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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." - 3 -

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.

Thursday 7 October 2004

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For a total revolution

In 1969, Guérin was interviewed by François Bott for Le Monde. Guérin’s Essai sur la révolution sexuelle après Reich et Kinsey and his Pour un marxisme libertaire had both just appeared. [1]. In later years Guérin would talk of ‘libertarian communism’ rather than ‘libertarian marxism’, in order not to offend his new anarchist friends, but it was only a change of label. He remained faithful to historical materialism and to class analysis all his life.]]Asked if this simultaneity was a coincidence, he replied emphatically “Non”:

The subjects dealt with make a whole. The libertarian critique of the bourgeois regime is not possible without a critique of bourgeois mores. The revolution cannot be simply political. It must be, at the same time, both cultural and sexual and thus transform every aspect of life and of society. [...] I am against any society, even a socialist one, which maintains sexual tabous. The revolt of the spring of 68 rejected all the faces of subjugation. If the generation of May discovered Reich, it was because he campaigned at one and the same time for the social revolution and the sexual revolution. [2]

Given Guérin’s belief that attitudes towards homosexuality were intrinsically linked with the rôle of the authoritarian family and of patriarchal gender rôles, he was convinced that it was unrealistic to expect to be able to eradicate homophobia without attacking the rest:

To my mind, the homophobic prejudice, in all its hideousness, will not be countered only by means which I would call ‘reformist’, by persuasion, by concessions to our heterosexual enemies; it will be possible to eradicate it definitively, as with racial prejudice, only through an antiauthoritarian social revolution. Indeed despite its liberal mask, the bourgeoisie has too great a need, in order to perpetuate its hegemony, of the domestic values of the family, cornerstone of the social order. It cannot deprive itself of the help provided for it by, on the one hand, the glorification of marriage and the cult of procreation, and on the other, the support given it by the Churches, determined adversaries of free love and of homosexuality. [...]. The bourgeoisie as a whole will never entirely lift its ban on dissident sexualities. The whole edifice will have to be swept away in order to achieve the complete liberation of man in general (a generic term which includes both sexes), and of the homosexual in particuliar. [3]

Having said that, Guérin was not dismissive of partial gains. Interviewed in 1969, he said:

Even at the present time, in capitalist societies, partial victories over obscurantism should not be under-estimated, far from it. I see no difference between wage increases, improvements in prison regimes and in civil rights (the emancipation of women, for example) and the struggle against the repression of homosexuals, a struggle which must be fought straightaway. [4]

This acceptance of partial reforms, in a spirit similar to that of Amiens" assertion of the CGT’s "double task", was motivated by his personal experience of suffering and the knowledge he had of others’ suffering, particularly in the villages and small towns of "la France profonde":

I am thinking above all of those who are imprisoned as "common criminals" for having tried to satisfy their sexuality by an act which was an expression of their true selves. I am also thinking of all those homosexuals who find great difficulty in coming to terms with themselves, in bearing the social reprobation of which they are the object, and who are haunted by the idea of suicide. I have received some deeply distressing letters from such people. The most urgent thing, since we are not going to transform the world tomorrow, is to help such unfortunate people rediscover a taste for life. [5]

The gay liberation movement: a critique

Guérin was personally never attracted to what he called "effeminate" gay men, and had an "absolute, physical horror" of cross-dressing. [6] In his Essai sur la révolution sexuelle, he argued that "Les ’tantes-filles’ [...] ne se font pas ’femmes’ comme dit Sartre, elles se font plus exactement, telles qu’elles se repésentent les femmes, c"est-à-dire ’poupées et putains’. [7] In the 1920s, most of his sexual partners were heterosexuals - or at least they saw themselves as such, and rejected the homosexual label. For these reasons, although Martel asserts that he was in a sense "the grandfather of the French homosexual movement", Guérin had never actually mixed a great deal with other declared homosexuals, other than through his association with Arcadie from 1954 and with its review of the same name, to which he contributed from 1956. [8] Although he was, as he put it, "very well regarded" within Arcadie, he found the organisation complacent, petit-bourgeois and reactionary, not least because its founder, André Baudry, maintained close links with the police and the clergy, and was determined not to "politicize" his campaign for the tolerance of "homophilia". [9] Guérin left in 1968.

