicide in general, even though Russia has among the highest number of teen suicides in the world. In fact, there are no statistics about the LGBT community in Russia. None. But there are American statistics. In the US, LGBT teenagers kill themselves three times or three and half times more often than their heterosexual peers. These are the official numbers from the US Department of Health [and Human Services]. It’s because even in America, there’s such a thing as harassment. I don’t even want to think about what goes on in Russian cities. I grew up in the relatively cultured and affluent town of Yaroslavl, but I know homosexuals from many different parts of the country. When they tell me about their school days, it’s scary. I mean, my God, last time we had a protest outside the Duma, a sixteen-year-old boy came out and showed the journalists his passport. He said, “I’m sixteen. These people think that they are protecting me and my morality. Meanwhile, when I was walking here from the metro, these Orthodox fanatics punched me in the jaw—twice.” These children go to our schools, they’re part of our society, and yet they’re constantly hearing that gays are degenerates, gays are scumbags. If today they can go online and see that is not true, once this law passes, when it actually goes into effect, they won’t have access to this information. Right now, there’s a hotline for the LGBT community where people, no matter their age, can get legal and psychological support. This hotline will be shut down. The LGBT organizations currently working in the provinces will be shut down. Whether legally or illegally, these organizations have been holding support group meetings, monitoring legal cases, and providing people with lawyers.

DT: Are the consequences after the law goes into effect and what people will have to do being discussed?

EK: They will have to go deep underground or risk being fined every day. There are also a large number of people who are same-sex couples with children. There really are a lot of them, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. There aren’t statistics on this, but when these laws are enacted, imagine the effect they will have on the lives of the children of same-sex couples. Every day, their parents could be fined fifty thousand rubles.

DT: This question comes up every time people take to the streets. Can you explain why, if, as you say, your demonstration went off rather well, there were only thirty people there? The problem with children alone or the problem of teenage suicide affects everyone, especially members of the LGBT community. And yet, only thirty people came out to kiss outside the State Duma.

EK: I am proud of every one of those thirty people. Why so few? Well, are you yourselves going to come to the protest tomorrow? It doesn’t occur to some people that they need to go protest. Others don’t have the time. Some people are actually scared—not of the fists of Orthodox activists, although as someone who has gotten hit in the head I can tell you it’s an unpleasant feeling. What people are more afraid of is that they’ll be found out at work or that mutual acquaintances will find out. Very few LGBT people feel safe being out.

DT: But this is a contradiction. On the one hand, they are afraid of being out, and on the other hand, they want to be treated decently.

EK: The problem is that LGBT activists believe in a gay superman who will suddenly appear in our country and instantly solve all of these problems. That Harvey Milk will be reincarnated and everything will be great. Let’s be more realistic. Harvey Milk isn’t going to be resurrected. He’s dead, he was murdered, and on top of that, he wasn’t even a Russian citizen. I also didn’t go out into the streets for a long time. For a long time, I thought that this situation didn’t affect me since my life was basically good, theoretically. Then I acknowledged that there was no one who could [protest for me]. So I went out and a few people followed me. Yes, it’s not very many people, but no one is stopping you from joining us if you truly believe this is an issue that deserves attention.

DT: If homosexuals are, for the most part, afraid to be open, then the law isn’t really going to change anything for them. Another issue is that it is well known that there are a large number of members of the LGBT community in the Russian government. Well, not a large number, but the same number as in any other segment of society. And yet, some of them are the very people signing off on this legislation or at least not getting in the way of it. Why don’t you appeal to them directly?

EK: Well, you know, it’s not like we have some kind of secret gay telephone number where we can dial them up.

DT: Instead of holding a protest where, as you said, your girlfriend got beat up, why don’t you try and take a constructive route?

EK: Like what?

DT: Dialoguing with the authorities.

EK: Listen, tons of petitions have been sent. And tons of appeals. There were round tables in Petersburg.

DT: To whom were the appeals addressed?

EK: To Duma deputies, to bureaucrats, to the government. There are different LGBT organizations. Before the law was heard in the first reading, tons of letters, tons of petitions were sent. I’m not saying that it’s not important to do that. I’m just saying that protesting is also effective. There are four hundred fifty deputies in the Duma—

DT: Are any of them openly gay?

EK: No, but according to statistics, twenty to twenty-five of them should be. These people do not speak openly about their orientation.

DT: Who do you suspect is gay? Who could you get the most effective response from?

EK: Look, if a person, out of considerations of party discipline, service to the state, and all that nonsense is going to support homophobic rhetoric and put seven million people just like him deep underground, I don’t think if I say, “Come on, dude, save us,” he’s going to do it.

DT: No, I don’t mean that. Whom do you consider—

EK: Who do I think is gay? My Lord, no one.

DT: I mean sympathetic to your cause in the State Duma, someone you can discuss this with and get results.

EK: I don’t know. The only Duma deputies I know, because the last time we did a demonstration, they came out of the Duma to watch, are Ilya Ponomarev [a well-known leftist currently a member of A Just Russia party] and [former heavyweight boxer and United Russia party member] Nikolai Valuev. You know what they look like. Ponomarev is slightly taller than me, and Valuev is Valuev. Valuev stood off to one side and watched these guys battering young men and women five on one, while Ponomarev ran to try to break the fights up. I don’t think this has anything to do with sexual orientation. I just think it has to do with someone’s personal orientation.

