Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 7, 2014

Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia

Filed under: Film,Gay,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:04 pm

Thirty years ago when I was working closely with Peter Camejo on getting the North Star Network off the ground, I totally agreed with him that the left should not be divided on historical questions like when and if the USSR became capitalist. Or on international questions such as whether to support Eritrea or Ethiopia, etc. You can obviously have sharp differences that must be debated openly but they are not “split” questions as is the norm in the Trotskyist movement.

After watching “Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia”, I am not so sure any more, at least on the international question. This 48 minute documentary that can be seen on HBO Go, a streaming service available to HBO subscribers, left me in a complete state of rage both for what is happening to Russian gays but also for the open affection for Vladimir Putin that exists on wide sectors of the left.

Needless to say, the Western left would never support a politician who was responsible for fostering a war on gays in the USA or Britain. Furthermore, in all of the pro-Putin propaganda in the “anti-imperialist” left, you will never see him applauded for his anti-gay legislation that serves as legal cover for the vigilante movement exposed in the HBO documentary. That instead is what you will hear from the rightwing movements that also back the Kremlin, including just about every neofascist group in Europe, including Jobbik, Golden Dawn and the National Front in France. They love Putin because he stands up for “traditional values”. One imagines that in their heart of hearts, the “anti-imperialists” have no problems with crackdowns on NGO’s that defend gay rights in Russia since they are obviously a necessary defense against plots concocted in the basement of the State Department by George Soros, Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power. After all, if you were going to make a choice between gays being forced to drink piss by skinhead vigilantes and coming down on the same side of an issue as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, you’d naturally opt for gays drinking piss.

Fortunately, you can see the documentary as well on Youtube. This is identical to what is being shown on HBO but with a different narrator:

The film will give you a good idea why a sixteen-year-old gay youth sought political asylum in the USA. Here on an exchange program, the boy decided that he would stay in the USA rather than put up with the kind of bigotry seen in the film. Tass said that this was all the result of a gay cabal and Russia said it would no longer participate in the exchange program.

Directed by Ben Steele, the documentary takes a look at two of the major vigilante organizations in Russia, Parents of Russia and Occupy Pedophilia. Leaders of both groups were more than willing to allow the cameramen to film every one of their attacks. Naturally, this would be the case since the cops are their accomplices.

To give you an idea of how the cops operate in tandem with the ultraright, you see gay rights activist Yekaterina Bogatch hounded by the cops for simply standing on the sidewalk holding a sign calling for equal treatment of all citizens. If she had put the word gay on the sign, she risked arrest.

Parents of Russia is a group that is dedicated to exposing gays by putting information about where they live, etc. on the Internet. Yekaterina Bogatch, a schoolteacher, is one of their prime targets. They want her fired from her job even if she is straight. Gay teachers, who are not even involved with protests, have just as much to worry about since Parents of Russia deems them as pedophiles.

That is basically the strategy of the vigilantes, the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s base of support in elected officialdom. Although laws against homosexuality were lifted fifteen years ago, the attacks are mounted as against pedophiles rather than gays. Occupy Pedophilia is a prime example. It tells Steele that is only after pedophiles but in the one entrapment scene that involves their activists openly tormenting a gay man they have lured through the Internet, there is not the slightest evidence that pedophilia was involved.

I have often scratched my head trying to figure out the attraction that Putin has for the “anti-imperialist” left. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream” when Puck puts a potion in Titania’s eyes. Upon waking, she falls madly in love with Bottom, a man whose head has been replaced by that of a donkey. Who has put such a potion in the eyes of Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek and Michel Chossudovsky, I ask you?

For an unrepentant Marxist like me, the Russia I adore is the Russia of the 1920s when laws against homosexuality were not only lifted, there was a pervasive sense that sexual freedom and socialism went hand in hand. Ironically, despite the Workers World Party’s tendency to fall in line behind the Kremlin, one of their activists has written some very useful material on sexual freedom in the early USSR:

During the 1920s, in the first decade of the Russian Revolution, signs that the struggle to build socialism could make enormous social gains in sexual freedom–even in a huge mostly agricultural country barely freed from feudalism, then ravaged by imperialist war and torn asunder by civil war–were apparent.

The Russian Revolution breathed new life into the international sexual reform movement, the German Homosexual Emancipation Movement, and the revolutionary struggle as a whole in Germany and around the world.

It was a historic breakthrough when the Soviet Criminal Code was established in 1922 and amended in 1926, and homosexuality was not included as an offense. The code also applied to other republics, including the Ukrainian Republics. Only sex with youths under the age of 16, male and female prostitution and pandering were listed. Soviet law did not criminalize the person being prostituted, but those who exploited them.

For example, author Dan Healey states, “The revolutionary regime repeatedly declared that women who sold their bodies were victims of economic exploitation, not to be criminalized, and campaigns to discourage them from taking up sex work were launched.” The growth of prostitution had of course been spurred by the chaos and dislocation of people accompanying war.

Historian Laura Engelstein summarizes, “Soviet sexologists in the 1920s participated in the international movement for sexual reform and criminologists deplored the use of penal sanctions to censor private sexual conduct.” (“Soviet Policy”)

In 1923, the Soviet minister of health traveled to the German Institute for Sex ual Science and reportedly expressed there his pride that his government had abolished the tsarist penalties against same-sex love. He stated that “no unhappy consequences of any kind whatsoever have resulted from the elimination of the offending paragraph, nor has the wish that the penalty in question be reintroduced been raised in any quarter.”

Also in 1923, Dr. Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Soviet Hygiene, published a pamphlet titled “The Sexual Revolution in Russia.” It stated, “Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle: it declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, as long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon.”

