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Soviet Legal and Criminological Debates on the Decriminalization of Homosexuality (1965–75)

  • Rustam Alexander

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, almost three decades after consensual sodomy was declared a crime in the USSR, voices began to speak out in favor of its decriminalization. This article traces the history of the ensuing debate on this issue, conducted between Soviet criminologists and legal academics in the period from 1965–75. Through a close reading of the related texts, I explore the evolution of the different positions put forward. These fall into two camps: on the one hand, legal scholars who, together with their graduate students, made the case for decriminalization, and on the other, criminologists affiliated with the Interior Ministry, who opposed their views. The article provides the first detailed historical account of this extraordinary discussion and contributes to expanding our scant knowledge on the history of homosexuality in the Soviet Union.

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1 See for example: Kon, Igor, The Sexual Revolution in Russia: from the Age of the Czars to Today (New York, 1995), 85; Rotkirch, Anna, “‘What Kind of Sex Can You Talk about?’: Acquiring Sexual Knowledge in Three Soviet Generations,” in Bertaux, Daniel, Thompson, Paul, and Rotkirch, Anna, eds., Living through the Soviet System (New Brunswick, 2005), 93199.

2 Kon, Sexual Revolution, 85. See also: Rotkirch, “What Kind of Sex?,” 93–199. On the criminalization of homosexuality see: Healey, Dan, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent (Chicago, 2001).

3 Kon, Sexual Revolution, 244. Healey, Homosexual Desire, 247–48.

4 These sources were obtained during my fieldwork in Russia and Latvia in September 2016. They were gathered from the Russian State Library, the State Archive of the Russian Federation, and the State Archive of Latvia.

5 For the purposes of clarity, I refer to this group as “civilian” scholars, in order to differentiate them from the scholars affiliated with the state’s law-enforcement and security agencies, that is, the MVD scholars. It should be noted, however, that there was considerable overlap across these two categories. Some scholars maintained professional ties with the MVD educational institutions, for example, teaching there, while their principal scientific activities lay within “civilian” universities.

6 Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del—the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Again, I use the term “affiliated” here for the sake of brevity, as shorthand for what was often a more complex relationship between these scholars and the MVD. By “affiliated” or “MVD scholars,” I mean scholars who held positions at the MVD Higher School and/or were commissioned by the MVD to produce manuals for criminal investigators.

7 I obtained these files during my fieldwork in Russia and Latvia in autumn 2016. I was unable to find similar files in the state archives of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia, which I also consulted in the course of this research trip. I am grateful to Ineta Lipša for alerting me to the existence of the Latvian document in the State Archive of Latvia.

8 Healey, Homosexual Desire, 185.

9 Iakubovich, Mark I. and Kirichenko, Vladimir F., Sovetskoe ugolovnoe pravo (Moscow, 1958), 342.

10 Healey, Homosexual Desire, 186.

11 Ibid., 221. See also: Engelstein, Laura, “Soviet Policy toward Male Homosexuality: Its Origins and Historical Roots,” in Hekma, Gert, Oosterhuis, Harry, and Steakley, James D., eds., Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left (New York, 1995), 169–70.

12 Healey, Homosexual Desire, 202–3. The linkage between homosexuality and political disloyalty is not peculiar to the Soviet Union; see for example: Johnson, David K., The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago, 2004).

13 Juviler, Peter H., “Criminal Law and Social Control” in. Barry, Donald D., Butler, William E., and Ginsburgs, George, eds., Contemporary Soviet Law: Essays in Honor of John N. Hazard (The Hague, 1974), 21.

14 Solomon, Peter H. Jr., Soviet Criminologists and Criminal Policy: Specialists in Policy–Making (New York, 1978), 53.

15 GARF, f. A-385, op. 26, delo 152, l. 292–94 (Materialy po proektu Ugolovnogo kodeksa RSFSR /stenogrammy plenarnykh zasedanii Komissii zakonodatel΄nykh predpolozhenii).

16 Among other participants were: P.A. Astakhov, Z.A. Vyshinskaia, A.A. Plankin, T.L. Sergeeva, V.I. Kurliandskii, and M.F. Orlov.

17 GARF, f. A—385, op. 26, delo 153, l. 182–83 (Stenogramma zasedaniia podkomissii tov. B.S. Nikiforova po rassmotreniu glav III, IV, XI proekta Ugolovnogo Kodeksa RSFSR).