DT: Thank you. This will probably be the last question. Can you explain why all of this is going on? These same deputies were fine without this law against the promotion of homosexuality.

EK: This is part of a general trend going on in our country. Right now the government, all of the government’s rhetoric, Putin’s rhetoric, is about the Russian Orthodox Church, sovereignty, and nationalism. A year ago, women’s rights to abortions were seriously limited. Then the Pussy Riot case happened. Now, they are also trying to pass a law against insulting the feelings of religious believers. There are a lot of initiatives along these lines, including ones in the field of education, about teaching Russian Orthodoxy in schools. This is just another link in that chain. Of course, LGBT activists played a role in the voter fraud demonstrations and in the overall protest movement that has been going on for over a year now. I also think this law is a first trial balloon for implementing censorship in the media. […] I also personally believe that this is a tentative attempt to see how the journalist community will respond and whether it will be possible to bankrupt publications with million-ruble fines.

DT: Do you think sports and culture celebrities should get involved, write angry letters, saying “I’m gay, there’s nothing wrong with me, this is not a disease,” and so on?

EK: Anyone can get involved. I am personally calling all of you to get involved while you still can.

Translated by Bela Shayevich, with assistance from Chtodelat News

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loveislegal-emy

A letter and photo posted on loveislegal.ru:

My love is a great happiness. It gives me strength and the desire to change for the better, to move ahead and realize my dreams. It just so happens that my beloved is a woman. It just so happens that my relatives consider this a disease and a great misfortune. Ignorance, aggression and unmotivated malice: that is what Article 6.13.1 [the proposed amendment to the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code] will legalize. Be bigger than that. Amy, Kaliningrad.

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FAQ about Petersburg, Russia’s Cultural Capital

Why was St Petersburg selected as Host for Manifesta 10?

Manifesta is the only roving biennial in the world, changing locations every two years. Its origin is based on addressing the disbalance in between East and West Europe after the fall of the Wall at the end of the 1980’s. St.Petersburg is the crucial European city to question such a disbalance today. Alexander Pushkin called the former capital of Russia the ‘window to Europe’.

Source: manifesta.org

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Why are Petersburgers on the point of being essentially banned from protesting in the center of their own city, the ‘window to Europe,’ recently selected by Manifesta, the ultra-progressive European biennial of contemporary art, to host its 2014 event?

Because, unfortunately, some Petersburgers have in the recent past exercised their constitutional right to free speech and freedom of assembly in a provocative, irresponsible way by calling for things vehemently disapproved of by the vast majority of rank-and-file Petersburgers, things like free and fair elections, gay rights, preservation of historic buildings and green spaces, an end to racist assaults and murders, free public health care and education, freedom of assembly, etc. Also, as Russia’s cultural capital, Petersburg has a special duty to ensure that everyone can enjoy its cultural riches and sights: protesters prevent ordinary people and tourists from doing just that by blocking sidewalks and squares, and generally drawing attention to themselves.

New Local Bill Seeks to Ban Protests in City Center
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
February 27, 2013

Opposition political groups and concerned citizens continue to protest against a new local bill on demonstrations that effectively bans protests in the city center, passed by the Legislative Assembly last week in its third and final reading.

In hopes of preventing Governor Georgy Poltavchenko from signing it, the Yabloko Democratic Party has filed a complaint against the bill, describing it as “outrageous” and “illegal.”

“We are acting to prevent this becoming law, because, once in force, and used even once, the new law will have a devastating impact on the rights of citizens,” said Yabloko’s Nikolai Rybakov in a statement.

Called “On assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches and picketing in St. Petersburg,” the bill was passed Feb. 20 by 27 deputies, with 15 voting against.

The bill forbids the holding of rallies on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street, as well as on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square, which had previously been used for rallies, including the now-legendary mass protests against the 1991 anti-reformist coup.

Rallies will also be banned from within 50 meters of the entrances of buildings occupied by state authorities, while one-man demonstrations can only be held if there is no other protester within 50 meters.

According to the bill, the restrictions have been imposed “in order to protect the rights and freedoms of man and citizen, the rule of law, order and public safety.”

In his statement, Grigory Yavlinsky, chair of the Yabloko faction in the city’s Legislative Assembly, stressed that by passing the law, the city parliament ignored not only the negative opinion expressed by the public at the Dec. 3 public hearing and an address by the city’s ombudsman Alexander Shishlov, but also the Constitutional Court’s Feb. 14 ruling. Every amendment proposed by opposition deputies was rejected.

Apart from harsh restrictions on rallies, the bill also states that without authorization from the authorities, no more than 200 demonstrators are allowed to assemble at specially designated sites “for the collective discussion of socially important issues and expression of public opinion.” City Hall has designated a small site on the Field of Mars for such a purpose.

Andrei Dmitriyev, local chair of The Other Russia party, said that the law may obstruct the historic May Day demonstration, a massive event featuring a broad range of political parties and movements, from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party to liberals, communists and nationalists.

“It’s even not clear how they will hold a May Day demonstration this year, when everybody always used to walk down Nevsky Prospekt and then rallied on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square,” Dmitriyev said Tuesday.

