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Conference on "Socialism and Sexuality. Past and present of radical sexual politics", Amsterdam, 3-4 October 2003.

BERRY, David. "For a dialectic of homosexuality and revolution." - 1 -

Thursday 7 October 2004

David BERRY [1]

Daniel Guerin"s engagement with "sexology" from the 1950"s and his contribution to the theorization of sexuality and gender from a historical materialist perspective.

Only a true libertarian communism, antiauthoritarian and antistatist, would be capable of promoting the definitive and concomitant emancipation both of the homosexual and of the individual exploited or alienated by capitalism. [2]

[Je] me définirais, s’il fallait absolument se définir, un marxiste libertaire qui n’ai cessé, depuis des années, de soutenir la nécessité d’une synth èse entre marxisme, anarchisme, psychanalyse. [3]

As the French revolutionary Daniel Guérin (1904-1988) once remarked, the European labour movement’s record with regard to homosexuality has not, on the whole, been positive. [4]] Nor have the marxist tradition’s attempts to theorize sexuality and heterosexism and their relationship to class and class conflict been entirely satisfactory. Guérin is a rare example of a marxist revolutionary and a bisexual who dared to address these problems rigorously and very publicly at a time when to do so was to invite opprobrium from all quarters — including most of his supposed comrades. Although by 1968 he could be seen as the "grandfather of the French homosexual movement" [5], Daniel Guérin has always been better know outside gay circles for his rôle in the revolutionary movement. On the revolutionary left of the Socialist Party in the 1930s, he was later heavily influenced by Trotsky, before becoming attracted to the libertarian communist wing of the anarchist movement. After 1968, he became increasingly interested in Rosa Luxemburg and councilism, and argued for a synthesis of marxism and anarchism. Guérin’s engagement with "sexology", however, has been relatively neglected (other than in the work of the French historian, Sylvie Chaperon [6]. Similarly, his active commitment to homosexual liberation (especially after he came out in 1965) remains little known beyond gay circles. Jean Maitron’s entry on Guérin in the Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier fran ais, for instance, does not even mention homosexuality; and the obituary by a close associate of Guérin’s, Daniel Guerrier, ironically entitled "Un militant sans frontiè res" ("An activist without borders") mentions it in one short sentence. [7] This doubtless reflects the endemic — if nowadays more carefully hidden — homophobia of the left and the labour movement; and also the persistent reluctance on the part of many historians of the left and of labour, even today and perhaps particularly in France (relative to, say, Britain and the US), to attach importance to forms of social inequality and oppression linked to gender and sexuality. [8] Guérin himself, in both his historical and theoretical writings and his political activism — whether it be in the context of antifascism, anticolonialism or homosexual liberation — adopted a consistently historical materialist, class-based perspective. This paper aims to explore his attempts from the 1950s onwards to analyze the nature of sexuality and the reasons for the oppression of homosexuality, to promote (homo)sexual liberation, and his insistence that such sexual liberation could only be fully achieved as part of a social revolution. To what extent did Guérin succeed in applying a marxist analysis to these problems?

Living two lives: homophobia in the socialist and labour movements

For many years, Guérin lived what he referred to as a "cruel dichotomy". [9] With close friends and comrades, in whom he was able to confide as far as other things were concerned, Guérin nevertheless felt obliged to refrain from raising anything to do with sexuality, and it was certainly inconceivable that he should ever attempt to defend "a non-orthodox version of love" [10], even from a detached point of view. Add to this the workerist and anti-intellectual traditions of French syndicalism, and Guérin was doubly damned. Indeed the two sins — his homosexuality and his class background — were of course linked, in that it was a common misconception that homosexuality was a "bourgeois vice", similarly to the way in which it would in later years be seen as being in some way intrinsically linked to fascism. This is doubtless why Guérin put some effort into disseminating research as early as the 1950s which demonstrated that homosexuality was just as common among the working class as any other class, but which also highlighted the differential experiences of working-class and bourgeois homosexuals — both in terms of the conditions that working-class homosexuals were forced to endure in their attempts to meet other homosexuals (public urinals as opposed to private clubs and salons) and in terms of harassment by the authorities (as contrasted with the relative tolerance of homosexuality in bourgeois and artistic circles). [11]

"The disalienation of each individual." For a dialectic of homosexuality and revolution.

