War, sexual freedom and fascism in Germany – Lavender and Red 4 & 5

In addition to the legislative attacks on women, gender-nonconforming people and LGBTQ+ lives, in June white-supremacist groups like the Proud Boys have attempted a military-style raid on Pride in the Park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and invaded public libraries— in Wilmington, North Carolina, and San Lorenzo, California — to disrupt children’s events where LGBTQ+ related books were being read. These excerpts from Leslie Feinberg’s Lavender & Red (June 24 and July 1, 2004, Workers World) remind us that Nazis used similar tactics to split up growing working-class power. Start organizing practical solidarity — and event security — for your local actions and read the entire series at workers.org/books.

The outbreak of World War I derailed the thrust of the movements for sexual and gender emancipation and for women’s rights in Germany. . . . In each of the capitalist countries, the bosses appealed to the workers to unite behind them in battle. . . . Going along with this right-wing, murderous patriotism put the brake on every social movement — gay, trans and lesbian, women’s rights, workers’ and socialist struggles — because it gave the ruling class the upper hand, strengthened the right wing and set back the progressive movement. . . .

But World War I contributed to making the monumental Russian Revolution a necessity. It was not military defeat on the battlefield, but revolutions in Russia and Germany, that brought World War I to an end.

Socialist revolutions strike down anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry

Eight weeks after the October 1917 Russian Revolution — which brought the Soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers to power — the new government led by Lenin abolished czarist antigay laws, which were similar to the German Paragraph 175. This went hand-in-hand with guaranteeing the rights of workers, land for the peasants and equal rights for women . . . . The left wing of the Russian revolutionary movement did more than just strip the antigay laws from the Russian penal code. The Bolsheviks argued that walls separating same-sex love from the rest of human sexuality should be torn down. . . .

The fresh winds of the Russian Revolution filled the sails of struggle in other parts of the world, including Germany. In 1918 mutiny broke out in the German Navy. Workers throughout the country went on strike in support. On Nov. 7, a council of workers, soldiers and peasants established the Republic of Bavaria. The revolutionary wave spread to Berlin, where a socialist republic was proclaimed Nov. 9. The kaiser abdicated the next day.

Hirschfeld: queer socialist, internationalist

The revolution gave the Homosexual Emancipation Movement [in Germany] new energy and lent inspiration to the lesbian and gay movement’s hope that their liberation was on the horizon. . . .

Magnus Hirschfeld, a leader of the Homosexual Emancipation Movement, along with members of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, supported the new republic. “We took the most active part in all the revolutionary events,” reported the Committee.

Hirschfeld spoke at a Berlin mass rally on Nov. 10 at the height of the revolution. Between 3,000 to 4,000 people gathered in front of the Reichstag building, near where revolutionary Red Guards were fighting pitched battles with reactionary officers who supported the kaiser.

Recalling Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Wilhelm Liebknecht and other revolutionaries, Hirschfeld said, not only in Germany “but elsewhere, nationalism attempts to destroy internationalism, and militarism attempts to destroy socialism.”

Hirschfeld stressed why socialism was so important: “Socialism means solidarity, community, mutuality, further development of society into a unified body of people. Each for all and all for each!”

He said, “We want the community of peoples, struggle against racism and national chauvinism, removal of limitations on economic and personal communication between peoples, the right of peoples to self-determination regarding their relationship to a state and their form of government.”

The greatest LGBTQ+ library in the world

Historians John Lauritsen and David Thorstad explain that when the [German] revolution broke out, “The Committee immediately sent a delegation to the new government to press for a total amnesty that would include the release from jail of all inmates convicted of homosexual acts.

“The removal of censorship and the greater freedom of the press and speech that ensued, following the revolution, were a boon to the gay rights struggle for a time. But perhaps the most tangible benefit to the gay movement was the acquisition of a building that was to become an international center for gay liberation and sex research. . . .”

