The USSR and Homosexuality Part II (Czarist Article 995)

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Original Chinese Language Article By:

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

The USSR and Homosexuality Part I (Article 121)

The USSR and Homosexuality Part III (RSFSR Article 154a)



Translator’s Note: As I cannot read Russian (and do not trust Western, bourgeois sources), but wanted to access Russian-language Soviet historical information, I have instead accessed Communist Chinese academic articles that extensively cover the history of homosexuality in Russia, both before and during the Soviet era.  I have translated below about extracts of a very interesting 2002 Chinese language text entitled ‘俄国同性恋概史’, or ‘An Overview of Russian Homosexuality’.  Where necessary, I have added one or two clarifying remarks.  Article 995 of the Czarist Criminal Code did not appear in Russia until as late as 1832 – although the theoretical ground-work – (I believe) existed in Russia centuries before, due to the hostile view-points of the Russian Orthodox Church. Article 995 criminalised anal sex between men (but not gay relationships between men that did not involve anal sex).  Homosexuality between women was not acknowledged as existing, and so was neither ‘criminalised’ or de-criminalised’ in either Czarist or Soviet Russia.  Lenin abolished the entirety of the Czarist Code, but did not ‘legalise’ homosexuality, and Stalin did not personally ‘criminalise’ homosexuality (despite the peculiar wording of Soviet Article 121, which was designed to fight paedophilia rather than homosexuality).  If anything, the Soviet attitude toward gayness might better be described as ‘ambiguous’ rather than hostile, although it is true that Leon Trotsky, even before his open betrayal of the Soviet Union, expressed decidedly ‘anti-gay’ sentiments.  One point of contention is that the author of the translated article below states that homosexuality was not made ‘illegal’ in the 1926 Criminal Code. However, a law against ‘Sodomy’ was introduced in Russia at this time.  Article 154a of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, enacted in 1926 stated: ‘Sexual intercourse of a man with a man (sodomy) – deprivation of liberty for a term of three to five years. Sodomy committed with application of violence or with the use of the dependent status of the victim, – the deprivation of liberty for a term of five to eight years.’ (Article 154a would eventually be updated to form Article 121 in 1934). In Communist China, the LGBT community is slowly developing, and the Chinese language article I have accessed is from ‘Aibai Network’ website. The Aibai Network (爱白网 – ‘Love Unlimited’) was founded in 1999 by a Chinese gay couple as a website providing translated LGBT news, books, and information from around the world. Aibai is a non-profit organization, based in Beijing, which provides resources, education, and advocacy for and about the LGBT community in China.  ACW 1.1.2017

The Russian Orthodox Church, wedded as it is to the Old Testament creation myth of Adam and Eve, has always advocated heterosexuality as the norm for (Christian) humanity.  The theological underpinnings of this assumption stem from the fact that it is apparently self-evident that the Christian ‘god’ decreed that the reproductive sexual act must occur between a man and woman, otherwise off-spring will not be produced.  If this was not the case, (as theology instructs), god would not have designed the human biological sexual capacity to function around the genital interaction of a man and a woman. This is a curious mix of mythological theology, and pragmatic (deterministic) biological observation, that assumes that the only purpose of the sexual act is that of procreation.  This limited view omits anyother cogent view of existence, and has no notion that the sexual act serves as an extensive plethora of physical, psychological and emotional needs for the individual than just ‘procreation’ (an act, that if successful, has historically served to create more Christians for the congregation).  It has been this anti-gay attitude that has manifested beyond the pulpit every so often throughout Russian history, in various guises and in various strengths.  However, when foreigners visited Russia in the 16th and 17th centuries, they were confused to encounter the apparently easy-going attitude shown toward same-sex relationships (and the intimacy such interactions involved), and yet later (during the 18th century), Peter the Great (1672-1725) forbade any homosexual practice within his armies (a proscription, however, that did not extend into civil society). During the reign of Czar Nicholas, I, Article 995 was added to the Criminal Law in 1832.  This out-lawed the practice of male sodomy, with those convicted of this offence threatened with exile to Siberia for up to five years.  However, this law did not punish amorous relationships between adult men that did not involve anal sex (homosexuality between adult women was not considered to ‘legally’ exist). Despite the rather draconian nature of this law, it is historically evident that it was not pursued with any particular vigour throughout Russian society, with many upper-class Russian men pursuing semi-open gay life-styles.  Of course, just as everyone in Russia did not necessarily follow or believe in the Russian Orthodox Church (particularly in North Russia), so it was that there was a certain tolerant attitude amongst some segments of Russian society toward homosexuality. Even within certain folk religious rituals, there was often open simulation of homosexual acts.  This observation (from the remote areas of Russia) prompted the historian Soloviev to write: ‘Neither the East nor the West has ever had a place so disagreeable with this evil against nature.’ There is even examples of some Russian officials beings sympathetic to the plight of homosexuals – with even those who were exiled to Siberia being treated leniently. However, despite this tolerance, Russia was by no means a homosexual utopia, with many people (like the writer Gogol and composer Tchaikovsky) persecuted for their gayness.