18 Apparently, the reference number of the article changed from “154-a” to “100” due to the removal of unneeded articles and inclusion of the new ones. GARF, f. A—385, op. 26, delo 153, l. 183.

19 Aleksei Adol΄fovich Gertsenzon was a Professor of Juridical Science. From 1931, he was Professor in the Institute of Soviet Law. Throughout his career, he wrote more than 250 research papers and publications on the theory of criminal law and history of criminal sociology. From 1963 and until his death he directed the All-Union Institute for the Study of the Causes and Elaboration of Measures for Preventing Crime, founded in the same year. See the entry for Aleksei Adol΄fovich Gertsenzon (1902–1970), Vidnye uchenye iuristy Rossii (Moscow, 2006), 98. Among other participants, the following persons (without initials) were listed: Astakhov, Avdeev, Gertsenzon, Grishaev, Durmanov, Kopylovskaia, Korotkov, Mikhailov, Nikiforov, Poretskaia, Stepichev, Starikov, Urakov, Orlov.

20 Apparently, this number refers to the votes in favor of continued discussion of the law. Presumably, the two people voting in favor were Stepichev and Nikiforov.

21 GARF, A-385, op. 26, delo 152, l. 292–93 (Stenogramma zasedaniia Komissii po rassmotreniiu proekta UK RSFSR. 27 August 1959).

22 Kon, Sexual Revolution, 85.

23 Boris S. Nikiforov, Nauchno-prakticheskii kommentarii Ugolovnogo kodeksa RSFSR (Moscow, 1964), 281.

24 The State Archive of Latvia, f. 938, op. 6, delo 66, l. 82 (Proekt Ugolovnogo kodeksa i zamechaniia po proektu).

25 The State Archive of Latvia, f. 938, op. 6, delo 64, l. 1 (Stenogramma soveshchaniia po obsuzhdeniu proekta Ugolovnogo kodeksa LSSR).

26 Ibid., 71.

27 For a discussion on why female same-sex relations were not prohibited see: Healey, Homosexual Desire, 196–202.

28 Healey, Dan, “From Stalinist Pariahs to Subjects of ‘Managed Democracy’: Queers in Moscow 1945 to the Present” in Cook, Matt and Evans, Jennifer V., eds., Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945 (London, 2014), 99.

29 GARF, P.-9414, op. 1, delo 2882, l. 144 (Nachal΄niku GULAGa MVD SSSR). I was first alerted to the existence of this document by Dan Healey’s work, “From Stalinist Pariahs.”

30 Ibid., 99.

31 Healey, Homosexual Desire, 204.

32 Field, Deborah A., Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia (New York, 2007), 5165.

33 GARF, f. P-9414, op.1, delo 2896, l. 193 (V. S. Krasuskii, K voprosu izucheniia izvrashchennykh form polovykh vzaimootnoshenii zakliuchennykh zhenshchin).

34 Solomon, Peter H., “Soviet Criminology: Its Demise and Rebirth, 1928–1963,” in Hood, Roger, ed., Crime, Criminology and Public Policy: Essays in Honor of Sir Leon Radzinowicz (London, 1974), 571–95. See also: Louise Shelley, “Soviet Criminology: Its Birth and Demise, 1917–1936 (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1977); and Kowalsky, Sharon A., Deviant Women: Female Crime and Criminology in Revolutionary Russia, 1880–1930 (DeKalb, 2009), 187–92.”

35 Khlyntsov, Mikhail N., Rassledovanie polovykh prestuplenii (Saratov, 1965), 4.

36 Ibid., 141.

37 Deborah A. Field, “Communist Morality and Meanings of Private Life in Post-Stalinist Russia, 1953–1964” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1996), 116.

38 Khlyntsov, Rassledovanie polovykh prestuplenii, 141.

39 Ibid., 145.

40 Ignatov, Aleksei N., Otvetstvennost΄ za prestupleniia protiv nravstvennosti: Polovye prestupleniia (Moscow, 1966).

41 Entry for Aleksei Nikolaevich Ignatov (1902–1970), Vidnye uchenye-iuristy Rossii: Vtoraia polovina XX veka (Moscow, 2006).

