Workers Vanguard No. 1089
6 May 2016
Bolshevism vs. Stalinism on the Family
Greek Communist Party Pushes Anti-Gay Bigotry
The following is from The Bolshevik (No. 1, March 2016), the newly launched publication of the Trotskyist Group of Greece, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). The article was originally published as an introduction to a reprint of “Thermidor in the Family” from Leon Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed.
* * *
On 22 December 2015, the Greek parliament approved the Civil Partnerships Bill for same-sex couples. This is a simple legal reform that allows gays some of the same rights—legal, welfare and inheritance rights—given to heterosexual couples. Gays and lesbians welcomed the reform, which in the context of deeply reactionary, Orthodox Greek society represents a step forward. The Civil Partnerships Bill presented by Syriza is, however, a limited reform. Justice minister Nikos Papaskevopoulos made clear that “Civil Partnership is not about adoption by homosexual couples” (“Live, the Debate on Civil Partnerships,” Efimerida ton Syntakton, 22 December 2015).
As Marxists, we defend any legal advances won by gay people, including civil partnerships. The Trotskyist Group of Greece, section of the International Communist League, calls for full legal equality and full democratic rights for gays, including the right to adopt, marry and divorce. We fight for a society in which nobody needs to be forced into a legal straitjacket in order to get medical benefits or any of the privileges granted to those embedded in the traditional “one man on one woman for life” legal mold. At the same time, we emphasize that gays will continue to face bigotry and discrimination under capitalism, where the institutions of the nuclear family and organized religion are props for the maintenance of bourgeois rule.
Unsurprisingly, this small but important reform provoked the rage of the reactionaries of the Orthodox church, the far right and the fascist Golden Dawn. Chiming in with the anti-gay bigotry were the Stalinists of the KKE [Greek Communist Party]. Disgustingly, the KKE argued and voted against the Civil Partnerships Bill, defending the reactionary institution of the family. The KKE declared:
“The aim of the bill is essentially the institutional recognition of the families of same-sex couples, including—eventually—the adoption of children by them. And that is where our own difference lies.
“Rights and obligations arise within marriage, which is the legal expression of the social relations of the family. It includes social protection of children, who are biologically the result of sexual relations between a man and a woman.
“With the formation of a socialist-communist society, a new type of partnership will undoubtedly be formed—a relatively stable heterosexual relationship and reproduction.”
—“The Position of the KKE on the Civil Partnerships Bill,” Rizospastis (20 December 2015)
The KKE’s model of the family under socialism—“stable heterosexual relationship”—differs not at all from the stultifying oppression by the family under capitalism, with its hypocritical sexual mores. As described by Engels in his classic work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), the patriarchal, monogamous family arose in antiquity as a means of ensuring the inheritance of private property. It was accompanied by the “world-historic defeat of the female sex,” when “the man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.”
The family under capitalism is the main mechanism for the oppression of women and youth. For the bourgeoisie, it is a means to regiment society, inculcating social conservatism and subservience to authority. Anti-gay bigotry flows from the need to defend this patriarchal structure against any deviation. It has always been a goal of Marxism, beginning with the Communist Manifesto, to replace the family as an economic institution by socializing childcare and housework, freeing women to play a full and equal role in social and political life as part of constructing an egalitarian, socialist society.
From its beginning, the socialist movement stood forthrightly in defense of homosexuals’ rights, including such courageous public stands as August Bebel’s 1898 speech in the German Reichstag for repealing the penal code against “unnatural fornication.” The Russian Revolution gave flesh and blood to the Marxist understanding of the woman question and homosexual rights.
Compare what the KKE says with the practice of the Bolsheviks in the first years following the October Revolution:
“Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle:
“It declares the absolute noninterference of the state and society into sexual matters, so long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon....
“Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters.”
—Quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935)
The KKE’s position on the “protection of children” and the “upbringing and education of children” in the bourgeois family is completely opposed to everything advocated by the revolutionary Marxism of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky concerning the reactionary institution of the family. As we wrote in “The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 59, Spring 2006):
“The necessary role of the family—the function that must be replaced and cannot be abolished—is the rearing of the next generation. Under capitalism, the masses of youth are slated for wage slavery and service as cannon fodder in the bourgeois army, and the family plays an important role in training them to obey authority. It is also a major source for inculcating religious backwardness as an ideological brake on social consciousness.”
Immediately after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky began to undermine the old bourgeois prejudices and social institutions that were responsible for the oppression of women and homosexuals. Within the limits of the possibilities in backward Russia—ravaged by world war and the outbreak of the civil war that followed the revolution and under the enormous pressure of hostile imperialist encirclement—the Bolsheviks sought to build socialized alternatives to the family. They adopted measures relieving women from the weight of centuries of enslavement, facilitating divorce, establishing public laundries, public restaurants, childcare centers, etc. and guaranteeing the right to free abortion on demand, unheard of in capitalist countries even today.
The KKE’s position on gays has its roots in Stalinism and in the degeneration of the Soviet Union through the political counterrevolution beginning in 1923-1924 and in the defense of the privileges of the bureaucracy that arose out of it.
The Bolsheviks knew that without the extension of the revolution to the advanced capitalist countries, the land of October would not be able to fulfill its tasks. The economic backwardness of the young workers state and its international isolation meant that the Bolsheviks had little access to the social resources necessary to bring about the liberation of women from domestic slavery. In these circumstances, following the failure of revolutions abroad, especially in Germany in 1923, a conservative, nationalist, bureaucratic caste arose, headed by Stalin. In describing the Soviet Thermidor, Trotsky drew a parallel with the overthrow of the radical Jacobins in the years after the bourgeois French Revolution of 1789. With the seizure of political power by the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Bolsheviks’ internationalist program was abandoned and replaced by the anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country.”
In time, the bureaucracy restored reactionary bourgeois ideology, not least the glorification of the family unit. In 1934, a law was adopted punishing homosexual practices with prison terms, leading to mass arrests of gays. Despite the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union, we Trotskyists always stood for the unconditional military defense of the socialized property forms against capitalist attack and counterrevolution. At the same time, we fought for workers political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy and restore the liberating internationalist program and goals of the party of Lenin and Trotsky.
The task of a genuinely revolutionary vanguard party is not only to lead the working class in struggle but to unite all sections of the oppressed—to act, in Lenin’s words, as a “tribune of the people” against every form of oppression, whether it comes from racial or national hatred or from oppressive sexual morality imposed by the bourgeois family.
The section titled “Thermidor in the Family” in Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed (1936), his most important analysis of the degeneration of the Soviet Union, explains how the young Soviet workers state tried to uproot the material basis for women’s oppression and how the Stalinist degeneration—the Soviet Thermidor, which he described as a “triumph of the bureaucracy over the masses”—led to retreats also in this area. Despite the degeneration of the Soviet Union, Trotsky fought to the end for defense of the workers state and called for the working class to carry out a political revolution to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy. Based on the traditions of revolutionary Marxism, Trotsky—the architect together with Lenin of the October uprising in 1917—understood that genuine social liberation and defense of the October Revolution itself are “unrealizable on the basis of ‘generalised want’” but required the extension of the proletarian revolution internationally, leading to a global socialist society.