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Stalin's purge of queers was political, not for moral reasons; USSR a 'model country for sexual tolerance'

October 4, 2023

Nikolai Yezhov's attraction to young men did not prevent Stalin from communicating with him and entrusting him with the post of head of the NKVD
Nikolai Yezhov's attraction to young men did not prevent Stalin from communicating with him and entrusting him with the post of head of the NKVD.

90 years ago, in September 1933, Deputy Chairman of the OGPU Genrikh Yagoda reported to Stalin about the exposure of the “conspiracy of homosexuals.” The answer was the leader’s permission to begin repression against homosexuals, which resulted in mass arrests and the introduction of liability for sodomy into the Criminal Code. What and why prompted Stalin to declare war on gays?

Yagoda’s appeal to Stalin was received on September 15, 1933. In it, he reported on the discovery of a network of underground dens of homosexuals in Moscow and Leningrad and the detention of their owners and clients. Yagoda's note reached its addressee. “We need to roughly punish the scoundrels ,” wrote Stalin. The leader was supported by his comrades: “Of course, this is necessary. Molotov", "Correct! L. Kaganovich."


To be fair, it is worth noting that Yagoda’s note did not appear out of nowhere. By the beginning of the 30s, Moscow and Leningrad really managed to become “sanctuaries” of homosexuality. However, they were such even before the revolution - it was not for nothing that at the end of the 19th century there was a saying in Moscow that, before, the Golden-Domed One stood on seven hills, and now on one hillock (here the mayor was meant - the Tsar’s uncle Sergei Alexandrovich, who was a famous gay man, who were then called mounds), and in St. Petersburg the Catherine Garden received the unofficial nickname “Katkin’s ass” - because of the lovers of unconventional love who always grazed there. However, if before homosexuality was characteristic mainly of the “white bone,” then after the revolution it also embraced the “black bone.” The reason for this was social changes. As Doctor of Historical Sciences Viktor Ivanov noted in his work, during the years 1926–1932, the population of Leningrad increased by 182% and reached 2.8 million people, while the male population prevailed over the female population. In addition, in the “cradle of the revolution” there were many military units and dormitories in which the so-called otkhodniks lived - men who came from the provinces to work. All this naturally led to the rapid growth of homosexual relationships. “Federasts gather in public restrooms, not only having mass copulation with each other, but also grabbing incoming visitors by the penis and forcing them to have sexual intercourse. The stunning shamelessness of this wild debauchery sometimes forces stunned people to obey it unquestioningly,” Ivanov quotes testimony from ninety years ago.

"A model country of sex tolerance"

Nevertheless, the authorities turned a blind eye to all this. Soviet historiography did not like to mention the fact that in the 20s and 30s the USSR was the most tolerant country in the world towards gays. Back in 1922, the Criminal Code of the RSFSR was adopted, which significantly lacked punishment for sodomy: it was believed that in a free state of workers and peasants, relations should also be free. And in 1926, the founder of the World League for Sexual Reform, Magnus Hirschfeld, visited Moscow, after which he proclaimed the USSR “an exemplary country of sex tolerance.” Non-traditional orientation was not actually hidden, while its bearers occupied very responsible government positions. Thus, the future head of the NKVD Nikolai Yezhov was considered a lover of men., who in 1933 served as head of the Organizational and Preparatory Department of the Central Committee (the current analogue is the personnel department of the presidential administration), as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgy Chicherin .


Probably, taking this into account, Yagoda found an option on which side to present the case: “The activist pederasts, using the caste isolation of pederast circles for directly counter-revolutionary purposes, politically corrupted various social strata of youth, in particular working youth ,” he wrote. Thus, it was not so much about the influence of homosexuals on the younger generation, but about politics - they say, gays do not just indulge in fornication, but are engaged in counter-revolutionary work. It was not difficult to establish the basis for such accusations. One of the arrested homosexuals admitted during interrogation how he persuaded new acquaintances to have sex:“When getting acquainted with this or that person, I invited him to my home, where he gave me vodka with a corresponding conversation about bad life and the inability to feel free under the conditions of the Soviet system, which oppresses and turns people into automatons, and therefore, as a consequence, forces them to look for a way out of this in vodka and orgies in order to forget.”



