Originally Published: 2/2/2023
By: The National LGBTI Secretariat of the PSTU-B
On January 29, “National Trans and Travesti Visibility Day,” the Popular Unity for Socialism, UP, published a text on its website and made a post on Twitter where it develops a scientifically outdated and essentially transphobic position. A debate that we address in the article “On Trans Visibility Day,” Popular Unity (UP) Defends Transphobic Stance on Gender Identity [SP1]”.
Now, in this following article, we continue this debate by showing that the UP’s position is related to the historical tradition to which this political organization is affiliated and continues to echo: the Stalinist tradition.
The advances of the Bolsheviks
Soon after the Russian Revolution, in October 1917, the Bolsheviks turned the whole prejudiced, fundamentalist, and oppressive heritage that reigned in the tsarist system, particularly in relation to sexuality, on its head.
“The present sexual legislation of the Soviet Union is the work of the October Revolution. This Revolution is important not only as a political phenomenon that guarantees the political rule of the working class, but also because the revolutions that emanate from this class reach all sectors of life,” wrote Grigori Batkis, physician and director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, in 1923.
The impact of this revolution in relation to gay sexuality, and even transsexuality, was summarized by LGBTQI activist and Trotskyist Sherry Wolf in her book Sexuality and Socialism: LGBT History, Politics, and Liberation (2009).
“In 1917, all laws against homosexuality were overturned by the new revolutionary government, along with the rest of the tsarist criminal code. Consensual sex was declared a private matter and gays were not only free to live as they wanted without state intervention, but Soviet courts also approved gay marriage and, unusually, sex change operations were even reported in the 1920s” (89).
Moreover, as also documented by Wolf, even in the Red Army (commanded by Leon Trotsky), “women who wore men’s clothes (…), generally assuming a male role, were given positions of authority” and the Bolshevik authorities argued that they “should legally assume male names and live like men” (97).
All this, however, was completely swept away by the Stalinist counterrevolution, soon after Lenin’s death and Stalin’s rise to power. As early as 1934, the Criminal Code of the former USSR started to criminalize consensual sex between adult men. All practices distinct from heterocisgenderism started to be identified as signs of “bourgeois decadence,” “fascist perversion,” contrary to “proletarian decency,” and later, as stated in the 1971 edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, as “sexual perversion” or “unnatural attraction”.
Inside the former USSR, all this resulted in a criminal persecution of LGBTQI+ people, leading to approximately 60,000 convictions between 1934 and 1980 alone. What’s more: these oppressive and criminal positions reverberated throughout the “communist bloc”. For example in Cuba, Fidel Castro defended the “pathological character of homosexual deviations,” which resulted in the prohibition of PC membership, dismissal from public office, imprisonment, torture, forced labor camps, and exile for thousands of LGBTQI+ people.
This persecution of LGBTQI+ people was not something isolated. It was accompanied by campaigns such as one called “back home” that was imposed on women, as well as the oppression of the cultures and self-determination of Soviet nations, the abandonment and betrayal of the anti-racist struggle, among many other processes of bureaucratization and the freezing of the world revolution. In short, Stalinism was a break with Marx, Engels, Lenin and the whole tradition of Marxism. Many revolutionaries opposed these policies, but countless, like Trotsky, were persecuted, imprisoned and executed precisely for this reason. And it is this history that UP omits in order to defend Stalin.
That is why it is not a coincidence of history that some of the most violently LGBTQI-phobic countries today are exactly those where, after promoting capitalist restoration, sectors of the Stalinist bureaucracy itself were installed in power, as in Russia, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
The UP proves that there is no way to break with the past without breaking with Stalinism
After the disclosure of Stalin’s crimes, as early as the 1960s and particularly after the capitalist restoration by the Stalinist bureaucracies, many of their satellite parties around the world made extraordinary efforts to break away from the Stalinist tradition. They did this without, however, breaking with its theoretical, political, and programmatic methods and perspectives.
In other words, they maintained the essentially counter-revolutionary stance of Stalinism. Whether by the incessant search for class conciliation and defense of the possibility of a “revolution by stages” or “socialism in one country,” or by the preservation and propagation of discourses and practices that work against the struggles and the true liberation of LGBTQI+, black people, women, and other oppressed sectors.
This is the story of UP itself, and so the post was not just a “slip.” This post reaffirms the backward positions of these organizations. And to understand the “whys” it is necessary to understand the history of the UP itself, whose roots are grounded in a rupture, first with the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), then with the Revolutionary Movement 8 of October (MR-8), and finally with the Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR).
In an interview given to Hiro Okita, then a militant of Socialist Convergence (one of the organizations that gave rise to the PSTU), for the book “Homosexuality: from oppression to liberation” (1981, recently reprinted by Sundermann Publishers), the representative of the newspaper “The People’s Hour,” edited by the MR-8, made a disgusting statement in their definition of gay sexuality.
“It is a form of masturbation. It is a way to realize, through fantasy, a desire that is not actually realized, generating other problems like frustrations, narcissism, which are manifestations of homosexuality. Deep down, deep down, it is a disease, if disease is a deviation; a psychological disease basically (…). What happens in all decadent societies, in Nazism for example, is the emergence, the reproduction, of homosexuality in the dominant classes (…). I think it’s completely wrong (the organization of homosexuals within a party), it has no future, because socialism tends to do away with homosexuality” declared the MR-8 militant (96).