“It’s essential not only for civic activists, but also for every citizen, because people, when they are unhappy about anything, want to come to protest where the authorities sit, be it the Governor, the Legislative Assembly, district administrations or courts.

“These are places where it’s forbidden to protest now, so they lose any meaning. Of course, it’s all illegal, it contradicts the Constitution, and we think that the main thing is not how the authorities act, but how the opposition and city residents will act.”

He said that the small site on the Field of Mars offered by City Hall as an allegedly liberal concession, allowing small groups to protest there without the necessary authorization, should be boycotted.

“No self-respecting opposition [campaigners] can rally there, but both Yabloko and the nationalists have taken the bait and obediently go there to rally. It makes no sense.”

The State Duma passed a national law harshly restricting the freedom of assembly in June 2012, following a wave of protests against the flawed State Duma and presidential elections that were held in late 2011 and early 2012. It imposed a number of restrictions on public assemblies and abruptly raised fines for holding unsanctioned protests. Local laws followed.

Rights groups have criticized the law as violating both the Russian Constitution and international agreements.

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What is the deal with Petersburg’s so-called anti-gay law? Why does it have people in Melbourne, Australia, of all places, upset?

People in Melbourne, Australia, should mind their own business. The Petersburg law you mention is not directed against gays, but against the promotion of homosexuality amongst minors. Maybe the people of Melbourne, Australia, are happy to leave their kids at the mercy of predatory faggots, pedophiles, and other sexual and political perverts, but in Petersburg we’re crazy about kids and deeply devoted to Russian Orthodox Christian family values.

Please explain: Doyle on anti-gay law
Jason Dowling
The Age
February 23, 2013

LORD mayor Robert Doyle [of Melbourne] has requested an urgent meeting with Russia’s ambassador and a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to discuss new anti-gay laws in St Petersburg.

The move follows a petition by Carl Katter, half-brother of federal MP Bob Katter, to have Melbourne City Council dump its sister-city relationship with St Petersburg because he said the Russian city had enacted ”horrific” anti-gay laws.

More than 4800 people have signed the petition at Change.org.

The Russian city has introduced broad laws banning ”homosexual propaganda”.

”It is referred to as the gay propaganda law, but it is all-encompassing,” said Mr Katter, a campaigner for marriage equality.

”Melbourne is one of the most progressive cities of the world … and our mayor and council should be proud of that and stand up to such blatant homophobia,” Mr Katter said.

Cr Doyle said, ”I am very aware of the new laws in St Petersburg.

”I have sought a meeting with the Russian ambassador, I will take advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and once we have had those conversations we will be making further comment,” he said.

”Obviously my first position is, it is always best to continue to talk to try and effect outcomes in a positive way.”

The Italian fashion capital Milan is already believed to have frozen its sister-city relationship with St Petersburg over the gay rights issue.

”The community has been watching what has been happening in St Petersburg and the stories that have been coming out have been pretty devastating – and the fact that we are a sister city with them is not a good look,” Mr Katter said.

 

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We Have No Honor to “Play Off”

Playoff for the Honor of Our City. Obvodny Canal, Petersburg, February 23, 2013

 

Unfortunately, we have no honor to “play off”. . .

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Gay Groups Continue to Fight Unfair Treatment
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
February 20, 2013

The small village of Novosyolki, southwest of St. Petersburg, has become City Hall’s favorite site to send St. Petersburg’s LGBT rights activists to rally, as the organizers of another protest planned this week found out when they were told that 15 sites they had suggested within the city were unavailable for their assembly. Meanwhile, a local court found no violations in City Hall’s continued refusals to let LGBT activists rally in the center.

On Monday, City Hall rejected a permit for the Democratic St. Petersburg movement to rally in the city against the national bill forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors, which is about to be accepted by the State Duma in its second hearing. It was passed in the first hearing on Jan. 25. Similar local laws have already been enacted in St. Petersburg as well as in ten other regions across Russia.

As the law on public assemblies requires the administration to suggest an alternative site if the one suggested by the organizers is unavailable, the organizers of the protest that had been planned for Sunday, Feb. 24 were told to hold it in Novosyolki.

“I didn’t go there, but I checked it on the map; it’s beyond the Ring Road, and takes two hours to get to from St. Petersburg,” said Natalya Tsymbalova, an activist with Democratic St. Petersburg and the Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality.

“There is an aerodrome, a dump and a cemetery there. It looks like they have found the most remote location which is still officially part of the city.”

According to Tsymbalova, City Hall first dismissed five suggested sites last week, saying that other events were scheduled to be held at the first four, while large-scale road maintenance works would be held at the fifth. She said the organizers had not been given the reasons for the alleged unavailability of the ten other suggested sites, which include Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square, as well as smaller locations where other rallies are usually authorized.

Tsymbalova said the third application, containing five other suggested locations, would be submitted to City Hall shortly.

“We’re running out of time and there’s already little hope,” she said.

“They look determined not to let us go anywhere but Novosyolki.”

As the planned date of the rally approaches, chances of the rally eventually being authorized are growing slimmer.

“If they still don’t let us have a rally, we have an idea to hold a kind of flash mob by walking around all the rejected sites to see what is really happening at them on Feb. 24; to see if there are some real events taking place there or if we have been given the runaround, so we could use it in court,” Tsymbalova said.