When the FHAR (Front homosexuel d"action révolutionnaire) appeared in 1971, Guérin was enthusiastic, seeing the new group as the revolutionary homosexual organisation - bringing together revolutionary politics and a concern with homosexual liberation - he had always longed to see. He was, however, soon disappointed, and found it to be even worse than Arcadie: "Some completely unaware and often very stupid people - except, of course, for a few intelligent young boys such as Guy Maes and Guy Hocquenghem". [10] Guérin was particularly horrified when, at the funeral of Pierre Overney (a Maoist militant killed by security men at Renault-Billancourt), some of the more provocative members of the FHAR exposed their buttocks. [11]

Although it is apparently the case that he stood on a table at the front of the hall and stripped naked with Fran çoise d’Eaubonne during a general assembly of the FHAR (to reinforce a point being made about the liberation of the body) [12], Guérin was in other circumstances not a believer in provocation. Explaining once in a talk to fellow Arcadians his intentions in publishing Un Jeune homme excentrique, he claimed that he had wanted to present homosexuality in as "natural" a way as possible, as being part of the life of a "normal", healthy person, "carefully avoiding the posturing dear to someone such as Jean Genet, for example, that is to say the pose of the ’outcast’, the ’damned’. To pose as someone exceptional, in my opinion, is to isolate oneself from common mortals, and gives the heterosexual majority sticks with which to beat us." [13] Elsewhere, he commented that although homosexuals must have their own specific organization, they must also be integrated within a broader movement for change, like black sections within trade unions: "those who content themselves with the ghetto are making a big mistake." [14]

By the 1980s, Guérin’s assessment of the state of the gay liberation movement and the gay "scene" was pretty negative:

The recent emancipation, the commercialisation of homosexuality, the superficial pursuit of pleasure for pleasure"s sake have created a whole generation of "gay" young men, profoundly apolitical, obsessed with gadgets, frivolous, characterless, incapable of any serious reflexion, uncultured, good for nothing but "cruising", corrupted by the specialist press, the mushrooming of gay bars and so on, and by the libidinous small ads, in a word a million miles from any conception of class struggle. [15]

Guérin argued that the movement’s ghettoization went against the "breaking down of social barriers" and against "universal bisexuality" [16], and that its "public excesses, sometimes even its pointless provocations" [17] had produced "defensive reactions and repulsion" amongst young straight men who might otherwise have been more open sexually. [18]

As has already been commented, despite his repeated assertion that "thanks to the revolution of May 68, homosexuality finally gained acceptance," [19] and despite the fact that in theory at least the FHAR and the GLPHQ (Groupe de libération homosexuelle politique et quotidien) put the seal on the rapprochement between homosexuality and Revolution, Guérin only found an organisation which fully lived up to his expectations concerning the dialectic of (homo)sexual liberation and social revolution with the creation of the UTCL in 1978. Invited to write a regular column for Gai Pied Hebdo in the early 80s, Guérin felt obliged to check with the UTCL before agreeing: "Total and unreserved approval", was the Union’s response [20] The UTCL itself published a pamphlet, Le Droit à la caresse, written by a gay activist: [21]

There can be no liberation of homosexuality other than on the basis of new social relations, in other words other than in a new society, which is why we are allies with the labour movement in its struggle, the labour movement beng the only force capable of bringing about the necessary social change. So, if socialism is not to be a caricature of itself, we, as homosexuals, have a r™le to play in the class struggle. [22]

In Homosexualité et Révolution, Guérin summarized his strategy, uniting short-term reforms favouring the civil liberties of homosexuals, women and ethnic minorities with the broader and long-term aims of revolutionary socialism:

In any case, the gains won against homophobia by its victims can only be limited and fragile. On the other hand, the crushing of class tyranny would open the way to the total liberation of every human being, including homosexuals.

The task therefore is to ensure that there is as great a convergence as possible between homosexuality and revolution.

