On Socialism and Sex: An Introduction

by Christopher Phelps
  1. In addition to the New Politics editorial board, I wish to thank Doug Ireland for urging New Politics to reprint "Socialism and Sex," Gail Malmgreen for her idea of a symposium to follow, Joanne Landy and Tom Harrison for their hard editorial work in organizing the entire package, and Mathew Keufler at The Journal of the History of Sexuality for his earlier editorial work. "Socialism and Sex" was first published in Young Socialist, whole no. 5 (winter 1952): 21. I came across it in Independent Socialist Mimeographia, vol. 22 (Berkeley, CA: Independent Socialist Press, 1971): 227. This collection, a set of 28 bound volumes containing photocopies of discussion bulletins and other mimeographed ephemera of the socialist movement of the 1940s and 1950s, was amassed by Hal Draper and is owned by only four libraries: the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Davis; Southern Illinois University; and the University of Michigan. Ernest Haberkern, director of the Center for Socialist History, which owns the rights to the Independent Socialist Mimeographia, courteously granted rights to this republication. With more extensive footnotes and in somewhat altered form, this introduction and document were first published as Christopher Phelps, "A Neglected Document on Socialism and Sex," Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 16, no. 1 (January 2007): 1-13; the University of Texas Press has kindly granted permission for this reissue.
  2. Vern L. Bullough, ed., Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002); Eric Marcus, Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990 (New York: HarperCollins, 1992); Jim Kepner, Rough News, Daring Views: 1950s' Pioneer Gay Press Journalism (Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, 1997); John Loughery, The Other Side of Silence: Men's Lives and Gay Identities: A Twentieth-Century History (New York: Henry Holt, 1998); Barry Miles, Ginsberg: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989); and Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).
  3. John D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1983); Jeffrey Escoffier, "The Political Economy of the Closet: Notes Toward an Economic History of Gay and Lesbian Life Before Stonewall," in Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Gay and Lesbian Life, ed. Amy Gluckman and Betsy Reed (New York: Routledge, 1997): 123-134; and Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).
  4. On the thriving earlier subculture, see George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic, 1994); and Allan Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York: Plume, 1990). On the Cold War and the construction of the closet, see David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Robert D. Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2001); Robert J. Corber, Homosexuality in Cold War America: Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity (Durham: University of North Carolina, 1997); Andrea Friedman, "The Smearing of Joe McCarthy: The Lavender Scare, Gossip, and Cold War Politics," American Quarterly 57, no. 4 (December 2005): 1105-1129; and John D'Emilio, "The Homosexual Menace: The Politics of Sexuality in Cold War America," in Making Trouble, 57-73.
  5. Quoted in Stuart Timmons, The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement (Boston: Alyson, 1990), xiv.
  6. Martin Duberman, Cures: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Plume, 1991), 3.
  7. The two best treatments of Stonewall evoke both the subterranean quality of much of gay life before 1969 and the nascent rights consciousness developing well before the eruption, particularly by the early 1960s, when the black freedom movement provided an inspiration and model. David Carter, Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004); Martin Duberman, Stonewall (New York: Dutton, 1993).
  8. On Hay, see Jonathan Katz, Gay American History (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976): 105-109, 406-420; John D'Emilio, "Dreams Deferred: The Birth and Betrayal of America's First Gay Liberation Movement" (1978-1979), reprinted in Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University (New York: Routledge, 1992): 17-56; and especially Timmons, The Trouble with Harry Hay, op cit.
  9. Reich's most salient work, The Sexual Revolution, was translated into English in 1945; interest in him was great in postwar bohemian circles because he seemed to justify "derepression" while combining political with sexual revolution, so he is a possible inspiration despite his antipathy toward homosexuality. The Kinsey report, whose findings included much higher levels of same-sex sexual experience than previously known, evoked excitement among homosexuals. Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution (New York: Orgone Institute Press, 1945); Alfred Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1948). Another possible influence, though more difficult to obtain, was Donald Webster Cory, The Homosexual in America (New York: Greenberg, 1951).
  10. The new law, Article 121 of the Soviet Penal Code, was announced on December 17, 1933, and put into effect on March 7, 1934. Mass arrests ensued, with artists, musicians, and stage personnel disproportionately affected. See David Thorstad and John Lauritsen, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935) (New York: Times Change, 1974); and Simon Karlinsky, "Russia's Gay Literature and Culture: The Impact of the October Revolution," in Hidden from History, ed. Martin Bauml Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr. (New York: New American Library, 1989): 347-364.
  11. "Mattachine Society Mission and Purposes" (1951), in Harry Hay, Radically Gay, ed. Will Roscoe (Boston: Beacon, 1996): 131.