“We’ll definitely file a complaint about this absolutely insolent and mocking rejection and we hope to win in the city court or the Supreme Court, because it’s obviously unlawful.”

On Monday, the Smolninsky District Court dismissed a complaint by LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out), which was given Novosyolki as the only available site to hold a protest against the anti-gay law ahead of its first hearing at the State Duma in December.

According to Ksenia Kirichenko, the coordinator of Vykhod’s legal aid program, a representative of City Hall described the village as the most appropriate location for such an event.

“Novosyolki is becoming a favorite tool for effectively banning LGBT rights rallies,” Kirichenko said in a news release.

In 2011, City Hall redirected the organizers of the St. Petersburg Gay Pride event to Novosyolki. Instead, an attempt to hold the rally was undertaken in the city center on Senatskaya Ploshchad, beside the Bronze Horseman monument, and resulted in arrests and fines.

According to Kirichenko, Vykhod will appeal the Vyborgsky District Court’s ruling.

Photo by Chtodelat News

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Welcome to Brazil!

brazil

“Civil unrest”?

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“Can a Homosexual be a Member of the Communist Party?”

Editor’s Note. The following is an excerpt from Moscow (Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2013), the new book by New York-based artist Yevgeniy Fiks. Moscow, which will be officially released on February 15, documents gay cruising sites in Soviet Moscow, from the early 1920s to the USSR’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Photographed in 2008 in a simple but haunting documentary style, these sites of the bygone queer underground present a hidden and forgotten Moscow, with a particular focus on Revolutionary Communist sites appropriated by queer Muscovites. The book concludes with the first English-language publication of a 1934 letter to Joseph Stalin in which British communist Harry Whyte presents a Marxist defense of homosexuality in light of its re-criminalization in the USSR.

Given post-Soviet Russia’s recent turn towards aggressive official homophobia, we thought it might be illuminating for our readers to read Whyte’s letter. We thank Yevgeniy Fiks and Ugly Duckling Presse for their permission to reprint it in full here.

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“Can a Homosexual be a Member of the Communist Party?”*

 H[ARRY] WHYTE TO J.V. STALIN

May 1934

To Comrade STALIN.

The content of my appeal is briefly as follows. The author of this letter, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, requests a theoretical grounding of the March 7 decree of the USSR Central Executive Committee on [the institution of] criminal liability for sodomy.[1] Since he strives to approach this question from a Marxist viewpoint, the author of this letter believes that the decree contradicts both the facts of life itself and the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

Here is a summary of the facts that are discussed in detail in the attached letter:

 1. On the whole, the condition of homosexuals under capitalism is analogous to the condition of women, the coloured races, ethnic minorities, and other groups that are repressed for one reason or another;

2. The attitude of bourgeois society to homosexuality is based on the contradiction between:

a) capitalism’s need for “cannon fodder” and a reserve army of labour (leading to repressive laws against homosexuality, which is regarded as a threat to birth rates); and b) the ever-growing poverty of the masses under capitalism (leading to the collapse of the working-class family and an increase in homosexuality).

3. This contradiction can be resolved only in a society where the liquidation of unemployment and the constant growth of the material well being of workers fosters conditions in which people who are normal in the sexual sense can enter into marriage.

4. Science confirms that an insignificant percentage of the population suffers from constitutional homosexuality.

5. The existence of this insignificant minority is not a threat to a society under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

6. The new law on homosexuality has provoked the most various and contradictory interpretations.

7. The March 7 law fundamentally contradicts the basic principle of the previous law on this question.

8. The March 7 law essentially calls for “levelling” in the realm of sexual life.

9. The March 7 law is absurd and unjust from the viewpoint of science, which has proven the existence of constitutional homsexuals and has no means at its disposal to change the sexual nature of homosexuals.

Dear Comrade Stalin:

Although I am a foreign communist who has not yet been promoted to the AUCP(b),[2] I nevertheless think that it will not seem unnatural to you, the leader of the world proletariat, that I address you with a request to shed light on a question that, as it seems to me, has huge significance for a large number of communists in the USSR as well as in other countries.

 The question is as follows: can a homosexual be considered someone worthy of membership in the Communist Party?

The recently promulgated law on criminal liability for sodomy, which was affirmed by the USSR Central Executive Committee on March 7 of this year, apparently means that homosexuals cannot be recognized as worthy of the title of Soviet citizen. Consequently, they should be considered even less worthy to be members of the AUCP(b).

 Since I have a personal stake in this question insofar as I am a homosexual myself, I addressed this question to a number of comrades from the OGPU and the People’s Commissariat for Justice, to psychiatrists, and to Comrade Borodin, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper where I work.[3]

All that I managed to extract from them was a number of contradictory opinions which show that amongst these comrades there is no clear theoretical understanding of what might have served as the basis for passage of the given law. The first psychiatrist from whom I sought help with this question twice assured me (after verifying this with the People’s Commissariat for Justice) that if they are honest citizens or good communists, his patients may order their personal lives as they see fit. Comrade Borodin, who said that he personally took a negative view of homosexuality, at the same time declared that he regarded me as a fairly good communist, that I could be trusted, and that I could lead my personal life as I liked. Somewhat earlier, when the arrests of homosexuals had only just begun, Comrade Borodin was quite disinclined to view me as a potential criminal; he did not regard me as a bad communist, and this was confirmed by the fact that he promoted me at work by appointing me head of editorial staff, which is the highest-ranking supervisory position with the exception of members of the editorial board. Somewhat later, when the December 17 version of the law already existed, but before the March 7 decree, I contacted the OGPU in connection with the arrest of a certain person with whom I had had homosexual relations. I was told there that there was nothing that incriminated me.