In the 1950s, Guérin moved closer to anarchism—both on a practical, campaigning level (to some extent by force of circumstance), and on a theoretical level, as his research on the European revolutionary movement since 1789 forced him to become increasingly critical of leninism. Still a historical materialist, he was active on the revolutionary anti-stalinist left; he was heavily involved in anti-colonial campaigns and worked to support the black liberation movement in the United States (he was the first French publisher of Malcolm X, for example). But starting in 1954, he began to write more and more about sexuality, and he finally came out, no longer able to bear the schizophrenic split between the two parts of his life, in 1965, with the publication of his first autobiography, Un jeune homme excentrique. [12] By the time he produced Homosexualité et Révolution — a collection of previously published essays, interviews and extracts from longer works — in 1983, just five years before his death, the definition he provided of Revolution reflected not only the traditional, more or less apocalyptic vision of the rising up and self-emancipation of the oppressed masses, but spoke of "the disalienation of each individual", and he went on: "Hence the need to establish a dialectical relationship between the words homosexuality and Revolution."[12] How was this dialectic to be established, and what critique of the existing revolutionary movement (and of the homosexual movement) did it imply?

The left and homosexuality: a critique

"Not so many years ago, to declare oneself a revolutionary and to confess to being homosexual were incompatible," Guérin wrote in 1975. [13] All in all, Guérin did not have a positive opinion of the European labour movement’s record on homosexuality: "the record is very poor", beginning with Engels, whose study of the origins of the family discussed the possible causes of homosexuality before dismissing it as a degrading. [14]

Guérin pointed out that in the beginning, at least, revolutionary Russia adopted an exemplary attitude to sexual and homosexual liberation, but he was scathing about the USSR under Stalin and the post-1945 socialist states in Eastern Europe and Cuba. One of the reasons why the post-war generations of gays were distrustful of revolutionary politics, according to Guérin, was the abject failure in this regard of "actually existing socialism":

The intransigence of the so-called "communist" regimes in this regard takes much more shocking forms than that of the capitalist countries. It is paradoxical and scandalous that the zealots of so-called "scientific" socialism should display such crass ignorance of scientific facts. It is tragic that a morbid puritanism be allowed to so disfigure the natural and polymorphous eroticism of an entire generation. [15]

But why were homosexuals persecuted under stalinism?

The reason is that the homosexual, whether he knows or wishes it or not, is potentially asocial, an outsider, and therefore a virtual subversive. And as these totalitarian regimes have consolidated themselves by ressuscitating traditional family values, he who loves boys is considered a danger to society. [16]

As for the French left, the PCF was "hysterically intransigent as far as ’moral behaviour’ was concerned" [17]; the trotskyist Pierre Lambert"s OCI was "completely hysterical with regard to homosexuality"; Lutte ouvri re was theoretically opposed to homosexuality; as was the Ligue communiste, despite their belatedly paying lip service to gay lib. [18] Together, Guérin argued, such groups bore a great deal of responsiblity for fostering homophobic attitudes among the working class as late as the 1970s. Their attitude was "the most blinkered, the most reactionary, the most antiscientific". [19]

In an appendix of his pioneering 1955 study of Kinsey (on the persecution of homosexuals in France), Guérin took the opportunity to argue for a change of attitude:

Revolutionaries have proven themselves to be no more tolerant than the bourgeois with regard to homosexuality. They have, it is true, an excuse: they distrust the homosexuals in their ranks because the latter are reputed to be vulnerable to blackmail and to pressure from the police, and are therefore "dangerous" for the movement which, in the eyes of such activists, is more important than respect for the human indivdual. But they do not realize that their intolerance itself contributes to perpetuating the state of affairs which is at the root of their concern: by virtue of the fact that they also cast their stone at homosexuals, they are helping to consolidate the very taboo which makes homosexuals easy prey for the blackmailers and for the police. The vicious circle will only be broken when progressive workers adopt both a more scientific and a more humane attitude towards homosexuality. [20]

