Research By Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD
Researcher’s Note: It seems logical to conclude that the 1926 Article 154a was a legislation against male on male rape – despite the peculiar wording of the opening line (an opening line that would be retained in the later Article 121, which appears to be a legal extension to prevent paedophilia). What must be considered is the ‘nuance’ of the original Russian language text, which has probably been lost in English translation, (as in English translation, these legislations appear ‘homophobic’). The fact that the Soviet Union was considered enlightened and tolerant demonstrates that these laws were not applied as a deliberate attack upon homosexuals – although in the 1930’s, certain homosexual activity became associated with specific counter-revolutionary activity. In this regard, homosexuals who strove to bring-down the USSR were treated as ‘criminals’ – just as their heterosexual colleagues. Soviet records demonstrate that Joseph Stalin was not behind the apparently anti-gay legislation, but was responding to various police reports about contemporary counter-revolutionary activities (usually within major cities). ACW 5.1.2016
The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) officially existed as a sovereign State between October, 1917 and late December, 1922 – before being formally incorporated (as a Republic) into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In 1917, Lenin abolished the old Czarist Legal Code – including Article 995 which ‘banned’ male homosexuality. The decriminalising of homosexuality in Revolutionary Russia was incidental to the over-throw of the old order, and was not carried-out as a specific act of liberation. However, for reasons apparently related to ‘religious sensitivities’, the Czarist Article 995 was legally retained in the Caucasian and Central Asian Republics, after 1917, before being finally abolished in 1920. In 1922, homosexuality continued to be decriminalised throughout Revolutionary Russia, but in April, 1926, the RSFSR enacted Article 154a, which reads as follows:
‘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.’
This legislation appears to have been interpreted as a protection against male on male rape, and not an attack upon homosexuality in general. This stance appears to be vindicated by the fact that the Soviet Government (in 1926), invited the German Magnus Hirschfeld – the famous gay emancipator and founder of the World League of Sexual Reform – to witness first-hand the tolerance toward homosexuality in Revolutionary Russia. As a result, during the 1928 Copenhagen Congress of the Institute for the Science of Sexuality, the League stated that the Soviet Union was a model of tolerance for sexual diversity. When Hitler came to power, however, these progressive institutes were attacked and destroyed.
As time progressed, particularly following Trotsky’s betrayal and banishment from the Soviet Union (in 1929), certain overt modes of (male) homosexuality came to be associated with counter-revolutionary activity, and a manifestation of bourgeois decadence. Due to this heightened sense of internal attack within the USSR, a number of leading Soviets started to agitate for a law ‘banning’ homosexuality as a means to break-up groups practising ‘pederasty’ and the corruption of (male) youth. This movement did not begin with Stalin and was not implemented from above. Russian language sources record that the Deputy Chairman of the NKVD – Genrikh Yagoda – in a report to Stalin dated to September, 1933, that 130 people had been arrested in Moscow for facilitating the ‘…creation of a network of salons, homes, brothels, associations and other organized groups of practising homosexuals, with the further transformation of the unions into direct spy cells … with active homosexuals using elitist pederast circles directly for counter-revolutionary purposes, decaying politically different social layers of the youth, particularly young workers, as well as trying to infiltrate the army and navy.’ Stalin’s written reply does not contain any elements of homophobia – but is matter of fact about retaining law and order: ‘It is necessary to punish the villains and to introduce relevant governing legislation to facilitate this action.’ The NKVD continued to make reports to the Soviet government relating how groups of counter-revolutionary men were using homosexual practice to undermine Soviet Authority. The NKVD petitioned the politburo to back a change in legislation, which was unanimously supported, with the exception of Kalini – who steadfastly opposed any laws out-lawing homosexuality. Kalini stated that he was opposed to the passing of this law, and against any NKVD action against homosexuals initiated outside of the Soviet Court System. At this time, the Soviet press deployed a socio-political campaign against homosexuality, which saw Maxim Gorky on May 23, 1934 (on the front pages of newspapers ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestiya’) in his article ‘Proletarian humanism’, referred to ‘homosexuality’ as a ‘social crime and offense’, stating ‘Destroy homosexuality – Fascism will disappear.’ This building social and political pressure led to the 1926 Article 154a being modified into the 1934 Article 121 which stated:
‘Sexual intercourse of a man with a man (sodomy) is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. Sodomy, committed with the use of physical violence, threats, or against a minor, or by using the dependent position of the victim, shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding eight years.’
Russian Language Source Article: