Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 24, 2017

Stone and Putin discuss the problem of gays in the shower room

Filed under: homophobia,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

Over the past week or so as I watched Oliver Stone’s interviews with Vladimir Putin, I took copious notes. I originally wanted to answer Putin’s propaganda on Ukraine and Syria but decided instead to hone in on the appalling exchange the two men had in a hockey rink about homosexuality. It is as much a commentary on Stone as it is on Putin. In a somewhat lame attempt to show that he didn’t care for bigotry, Stone included footage of gay rights supporters getting hassled by the Russian police but that hardly made up for him asking Putin about being on a submarine with a known homosexual. “Would there be any problem with that?”, asked Stone. Putin replied, “Well, I prefer not to go in the shower with him. Why provoke him?”, laughing heartily. He added, “But you know I am a judo master and a SAMBO master as well.” When I saw the reference to SAMBO, I wondered if first the Russian president was referring to the racist children’s tale but it turned out to be the acronym for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya, which literally translates as “self-defense without weapons”, a martial arts practice the Red Army inaugurated in the 1920s.

What was Putin trying to say? That if some gay sailor tried to make a pass at him in the shower, he’d use his martial arts mastery to protect his heterosexual manhood? It reminds me of the old Burns and Schreiber taxi cab skit. Burns is a very macho passenger and Schreiber a typical Jewish cab driver back in the day when they were common. Somehow, the subject of ballet comes up and Burns assures Schreiber if he ever ran into a ballet dancer, he’d punch him out. This skit was from the early 60s and a pointed commentary on the bigotry that was universal at the time.

And why the fuck would Stone even ask such a stupid question to begin with? This is the same thing you heard to justify keeping gay and lesbian soldiers in the closet. And then after that, excusing professional sports homophobia. Scott Cooper, an out of the closet college football player, showed how absurd these worries were in an article on Generation Outsports:

Let’s first talk showers and football, since that seems to be a big concern for some players, especially in light of Michael Sam coming out. I played high school football for four years, and college football for three, and I was out to my teammates in college. After hours of hard practice in 105-degree August heat, I was hot, sweaty, sore, bruised, tired and hungry. Hitting on my teammates was the last thing on my mind. Never mind that they were like my brothers and weren’t my type; I just wanted nothing more than to rinse off the turf and sweat and get some Gatorade and grub.

Putin takes great pains to point out that there is no persecution of gays in Russia but defends the law that bans homosexual propaganda since it is meant to prevent teachers and the like from converting their students to an “alternative” life style in the same vein as Communist teachers being fired in the 50s so their students wouldn’t stop believing in capitalism. What stupidity. A 14 year old boy or girl knows what their sexual preferences are at that point and would not be susceptible to “propaganda”. And what would that mean, anyhow? Assigning them Allen Ginsberg poems?

Putin lays it on the line. As head of state, he sees his duty as upholding traditional values and family values. When asked by Stone what that entails, he replies that same-sex marriages will not produce children. “God has decided, and we have to care about birth rates in our country. We have to reinforce families.”

In a lame attempt to entice Putin into sounding less disgusting, Stone refers to the possibility that in a society with “dysfunctions”, there might be children in orphanages who need a more supportive environment, even if it is gay or lesbian parents that adopt them. He replies, “I cannot say our society welcomes that, and I’m quite frank about that.”

For me, the whole Russiagate question is a joke. I say that as someone who is sympathetic to Putin pointing out in the fourth and final episode of the interviews that the USA has meddled in Russian elections ever since the fall of the USSR, not to speak of a country like Nicaragua whose elections the CIA, the NED and other American agencies subverted with impunity.

However, what troubles me greatly is that many of the people who scream the loudest about the investigations pushed by the Democrats are aligned with Stone on the need to defend Putin tout court.

Why would the left find Putin so attractive? I think to some extent it is his animal magnetism that must have drawn Stone to him as well. When he is not asking Putin softball questions of the sort that Charlie Rose might ask Barack Obama, he is oohing and aahing over Putin’s physical assets. It resonates eerily with Ronald Reagan’s popularity among college boys who kept posters of the Gipper chopping wood at his ranch on their dormitory walls.

