LGBT liberation, class struggle and the hypocrisy of imperialism By John Barry

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09/11/2014 by socialistfight


A pro-LGBT rights “Rainbow flash mob” that took place on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in Saint Petersburg, 2009

There has been much exposure recently in the western media on the rights of LGBT people in Russia. In fact the whole run up to the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Games itself were mired in controversy around the issue. The focus has been on legislation passed by the Russian Duma which prohibits ‘gay propaganda’, a law which is supposed to protect children from paedophiles but also singles out homosexuals as a corrupting influence. This controversy was one of course created by the western media, who not so many years ago were witch hunting and berating people because of their sexual orientation.

Now of course the liberal West likes to portray itself as the champion of gay rights and human rights in general, against what is presented to their populations as less civilised and tolerant countries. For most people in ‘less civilised’ countries the reality is somewhat different, especially if you happen to get bombed daily by drones in Pakistan, have suffered years of violent occupation in Afghanistan or the north of Ireland. LGBT people are one of the most oppressed groups in society and most countries take a very harsh attitude to those who carry out same sex relations.

Indeed most of the British Commonwealth criminalises homosexuality, recently India made gay sex a criminal offence, yet the Commonwealth Games does not find itself courting the same controversy. Why then does the West focus on LGBT rights in Russia? In Russia gay sex is actually legal unlike most countries including America’s ally Saudi Arabia where homosexuality is punishable by flogging or execution, the last executions for homosexuality were reported in 2002 when three gay men were beheaded.[1]

The focus on this by the West, its enlightened liberal politicians and its host of egocentric celebrities is more to do with the need by US imperialism to cause the de-stabilisation of Russia through NGO’s backed by the CIA and the carving up of Russia to open all its assets and resources to US finance capital.

However it is true that Russian society is deeply conservative and homophobic. Marxists must understand the material reasons which have led to the current deep fear of homosexuality in Russia.

Historically over the past century the current level of homophobia in Russia is fairly new. Indeed after the great October Socialist Revolution the Bolshevik workers’ government decriminalised homosexuality, abortion and introduced no-fault divorce.[2] An open and rational view was taken toward homosexuality by the new Soviet government; the Bolsheviks also understood that the construction of socialism required the end of the oppressive bourgeois family.

Progressive organisations such as the World League of Sexual Reform looked toward the Soviet Union as a model for sexual reform and Soviet delegates were sent to several international conferences in the 1920s regarding sexology.[3] During that decade a young Bolshevik, Gregorii Batkis, in his graduate studies at the Moscow university wrote a pamphlet which was translated to German The Sexual Revolution in Russia, in which he stated homosexuality was treated in the Soviet union in the same way as so-called natural intercourse .[4]

There was of course prejudice remaining from the past, the Orthodox Church still held huge power over the minds of many Russian peasants and those former members of the petty bourgeoisie, judges and criminologists showed antipathy towards homosexuality. However as in many spheres of life the Soviet government was attempting to encourage a materialist based rational and scientific understanding of the world despite the huge devastation of civil war, backwardness of the peasantry and economic hardships.

The socialist revolution could not remain isolated in one country and a backward one at that, the Soviet state degenerated under conditions of lagging world revolution and the rule of the conservative bureaucracy who made a virtue of ‘socialism in one country’ rather than a temporary necessity. With the defeat of the revolutionary internationalist Left Opposition by the early 1930s, conservative patriarchy once again became the dominant norm in the Soviet Union, coupled with a desire to increase the population and reproach the Orthodox Church.

In this environment homosexuality was again criminalised by the conservative bureaucracy in 1933, punishable by 5 years hard labour or prison. All kinds of lies were then used to justify persecution of LGBT people, from homosexuality being a disease, mental illness, fascist perversion and decadent bourgeois lifestyle choice.[5] The roots of modern homophobia in Russia stem from this.

The current wave of homophobia is also in tandem with nationalism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, videos have been posted by far right groups for several years now showing immigrants from former soviet republics being tortured or killed, this has now happened to some perceived as gay. The fear in Russia of a growth in the immigrant populations from former Soviet Republics and the low birth rate among Russians has led to attacks on non-procreation sex, particularly by the powerful Orthodox Church which during the Soviet period was a favourite cause for the West to support.[6]

The growth in these reactionary forces has been the result of the collapse of the planned economy of the USSR and the onslaught of savage gangster capitalism of the 1990s, which although now passed into a more stable period still wrenches up reactionary ideas and prejudice for survival. While Putin has fairly moderate and tolerant views on the subject he leans on the Orthodox Church and bourgeois public opinion for his political survival pandering to traditional values and social conservatism.

In a country like Russia the Western imperialists are correctly associated with the Yeltsin spearheaded return of capitalism in the 1990s in which millions suffered as society was torn apart, anything associated with the West such as LGBT equality is seen negatively especially given the social conservatism and the aggressive nature of world imperialism which today is dominated by the US and its NATO allies resting on the liberal ideology of ‘regime change’ in order to bring ‘freedom and democracy’ and ‘human rights’ to what is presented as less civilised nations.