It is not asurprising that Guérin should have been attacked by the Catholic Church, but he also came under fire from the left, and in particular the French Communist Party. The trotskyist Michel Raptis (Pablo) also apparently complained in his review of the Kinsey book of an over-concentration on homosexuality. [21] Even France Observateur, which had first published Guérin"s work on Kinsey in article form, published only hostile readers’ letters, refusing to print those expressing gratitude to Guérin. As Guérin wrote of his critics in a letter to the libertarian sexologist René Guyon, whose work he much admired:

The harshest [criticisms] came from marxists, who tend seriously to underestimate the form of oppression which is antisexual terrorism. I expected it, of course, and I knew that in publishing my book I was running the risk of being attacked by those to whom I feel closest on a political level. [22]

Eventually, Guérin had had enough, and he finally came out with the publication of Un jeune homme excentrique, in 1965:

These guardians of society’s "morals" have inadvertently done me a favour: they have made me face up to them without false shame and come to terms with myself more fully. Gone are the days of the fruitless and absurd split between two halves of myself: one half which was seen and another which had to remain hidden. Totality has been re-established. [23]

However, his attempt to explain the relationship between his discovery of the working class, his sexuality and his socialism, shocked and was misunderstood by many on the left:

My background had enclosed me within the opaque barriers of social segregation; homosexuality, by making me intimately familiar with young workers, by enabling me to discover and share their life of exploitation, led me to join the class enslaved by the class I was leaving behind. This simple explanation, perhaps too simple, was not to the liking of everybody. [24]

He was accused of dishonouring not only himself, but the whole of the left, by suggesting that one had to be a "pédé" (queer) to be a socialist: "Thanks to me, people might have suspected all "leftists" of siding with the labour movement for the pleasure of "a bit of rough"!" Jean Daniel, editor of Le Nouvel observateur, organised a boycott, actively discouraging colleagues from reviewing the book. [25] Guérin found few defenders, and even someone such as the left-wing, gay novelist Jean-Louis Bory remained silent. [26] Guérin reported that one reader and admirer of his celebrated study of anarchism was profoundly disappointed that the author of such a "serious" work could also have penned Un jeune homme excentrique. [27] Indeed, Guérin"s readers seem to have always fallen into one of two kinds: "I have two publics: some people buy all my books on political and social questions, whilst others are only interested in my literary and homosexual writings." [28]

Even the organisations of which Guérin was actually a member were not beyond criticism. In 1958, before he had come out as a homosexual, but at a time when he was concerning himself more and more in his writings with questions of sexuality, material submitted both to France-Observateur and to Perspectives socialistes - the latter being the organ of the Union de la gauche socialiste, of which he was a member - was censored without his being told:

Thus, in two papers to which I contribute and whose political positions are close to my own, it is impossible for me to raise issues of sexuality without being gagged. But the battle for the emancipation of man [sic] on all levels continues, and we shall, in the end, triumph. [29]

He commented resignedly in an interview for Masques that the OCL (Organisation Communiste Libertaire), of which he had been a member in the early 1970s, had simply never mentioned sexuality: "It’s not hostility, but they forgive me some deviations because I’ve written books about anarchism." Things would only change for Guérin with the appearance of the UTCL (Union des Travailleurs Communistes Libertaires), of which Guérin would remain a member from its creation in 1978 until his death ten years later. [30]

For (homo)sexual liberation: Guérin"s critical engagement wth "sexology"

For Guérin, the revolutionary movement needed to concern itself not just with homosexuality, but with sexuality in general, the libido:

The problem which confronts us, therefore, is knowing whether the free exercice of the sexual instinct is compatible with the contingencies and demands of the revolutionary struggle. [31]

Some, like Proudhon, Robespierre and Lenin saw "virtue" as the basis of revolutionary activism and emphasised the need for continence and self-repression in the struggle against the existing order. Others, notably in 1968, argued on the contrary that "orgasm goes along with the revolutionary’s furia." [32] Reich, 30 years earlier, had declared:

On croit gagner des forces en éliminant totalement la vie sexuelle. C"est une erreur, une lourde erreur que d’exclure la sexualité comme quelque chose de "bourgeois".