All these statements produced the impression that the Soviet organs of justice were not prosecuting homosexuality as such, only certain socially dangerous homosexuals. If this is really the case, then is there a need for the general law?

On the other hand, however, after the law was issued on March 7, I had a conversation in the OGPU in which I was told that the law would be strictly applied to each case of homosexuality that was brought to light.

 In connection with the lack of clarity that exists in this matter, I turn to you in the hope that you will find the time to give me an answer.

 Allow me to explain to you this question as I understand it.

First and foremost, I would like to point out that I view the condition of homosexuals who are either of working-class origin or workers themselves to be analogous to the condition of women under the capitalist regime and the coloured races who are oppressed by imperialism. This condition is likewise similar in many ways to the condition of the Jews under Hitler’s dictatorship, and in general it is not hard to see in it an analogy with the condition of any social stratum subjected to exploitation and persecution under capitalist domination.

 When we analyze the nature of the persecution of homosexuals, we should keep in mind that there are two types of homosexuals: first, those who are the way they are from birth (moreover, if scientists disagree about the precise reasons for this, then there is no disagreement that certain deep-seated reasons do exist); second, there are homosexuals who had a normal sexual life but later became homosexuals, sometimes out of viciousness, sometimes out of economic considerations.

As for the second type, the question is decided relatively simply. People who become homosexuals by virtue of their depravity usually belong to the bourgeoisie, a number of whose members take to this way of life after they have sated themselves with all the forms of pleasure and perversity that are available in sexual relations with women. Amongst those who take to this way of life out of economic considerations, we find members of the petit bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and (as strange as it might seem) the proletariat. As a result of material necessity, which is particularly aggravated during periods of crisis, these people are forced temporarily to turn to this method of satisfying their sexual urges insofar as the absence of means deprives them of the possibility of marrying or at least contracting the services of prostitutes. There are also those who become homosexuals not in order to satisfy their urges, but in order to earn their keep by means of prostitution (this phenomenon has become especially widespread in modern Germany).

But science has established the existence of constitutional homosexuals. Research has shown that homosexuals of this type exist in approximately equal proportions within all classes of society. We can likewise consider as established fact that, with slight deviations, homosexuals as a whole constitute around two percent of the population. If we accept this proportion, then it follows that there are around two million homosexuals in the USSR. Not to mention the fact that amongst these people there are no doubt those who are aiding in the construction of socialism, can it really be possible, as the March 7 law demands, that such a large number of people be subjected to imprisonment?

Just as the women of the bourgeois class suffer to a significantly lesser degree from the injustices of the capitalist regime (you of course remember what Lenin said about this), so do natural-born homosexuals of the dominant class suffer much less from persecution than homosexuals from the working-class milieu. It must be said that even within the USSR there are conditions that complicate the daily lives of homosexuals and often place them in a difficult situation. (I have in mind the difficulty of finding a partner for the sexual act, insofar as homosexuals constitute a minority of the population, a minority that is forced to conceal its true proclivities to one degree or another.)

What is the attitude of bourgeois society to homosexuals? Even if we take into account the differences existing on this score in the legislation of various countries, can we speak of a specifically bourgeois attitude to this question? Yes, we can. Independently of these laws, capitalism is against homosexuality by virtue of its entire class-based tendency. This tendency can be observed throughout the course of history, but it is manifested with especial force now, during the period of capitalism’s general crisis.

Capitalism, which needs an enormous reserve army of labour and cannon fodder in order to flourish, regards homosexuality as a factor that threatens to lower birth rates (as we know, in the capitalist countries there are laws that punish abortion and other methods of contraception).

Of course, the attitude of the bourgeoisie to the homosexual question is typical hypocrisy. Strict laws are the cause of few nuisances for the bourgeois homosexual. Anyone who is at all familiar with the internal history of the capitalist class knows of the periodic scandals that arise in this regard; moreover, members of the dominant class who are mixed up in these affairs suffer to an insignificant degree. I can cite a little-known fact in this connection. Several years ago, one of the sons of Lord and Lady Astor was convicted of homosexuality. The English and American press omitted to report this fact, with the exception of the Morning Advertiser. This newspaper is owned by beer manufacturers, and it was in its interests to compromise Lord and Lady Astor, who had been agitating for the introduction of prohibition. Thus the fact of [Astor’s conviction] became known thanks to contradictions within the dominant class.

Thanks to its wealth, the bourgeoisie can avoid the legal punishment that descends in all its severity on homosexual workers with the exception of those cases when the latter have prostituted themselves to members of the dominant class.

I have already mentioned that capitalism, which has need of cannon fodder and a reserve army of labour, attempts to combat homosexuality. But at the same time, by worsening the living conditions of workers, capitalism produces the objective conditions for an increase in the number of homosexuals who take to this way of life by virtue of material necessity.