And the pamphlet spelled this out clearly, “Concerning homosexuality, sod omy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality–Soviet legislation treats these the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse.”


  1. It’s appalling. As you know, the criminalization of homosexuality is part of a larger agenda of criminalizing sexual freedom and freedom of expression, especially among young people.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 7, 2014 @ 7:15 pm

  2. While it is still quite easy to get yourself killed for being queer in American, perhaps the greatest danger to the American gay in the age of Obama is the bourgeoisification of the gay movement, which has enshrined property, marriage, and a parody of the nuclear family in the highest rank of gay virtues (for some people, including the non-gay who now officially “tolerate” gays as long as they are happy as clams, untainted by sexual promiscuity, and devoted exclusively to building and flaunting a Dream House).

    A gay friend of mine posted an ad on a gay dating website: “ISO Gay Socialist.” He received so much hate mail–from other gays–that he had to change his email address, which he had unwisely included in his original post.

    Comment by Ed Grimond — October 7, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

  3. enshrined property, marriage, and a parody of the nuclear family

    Stupid ultraleft bullshit. Gays get married because it is a way to have the same rights as straights, including the right to have your partner become eligible for benefits. Plus, not everybody is interested in being a “rebel”. They seek normalcy–big fucking deal. So did Blacks in the 1940s. In terms of the Gay ISO’er getting hate mail, I think you are bullshitting us. Cut it out. We don’t want to waste bandwidth here on stupidity.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 7, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

  4. I dunno. I think that Ed Grimond’s main point about “bourgeoisification of the gay movement” is salient with merit. In my relatively short lifetime (born in ’61), let me be blunt, it used to be that Blacks, Longhairs & Homosexuals could be murdered arbitrarily without much consequence. Now it’s at least conceivable that a longhaired Black Gay guy could be elected. But that only reminds me of Trotsky’s remark that the ruling class would always concede all kinds of ground on cultural questions so long as it never touched a hair on Capitalism’s head. I suspect that Ed G. was trying to make a similar point.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 8, 2014 @ 1:40 am

  5. Shove it up your ass, Proyect. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Comment by Ed Grimond — October 8, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  6. Its a good thing if Blacks, Longhairs and Homosexuals can’t be murdered without consequence. Call me a reformist softie and all. And its also a good thing that black gay longhairs could conceivably be elected. It seems to me that the greatest danger to Blacks, Gays or Longhairs today isn’t these concessions putting people off from the struggle for socialism (god what a tired idea-as if that’s why the left is small…the state is buying the oppressed off everywhere! in which ‘where’s my piece of the action’ would be most peoples reaction): its the fact that if you can’t be murdered without consequence ie ‘its still pretty easy to get killed’. I would have thought. Its kind of worse then being forced to be allowed to elect black people or get a mortgage.

    Comment by johng — October 8, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

  7. What exactly is the danger in the `bourgeoisification’ of gay people? In actual fact with their democratic issues more or less resolved in parts of the West then surely they will be able to concentrate on their proletarianisation like straight couples.

    Comment by David Ellis — October 8, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

  8. “In actual fact with their democratic issues more or less resolved in parts of the West then surely they will be able to concentrate on their proletarianisation like straight couples.”

    The film “Fox and His Friends” is a brilliant instance of this kind of “concentration”. Fassbinder said that he used a gay couple as opposed to a straight one in order to more effectively highlight this subject.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 8, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

  9. Skepticism about the supreme value of traditional marriage has been a feature of even mild radicalism at least since the days of Godwin and Shelley, and continued to be that until quite recently–Gore Vidal, who was certainly not an ultraleftist, was outspoken on the subject as were a great many public figures throughout the twentieth century, now forgotten in the upsurge of “mainstream” thinking wherever Foucault and Derrida have not drained words of all effective meaning.

    It certainly would be foolish to compare the idea of gay marriage as it is practiced now with the combined religious and civic tyranny of marriage as an institution in Czarist Russia. Obviously, the Czar and Czarina would have been horrified at the very idea. But the rehabilitation of marriage in general–especially religious marriage–as the supreme and normative mode of relationship in society is a central fact of 21st-century liberalism, a fact that speaks for itself. Like the case for war, the case for marriage continues to be repeated more and more stoically despite the fact that the institution of marriage as practiced is in more trouble than at any time in modern history.

    In any case, the early Bolsheviks not only struck down the legal repression of homosexuality, but also vociferously challenged the received ideas of marriage and the family. It was only under Stalin that marriage was rehabilitated and again put in the forefront of public ideals. What would Lenin have made of the famous “marriage palaces” I wonder?

    Comment by Susan Barton — October 9, 2014 @ 2:39 am

  10. “But the rehabilitation of marriage in general–especially religious marriage–as the supreme and normative mode of relationship in society is a central fact of 21st-century liberalism, a fact that speaks for itself. Like the case for war, the case for marriage continues to be repeated more and more stoically despite the fact that the institution of marriage as practiced is in more trouble than at any time in modern history.”

    As you note, there is a paradox here. For gays and lesbians, marriage has complex features related to acceptance within mainstream society and access to the privileges of straights. Given the parallel abandonment of marriage by many straights, there has even been comment to the effect that religions should embrace gay marriage as a way of reversing the decline of this institution. In the Russian Republic, it is a more serious as marriage is analogous to public safety, although you could probably same the same here, too, especially in red states where gays and lesbians have seized upon the marriage issue for this reason, too.

    The issue is paradoxical in the way that choice has been in regard to middle and upper middle income women in contrast with poorer women in the lesser developed world. In the US and the EU, choice is about women deciding whether they want children or not, whereas, in the lesser development world, choice has been about the right to have them in the face of an assault by the UN and NGOs to promote sterilization programs and birth control.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 9, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

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