Last spring I was shopping at a local store with a friend and we saw a product labeled Stonewall after the confederate general. My friend made a joke that it is was in honor of queer people that participated in the 1969 Stonewall riots. Without hesitation I asked her if she knew that there was never a Stonewall riot in the Soviet Union because things were never bad enough for queer people to riot like that. This immediately enraged another customer who cried out before my friend could answer, “They couldn’t riot because Stalin threw them all in gulags” before hastily making his way to the exit.
There is no shortage of anti-communists who will try to weaponize queer identity against communism. For simply claiming to be someone who wishes for LGBT+ liberation and worker’s liberation simultaneously, I will be accused of being contradictory. For being a trans woman that just wants workers’ rights, I will be told I don’t understand history. Persecution of people for being queer is wrong and never should have happened. But it’s hard to judge people for not having read queer theory decades before queer theory was accessible. I held reactionary bigoted beliefs about trans people before I read about us, before I talked to us, before I engaged with us. Now I believe in trans liberation, but the insightful comrades that educated me were not around in 1933.
I was not the only person to change my stance over time. Tsarist Russia had a long-standing ban on sodomy and gay marriage resulting in lengthy and cruel prison sentences. Those laws were abolished in the Soviet Union in 1922. In other socialist countries like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea criminal charges have never been brought against someone for their sexuality. The German Democratic Republic went on to make propaganda accepting homosexuality and even an AIDS prevention movie that also refuted the myth that AIDS was a gay disease.
In contrast, in the USA, UK, and most western countries LGBT+ folks were severely persecuted, even when not directly sentenced to horrible inhumane lives. While the GDR tried to stop the spread of AIDS the USA was pretending it didn’t exist while it destroyed the LGBT community. It’s even worse when you look at cases where capitalist states actively persecuted gay people. Government agencies targeted heros like Alan Turing who invented one of the first modern computers which broke the Nazi code and gave the allies critical information about Germany’s troops. After the war Turing was chemically castrated and eventually took his own life.
Under an economic system like capitalism, not allowing people to work is a death sentence. Not allowing us access to health care is a death sentence. Intentionally allowing a deadly disease to destroy our community while the president refuses to even acknowledge that disease is a death sentence. A five-year sentence to hard labor is not a death sentence. The Soviet apparatus for controlling internal affairs was not shy about killing people. If they’d wanted gay people dead, they wouldn’t have wasted resources sending them to the already congested gulag system. Again, I don’t make apologies. Persecution of queer people never should have happened. But if my options are a choice between five years labor with guaranteed food, board, medicine, and so on or the cruel and inhumane treatment under capitalism, then there is no competition as to which sentence is more tolerable.
Yet we do not see anyone claiming that persecution of LGBT+ folk under capitalism is grounds to dismiss that economic system outright. And that’s exactly what this whole non-argument that anti-communists perpetuate is about. They misdirect conversations that should be focused on economic systems into a mud-slinging contest where they have a seemingly endless supply of baseless accusations and misunderstandings to keep the conversation off track. The entire point is to pivot the conversation about the scientific theories of Stalin into anything but. We’re not going to beat the bourgeoisie without using every tool at our disposal. And one of those tools is Marxist-Leninism, a tool we would not have without Stalin. This tool is so mighty, so fearsome that the anti-communists will go to great lengths to try and keep us from using it. This is the very core of anti-Stalin rhetoric and why it is perpetuated so synonymously with general anti-communist rhetoric, because the two are interlinked and cannot be separated from one another.
I support any socalist project in their fight against imperialism. Countries like Vietnam that still have a long way to come on the subject of queer rights might be more open to change if imperialist powers like the USA weren’t breathing down their necks. The Vietnamese people need our solidarity, not “principled critiques” from people who have never set foot in Vietnam.
I wish to liberate gay people, who cannot be liberated while they are denied health care. I wish to liberate trans people, who cannot be liberated while we are denied shelter and food. I wish to liberate all queer people, who cannot be liberated while they sell their labor for a meager exploitative wage. As Joseph Stalin said, “It is difficult for me to imagine what ‘personal liberty’ is enjoyed by an unemployed hungry person. True freedom can only be where there is no exploitation and oppression of one person by another; where there is not unemployment, and where a person is not living in fear of losing his job, his home and his bread. Only in such a society personal and any other freedom can exist for real and not on paper.” That’s why I’m not a communist in spite of my queer identity, I’m a communist because of my queer identity.