  12. Dorothy Healey and Maurice Isserman, Dorothy Healey Remembers: A Life in the American Communist Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990): 130. Allan Bérubé's research on the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union promises to shed new light on a context in which an open gay subculture did exist within a Communist-led labor union. Other studies of gay lives in and around the Communist Party include Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson (New York: Knopf, 1988); Eric A. Gordon, Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein (New York: St. Martin's, 1989); Janet Lee, Comrades and Partners: The Shared Lives of Grace Hutchins and Anna Rochester (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000); and Bettina Aptheker, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006).
  13. Despite his late-life involvement in the Radical Faeries, a countercultural project, Hay continued to deny that the Communist Party had been homophobic, and he held considerable illusions about Communist states. For example, Hay once made his biographer leave his residence when he asked a question about the Communist Party's homophobia, and he criticized defecting Cuban gays as "running-dog homosexuals" rather than speak out against Fidel Castro's repressive policies toward gays. Timmons, The Trouble with Harry Hay, xiv, 186.
  14. Katz, Gay American History, 417.
  15. Bogdan Denitch, e-mail message to author, August 19, 2006.
  16. The point is not that Rosa Luxemburg would necessarily have supported gay and lesbian liberation, but rather that the YPSLs were more attracted to revolutionary socialism than some accounts of the Socialist Party as "social democracy" imagine, and that in their discussions of 1952 the YPSLs presumed that freedom, democracy, and socialism were indissoluble, making fertile ground for the advocacy of sexual liberation. Young Socialist carried advertisements for editions of Luxemburg's writings sold by the Young Socialists. One of its factions, spearheaded by Bogdan Denitch (and subsequently joined by Michael Harrington), called itself the Luxemburg Tendency.
  17. David McReynolds, e-mail message to author, August 27, 2006.
  18. Vern Davidson, tape-recorded telephone interview by author, August 29, 2006.
  19. "PP" here refers to the Progressive Party, vehicle for the left-wing New Dealer Henry Wallace's 1948 campaign, which became badly isolated and preponderantly composed of Communists and fellow travelers. The Socialist Party ran Norman Thomas for President in 1948. Quotation: Ralph Shaffer, e-mail message to author, August 29, 2006.
  20. Davidson interview.
  21. While many of these figures and episodes are obscure, others have been chronicled well. Bayard Rustin's experiences, for example, are brilliantly reconstructed in John D'Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). For the specific articles cited above, see Robert Duncan, "The Homosexual in Society," Politics 1, no. 7 (August 1944): 209-211; Norman Mailer, "The Homosexual Villain" (1954), reprinted in Advertisements for Myself (1959; New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1970): 203-211. The debate within the SWP over how to relate to the gay liberation movement is reprised in David Thorstad, ed., Gay Liberation and Socialism: Documents from the Discussions on Gay Liberation inside the Socialist Workers Party (1970-1973) (New York: David Thorstad, 1976), and Steve Forgione and Kurt T. Hill, eds., No Apologies: The Unauthorized Publications of Internal Discussion Documents of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) Concerning Lesbian/Gay Male Liberation. Part 2, 1975-79 (New York: Lesbian/Gay Rights Monitoring Group, 1980).
  22. In addition to the correspondence with Denitch and McReynolds and interviews with Davidson and Shaffer cited above, personal recollections were tape-recorded in telephone interviews with R. W. Tucker on August 31, 2006 and Maggie Phair on September 2, 2006. None of these veterans of the 1950s young socialist left claimed authorship of "Socialism and Sex" or remembered its existence. Nor were they able to recall H. L. Small or anyone who used that name as a pseudonym. Those consulted, many of them major national leaders, arched across several geographical regions of the organization, as well as both sides of an emerging internal faction fight that would end very soon after the publication of "Socialism and Sex." Much of the membership broke away in 1952 to collaborate with the Socialist Youth League (SYL), the affiliate of the Independent Socialist League (ISL) led by Max Shachtman, and eventually to fuse with the SYL to form the Young Socialist League (YSL) in 1954. Part of the youth remained behind with the Socialist Party, reverting in name to the Young People's Socialist League. In 1958, the YSL would reunite with the YPSL after the ISL dissolved and its members joined the Socialist Party (at that time called the SP-SDF because of its 1956 reunification with the Social- Democratic Federation, which had split off from the party in 1936). H. L. Small's position in relation to the faction fight is not clear; on the one hand, the document opens by putting down "democratic-liberal" sentiment, which would suggest a left-wing outlook, but on the other it upholds certain states in Western Europe as "socialist or semi-socialist," which would suggest a moderate social-democratic viewpoint.
  23. Harry Siitonen, e-mail message to author, September 29, 2006, and David McReynolds, e-mail message to author, September 29, 2006.
  24. For useful background on the libidinal left, see Gert Hekma, Harry Oosterhuis, and James Steakley, eds., Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left (New York: The Haworth Press, 1995).