42 Ignatov, Otvetstvennost΄ za prestupleniia, 180.

43 Healey, Homosexual Desire, 221.

44 Ignatov, Otvetstvennost΄ za prestupleniia, 181.

45 Ibid., 182.

46 On the history of Soviet sexopathology see: Kon, Sexual Revolution, 90–102. See also: Shcheglov, Lev, “Medical Sexology,” in Kon, Igor S. and Riordan, James, eds., Sex and Russian Society, (London, 1993). On medical discourse on “sexual perversions” in the Soviet Union see: Volodin, Vladimir, Kvir-istoriia Belarusi vtoroi poloviny XX veka: Popytka priblizheniia (Minsk, 2016), at (last accessed December 12, 2017); Ivanov, Nikolai V., Voprosy psikhoterapii funktsional΄nykh seksual΄nykh rasstroistv (Moscow, 1966), 4.

47 Seidl, Jan, “Decriminalization of Homosexual Acts in Czechoslovakia in 1961,” in Vērdiņš, Kārlis and Ozoliņš, Jānis, eds., Queer Stories of Europe (Newcastle upon Tyne, Eng., 2016), 174–95. See also: Sokolova, V., “State Approaches to Homosexuality and Non-heterosexual Lives in Czechoslovakia during State Socialism,” in Havelková, Hana and Oates-Indruchová, Libora, eds., The Politics of Gender Culture under State Socialism: An Expropriated Voice (New York, 2014), 85108.

48 McLellan, Josie, Love in the Time of Communism:Intimacy and Sexuality in the GDR (New York, 2011), 114–18.

49 Monika Pisankaneva, “The Forbidden Fruit: Sexuality in Communist Bulgaria,” E-magazine LiterNet 68, no.7:1–10 at (last accessed December 12, 2017).

50 Kon, Sexual Revolution, 92.

51 Pavel P. Osipov, “Polovye prestupleniia: Obshchee poniatie, sotsial΄naia sushchnost΄ i sistema sostavov” (PhD diss., 1966).

52 Ibid, 5.

53 Solomon, Jr., Soviet Criminologists and Criminal Policy, 63–64.

54 Osipov, “Polovye prestupleniia,” 202.

55 Ibid., 202.

56 Osipov, “Polovye prestupleniia,” 203.

57 Ibid., 204–5.

58 See, for example, Siegelbaum, Lewis H., ed., Borders of Socialism: Private Spheres of Soviet Russia (New York, 2006).

59 Lewis H. Siegelbaum, “Cars, Cars, and More Cars: The Faustian Bargain of the Brezhnev era” in Siegelbaum, Borders of Socialism, 83–103.

60 Steven E. Harris, “I Know all the Secrets of My Neighbours”: The Quest For Privacy in the Era of the Separate Apartment,” in Siegelbaum, Borders of Socialism, 172; Lewis H. Siegelbaum, “Cars, Cars, and More Cars,” 96. Dan Healey justly suggests that the Soviet car owner’s world might have been used for “homosexual trysts” as well: Dan Healey, “from Stalinist Pariahs,” 114.

61 Ibid., 204.

62 Entry for Iakov Mikhailovich Iakovlev (1902—1988), Vidnye uchenye-iuristy Rossii: Vtoraia polovina XX veka (Moscow, 2006), 507.

63 Iakovlev, Iakov, “Otvetstvennost΄ za muzhelozhstvo po sovetskomu ugolovnomu pravu” in Voprosy kriminalistiki i kriminologii (Dushanbe, 1968), 38.

64 Ibid., 45.

65 Ibid.

66 Ivanov, N. V., Voprosy psikhoterapii funtsional΄nykh seksual΄nykh rasstroistv (Moscow, 1966), 128–39.

67 Iakovlev, “Otvetstvennost΄ za muzhelozhstvo,” 42.

68 Ibid., 45.

69 Some of the conference’s papers were included in a conference brochure: Arkhipov, Fedor, ed., Prestuplenia protiv nravstvennosti: Materialy nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii (Vil΄nius, 1970).

70 Arkhipov, Prestuplenia protiv nravstvennosti, 10.

71 Osipov, “Polovye prestupleniia,” 202–3.

72 Field, “Communist Morality and Meanings of Private Life,” 123.

73 Gyne, Iosif, Iunosha prevrashchaetsia v muzhchinu (Moscow, 1960), 36. See also: Artem΄ev, Serafim A., Kochetkov, Vasilii D., and Shtan΄ko, German G., Gigiena polovoi zhizni (Moscow, 1964), 20.