What was necessary, on the contrary, was to "transformer la rébellion sexuelle de la jeunesse en un lutte révolutionnaire contre l"ordre social capitaliste." [33] Clearly, Guérin argues, excess is not conducive to effective revolutionary struggle, it is a question of balance, and this is as true of homosexuality as of any other form of sexuality:

Whatever some class-struggle prudes may say, homosexuality [...] has never diminished the revolutionary’s commitment and combativity, on condition, of course, that excess and promiscuity are avoided. [34]


The groundbreaking work of Alfred Kinsey (published in French translation in 1948 and 1954 [35]) was without doubt the most important influence on Guérin in his attempts from the 1950s to formulate a critique of homophobia and put forward an argument for a more general sexual liberation. Serious studies of sexuality were few and far between in France between the 1930s and the 1950s, and the PCF’s position on sexology and psychoanalysis was as repressive as that of the Catholic Church. Guérin’s study of Kinsey was thus at once groundbreaking and controversial. [36] It was published first as a series of articles in the left-wing weekly, France Observateur, in 1954, then in book form the following year. [37] It represented for Guérin a major step forward in that he was able to use the opportunity to present a public defence of homosexuality. Guérin argued that if, before Kinsey, it might have been possible for socialists and communists, eager for the overthrow of capitalist exploitation, to join with Lenin in considering the sexual question of secondary importance, or as an adjunct of the central struggle, such an attitude was no longer tenable after the publication of the Kinsey Report. The puritanism attacked by Kinsey was nothing other than "a defence mechanism designed to protect a conception of bourgeois private property thanks to which the bourgeoisie was able to gain economic power, and then political power." [38] Kinsey, therefore:

encourages us to pursue simultaneously both the social revolution and the sexual revolution, until human beings are liberated completely from the two crushing burdens of capitalism and puritanism. [39]

Anarchist individualism: Stirner and Armand

There were other influences on Guérin"s thinking about sexual liberation, notably among the anarchists. In his youth, Guérin read E. Armand’s individualist anarchist organ L’en dehors, which used to campaign for complete sexual freedom, and for which homosexuality was regarded as an entirely valid form of "free love". [40] Much later, Guérin discovered the German individualist anarchist, Max Stirner. If some anarchist-communists have been a little puzzled by Guérin’s interest in Stirner - generally anathema to the non-individualist wing of the movement - the answer lies in what Guérin perceived to be Stirner’s latent homosexuality, his concern with sexual liberation and his determination to attack bourgeois prejudice and puritanism: "Stirner was a precursor of May 68".[[Guérin, Ni Dieu ni Maître, Anthologie de l’anarchisme (Paris: La Découverte, 1999), vol.I, p.12. Guérin began his anthology of anarchist texts - first published in 1965 - with the ‘precursor’ Stirner; he also added an appendix on Stirner to the 1981 edition of his short exposé, L’anarchisme: De la doctrine à la pratique. See also Homosexualité et Révolution, p.12; and ‘Stirner, «Père de l’anarchisme»?’ in La Rue no.26 (1er et 2ème trimestre 1979), pp.76


[1(Loughborough University, GB

[2Homosexualité et révolution (Paris: Le Vent du ch"min, 1983), p.25

[3"Wilhelm Reich aujourd"hui" (1969), p.28.

[4"Le mouvement ouvrier et l"homosexualité". Guérin made similar remarks in an interview with the same title published in Gérard Bach, Homosexualités: Expression/Répression (Paris: Le Sycomore, 1982), pp.99-102.