Is it possible that Oliver Stone has a thing about gays? Remember “JFK”, his dramatically compelling but ideologically nonsensical film blaming the “deep state” for killing his idol? One of the co-conspirators, according to Jim Garrison, was Clay Shaw who was played by Tommy Lee Jones as a stereotypical flamboyant homosexual. He and two other in the cabal are portrayed as “a trio of debauched New Orleans homosexuals who dress up like Marie Antoinette and Mercury and flog one another with chains” as John Weir pointed out in a NY Times article about Hollywood gay-bashing.

This homosexual phobia did not always exist in Russia. The late Leslie Feinberg, a lesbian and transgender activist who was a member of the Workers World Party that unfortunately veers toward Putinphilia, was an expert on the changes produced by a proletarian revolution.

The Russian Revolution breathed new life into the international sexual reform movement, the German Homosexual Emancipation Movement, and the revolutionary struggle as a whole in Germany and around the world.

It was a historic breakthrough when the Soviet Criminal Code was established in 1922 and amended in 1926, and homosexuality was not included as an offense. The code also applied to other republics, including the Ukrainian Republics. Only sex with youths under the age of 16, male and female prostitution and pandering were listed. Soviet law did not criminalize the person being prostituted, but those who exploited them.

All that changed under Stalin, who recriminalized homosexuality in 1933 with punishments up to 5 years. My friend, the artist Yevgeniy Fiks, wrote a book titled “Moscow” that incorporated a letter from a British CP’er named Harry Whyte that challenged the anti-homosexual laws that can be read on Ross Wolfe’s website. Whyte was quite eloquent:

But science has established the existence of constitutional homosexuals. Research has shown that homosexuals of this type exist in approximately equal proportions within all classes of society. We can likewise consider as established fact that, with slight deviations, homosexuals as a whole constitute around two percent of the population. If we accept this proportion, then it follows that there are around two million homosexuals in the USSR. Not to mention the fact that amongst these people there are no doubt those who are aiding in the construction of socialism, can it really be possible, as the March 7 law demands, that such a large number of people be subjected to imprisonment?

Just as the women of the bourgeois class suffer to a significantly lesser degree from the injustices of the capitalist regime (you of course remember what Lenin said about this), so do natural-born homosexuals of the dominant class suffer much less from persecution than homosexuals from the working-class milieu. It must be said that even within the USSR there are conditions that complicate the daily lives of homosexuals and often place them in a difficult situation. (I have in mind the difficulty of finding a partner for the sexual act, insofar as homosexuals constitute a minority of the population, a minority that is forced to conceal its true proclivities to one degree or another.)

I accept that many on the left admire Putin but I am content to be in a minority opposing him, especially since he has described Lenin as the worst thing that ever happened to Russia and because he has presided over a revival of Stalin-idolization in Russia that goes hand in hand with his ties to the Russian Orthodoxy. My idea of socialism owes a lot to the early days of the USSR when all sorts of social norms were being challenged, just as they were when I was in my 20s and the USA was boiling over with challenges to sexism, homophobia, racism and war. I can understand why Putin would be an object of Stone’s affection. There is a deep need for a father figure on the left in a time of great turbulence and that is certainly what Putin projects. For me, the 1950s and early 60s was a dreadful time when television shows like “Father Knows Best” were popular and when you could routinely hear men being referred to as “faggots”, even at a place like Bard College. I don’t care if I am the last person on the left to find Putin a symbol of bigotry and medieval backwardness. At this stage of the game, if I haven’t reached the point of having self-confidence in my own socialist values, I might as well cash it in.

11 Comments »

  1. no Louis, you are completely correct… I think a lot of the support for Putin comes from the maxim that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, but that is a mistake. Since Putin is opposing Western imperialism the Left is drawn to uncritically supporting him, but we on the Left ought to recognise that in this instance my enemy’s enemy is still my enemy. We can, should and must oppose both Western Imperialism AND Putin’s Russia.. they both represent and pursue policy contrary to Left positions and must be equally resisted with full rigour.

    Comment by fromtroikya — June 25, 2017 @ 12:12 am

  2. OK you actually don’t come off like a completely unreasonable person here.

    1) Oliver Stone’s homophobia is pretty strange, particularly virulent in JFK, and did a lot of damage to my own development as an adult. Where it comes from is beyond me, though I think it is partially because he is pretty high all the time. I went to a panel with him and Kuznick at Brown a few years ago and he was obviously stoned. When people are high they are inclined to pseudo-intellectual armchair psychological motifs in their work that is pretty lame. Jim Garrison is infamous in New Orleans as having been a homophobic bigot and kook who has some pretty awful allegations against him involving a minor boy, but that’s all pretty much on the level of gossip in the bars from my perspective. His entire career was defined by the hounding of gay guys in the Big Easy.