The proletarian revolutionary must understand, or must be convinced, that, even if he does not see himself as directly implicated, the emancipation of the homosexual concerns him just as much as, for example, the emancipation of women and of people of colour. As for the homosexual, he must understand that his liberation can be total and irreversible only if it is achieved within the context of social revolution, in other words, only if the human race succeeds not just in liberalizing attitudes, but far more than this, in transforming everyday life.

If, on another occasion, he conceded that the "essential struggle" was that against capitalism and for the liberation of the oppressed proletariat, he nevetherless insisted that this meant not only the struggle for "economic" liberation, but also the struggle for sexual liberation. "We must not wait for the Revolution, we must not wait for the proletariat to have taken power, and assume that this will automatically bring about sexual liberation." It was exactly the same, Guérin argued, with religion: "No! We must fight obscurantist fanaticism now." [24]All these struggles were "parallel" struggles within total social revolution.


Guérin commented once that "the driving force of my life has been love". [25] Perhaps this provides the unifying principle underlying all of Guérin’s work. As he wrote in 1959 in the foreword to an essay about the censorship of homosexual writers:

The problem in reality is not homosexuality. It is, above and beyond that, the problem of sexual liberation, or rather, more generally even than that, it is the problem of freedom. Eroticism is one of the instruments of freedom. There is within it, in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, a principle which is hostile to society, or, more precisely, hostile to a society in which man oppresses man [sic], hostile to the authoritarian society. In Carmen, the song goes: Love is a gypsy child./It has never, ever obeyed laws. [26]

There are nevertheless clearly some aspects of Guérin"s sexual attitudes or practices which are not unproblematic, notably his tendency to objectify his sexual partners and to idealize working-class youth. As Sedgwick very eloquently put it:

Guérin’s desires have always been framed less in terms of a body than of an embodiment: the lovers pass as successor-incarnations of an active, questing proletariat, a mass of privacies summating through their plenitude and their sameness into a collective public subject. It is a myth of working-class virility which yokes Guérin’s syndicalism with his sexual nature, in an idealisation which echoes the less erotic (but equally ethereal) mythology of the proletariat-as-agent heralded by a Sorel or a Lukacs. [27]

Guérin also tended (particularly through his masochism, his fetishism and his adherence to somewhat stereotypical, reductionist representations of physical beauty) to reproduce exploitative relations similar to those which have been much targeted by feminism.

To some extent, Guérin was aware of these contradictions - the contradictions, in Sedgwick"s words, "between the egalitarian and emancipatory values which the Left canvasses for the reform of society, and the metaphysics of abasement, domination or objectivation which seem to characterise sexual relations of a certain intensity" [28] - and in Eux et lui, notably, he submitted himself to a public and painfully honest autocritique.

Sedgwick argues, quite rightly, that Guérin"s linking of his homosexual proclivities with the proletariat seen as social vanguard "does not establish the radicalism of Guérin’s sexual choice within the terms of sexual politics itself." [29] And he goes on to claim that our modern awareness of sexual politics has tended historically to derive not from the class-struggle-oriented Marxists and anarchists, but "from liberal feminists, or from Utopians like Fourier and Owen who have rejected the class-struggle in industry, or from a women’s movement which from the nineteenth century to the present has been seldom entirely happy with the definition of radical priorities offered by even the most revolutionary of males." [30] Quite apart from the fact that this claim is at least in part questionable, Sedgwick also seems to have been ignorant of Guérin’s writings on sexuality other than the autobiographical texts. For, although Guérin adhered to the orthodox Marxist argument, as expounded by Engels, according to which the patriarchal family, private property and the state were both coterminous and historically determined, it is precisely in the Utopian Fourier, in the individualist anarchists Armand and Stirner, in Reichian psychoanalysis and in the liberal sexologist Kinsey that Guérin found the ideas he needed to produce a critique of labour movement homophobia and to tie this up with a socialist critique of bourgeois patriarchy. Sedgwick concluded his analysis of the contradictions in Guérin by arguing that:

In his more personal, experiential writing, Guérin is unwittingly correcting the entire theoretical orientation of his public socialism: his oscillation between a masculine public sphere of production and a quasi-feminine world of the heart is the penalty of the double life forced on him by society’s ban. [31]

This is doubtless true of an earlier period in Guérin’s life. But surely what characterizes Guérin’s activism and his non-autobiographical writings from the 1950s onwards, and particularly after his coming out in 1965, is his move away from Marxism-Leninism and towards anarchism, away from the point of production and towards a breaking down of the artificial barrier between the "public" and the "private", towards a growing commitment to sexual and especially homosexual liberation, and an attempt both on a theoretical and on a practical, organizational level to bring these two aspects of total social revolution together.

