Maoist Homophobia?

Worrisome Reports from Nepal

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), leading what many have considered the most advanced Maoist movement in the world for the last decade, has recently been accused of attacks on gay people and of indulging in anti-gay rhetoric. Unfortunately, the reports seem valid. In January, a senior party leader, Dev Gurung, now Minister of Local Development in Nepal’s transitional government, was quoted in the press as stating: “Under Soviet rule and when China was still very much a communist state, there were no homosexuals in the Soviet Union or China. Now [that] they are moving towards capitalism, homosexuals may have arisen there as well. So homosexuality is a product of capitalism. Under socialism this kind of problem does not exist.”

The statement seems quite un-Maoist in its description of any twentieth-century socialist experiment as truly “communist.” Mao broke from Stalin in emphasizing the long-term nature and fragility of the construction of socialism as a transitional stage between capitalism and the classless society of communism theoretically posited for the human future. And it seems oblivious to historical reality in denying the existence of homosexuality anywhere, anytime in human history. Dangerously foolish (if I can assume that it was indeed said), it was made in the context of reported abuses of gay men and lesbians by Maoists in areas under their control.

Such mistreatment has not been particularly associated with the Maoists in recent years but indeed more with the old security apparatus of King Gyanendra. It’s not clear that it represents a clear party line; Hisila Yami, a Maoist member of parliament, Minister of Physical Planning and Work and wife of party leader Baburam Bhattarai told a Nepali gay organization, the Blue Diamond Society, in January that the party’s policy was “not to encourage homosexual behavior but not to punish homosexuals either.” But plainly there is cause for the sort of concern recently expressed by Human Rights Watch in a letter to Khadga Bahadur Biswokarma, a CPN(M) member and now Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare. The letter claims that in December 2006, Maoists in Katmandu ordered homeowners not to rent rooms to gays or lesbians, and that Amrita Thapa, general secretary of the Maoist women’s association, told participants at a national conference in March 2006 that homosexuals were unnatural and were “polluting” society.

I’ve sometimes been critical of Human Rights Watch, which has little sympathy for revolutionary movements and has sometimes sided overtly with repressive regimes. (It congratulated the government of Alberto Fujimori in Peru for capturing Maoist leader Abimael Guzman in 1992 and has done little to protect the human rights of Maoists imprisoned under successive Peruvian regimes.) But here HRW seems to be on target in its criticism.

The communist movement of course has a long sordid history of homophobia — just as does bourgeois liberalism. Up to 1962, homosexual sex was punishable by lengthy jail terms everywhere in the U.S., and it was only in 2003 that the Supreme Court invalidated the “anti-sodomy” laws operative in Texas and several other states. The sentiments expressed by Gurung and Biswokarma are obviously not unique to communists but part of an historical continuum of intolerance that crosses all kinds of ideological lines.

Marx and Engels themselves were, as their private correspondence clearly establishes, distinctly hostile to homosexuality, which they viewed as “unnatural.” On the other hand, in the 1890s, the German Social Democratic Party leaders Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, and the socialist Reichstag deputy August Bebel, called for the repeal of the German statute criminalizing sex between consenting adult males. Bernstein called for “a scientific approach” to sexuality rather than one based on “more or less arbitrary moral concepts.” (Meanwhile the British socialist Edward Carpenter, influenced by the work of German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, argued that “uranians” — or members the “intermediate sex” — served in a positive role as a bridge between [heterosexual] men and women.) Adolf Thiele, a socialist deputy in the German parliament in 1905, declared that he “wouldn’t even admit that [homosexuality] is something sick.” It was, he opined, “simply a deviation from the usual pattern nature produces.”

Between 1917 and 1933, the USSR pioneered in sexual legal reform. The Bolsheviks in power rescinded all the anti-homosexual statutes in the czarist legal code and sent Soviet delegations to international sexual reform congresses in Europe. The early Soviet state officially declared “the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, so long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon.” Soviet law regarded homosexual intercourse as the same as “so-called natural intercourse” and was far ahead of (for example) U.S. law at the time.

All this changed in 1933, when the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party introduced a statute penalizing consensual homosexual activity (muzhelozhstvo or sodomy) between men; thereafter Soviet writers increasingly conflated male homosexuality as indeed “unnatural,” and associated it with German fascism. Not all Marxist theorists followed the Soviet lead in castigating homosexual activity, but the most prestigious of Marxist psychoanalysts, Sigmund Freud’s student William Reich, wrote in 1934 that men of a “homosexual tendency” were easily “drawn toward the right.”

Gurung’s association of homosexuality with capitalism echoes the Stalinist line that homosexuality represents “bourgeois decadence.” But Gurung should realize that Maoists outside Nepal have largely abandoned the Stalinist legacy on this issue. The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, a close ally of the Nepali Maoists, up until 2001 stated in its program that under socialism “struggle will be waged to eliminate [homosexuality] and reform homosexuals.” But the RCP now accepts homosexuality and renounces its past position on the issue (if without adequate self-criticism or explanation for why a bankrupt line was held so long). The Communist Party of the Philippines, another Maoist party with cordial ties to the CPN(M), officially recognized gay relationships among its members in 1998 and has been conducting same-sex marriages since 2005. The Nepali party lags embarrassingly behind.