74 Daniel΄bek, Boris V., Polovye izvrashcheniia i ugolovnaia otvetstvennost΄ (Volgograd, 1972). This textbook appears to be based on Daniel΄bek’s dissertation “Criminal and Legal Fight with Sex Crimes” [Ugolovno-pravovaia bor΄ba s polovymi prestupleniami], which he defended in 1970 in the MVD Higher School. I was able to find only the abstract of his dissertation [avtoreferat dissertatsii], which is available in the Russian National Library.

75 Daniel΄bek, Polovye izvrashcheniia, 87.

76 Ibid., 89.

77 Ibid., 90.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid., 91.

80 Ibid., 92.

81 Ibid., 87.

82 Shelley, Louise I., Policing Soviet Society: The Evolution of State Control (London, 1996), 178.

83 Beliaev, Nikolai A. and Shargorodskii, Mikhail D., eds., Kurs sovetskogo ugolovnogo prava: Chast΄ osobennaia. Tom tretii (Leningrad, 1973).

84 Ibid., 646.

85 Ibid., 647.

86 Aleksei N. Ignatov, “Problemy ugolovnoi otvetstvennosti za prestupleniia v oblasti polovykh otnoshenii v sovetskom ugolovnom prave” (Avtoreferat dissertatsii na soiskanie uchenoi stepeni doktora iuridicheskikh nauk, Moscow, 1974). Unfortunately, I was able to find only the abstract of the dissertation.

87 Posvianskii, Pavel B., “Vvedenie v sovremennoe uchenie o seksual΄nykh perverziiakh” in Problemy sovremennoi seksopatologii: Sbornik trudov (Moscow, 1972), 79100; Goland, Ian G., “O stupenchatom postroenii psikhoterapii pri muzhskom gomoseksualizme” in Problemy sovremennoi seksopatologii (Moscow, 1972), 473–86.

88 On the history of Soviet sexopathology see: Kon, Sexual Revolution, 90–102; Lev Shcheglov, “Medical Sexology,” 152–64.

89 On the struggle for eliminating homosexuality as an illness from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association see Bayer, Ronald, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis (New York, 1981). On the argument of Soviet sexologists that homosexuality was a medical problem see: Posvianskii, “Vvedenie v sovremennoe uchenie,” 88–91.

90 Ignatov, Problemy ugolovnoi otvetstvennosti, 28–29.

91 Aleksandrov, Iurii V., Polovye prestupleniia: Prestupniki i poterpevshie (Kiev, 1975), 38.

92 Aleksandrov, Polovye prestupleniia, 87–88. In Ukrainian SSR, consensual sodomy was punishable with up to one-year imprisonment and up to three years exile.

93 Ibid., 87.

94 Ibid., 88.

95 Ibid., 88.

96 Kon, Igor΄ S., Кlubnichka na berezke: Seksual΄naia kul΄tura v Rossii (Moscow, 1997), 359.

97 The State Archive of Latvia, f. 938, op. 6, delo 1188, l. 10 (Zakliuchenie na proekt Ukaza PVS LSSR “O dopolnenii Ugolovnogo kodeksa LSSR stat΄ei 121[1]).”

98 The State Archive of Latvia, f. 938, op. 6, delo 1188, l. 11. Zakliuchenie na proekt Ukaza PVS LSSR “O dopolnenii Ugolovnogo kodeksa LSSR stat΄ëi 121(1)”

99 Ibid., 20–24.

100 Ibid., 1.

101 Novikov, Aleksei, “Sindrom ‘Trekh obez΄ianok,” Molodoi Kommunist no. 12 (December 1988): 71.

102 Daniel΄bek, Polovye izvrashcheniia, 89.

103 Novikov, “Sindrom “Trekh obez’ianok,” 71.

104 Ibid.

105 Petrov, A., letter to the editor, Argumenty i Fakty no. 9 (1990): 7.

106 Kon, Klubnichka na berezke, 359.

107 Novikov, “Sindrom ‘Trekh obez΄ianok,’” 71.

108 Argumenty i Fakty no. 9 (1990).

109 Rodikov, Valerii, “Golubye eli . . .,” Literaturnaia Rossiia no.12 (March 1990): 24.

This article is part of my research project that I am currently completing in the School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne, which is supervised by Dr. Julie Fedor, to whom I am grateful for invaluable comments on earlier versions of this article. I am also grateful to two anonymous readers who greatly assisted in improving my article. Finally, I am indebted to my friend Peter McKerrow, who provided me with thoughtful comments on the intricacy of translation of Russian legal terms into English. All the deficiencies in this work are mine only.

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