Slogan du site
Descriptif du site
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." - 2 -
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.
Article published on 7 October 2004
last modification on 23 December 2006
logo imprimer
Save this article in PDF

Continued. Read the beginning


Guérin was also a great admirer of Fourier, at least in so far as his arguments in favour of sexual liberation and tolerance were concerned: "I was as one with the genial Fourier when he ennobled and sanctified all sexual acts, including those he termed "ambiguous" [ie. homosexual]." [1] Fourier himself was the victim of censorship on the part of his own disciples, and his Nouveau monde amoureux, written in 1816-18 but suppressed by the Phalansterians on the grounds that it was immoral, was only published in 1967. Guérin was delighted at its appearance:

The great utopian wants to see no form of attraction repressed for, an ancestor of Freud, he is too well aware of the psychological damage done by the constriction of the instincts and how unhappy we are when we are struggling against ourselves. Even more serious than the individual suffering causing by the repression of the passions are the effects on society. If they are held in check, they immediately reappear in a more harmful form which Fourier called "recurrent", and it is then and only then that they create disorder: "Any dammed up passion produces its counter-passion which is as harmful as the natural passion would have been beneficial." [2]

Fourier thus lends support to Guérin’s critique of Proudhon"s puritanism:

Thus the curse which Proudhon was to put on Eros on the pretext of protecting industry had been refuted in advance: in Harmony, the more each individual"s tastes are satisfied, the better the community will be served. [3]

In 1975, Guérin published an anthology of Fourier’s texts on sexual liberation, Vers la liberté en amour, with a lengthy preface which included a detailed analysis of Fourier’s scattered and sketchy references to homosexuality. [4] Guérin was probably largely responsible for the new-found popularity of Fourier among the generation of 68, and the same can be said to some extent of Wilhelm Reich, with whom Guérin shared a taste for syntheses and the experience of being condemned as a heretic simultaneously by the defenders of two offended orthodoxies.

The revolutionary potential of psychoanalysis: the early Freud

For a synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis: Reich

When Reich died in 1957, the event almost passed unnoticed in France, and as Guérin remarked, "when I published his obituary, those who learned nothing could have been counted on the fingers of one hand." [5] Only two of Reich"s books had been translated into French by the time of his death, so Guérin"s knowledge of German gave him an advantage over most of his compatriots here as it did in the study of Marxism. Guérin was particularly impressed by Reich"s "Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis" (first published in 1934) and The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality (1931). [6] Reich was for Guérin the direct heir of an early, revolutionary Freud, inspired by the 1907 essay, "Civilized" sexual morality and modern nervous illness. What Guérin admired in Reich was his attack on the socially conservative aspects of Freud’s theories, notably, again, the notion of "sublimation", that suppression of the sexual instinct was necessary for civilisation, and Reich’s emphasis on "antisexual" attitudes as being historically determined:

In his opinion, the repression of sexuality has social and economic origins, not biological ones. Sexual repressiveness appeared with the beginnings of class society and the institution of private property and patriarchy. It was installed by a particular social group, that of polygamous chiefs, in whose hands, thanks to the accumulation of dowries paid by their wives, economic power now resided. In modern times, such repression remains indispensable in order to safeguard the two essential institutions of society: monogamous marriage and the family. It constitutes one of the means of economic enslavement. The sexual revolution is only possible through social revolution. [7]

For Reich, Freud’s early theory of the libido and his courageous attacks on antisexual oppression had been played down, sanitized and rendered acceptable to the bourgeoisie — his clientele — such that Reich could draw a parallel between the fate of psychoanalysis at the hands of Freud and his successors and Marxism at the hands of the reformist socialists and stalinist reaction. The erection of the "reality principle" into an absolute simply enabled it to be used as a tool by the ruling class to maintain its domination and to negate the revolutionary potential of psychoanalysis. Similarly, the Œdipus complex was seen as a biological given by Freud, whereas for Reich it was the product of particular historically determined forms of society and the family: "Dans une société socialiste, le complexe d’Œdipe doit disparaître du fait mê me que sa base sociale, la famille patriarcale, s"effondrera." [8] Similarly, the theory of the original murder of the father, reinforced the notion that patriarchy and its antisexual ethic were part of human nature, rather than historically determined.