Many have derived inspiration from the People’s War in Nepal, which in a mere decade acquired control over about 80% of Nepali territory and proved to the world that revolutionary communism remains the hope of the hopeless. I myself was happy to endorse Li Onesto’s first-person and very sympathetic account of her Maoist-sponsored visit to Nepal, Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal (Pluto Press, 2005). The party now shares power with its former foes, heading six ministries in the provisional government. Some who have supported the CPN(M) are expressing grave concern that the party is abandoning its commitment to socialist revolution by its deal with the seven mainstream parties and its abandonment of the People’s War.

The Nepali Maoists deny that that’s the case, and I’d just as soon withhold judgment on that issue. But if the sentiments of Comrades Gurung and Biswokarma are at all representative of party sentiment, and if measures against gays are part of the party’s agenda, the outlook for a new revolutionary model in Nepal is looking worrisome.

* * * * *

Mao Zedong was all about struggle, always stressing that it’s right to rebel against reactionaries. He saw inter-party two-line struggle as a good and inevitable thing. There is already some apparent struggle within the CPN(M) regarding gender and sexuality issues. Earlier this months Maoists protested the television broadcast of the Miss Nepal Pageant. But it went forward, with the support of the new Information and Communications Minister, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, himself one of the newly appointed Maoist cabinet ministers. He argued “practical considerations” (including a contract between pageant sponsors and the state-run channel) did not allow cancellation.

So — so far — beauty pageant okay, homosexuality “polluting.” May the Maoists of Nepal struggle these things out among themselves, with some input from the world, and the correct line win.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. c.m. said on May 10th, 2007 at 3:16pm #

    See this, which if true, it good news for LGBT people in Nepal:

  2. Nossie said on August 5th, 2007 at 9:59pm #

    Mao was a mass murderer on a worse scale than Hitler. He advocated deadly purges, lethal gulags and forced labor, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions, show trials, and genocide. That we can still take socialism seriously is the proof many are still trying to sell our individual freedom to a bunch of dictators.

    The history of socialism in Europe is worse than the history of fascism. It lasted longer and killed more people. Both systems crush individuality and destroy the human mind and creativity. Why the hell do you think that the richest culture and most advanced technology is the product of capitalist democracies? China is now finally closer to sexual liberation that it ever was. What has communism done for these people but destroy their bodies and minds in ways we can hardly imagine?

    It truly makes me angry when irresponsible intellectuals play delirious ideological games with my life. Queers have had few moments of relative visibility in history and almost all have been linked with regions/nations with a democratic government and a commerce based/capitalist economy. Those anal retentive puritan socialist assholes want to use my genitals for compulsive reproduction. Like the innocent child scribbling twisted swastika like peace signs on the floor, socialism is as murderous as heteronormative gets. Even fascism allows for some homoeroticism.

    I may have hate crimes under a democratic capitalist society, but at least I’m not down in my knees trying to tell the commies why I give pinkos a bad name.

  3. emile said on October 5th, 2007 at 11:30pm #

    This is completely false. I am currently in Nepal, and i have met the ‘Blue Diamond society’ . They are a rich NGO that get money from the west and publicity from the bbc and other western agencies. Why? To try and slander the Maoists. They should not be taken seriously. There is no persecution of gays in nepal by maoists. But it needs also to be stated, that for most people in the world and in nepal, the issue of ‘gay rights’ is not a real one. Let me be more clear, for most people in the world, the demand for food, shelter, work etc is far more pressing than ‘gay rights’. You may or may not like this fact, but it is simply the case. Gay rights is a non issue for most people in nepal, there are more important things to worry about, such as the US backing of ‘contras’. Also, how is it that the issue of ‘gay rights’ is always used against socialist and third world movments? Cuba, Iran, now Nepal etc. This is a fake.

  4. Rayne said on October 2nd, 2008 at 3:59pm #

    Um, to Emile, I just wanted to mention that accusations of “anti-gay rights” are directed just as much at capitalist governments in the Third World, especially Jamaica and most Caribbean countries. In there, gays and lesbians are murdered or imprisoned if they are outed.

    In Iran, the same thing happens. Gays and lesbians are executed if outed to authorities. And that country is dominated by a theocratic right-wing government structure; both the left wing and the liberals are under intense and violent pressure from the government.

    Same thing in most countries in Africa (save for South Africa and, maybe, Cape Verde). So this is not an anti-socialist issue; furthermore, it’s not an entirely anti-Third World issue, either, as gay rights and same-sex marriage advocates are in open political combat against the right wing in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.

    So are gay rights advocates anti-socialist? At least some organizations like the socialist parties of Scandinavia and the New People’s Army of the Philippines don’t think so.

  5. Adam said on November 21st, 2009 at 10:43pm #

    Interesting discussion. Note that Marxism has its origins in Christian philosophy, with its strongly anti-homosexual attitudes. Homosexual sex is an unproductive, hedonistic act–sex is for procreation only. Christian-socialist groups, like Canada’s old CCF party, were once very homophobic. However, CONSERVATIVE groups in the U.S. had a gay element. Both J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy were gay, along with other figures in the Republican, North-East Ivy League establishment. This makes the Republicans’ current relationship with the Religious Right–and contemporary, Western leftists pro-gay attitudes–rather ironic.