“40 stashes were uncovered”

As a result, things took a completely different turn. The security officers have always been able to fight conspiracies - real or artificially created. An open letter from Moscow and Kharkov homosexuals sent abroad, intercepted by counterintelligence, added fuel to the fire. All this allowed Yagoda to report to the Kremlin in December 1933 that “pederasts were recruiting and corrupting completely healthy youth, Red Army soldiers, Red Navy men and individual university students.”

On March 7, 1934, a law came into force introducing criminal liability for sodomy. Soon the number of arrests grew into hundreds. “In Leningrad, 40 dens were discovered, uniting 400 people! Most of them, back in the same year, were sentenced by the OGPU board to sentences ranging from 3 to 10 years in the ITL for “active counter-revolutionary agitation and the creation of counter-revolutionary formations,” noted historian Alexei Burleshin . The social composition of those arrested is noteworthy. Most of them were employees, artists and artists came in second place, and scientists came in third place. “From the beginning of 1934, large groups of artists convicted of “moral corruption” began to arrive in the camps.For some reason, Stalin decided that the source of this infection was the German embassy. And since there is an embassy, ​​it means that all artists prone to this vice are German spies. And so the GPU began to destroy theaters. The troupes of Moscow and Leningrad theaters have become very thin. Subsequently, the management of Siblag gathered the best artists from its units, dressed them well and created magnificent opera and drama troupes that could successfully compete with the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and the Mariinsky Theater in Leningrad,” wrote Alexey Komarovsky .

"Blue" preposition

Historians still put forward versions as to why Stalin suddenly decided to organize a purge of homosexuals, given that there were no obvious prerequisites for this. Considering that the leader worked side by side with openly gay people and entrusted them with responsible positions, it can hardly be said that he had a personal dislike for homosexuals. The version that the reason for the mass purge was the fight against spy rings that appeared on the basis of homobrothias, as Yagoda said, also does not seem entirely plausible. As examples of other repressions show, accusations of espionage were often just a means to deal with anyone undesirable. Perhaps this is exactly what happened in this case.“Evil tongues, repeating all sorts of gossip, talked about clearing Leningrad of “Zinoviev’s clientele,” while hinting at the allegedly uncontrollable bisexual passion of Grishka the Second (nickname of G. Zinoviev by analogy with G. Rasputin ), which he allegedly “warmed up”, protecting from persecution ,” noted Victor Ivanov. Grigory Zinoviev was one of Stalin's main critics at that time. It is not surprising that he might have a desire to use the “blue theme” to destroy the enemy, approaching him through the testimony of arrested gays. However, it is possible that it was then decided to abandon the plan - such an accusation against a prominent Bolshevik and comrade-in-arms of Lenin would have discredited the entire Soviet government. Therefore, in 1934, Zinoviev was accused of an anti-Soviet conspiracy and shot.

However, the proven mechanism was still useful. Soon, the deputy chairman of the OGPU, Yakov Agranov, reported to Stalin that when identifying “hotbeds of pederasts” in Moscow, the head of the protocol department of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (NKID), Dmitry Florinsky , was exposed as a homosexual, and during interrogation he admitted to working for German intelligence. This was the beginning of the defeat of the NKID, which then resulted in mass repressions against diplomats.

However, one should not discount one more factor, which Stalin probably took into account, who was always afraid of an attack on his power. It is known from history that homosexuals, communicating closely with each other, not only create closed communities, but also support each other in their careers, thereby creating the basis for conspiracies. And now, deputies Nikolai Burlyaev and Alexander Khinshtein are talking about the intrigues that the “blue lobby” that has snuck into power is perpetrating. Maybe they know what they are talking about?