Although Reich had, in his time, been attacked by both Marxists and psychoanalysts, Guérin would insist in a debate in 1969 that it was precisely this uncomfortable position astride both schools of thought which was now his strong point. Psychoanalysis destroyed the bases of religion and of bourgeois sexual morality in the same way that Marxism destroyed outdated values through its materialist philosophy and through a revolution in the economic system:

A Marxism which sought to emancipate man [sic: l"homme] without including sexuality in its analysis and liberating man on the sexual level as well would be disfiguring itself, it would be incomplete. A purely biological or purely clinical sexology which paid no attention to the social context and to dialectical materialist analysis would produce only half-truths. [9]

Guérin"s only serious criticism of Reich was his relatively conservative position on homosexuality, namely that homosexuality was an aberration caused by restrictions imposed on "normal" heterosexual relations. Here Guérin preferred the more libertarian implications of Kinsey’s findings - although Kinsey himself was no apologist for homosexuality and was criticized by Guérin for not taking sufficient account of the socio-historical aspect of the question. As for Reich"s later work, Guérin commented in an interview for the first issue of the French journal Sexpol:

J’ai admiré beucoup le Reich marxiste se dégageant de l’emprise stalinienne et, tout en restant marxiste, développant ses idées et son action autour de Sexpol. Par contre," partir de sa rupture complè te avec toute notion marxiste, j’"avoue que je me méfie, surout parce que je n"ai pas les connaissances scientifiques nécessaires pour émettre un jugement sur la théorie de l’orgone. [10]

Women and patriarchy

Guérin has been criticized for neglecting the question of women’s oppression:

The most serious difficulty raised in Guérin’s combination of radicalism and gayness is hardly touched on in his memoirs. This is the simple issue of whether the celebration of male homosexuality is supportive, or on the contrary obstructive, in that larger question of sexual politics: women’s emancipation. [11]

It is certainly true that women are strikingly absent from Guérin"s autobiographical writings, and that his representations of the working class and of the world of work tend to be male-centred and focussed on the point of production. Nor have I as yet found any evidence in Guérin’s archives of any links with feminists, apart from some brief correspondence with the American trotskyist and feminist anthropologist, Evelyn Reed. [12]

Nevertheless, as a historian of the French revolution Guérin did resurrect the Société des femmes républicaines révolutionnaires, and interpreted its destruction by the Robespierrists as a clear indicator of reaction. [13] He was also, of course, a great popularizer of Fourier, for whom, famously, the progress made by any society could be measured in terms of the degree of emancipation of the women in that society. He was an admirer of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxiè me sexe (published in 1949 and attacked by both communists and catholics), and, as was made explicit in his 1969 essay on the sexual revolution, he was clearly in favour of women’s sexual liberation:

La femme qui pendant des si ècles, a été soumise" à l"esclavage du patriarcat, condamnée" à subir le mâle," être l’objet passif de son désir et de son choix, privée par lui de la liberté sexuelle dont il s’arrogeait le monopole, est en train de s’affranchir des derniè res entraves psychologiques qui dénaturaient et emprisonnaient sa sexualité. Elle sera (elle est déjà) tout aussi précoce dans sa vie sexuelle que l’homme, tout aussi polyandre que l’homme est polygyne, tout aussi capable que l’homme de s’intéresser" à la beauté plastique du sexe opposé. [14]

Several of Guérin’s later writings on sexuality and homosexuality also raise the linked questions of gender identity and patriarchy. In 1958, Guérin argued in a discussion of the repression of homosexuality in France that the question had to be seen as just part of a much broader set of issues:

I insist on maintaining that the homosexual cannot and must not be seen as a separate problem, and that the liberation of the homosexual must not be seen as the egoistic demand of a minority. Homosexuality is just a particular form, a variation, of sexuality and must be considered in the broadest context. [...] The prejudice with which this mode of behaviour is besmirched derives, in large part, from patriarchal society’s depreciation of femininity, considered as "inferior". Seen in this way, the cause of the homosexual is the cause of woman. [15]

So, argued Guérin, it was not only article 331 of the Penal Code which must be attacked, but also all those concerning patriarchy: the authority of the "head of the family", divorce, contraception, artifical insemination, abortion, prostitution and so on. The genealogy of the existing legal situation was clear: De Gaulle in February 1945 had perpetuated Pétain"s law of 1942, which itself must be seen in the context of the reactionary Code de la Famille introduced by decree in July 1939 and which attacked all sexual activity outside of the family "where, according to our monogamous civilisation, sexual life must be enclosed." [16]

For Guérin, it was bourgeois society which was responsible for the "detestable division of the sexes", for pushing to an excessive extent the differentiation between the sexes: "It has been happy to reduce woman to the level of a doll, a "bimba", a sexual object, a pin-up girl, whilst simultaneously accentuating the opposite traits in the male - macho, conceited, boorish and tyrannical." [17] "Bourgeois society, built on the family, will not readily give up on one of its last ramparts." [18]

There were thus clear connections between patriarchal society"s oppression of women and its oppression of homosexual men:

Patriarchal society, resting on the dual authority of the man over the woman and of the father over the children, accords primacy to the attributes and modes of behaviour associated with virility. Homosexuality is persecuted to the extent that it undermines this construction. The disdain of which woman is the object in patriarchal societies is not without correlation with the shame attached to the homosexual act. It is doubtless his femininity, his betrayal of virility, supposedly superior, for which the invert is not forgiven. [19]