This contradiction is reflected in the fact that fascism, which employed the pederast [Marinus] van der Lubbe[4] as a weapon in its provocation, at the same time brutally suppressed the liberal-intelligentsia “liberation” movement of homosexuals led by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld.[5] (See the Brown Book, which cites the Hirschfeld case as an instance of the anti-cultural barbarism of the fascists.)[6]

Another reflection of this contradiction is the figure of André Gide, French homosexual writer, leader of the antifascist movement, and ardent friend of the USSR. The general public in France knows about Gide’s homosexuality, for he has written about it openly in his books. And despite this, his authority amongst the masses as a fellow traveller of the communist party in France has not been shaken. The fact that Gide has joined the revolutionary movement has not hindered its growth or the support of the masses for the leadership of the communist party. In my view, this shows that the masses are not intolerant of homosexuals.

Praising the “purity of the race” and family values, fascism has taken an even sterner stance against homosexuality than the pre-Hitler government. However, because fascism destroys the working-class family and furthers the impoverishment of the masses, it essentially stimulates the development of the second type of homosexuality I have described – that is, [homosexuality] out of necessity.

The only solution to this contradiction is the revolutionary transformation of the existing order and the creation of a society in which the absence of unemployment, the growing prosperity of the masses, and the liquidation of the family as an economic unit secure the conditions in which no one will be forced into pederasty out of necessity. As for so-called constitutional homosexuals, as insignificant percentage of the population they are incapable of threatening the birth rate in the socialist state.

“Overall results in the growth of material prosperity have led to the fact that, whereas mortality rates have grown along with poverty in the capitalist countries, mortality has decreased and birth rates have increased in the USSR. Compared to the pre-war years, the population in the USSR has grown by a third, while in capitalist Europe it has fallen by ten percent. Today our country with its population of 165 million shows the same population increase as capitalist Europe with its population of 360 million. As you can see, in this matter as well the pace here [in the Soviet Union] is furious (laughter).” (Comrade Kaganovich’s report on the work of the AUCP(b) Central Committee at the conference of the Moscow organization – the italics are Comrade Kaganovich’s.)

Despite the unusually severe laws on marriage that exist in the capitalist countries, perversion in the realm of normal sexual life is significantly more widespread in the capitalist countries than in the USSR, where the laws on marriage are the freest and more rational than in rest of the world. True, we know that in the first years of the Revolution certain people tried to abuse the freedom provided by the Soviet laws on marriage. However, these abuses were stopped not by repressive measures, but by broad-based political education and cultural work, and by the evolution of the economy towards socialism. I imagine that with respect to homosexuality (of the second type) a similar policy would prove the most fruitful.

I have always believed that it was wrong to advance the separate slogan of the emancipation of working-class homosexuals from the conditions of capitalist exploitation. I believe that this emancipation is inseparable from the general struggle for the emancipation of all humanity from the oppression of private-ownership exploitation.

I had no intention of turning this into a problem, of posing this question theoretically and seeking a definite opinion on this question from the Party. However, at present, reality itself has forced this question on me, and I consider it essential to achieve general clarity on this issue.

 Comrade Borodin has indicated to me that the fact that I am homosexual in no way diminishes my value as a revolutionary. He has shown great confidence in me by appointing me the head of editorial staff.  Then he did not treat me as someone who might become or was a convicted criminal. He likewise indicated that my personal life was not something that could even in the slightest degree harm my status as a Party member and editorial worker.

When I posed to him the question of the arrests, he once again (and the OGPU through him) assured me that in the given instance the reasons [for the arrests] were political in nature, and not in any way social or moral, although the December 17 variant of the law existed already then. After I made the corresponding request to the OGPU, I was told: “There is nothing incriminating against you.” When I learned of the December 17 variant of the law, I received replies of a similar sort from a number of people. True, Comrade Degot from the People’s Commissariat of Justice said that the reason for the law was that homosexuality was a form of bourgeois degeneracy.

The specialist psychiatrist with whom I spoke about this matter refused to believe in the existence of such a law until I showed him a copy of it.

Despite the existence of a number of incorrect interpretations on the part of certain comrades, it is completely obvious that in the period preceding the promulgation of the law, public opinion on this question was nevertheless not in the least hostile to homosexuals. And this did not surprise me at all.

 I accepted the arrests of homosexuals as a wholly natural phenomenon insofar as the occasion [for the arrests] were reasons of a political nature. As I have already mentioned, this was all wholly in line with my own analysis of the question (as stated above), and in exactly the same way it did not contradict the officially expressed viewpoint of the Soviet public. Comrade Borodin pointed out to me that I should not attach too much significance to the article on homosexuality in the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia because (he said) its author was a homosexual himself and the article was published during a period when a number of deviations had still not yet been exposed. I do not think we should mistrust a history of the Communist Party if a communist wrote it. If a homosexual in fact wrote this article, then all that was required of him was an objective and scientific approach to homosexuality. Second, I know enough about the efficacy of Soviet political control of the press that I cannot admit the possibility that an article with serious deviations could be printed in such a publication as the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia. If this is possible when it comes to individual articles in some insignificant journal or newspaper, then it is not possible in the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia. In any case, I thought it possible to have full confidence in a publication whose editors include such people as Molotov, Kuibyshev, and Pokrovsky (or even Bukharin, although he deserves less confidence).