[5Frédéric Martel, Le rose et le noir. Les homosexuels en France depuis 1968 (Paris: Seuil, 2000), pp.46

[6Sylvie Chaperon, "Le fonds Daniel Guérin et l"histoire de la sexualité" in Journal de la BDIC no.5 (Juin 2002), p.10; "Kinsey en France: les sexualités masculine et féminine en débat" in Mouvement social no.198 (January-March 2002), pp.91-110

[7Jean Maitron, in Jean Maitron (ed.), Dictionnaire Biographique du Mouvement Ouvrier Franç ais (Paris: Edns. ouviè res), vol.XXXI (1988), pp.33-5; Daniel Guerrier, "Daniel Guérin. Un militant sans frontiè res" in Le Monde libertaire no.705 (April 1988).

[8On the place of feminism within the history of revolutionary movements, see, for example, the "Tribune" piece by Anne-Lise Melquiond, "Le féminisme est-il soluble dans le BLEMR?", in Bulletin de Liaison des Etudes sur les Mouvements Révolutionnaires no. 4 (December 1999), p.31.

[9Homosexualité et Révolution, p.11. "I felt as if I was cut in two, speaking out loud about my convictions as an activist and, by force of circumstance, feeling obliged to hide my sexual inclinations".

[10Homosexualité et Révolution, p.11.

[11See, for instance, "La répression de l"homosexualité en France", La Nef, mars 1958, and "Pour le droit d"aimer un mineur", Marge no.4, November-December 1974. "Contrary to myth, homosexuality is not a ’rich man’s vice’".

[12Un jeune homme excentrique. Essai d"autobiographie (Paris: Julliard, 1965). The 1972 Autobiographie de jeunesse was a later, unexpurgated version of this. It is true that Guérin had come out a few years earlier with the publication of a shorter and more poetic work entitled "Eux et lui" (published in Les Lettres nouvelles no.26, 21 October 1959, pp.28-39, and as a book in 1962 by Editions du Rocher, Monaco, with illustrations by André Masson), but the readership was so small it passed unnoticed by most. Guérin’s archives contain congratulatory letters on "Eux et lui" from, amongst others, Aimé Césaire, Samuel Beckett, Franç ois Mauriac, Michel Leiris and André Baudry (Fonds Guérin, BDIC, F¡ Δ 721/8). A recent republication contains both the original 1962 version and a 1979 version of Eux et lui and Commentaires, plus Guérin’s marginalia (Lille: GaiKitschCamp, 2000). For a bibliography, see my web page.

[13"Etre homosexuel et révolutionnaire", p.36

[14‘Le mouvement ouvrier et l’homosexualité’. Guérin made similar remarks in an interview with the same title published in Gérard Bach, Homosexualités: Expression/Répression (Paris: Le Sycomore, 1982), pp.99-102. Engels refers to the “degradation” caused by “the perversion of boy-love” - Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972), p.93. Guérin nevertheless thought The Origin of the Family “a great book”, “unjustly depreciated today by a certain school of thought”—‘Wilhelm Reich aujourd’hui’, p.22.

[15‘Sur le racisme anti-homosexuel’, Masques. Revue des homosexualités no.6 (Autumn 1980), pp.49-52, quote p.52.

[16Homosexualité et Révolution, p.17. According to Jean-Louis Franc, a FAHR activist at the same time as Guérin, the Lambertists were violent towards homosexuals and the Moists even more so, whereas Lutte ouvrière activists, although the party was programmatically opposed to homosexuality, in practice behaved quite normally towards homosexuals. In conversation with the author, Linz, 14 September 2002.

[17‘Aragon, victime et profiteur du tabou’ in Gai Pied Hebdo, 4 June 1983, reproduced in Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.62-3, quote p.63.

[18See ‘Daniel Guérin «à confesse»’, p.11.

[19"Etre homosexuel et révolutionnaire", p.10.

[20Kinsey et la sexualité (Paris: Julliard, 1954), appendix II: "La persécution des homosexuels en France", pp.180-6, quotation pp.184-5.