At the beginning of the 20th century, as the total monarchy of the Czarist regime began to crumble, it was evident that Russia was far behind Europe in its social and political development.  This reality saw the legal code come under much scrutiny and alteration, with the punishment for male sodomy being restricted to 5 years hard-labour, instead of exile to Siberia.  With the abolition of the absolute Czarist State (under Czar Nicholas II), and the introduction of a Constitutional Czarism (and a democratically elected Congress) in 1905, many thinkers turned their minds toward the subject of civil liberties, with the liberal lawyer Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov (1870–1922) suggesting that the Russian government should not interfere in the private lives of Russian citizens (particularly in the area of sexual orientation and sexual preference).  His son, Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) wrote the novel ‘Lolita’.  Freedom of expression promoted cultural development, and the period from 1905 to 1917, often referred to as the silver age of Soviet literature, was a golden age for homosexuality, with many men living openly gay life-styles, and many pivotal works of gay literature being written. After the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik Party came in power. At first, the Communist view of homosexuality was difficult to define. On the one hand, Marxism strongly criticized Christianity and advocated the idea of equality for all, women’s liberation and free marriage. From this humanitarian principle designed to fight all forms of bourgeois oppression, homosexuals should have been one of the emancipated minority groups. On the other hand, the Communist Movement advocated the sacrificing personal interests, and any desire for lust, especially within the area of sexual life, because such selfish activity was seen as diverting energy and will away from the Revolution.  Another issue was that homosexuality had been historically perceived as a bourgeois ‘vice or ‘eccentricity’, and the product of corrupt bourgeois values incompatible to the proletarian Revolutionary spirit. Nevertheless, the overthrow of the Czarist regime was welcomed by the majority of civilians and intellectuals, with many referring to its progressive nature as being a ‘modern miracle’.

In 1917, the Soviet Union abolished all the criminal laws of the Czarist era, including Article 995 and its punishment of homosexuality.  This action was viewed as progressive throughout Western Europe, with such experts as the German Sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), (together with the German Communist Party), calling for a similar lifting of all oppressive and regressive laws throughout Europe that criminalised homosexuality.  These events created the impression that the USSR had deliberately ‘decriminalised’ and then ‘legalised’ homosexuality, but this view was not entirely correct.  Yes, the USSR had abolished the oppressive Czarist Legal Code, and in so doing had dissolved Article 995.  However, this act was merely incidental, as the USSR had abolished ALL Czarist proscriptions against every form of criminality (which did not automatically equate to murder and rape, etc, being suddenly declared ‘legal’).  This action was carried-out because the bourgeois, feudalistic law of the Czarist era was incompatible with the progressive law of the proletariat Revolution (meaning that an entirely ‘new’ legal system had to be written from scratch, by the workers for the workers).  At this time (in 1917), the Soviet attitude toward homosexuality can be described as legally ‘indifferent’, but homosexuality certainly had not been ‘legalised’.  However, after this time, during the uncertain years of the Russian Civil War (1918-1922), there were a small number of prosecutions for various homosexual activities.  After the end of the Civil War (with the defeat of the White Army), Soviet Russia enacted a new Criminal Law in 1922, which was amended in 1926. The new Criminal Law defined a ‘minor’ as being under 16 years of age, with 16 years being the ‘age of consent’ for lawful sexual intercourse. This Criminal Code banned prostitution and pimping, but homosexuality remained undefined as a legal category (and was not made ‘illegal’). However, as Marxist ideology advocates respect for the natural sciences, the academic community at that time, generally held that homosexuality was a disease (or a psychological or physical dysfunction), a type of mental (and physical) illness that could be medically treated.  These attitudes are reflected in a Soviet academic work published in 1923, by the Ministry of Public Health, entitled ‘Contemporary Youth and Sexuality,’ which stated that: ‘Scientific research has proven beyond doubt, that homosexuality is not out of malice, nor is it a crime, but rather a disease … it runs counter to the sexual desires of normal people.’ Again, in the 1930 edition of the Encyclopaedia of Medicine, homosexuality is defined as: ‘A desire to disobey nature between members of the same sexual gender.’  Marriage and psychotherapy were the preferred methods of treatments, but as the USSR was exploring a limitless proletarian science, there was some theorising (never put into practice), that if the testes were transplanted from a heterosexual man into a homosexual man, the homosexual tendencies would naturally fall away.  Despite this ambiguity toward gayness in the USSR, homosexuals were never targeted for pogroms of eradication as was the case in Nazi Germany during the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, in 1934, Article 121 was enacted in the USSR which banned sex between a man and man, but simultaneously defined such activity as ‘paedophilia’ (i.e. ‘pederasty’), or an illegal sexual act between a man and a male child.  This law, despite its ambiguous wording, appears to have been aimed at stamping-out paedophilia (and the sexual exploitation of children), and used in that function, rather than to attack the gay community in the USSR.

Original Chinese Language Source Article:


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