The issue of homosexuality acquired ever greater importance in Guérin’s life, and, in an interview he gave at the age of 75, he made the following remarks about a collection of essays, which he evidently thought might be his last, entitled Son testament:

I may well not live many more years, and as a precaution I have been keen to let it be known that I would like my last publication, my last thoughts, to focus on my love of boys. Having already written books on a great number of different subjects, having a great deal of experience of political activism and having very strong political views, I could have produced a synthesis of my thoughts about revolution, antimilitarism, anticolonialism, etc. If I was insistent that my last book should be called His Testament, it is because I think that homosexuality has played such a primordial rôle in my life, that it has haunted me day and night from the age of 15, that that is the message I wish to leave behind. The fact that I am married, a father, a grandfather, bisexual, homosexual, [...] it seems to me that this is what I must leave behind as the final expression of my life as a writer and as a man. [32]

Finally, to conclude, I can do no better that to quote an assessment of Guérin"s contribution in the form of a letter to him from Pierre Hahn, a leading left-winger in the gay lib movement and a founder member of the FHAR:

More than to any other, homosexuals are grateful to you - and I more than anyone - for everything you have done for them, and that at a time when to speak out in such a way brought with it great disrepute. [...] But your most valuable contribution is a life’s work which is at once political (in the traditional sense of the word) and sexological: it is La Peste brune plus Kinsey; it is Fourier and the texts against colonialism; it is, above all, you yourself. [33]


"Behind the masks (Manifesto of Masques, a review of homosexualities)" [34]

Composed of homosexuals, men and women, who have experience both of political activism and homosexual activism, the Masques collective was born of our rejection of the separation of these two practices, a rejection of the limitations imposed by such a separation, of the ossification which it induces, and which we are convinced, after two years of debate and of practice, we must attempt to transcend.

This separation has it roots in the 80 years of struggle waged by homosexuals and lesbians harassed by bourgeois repression with the complicity, the silence, even the support of the organizations claiming to represent the working class.
Rejection, but also the desire to go beyond: for us, to struggle against heterosexist society today means to struggle againt this capitalist and phallocratic society (the mode of intersection of these three remains to be discussed).

Oppressed as we are, our relation to the world is not only different, it incriminates this world which excludes us and it raises questions which, whilst specific, in no way concern exclusively homosexuals and lesbians. For example:

a. Since the labour movement promotes a bourgeois morality which entails the oppression of the homosexuals (and women) within it, we are led to ask ourselves questions about the existing organizations of the working class and about the nature of the society they hope to build.

b. What of the attitude towards so-called marginal struggles, considered as, at best, secondary to the central political struggle and implying the non-recognition of social movements (women, homosexuals, regionalism, etc.) which are seen either as factors of division or potential allies?

c. And despite the speeches, despite the struggles fought primarily by women, the reduction of the social revolution to the question of the relations of production.

[1Essai sur la révolution sexuelle après Reich et Kinsey (Paris: Belfond, 1969); Pour un marxisme libertaire (Paris: Laffont, 1969)

[2Le Monde, 15 November 1969.

[3Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.15-16.

[4Interview with Pierre Hahn, Plexus, no.26 (July 1969), pp.123-4, quote p.123. Extracts also in Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.56-59.

[5Plexus, no.26 (July 1969), pp.123-4.

[6‘Daniel Guérin «à confesse»’, p.14.

[7Essai sur la révolution sexuelle, p.65, note 1.