And asked by an interviewer for the gay magazine Homo 2000 why he thought there was so much hostility towards gay men, he replied:

We live in post-patriarchal societies in which virility is valued more highly than femininity. One could almost say that the more heterosexual a man is, the more he despises women. Certain men are not forgiven for betraying masculinity by desiring boys; I believe that is the most fundamental reason. [20]

Pursuing a similar argument in Eux et Lui, he concluded: "woman had become my companion in adversity, my ally." [21]]

Androgyny and bisexualism

The idea of some kind of original, pre-lapsarian androgyny was one which interested and appealed to Guérin:

The Ancients believed in the myth according to which, in the beginning, there existed a bisexual being who was cut into two halves, each half corresponding to one of the sexes. This image has always remained very strong with me, and today, at the age of 74, I have still not been able to come to terms with the idea that there are two separate sexes. For me, it is quite incomprehensible and it seems to me that this is a result of a kind of amputation carried out on this original being. [22]

This "amputation" was something he felt in his own emotional life. In the 1982 foreword for his 1929 novel La Vie selon la chair [Life according to the flesh], Guérin spoke of the lead female character Hélè ne as representing "my own feminine side". Of Hél ne and her rival Hubert - rival for the affections of another man - he wrote "I was at the same time Hélè ne and Hubert". In the self-questioning, self-critical text Eux et lui, he wrote - in the third person - of the deep contradictions which he discerned in many aspects of his personality:

His eroticism was no less contradictory [...]. He was annoyed with girls for not having a phallus and with boys for having no breasts. He resented girls for stealing boys from him and boys for stealing girls from him. The division of the sexes caused him a malaise which was enough to destroy his joie de vivre and to alienate him from the world. He tried to persuade himself that this division was less definitive in nature than in civilisation, that custom and fashion exagerated it, that human emancipation was tending to reduce it, that man is in woman and woman in man. He even tried to savour the contrast and the diversity which are its products and which ought to have consoled him for the strange schism. But, the time not yet having come for a certain reunification of the sexes, he was tired of always hearing people talk of "man" when in fact he very clearly had before his eyes two different species, and his melancholy at not being able to choose between the two poles was inconsolable. He had a foot in both camps. He dreamed of being the ram with the ewe and of being the ewe with the ram. Being both ram and ewe, he was neither ram nor ewe. [23]

Guérin was convinced that homophobes were in many cases repressed homosexuals: "Many intolerant and aggressive homophobes are nothing more than homosexuals who have painfully repressed their natural tendencies and secretly envy those who have chosen to give their own desire free rein." [24] He also talked of the "bisexual universality" [25], claiming that bisexuality was the natural human state:

It certainly seems that [...] heterosexuals, conditioned by society, are bisexuals without realizing it or who censor themselves, or who, quite simply, only allow the heterosexual aspect of their lovemaking to show. [26]

Elsewhere, he clearly agreed with de Beauvoir"s interpretation, namely that "la différenciation psychologique des sexes est, pour une large part, artificielle et conditionnée socialement." [27] He believed there was "a tendency towards unification, towards a reconciliation of the sexes, through sensitivity, creativity, intelligence. I think the society of the future will be a bisexual society." [28] And again: "The time will come [...] when women and men will no longer form two opposed species, when love of both sexes will be recognized as the most natural form of love [...]." [29] On more than one occasion, he expressed satisfaction at recent cultural trends which seemed to some extent to represent a reversal of the process of differentiation of the sexes, and he was positively delighted that, as he put it, it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between young men and women in the street. But he was also aware that such trends were limited: "We are still a long way from a symbiosis, something which, it would seem, only the Social Revolution, thanks to its equalizing and reconciling aspect, would be able to achieve." [30]

Homophobia as racism

As well as seeing parallels between the situation of women and homosexuals, Guérin argued that homophobia was akin to racism, and that in terms of the situation in which they found themselves in their everyday life, the suffering of homosexuals could be compared to that of blacks or Jews:

One only has to read the admirable analysis offered by Frantz Fanon, in his Black Skin, White Masks, of the permanent dread of the Black in the face of the White"s racial prejudice to understand to what extent the fate of the homosexual resembles that of the man [sic] of colour. The writer Richard Wright, as heterosexual as they come, sympathized equally with the comparable condition of the Black, the Jew and the "queer". [31]

Guérin’s homosexual encounters in the colonies in the late 1920s undoubtedly played a rôle here,à la Genet.