 However, from the point of view that I am defending, the article in the Great Soviet Encylopaedia was of no great significance. The attitude of the Soviet public to this question was expressed with sufficient clarity in the law that existed right up until the adoption of the March 7 law. If the law had said nothing about this question, then doubts might have existed earlier. But the law in fact did formulate an opinion on this question: it defended the interests of society by forbidding the seduction and perversion of minors. But this led one to conclude that homosexual relations between adults were not forbidden.

The law, of course, is dialectical: it changes as circumstances change. It is obvious, however, that when the first law was ratified, the entire question of homosexuality was taken into account as a whole (this, at any rate, is what one might think on the basis of the conclusion that followed from the law). This law established that the Soviet government altogether rejected the principle of persecuting homosexuality. This principle is fundamental in character, and we know that basic principles are not altered in order to bring them into line with new circumstances. Altering basic principles for such ends means being an opportunist, not a dialectician.

I am capable of grasping that changed circumstances also require certain partial changes in the legislation, the application of new measures for the defence of society, but I cannot understand how changed circumstances can force us to change one of [our] basic principles.

I visited two psychiatrists in the search for an answer to the question of whether it was possible to “cure” homosexuality – perhaps you will find this surprising. I admit that this was opportunism on my part (this time, perhaps, it can be forgiven), but I was incited to do this by the desire to find some kind of solution to this cursed dilemma. Least of all did I want to contradict the decision of the Soviet government. I was prepared to do anything if only to avoid the necessity of finding myself in contradiction with Soviet law. I took this step despite the fact that I did not know whether contemporary researchers had succeeded in establishing the true nature of homosexuality and the possibility of converting homosexuals into heterosexuals – that is, into people who engage in the sexual act only with members of the opposite sex. If such a possibility were in fact established, then everything would be much simpler of course.

 But, frankly speaking, even if this possibility were established, I would be uncertain all the same how desirable it was in fact to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. Of course, there might be certain political reasons that would make this desirable. But I imagine that the necessity for such a levelling procedure should be supported by unusually strong reasons.

 It is no doubt desirable that the majority of people be normal in the sexual sense. I fear, however, that this will be never be the case. And I think that my fears are confirmed by the facts of history. I think that one can say with certainty that the majority of people desire and will continue to desire a normal sexual life. However, I greatly doubt in the possibility of all people becoming utterly identical in terms of their sexual proclivities.

I remind you that homosexuals constitute a mere two percent of the population. You should also remember that amongst those two percent there were such exceptionally talented people as Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Tchaikovsky. These are the ones about whom we know that they were homosexuals. But how many other such talented people have there been amongst homosexuals who hid their true proclivities? I have no intention of defending the absurd theory that homosexuals belong to a breed of superhumans, that homosexuality and genius are synonyms, that homosexuals will, allegedly, someday take their revenge on society for their sufferings by uniting to conquer heterosexuals. “Theories” of this ilk were already condemned with considerable contempt (as they deserved to be) by Engels in his letter to Marx from June 22, 1869. In this letter, Engels writes about the “theory” advanced by a clique of German bourgeois homosexuals who had formed their own special organization. Engels characterizes this whole affair with the epithet “swinishness” (schweinerei).

That it was precisely the political “theory” of the organization, not the specific sexual orientation of its members, that aroused the ire of Engels, can be seen in his letter to [Friedrich] Sorge from February 8, 1890. Engels writes: “Here there is another storm in a teacup under way. You’ll read in the Labour Elector about the brouhaha provoked by Peake [?], assistant editor of the Star, who in one of the local papers openly accused Lord Gaston of sodomy in connection with the scandalous homosexuality of the local aristocracy. The article was disgraceful, but was only of a personal nature; the matter was hardly political.” (The translation is imprecise and made from the English text published in an English communist journal.)

“The matter was hardly political.” The fact that Engels regards the case of a member of the enemy class who was accused of sodomy and caused a scandal in the aristocratic world as “hardly political,” as “storm in a teacup,” is of great and fundamental significance to us. If homosexuality is viewed as a characteristic trait of bourgeois degeneracy, then it is correct to attack its individual manifestations, especially during a period when homosexual scandals were widespread in the aristocratic milieu. However, it follows from the quotation that Engels did not view homosexuality as a specifically bourgeois form of degeneracy. He attacked it only when (as, for example, in cases involving Germany) it adopted the political form of an association of certain bourgeois elements. When, on the other hand, the matter had no political overtones (as in the case cited above), Engels did not find it necessary to attack it.

I assume that certain kinds of talent (in particular, talent in the realm of the arts) are startlingly often combined with homosexuality. This should be kept in mind, and it seems to me that one should carefully weigh the dangers of sexual levelling precisely for this branch of Soviet culture, for at present we do not as yet possess a sufficiently scientific explanation of homosexuality.

 I will permit myself to cite one passage from Comrade Stalin’s report to the Seventeenth Party Congress:

“[A]ny Leninist knows, if he is a genuine Leninist, that levelling in the realm of needs and personal daily life is a reactionary absurdity worthy of some primitive sect of ascetics, not of a socialist state organized in the Marxist manner, for one cannot require that all people should have identical needs and tastes, that all people live their daily lives according to a single model. […]

“To conclude from this that socialism requires the egalitarianism, equalization, and levelling of the needs of society’s members, the levelling of their tastes and personal lives, that according to Marxism everyone should wear identical clothes and eat the same quantity of one and the same dishes, is tantamount to uttering banalities and slandering Marxism.” (Stalin, Report to the 17th Party Congress on the Work of the Central Committee of the AUCP(b). Lenpartizdat, 1934, pp. 54–55. The italics are mine – H.W.)