[21‘Etre homosexuel et révolutionnaire’, p.10. I have yet to trace this review.

[22Letter of 27 May 1955, Fonds Guérin, BDIC, F° Δ 721/carton 12/4, quoted in Chaperon, ‘Le fonds Daniel Guérin et l’histoire de la sexualité’ in Journal de la BDIC, no.5 (June 2002), p.10

[23Foreword to Autobiographie de jeunesse, p.9

[24‘Etre homosexuel et révolutionnaire’, p.10. For more detail on Guérin’s ‘discovery’ of the working class and its relation to his politicization, see my “‘Prolétaires de tous les pays, caressez-vous!’: Guérin, the Labor Movement, and Homosexuality,” in Gabriella Hauch, ed., Sexuality, the Working Classes, and Labor Movements (forthcoming).

[25See ‘Daniel Guérin «à confesse»’, pp.10-14.

[26‘Etre homosexuel et révolutionnaire’, p.10.

[27‘Etre homosexuel et révolutionnaire’, p.10. Guérin’s L’Anarchisme, de la doctrine à la pratique (Paris: Gallimard, 1st edition 1965) is widely regarded as one of the best short introductions to anarchism. The English translation (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970) was given a preface by Noam Chomsky.

[28‘Daniel Guérin: d’une dissidence sexuelle à la révolution’, p.42.

[29From a letter attached by Guérin to an off-print of a journal article of his held in the Bibliothèque Nationale: ‘André Gide et l’amour’, Arcadie no.49 (January 1958), pp.3-8.

[30The UTCL was to transform itself into the present-day Alternative Libertaire in 1991. See Georges Fontenis, Changer le monde. Histoire du mouvement communiste libertaire, 1945-1997 (Editions Le Coquelicot/Alternative Libertaire, 2000), pp.171-5

[31Homosexualité et Révolution, p.9.

[32Homosexualité et Révolution, p.10.

[33‘Wilhelm Reich aujourd’hui’, p.24.

[34Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.10-11. This is reminiscent of Guérin’s repeated expressions (in his autobiographies) of feelings of guilt at his bouts of (homo)sexual self-indulgence. Is this because of his determination in 1930 to ‘sublimate’ his sexual drive through devotion to the revolution? The assertions of the need to control his sexual drive is reminiscent of Baudry’s invocations to Arcadie members.

[35A. C. Kinsey et al, Le comportement sexuel de l’homme (Paris: Editions du Pavois, 1948); Le comportement sexuel de la femme (Paris: Le Livre contemporain Amiot-Dumont, 1954). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male appeared in 1948 in the US, Sexual Behavior in the Human female in 1953.

[36See Sylvie Chaperon, ‘Kinsey en France: les sexualités masculine et féminine en débat’ in Mouvement social no.198 (January-March 2002), pp.91-110, and ‘Le fonds Daniel Guérin’.

[37France Observateur, 23 September, 7, 22 & 29 October, 4 November 1954; Kinsey et la sexualité (Paris: Julliard, 1955; EDI, 1967). It would be republished again as part of Essai sur la révolution sexuelle après Reich et Kinsey (Paris: Belfond, 1969). The book was dedicated to Guérin’s father Marcel, “who was one day taken to task (by an over-watchful mother) for reading Havelock Ellis without hiding the fact from his children.” Marcel Guérin was also bisexual.

[38Kinsey et la sexualité, p.118.

[39‘Kinsey et la sexualité, 1955’ in Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.32-34, quote p.32.

[40L’en dehors appeared weekly, 1922-39. Armand was, however, quite isolated within the French anarchist movement and his concern with sexual freedom (and in particular his willingness to accept homosexuality) were not, I believe, widespread among French anarchists. See René Bianco, ‘Un siècle de presse anarchiste d’expression française dans le monde, 1880-1983’ (Doctorat d’Etat, University of Provence, 1988), 7 vols; and my A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917-1945 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002).