Interestingly, Guérin chose to include in a short collection of speeches, published in 1968, a letter from a member of the audience at one of the meetings concerned who had responded to comments Guérin had made about "psychological minorities":

One will never denounce enough the good conscience, the mental comfort, the contradiction, the hypocrisy of almost all of the "people of the Left" and their pseudo-racism. For, if racism is disdain for a community different from us, the disdain for a human category because of a particularity, racism in the full meaning of the word is not only or necessarily directed at people of another colour. We must speak out against these people who believe themselves to be "generous", who are opposed to the racism of others, who are adamant that they do not look down on blacks, but who never tire of talking or writing of their disdain for alcoholics, prostitutes, homosexuals, etc... who therefore fulfil for these "anti-racists" the rôle of substitute Jew, of replacement nigger. [32]


Notes :

[1Homosexualité et Révolution, p.15.

[2‘Le nouveau monde amoureux de Fourier’ in Arcadie nos. 168 & 169 (1967 & 1968), pp.554-60 & 16-23, quote p.554.

[3‘Le nouveau monde amoureux de Fourier’, p.560. ‘Harmonie’ was the name given by Fourier to his ideal society. On Proudhon, see ‘Proudhon et l’amour «unisexuel»’ in Arcadie nos.133 (January 1965) & 134 (February 1965), and Proudhon oui et non (Paris: Gallimard, 1978).

[4Charles Fourier, Vers la liberté en amour (Paris: Gallimard, 1975); preface by Guérin, pp.13-47.

[5‘Wilhelm Reich aujourd’hui’ in Essai sur la révolution sexuelle, p.19.

[6In his 1968 talk on Reich—published as ‘Wilhelm Reich aujourd’hui’—Guérin compared contemporary psychoanalysts’ distaste for ‘Civilized’ sexual morality and modern nervous illness to contemporary trotskyists’ distaste for Trotsky’s 1904 critique of Lenin’s organizational theses.- ‘Wilhelm Reich aujourd’hui’, p.21

[7‘Hommage à Wilhelm Reich’, pp.15-16.

[8‘Hommage à Wilhelm Reich’, p.15.

[9‘Wilhelm Reich aujourd’hui’ in Essai sur la révolution sexuelle, pp.17-28, quote p.21. This is the text of an introduction to a debate organised in Brussels by ‘Liaison 20’ on 29 November 1968.

[10‘Daniel Guérin «à confesse»’, interview with Gérard Ponthieu in La revue Sexpol no.1 (20 January 1975), pp.10-14, quote p.14.

[11Peter Sedgwick, ‘Out of hiding: the Comradeships of Daniel Guérin’ in Robert Boyer, & Georges Steiner (eds.), Salmagundi: A quarterly journal of the humanities and social sciences, 58-9, special issue on homosexualism (June 1982), pp.197-220, quote p.215.

[12Reed’s publications (all with Pathfinder, New York) include Woman’s Evolution from Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family (1992), Problems of Women’s Liberation: A Marxist Approach (1972) and an introduction to a 1972 edition of Engels’ The Origin of the Family.

[13La lutte de classes sous la Première République, 1793-1797 (Paris: Gallimard, 1968), vol.I, pp.271-8

[14Essai sur la révolution sexuelle, p.79.

[15‘La répression de l’homosexualité en France’, p.1.

[16‘La répression de l’homosexualité en France’, pp.1-2.

[17Homosexualité et Révolution, p.16.

[18Homosexualité et Révolution, p.8.

[19‘Kinsey’ in Homosexualité et Révolution, p.33.

[20‘Entretiens avec Daniel Guérin’, Homo 2000 no.4, 3e trimestre 1979. A corrected TS of the text of this interview can be found in Fonds Guérin, BDIC, F° Δ 721/15.

[21‘Eux et lui’, in Son Testament (Paris: Encre, 1979), quoted in Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.33-34

[22‘Géographie passionnelle d’une époque’, p.6. See also Homosexualité et Révolution, p.16, note 2.

[23Eux et lui (Lille: GayKitschCamp, 2000), pp.23-24.

[24Homosexualité et Révolution, p.20.

[25Homosexualité et Révolution, p.23

[26Homosexualité et Révolution, p.8.

[27Essai sur la révolution sexuelle, p.61.

[28‘Géographie passionnelle d’une époque’, p.6.

[29Eux et lui (2000), p. 52.

[30Homosexualité et Révolution, p.16.

[31‘Sur le racisme anti-homosexuel’, p.50.

[32‘Lettre d’un auditeur’, in Daniel Guérin, Cuba-Paris (Chez l’auteur: 13 rue des Marronniers, Paris 16e, Mai 1968), pp.29-30, quote p.29.

bullet pointSite map bullet pointContact bullet pointEditors area RSS

2003-2019 © RAForum - All rights reserved
Top of the page
Created with SPIP
Template ESCAL 4.1.4