It seems to me that this excerpt from Comrade Stalin’s report has a direct bearing on the question that I am analyzing.

What is important, however, is that even if one pursues this levelling in the present, it is impossible to achieve it either with medical or legislative methods.

When both psychiatrists whom I visited were forced by my insistent questions to confess that cases of incurable homosexuality exist, I finally established my own attitude to the question.

One should recognize that there is such a thing as ineradicable homosexuality – I have yet to encounter facts that would refute this – and hence as a consequence, it seems to me, one should recognize as inevitable the existence of this minority in society, be it a capitalist or even a socialist society. In this case, one cannot find any justification for declaring these people criminally liable for their distinguishing traits, traits for whose creation they bear no measure of responsibility and which they are incapable of changing even if they wanted to.

Thus, attempting to reason in accordance with the principles of Marxism-Leninism as I understand them, I have arrived in the end at the contradiction between the law and those conclusions that have followed from my line of reasoning. And it is just this contradiction that compels me to desire an authoritative statement on this question.

Communist greetings,

HARRY WHYTE

My address: Bolshoi Afanasievskii, no. 5, apt. 11; tel: 3-34-33

Office: Petrovskii pereulok, no. 8, “Moscow Daily News”; tel: 2-58-71, 3-33-26

INFORMATION ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THE LETTER.

Whyte, Harry. 27 years old. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Son of a working-class painter who recently acquired his own business. Secondary school education. Journalist by profession. Worked for bourgeois newspapers until 1932. Worked in his free time for the journal of the USSR Friends Society, Russia Today (from 1931 to 1932). Joined the Independent Labour Party in 1927; the Communist Party of Great Britain, in 1931. Assisted in the organization of party cells and district organizations on Fleet Street, the center of the British press. In 1932, was hired onto the staff of the Moscow News (Moskovskie Novosti). In 1933, was appointed head of the editorial staff of this newspaper. Singled out as best shock worker. Promotion to the AUCP(b) from the Communist Party of England [sic] has been postponed until completion of the Party purge.

 NB. The arguments set forth in the attached letter were originally formulated by me in a letter to Comrade Borodin, managing editor of the Moscow Daily News, in the hope that he would direct Comrade Stalin’s attention to the question that I broach. However, he deemed it impossible to do this. Aside from what is stated in the present letter, the letter addressed to Comrade Borodin also contains certain facts that concern me personally and have on the whole no great bearing on the question under consideration, but which, however, I deemed necessary to bring to his attention. A copy of this letter has been presented to the OGPU at their request insofar as I informed one comrade in the OGPU about this letter.*

AP RF [Archive of the President of the Russian Federation], f. 3, op. 57, d. 37, l. 29–45; notarized copy.

* The first page of the letter contains the instruction: “Archive. An idiot and a degenerate. J. Stalin.”

Notes to Translation

* The original Russian text of this letter was published in the journal Istochnik (5/6 (1993): 185–191) under the rubric “Humor from the Secret Archive[s].” Throughout, text in square brackets ([ ]) has been inserted by the translator for clarification and ease of reading.

[1] Male homosexuality was recriminalized throughout the Soviet Union in 1933–1934. Violation of Article 121 of the Soviet criminal code carried a penalty of five years in prison. The law was not repealed until 1993. For a brief history of this law (including a discussion of Harry Whyte’s letter to Stalin), see Leslie Feinberg, “Can a homosexual be a member of the Communist Party?,” Workers World October 7, 2004.

[2] The All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). It was renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1952.

[3] Mikhail Borodin (1884–1951) was the alias of Mikhail Gruzenberg, an agent of the Comintern. He was the editor-in-chief of the Moscow (Daily) News (founded by American journalist Anna Louise Strong in 1930) from 1932 to 1949. In 1949, Borodin was arrested as part of the campaign against “cosmopolitans.” According to some sources, he died in a Siberian labour camp in 1951. According to others, he was shot in Lefortovo Prison (Moscow) in 1949. The newspaper was shut down after his arrest, resuming publication only in 1956.

[4] Marinus van der Lubbe (1909–1934) was the young Dutch council communist accused of setting fire to the German Reichstag on February 27, 1933. He was sentenced to death for the crime and guillotined in Leipzig on January 10, 1934.

[5] Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) was a German-Jewish physician, sex researcher, and gay rights activist. Whyte probably refers here either to the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, an organization that Hirschfeld co-founded in 1897 to repeal the criminalization of homosexuality in Germany, or to his Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Berlin). The Nazis attacked the institute on May 6, 1933, and burned many of the books in its library.

[6] The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror and the Burning of the Reichstag was a book published by the World Committee for the Relief of Victims of German Fascism in 1933. It was translated into many languages (including Russian) and sold millions of copies worldwide.

Photo credit: Yevgeniy Fiks, Tsvetnoy Boulevard. Along with other photographs from the book Moscow, the photograph can be ordered as a signed, limited-edition print here

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