[8Frédéric Martel, Le rose et le noir. Les homosexuels en France depuis 1968 (Paris: Seuil, 2000), pp.46. Arcadie had about 10,000 members at the end of the 1960s. See Martel, pp.98-117.

[9‘Le mouvement ouvrier et l’homosexualité’.

[10Elsewhere, however, Guérin was less complimentary about Hocquenghem. Asked by L’Etincelle in 1977 what he thought of other “écrivains de l’homosexualité”, ‘homosexual writers’, he replied: “Hocquenghem writes in an incomprehensible gobbledygook, Bory overdoes it, he’s the clown of homosexuality, and what’s more he’s turning into a reactionary, he went to dinner with Giscard; as for Peyrefitte, he is despicable and odious.” On Hocquenghem, Bory and Peyrefitte, see Marcel, Le Rose et le Noir. On Hocquenghem, see also Bill Marshall, Guy Hocquenghem. Theorising the Gay Nation (London: Pluto, 1996). I have as yet been unable to establish who Maes was

[11Along with a few copies of the FHAR’s paper, L’Antinorm, Guérin’s archives also contain a 2 pp. TS document, ‘Pour la constitution et l’organisation d’une tendance «politique» au sein du FHAR’ (‘For the constitution and organization of a ‘political’ tendency within the FHAR’), but I have found no further evidence of Guérin’s having been involved in any attempt to reform the FHAR. He seems to have had closer links with David Thorstad, leader of the Gay Activist Movement, the left-wing tendency within the American gay lib movement. Fonds Guérin, BDIC, F° Δ 721/15.

[12See Martel, Le rose et le noir, pp.45-6.

[13‘Commentaires très libres sur les Mémoires d’un jeune homme excentrique’, 17 February 1965 (unpublished bound TS held in Bibliothèque Nationale).

[14‘Le mouvement ouvrier et l’homosexualité’.

[15Homosexualité et Révolution, p.17.

[16Homosexualité et Révolution, p.23.

[17Homosexualité et Révolution, p.23.

[18Paris Gay 1925, p.54.

[19Homosexualité et Révolution, p.23.

[20‘Libertaires et gais’, Gai Pied Hebdo no.52 (15-21 January 1983), p.15.

[21Union des Travailleurs Communistes Libertaires, Le Droit à la caresse: Les homosexualités et le combat homosexuel (Paris: Editions «L», n.d.; Supplement to Tout le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs no.27 and to Lutter), 32 pp. I am grateful to comrades of the Centre International de Recherches sur l’Anarchisme in Marseille for unearthing a copy of this for me. The title of the pamphlet is evidently a pun on Paul Lafargue’s The Right to be Lazy, which translates into French as Le Droit à la paresse. It includes a useful summary of the history of the homosexual liberation movement and its connections with the left and the trade union movement

[22Le Droit à la caresse, also quoted in ‘Libertaires et gais’.

[23Homosexualité et Révolution, p.25.

[24‘De la répression sexuelle à la Révolution’, from le Point, Brussels, December 1968, in Homosexualité et Révolution, p.34.

[25[‘Géographie passionnelle’, p.6

[27Peter Sedgwick, ‘Out Of Hiding: The Comradeships of Daniel Guérin’ in Salmagundi, vol.58, part 9 (1982), pp.197-220, quote p.210

[28Sedgwick, p.211.

[29Sedgwick, p.210.

[30Sedgwick, p.210-11

[31Sedgwick, p.217

[32‘Interview à la revue Homo 2000, 1979’ extracted in Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.64-5, quote p.65. Son testament (Paris: Encre, 1979) is divided into two parts, the first bringing together a selection of autobiographical texts, the second a set of texts by or about ‘precursors’: Plutarch, Shakespeare, Fourier, Balzac’s Vautrin, Sacher-Masoch and Gauguin.

[33‘Une lettre du regretté Pierre Hahn’, in Homosexualité et Révolution, pp.42-44, quote p.43.

[34From Masques. Revue des homosexualités no.1 (May 1979), pp.2-3. The editorial committee seems to have consisted of five men (including P. Hahn) and one woman. Guérin was a contributor and was interviewed for the first issue.