The first of its kind, [Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Science] compiled historical, biological, anthropological, statistical and ethnological documentation regarding human sexuality and gender [in a collection of over 20,000 volumes. The institute is credited with being one of the first medical facilities in the world to provide gender-affirmation surgeries for trans people.]

Fascism burns books, targets LGBTQ+ people

At the same time the German counterrevolution — headed by Hitler and bankrolled and backed by a segment of the industrial and banking class — had obtained a base in the middle class.

This fascism targeted the gay/trans/lesbian and women’s rights movements, even before anti-Jewish and anti-gay laws, codified in 1933-35, officially marked the unleashing of the widespread campaign of terror.

Hirschfeld was targeted by the Nazis because he was Jewish and gay, as well as a movement leader and socialist. . . . On May 6, 1933, fascist youth were organized to march on his Institute for Sexual Science, accompanied by a brass band. They trashed the international archive, making a mountain of the many thousands of books, journals, photographs and charts — at that time the largest collection [on sexuality and gender] in world history. Storm troopers showed up and took over the ransacking. Four days later, the enormous heap of archive materials was publicly burned in Opera Square. . . .

After 1933 the Nazis forcibly dismantled all independent youth organizations, even the Catholic ones, by denouncing their leaders as “homosexual degenerates.” . . . A harsh new antigay edict issued in 1935, Paragraph 175A, criminalized kisses, embraces, even homosexual fantasies. The law gave the fascist state license to carry out arrests and internment in camps with impunity. . . . Although laws against lesbianism had not been codified, women were snared in the state web, rounded up in SS raids on lesbian bars, sentenced and sent to concentration camps where they faced horrific brutality.

Learning from mistakes

Communists and socialists of all sexualities and genders fought the Nazi attacks on the gay/trans/lesbian and women’s struggles. Yet, was there backwardness about homosexuality on the part of socialists and communists in the German left? Yes.

“The Left” was [and is] not politically monolithic. . . . Like a fast-moving river, political movements are made up of many currents. . . .

Revolutionaries must constantly be working to shed centuries of ruling-class indoctrination that serves to divide and conquer the vast laboring class. Every form of bigotry and backwardness holds back unity and progress in a revolutionary struggle of all sexualities, genders and sexes to abolish capitalism and liberate humanity.

Error vs. ideology

There is a profound difference, however, between political error and political ideology. [In 1928] lawyer Felix Halle . . . provided this formulation of the German Communist Party’s stance:

“The class-conscious proletariat, uninfluenced by the ideology of property and freed from the ideology of the churches, approaches the question of sex life and also the problem of homosexuality with a lack of prejudice afforded by an understanding of the overall social structure. . . . In accordance with the scientific insights of modern times, the proletariat regards these relations as a special form of sexual gratification and demands the same freedom and restrictions for these forms of sex life as for intercourse between the sexes. . . .”

The Nazis deliberately hid the fascist nature of their party by calling themselves “National Socialists.” But their response to a poll [of German political parties about their position on Paragraph 175] shows the Nazi program was the opposite of a communist workers’ party. The Nazi reply included this succinct sentence: “Anyone who even thinks of homosexual love is our enemy.”

Capitalist repression, socialist resistance

By the late 1920s, the fascist movement — with its base in the economically devastated middle class — began to win the backing of a sector of German industrialists and bankers to carry out the dirty job of counterrevolution. State repression of sexuality, gender and sex to enforce the capitalist economic unit of the patriarchal nuclear family was a key plank in the fascist platform.

Nazi campaigns focused on eradicating homosexuality and abortion, mandating procreation and sharply restricting women’s rights and role in society, in addition to vicious racism and national chauvinism.

The progressive movements battled the state to decriminalize variance in sexuality and gender. They were trying to free the lives of women of all sexualities and genders, who were tightly corseted by lack of basic social and economic rights.

These modest but vital goals, raised during a period of working-class struggle and capitalist economic depression, made these movements enemies of the Nazis.

Leslie Feinberg

Published by
Leslie Feinberg

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