It would be dishonest and absurd to say that Popular Unity maintains exactly this same perspective. But, unlike Jones Manoel, we refuse to “pass the buck” when it comes to reactionary postures. First, because we know that the “effort” that UP, PCdoB, and PCBm have made in distancing themselves from Stalinist positions (not always successful, as can see in the above “slip”) does not constitute a real break with this tradition. Rather, they are motivated by an attempt to get closer to the movements of the oppressed without breaking with the tradition of Stalinism as a whole.
In recent decades, Stalinists around the world have embarked on a wave of “revisionism,” after systematically betraying the struggles of the oppressed. In fact, Stalinism is in chiefly responsible for the suspicion or violent antipathy with which large sectors of the black, women, LGBTQI+, indigenous movements, etc. view Marxism and communism. This “revisionist” attempt to erase and remake Stalinism’s own history inevitably works against the real fight against oppression.
3In Brazil and throughout the world, this history is long and has several important threads. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, they opposed our rights with a false discourse that the “class” struggle was against fighting oppression, thus betraying all elaborations of revolutionary Marxism. They threw into the dustbin of history the theorizations of Marx and Lenin, Krupskaya, Trotsky, C.L.R. James and so many others that defended the need for a combined, permanent struggle against oppression and exploitation. Despite this fact, they continued to argue that, in a class society, the complete liberation of the oppressed is essentially conditioned by the alliance of these sectors with the working class, in open confrontation with the bourgeoisie, and the seizure of power by those who produce the wealth.
This position has nothing to do with a tradition that, apart from its many crimes committed, drove Clóvis Moura away from the PCB because of his defense of the “race and class” struggle. Stalinism for decades opposed affirmative action and, in relation to LGBTQI+ people, directly contributed to our oppression, discrimination, and marginalization.
Today, the heirs to this tradition, such as the UP, the PCB ,and the PCdB, to a greater or lesser degree provide a supposedly “critical” reading of Stalinism. However, it is not enough to proclaim that Stalinism made mistakes, or to justify them by the “objective situation” and the historical context in which these decisions were made.
For us in the PSTU, it is necessary to fight against Stalinism and all the counterrevolutionary setbacks that this movement has meant for our class. It is not possible to build a socialist society without LGBTQI+ people and the oppressed sectors of the working class. This cannot be a formal declaration of “passive” support for the oppressed sectors, nor is it a struggle “for later”, when the “economic” conditions have been resolved. It is essential to fight oppression now, to unite the working class in the joint struggle for socialist revolution.
The defense of trans lives is a task for the entire working class
Since we are talking about the weight of traditions in the politics and actions of organizations in the present, contrary to Jones Manoel’s snide provocations, we are proud to have Trotskyism as a reference.
And not because our historic current has not made mistakes and still has much to correct and to advance. But because, regardless of this, our current has spared no effort to maintain the essence of the tradition of revolutionary Marxism. This starts with the understanding that one of the fundamental roles of oppression – as Marx wrote in the 1870s – is to potentiate the overexploitation of those who are historically marginalized and at the same time to divide the working class, thus undermining its capacity to fight. This is a practice consciously undertaken by the bourgeoisie, through the ideologies it propagates by all means it has at hand, such as the churches, the educational system, the media, etc. For this reason we must understand it as part of the class struggle.
This is what caused us at the PSTU to contribute through Socialist Convergence (CS) to the foundation of entities such as the Unified Black Movement (MNU) and Somos: Homosexual Affirmation Group at the end of the 1970s. We argued within these organizations for the need to fight against oppression with class independence and with a socialist perspective.
This is also why, since the time of the CS, we have kept internal Secretariats (of women, black men and women, and LGBTQI+) so that we can articulate our stance on these issues, provide political and theoretical training inside and outside the party. At the same time, this allows us todefend positions and a program that, when voted upon, is a heritage of our entire organization, defended with vigor and conviction, wherever we operate and by all our militancy, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race or ethnicity.
Today, it is also this conviction that motivates our rejection of UP’s statement. It does nothing to help trans people move towards a revolutionary perspective that can actually liberate them. On the contrary, in one of its passages, the note summarizes the militant role of communist trans people as to “do political struggle and help comrades to understand their condition.”
For us, this should in no way be our role as LGBTQI+ activists. And this is not at all what we want from our straight and cisgender comrades. What we need is to fight, politically and socially, so that trans people see themselves as part of the working class, and develop their militancy to crush this system that oppresses and exploits them. And that working men and women as a whole understand that they will not be completely free as a class – as was also said in other terms by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky – as long as millions of men and women (be they trans, non-binary, gay, lesbian or bisexual) have their lives and deaths conditioned by oppression.
The fight against LGBTQIphobia – and especially transphobia – is the minimum condition for the working class to unify in the struggle for socialism, for a truly free society. The struggle of trans people is the struggle of the entire working class and needs to be defended and strengthened by all sectors of our class. It is only the construction, collectively, of a socialist society where working men and women rule that they can freely manifest their differences without them being transformed (as capitalism does) into inequalities that distance us from justice, freedom, equality or the possibility of living in a dignified and full way.