The rights of LGBT people were of course fought for against huge opposition by the ruling class, the struggle was taken up mainly by trade unions and the labour movement and were not handed down to us by the liberal bourgeoisie. It was less than 30 years ago that Britain was a far more homophobic country and Thatcher’s government introduced the notorious Section 28 of the local government act which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality as a normal relation, no different to the current Russian policy.



Condemning Russia for homophobia is total hypocrisy, in 13 US states homosexual acts are still illegal,[7] as is the case in their client states of Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia to mention two, in the latter of which homosexuality can be punished by execution, as we mentioned above.

Many of the social liberals on the left who like to pose as Marxists have given support to the imperialist hypocrisy, using it as another reason to attack Russia which is currently facing the threat of huge military aggression from the West, just as some had supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 in the name of women’s rights. We cannot know the extent of persecution of LGBT people in semi-colonial and oppressed countries, some of the reports could be imperialist propaganda or misrepresentations.

Another important factor we must take into account is that liberalism places labels on people partly as bourgeois sociological practice to divide the working class but also to create niche markets for commercial consumption. Thus advertisements for a lifestyle or goods aimed at the ‘pink pound’ alienates people who experiment or experience homosexual attraction or relationships but do not feel that they fit into these labels, nor do they desire to.

Therefore the West’s version of ‘gay rights’ is a liberal discourse which imperialism is attempting to impose on people in oppressed countries who will not understand or cannot conceive. Socialists fight for sexual freedom and sex education, which should be part of our demands in oppressed countries. It is not possible to eradicate decades and centuries of isolation, oppressive thought, clericalism, and backward ideas overnight, revolutionary transformation takes much longer and requires the development of the highest material and scientific technique at the disposal of society.

The lefts who support the liberal idea that formal equality in law alone as the means to end special oppression are hopelessly pandering to reformism and their own imperialist ruling class. While of course these laws are important to reduce or prevent harassment by the police or protect LGBT people from state persecution they do not bring about liberation from this society. The Gay Liberation Manifesto of 1971 stated ‘gay liberation does not just mean reforms. It means a revolutionary change in our whole society.’[8]

Early LGBT activists understood that it was capitalism and class society which oppressed them relying as it does on marriage and the nuclear family to help reproduce its class relations and productive system. Now the liberals are using formal equality to create a new straightjacket for LGBT people; gay marriage as a means to the nuclear family, middle class lifestyle and successful careers.

Capitalism will always try to buy off the specially oppressed groups in society whether it is women, black people or gays. LGBT activists should reject the idea of marriage as a means of ending oppression and while we support all laws which provide equal rights, marriage is a pillar of capitalism.

While there is nothing wrong with monogamy if that is what a couple choose, marriage means the state recognises it as the only valued or legitimate means of raising a family.

It also expects it to be for life, which is hypocritical. There are people in non-nuclear families such as single parents or families in shared accommodation or in refuges who will be affected more than others by austerity, these workers are not recognised by the state as legitimate families. Trotsky in response to a question on the Soviet government and family relations posed by an American magazine said: “If one understands by “family” ideal monogamy-not in the legal but in the actual sense-then the Bolsheviks could not destroy what never was nor is on earth, barring fortunate exceptions.”[9]

The current campaigns focussing on gay marriage ignore the important issues facing all the working class some of which will affect LGBT workers and women the most, such as massive cuts to the benefit system, privatisation of the NHS, reduction of support to voluntary groups which provide sex education and sexual health awareness and provision.

The tasks of revolutionary socialists is to unite workers’ in common class interests to break down the artificial barriers of nation, race, gender and sexual orientation and build an international proletarian party to lead the working class for socialist revolution. The victory of the working class in overthrowing capitalism is the only means to human liberation in all spheres of life including sexual relations. The defeat of imperialism is therefore the upmost importance to defeat capitalism and build socialism, harnessing technical and material resources in planned co-operation for the benefit of humanity.

The current attacks from imperialism on Russia regarding LGBT rights are similar to the hypocritical arguments used by British imperialism against German imperialism in World War One, fighting for democracy against tyranny, or Hitler’s argument that ‘civilised’ Germany was saving Poland from the barbarism of Pilsudski. Imperialism needs to strangle and plunder the semi-oppressed countries such as Russia and Syria. This requires that revolutionaries give conditional support of semi- oppressed countries in order to defeat world imperialism which is the foremost enemy of the working class and those who suffer special oppression such as LGBT people.


[1] Whitaker, B., The Guardian, Saudi Arabia’s juggling act on homosexuality, 13 Sept 2010,

[2] LGBT history in Russia, accessed at

[3] Daniel Healy (1993), The Russian Revolution and the Decriminalisation of Homosexuality, p26-54, p37 accessed at

[4] Daniel Healy (1993), p36

[5] LGBT history in Russia, accessed at

[6] See discussion on this subject in Daily Kos, Understanding Russia’s homophobia, by pico, Aug 12 2013, at


[8] Gay Liberation Front : Manifesto, London, 1971, revised 1978, Internet History Sourcebooks Project, at

[9] Trotsky, L., Family Relations Under the Soviets, Women and the Family, 1973, Pathfinder Press, New York, p53

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