    2) The infiltration of the left by right wingers via RT is something Eric Draitser and I talked about recently when we hung out. I was wrong in some opinions formed by it, I admit that. But I also remain pretty certain that one living in America does not ‘oppose’ Russia, where they do not live. That sort of talk borders the silliness of Paul Berman going on about an ‘anti-authoritarian’ left. What particular action can I possibly take to further Putin’s goals? Is it desirable to be saying the exact same things CNN is saying about the Russians? Is it desirable to see an acceleration of what is quite obviously now a multi-year proxy war with Russia in Syria?

    Comment by stew312856 — June 25, 2017 @ 2:53 am

  3. Louis, I realize you dispatched me to socialist purgatory after I said a few untoward things about Jill Stein, who is every bit the Putin apologist as the utterly loathsome Oliver Stone, but let’s not let those differences over presidential candidates make us forget who it was who translated Harry Whyte’s letter and where it was originally published on the web. Ross Wolfe simply stole my translation, as posted on Chtodelat News in February 2013, lock, stock and barrel (including my introduction) and pasted it on his website without acknowledging his source in any way. I would call this dubious, very unfriendly practice. I don’t understand why you’re perpetuating it. Nobody wants their hard work stolen. Yours, Tom Campbell.

    https://chtodelat.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/can-a-homosexual-be-a-member-of-the-communist-party/

    Comment by hecksinductionhour — June 25, 2017 @ 5:53 am

  4. “I accept that many on the left admire Putin but I am content to be in a minority opposing him” Anyone who claims to be “left-wing” yet admires Putin is suffering the same brain rot as leftists who cheerlead for Assad. That the authoritarian-leaning factions of the left now cheerleads for right-wing nationalist authoritarians rather than left-wing ones nearly leads one to conclude that the left really is dying out entirely.

    Comment by d1122 — June 25, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

  5. d1122 is right:

    ‘“I accept that many on the left admire Putin but I am content to be in a minority opposing him” Anyone who claims to be “left-wing” yet admires Putin is suffering the same brain rot as leftists who cheerlead for Assad. That the authoritarian-leaning factions of the left now cheerleads for right-wing nationalist authoritarians rather than left-wing ones nearly leads one to conclude that the left really is dying out entirely.’

    I would think the views of Putin among Russian leftists (and leftists in all former Soviet countries/satellites) should count much more than those of American leftists, the vast majority of whom have never lived in Russia or even visited. You know, the people who actually have to deal with Putin’s bullshit on a daily basis and don’t get their news from RT. And as far as I can tell, most of the Russian left, in particular democratic socialists (e.g. openleft.ru), hate Putin.

    Putin is a right-wing nationalist-imperialist, so in my view anyone who supports him is also a right wing nationalist-imperialist.

    Comment by yaroshevsky — June 25, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

  6. I say that nobody who professes to admire Putin has any right to consider herself a leftist, full stop. So what if Putin knows judo and speaks three languages? I am told that the best use this little murderer finds for his apparently excellent German is to tell dirty jokes in it. Big deal. Mussolini spoke four languages and could fly an airplane. These are stunts.

    Furthermore, whether or not Putin himself is actually a Duginist (I have the impression that Stone doesn’t bring Dugin up in the so-called “interviews”) it is crystal clear that anyone in the U.S. truckles with Duginism might as well be a fascist. Those who call themselves that in fact are–they glory in it. If Dugin doesn’t make your blood run cold, you have no blood.

    The left does not need these morons. The only thing they are good for is opposing a war with Russia that–Trump’s incompetence and unpredictability notwithstanding–remains among the less likely disasters on the political horizon. They are not even useful as idiots.

    And how many of them are really socialists when the chips are down? They are knee-jerk antiwar people forty years after Vietnam. They sup with fucking Libertarians for Christ’s sake. They have no idea what they are talking about when they speak of anti-imperialism.

    I make an exception in the case of Mike Whitney and John Wight, both of whom are paid by Russia Today and Sputnik News for their sycophancy. I think those two know exactly what they are doing.

    The left needs a party and/or an organized movement that, unlike all existing U.S, political parties and the corrupt right-wing U.S. labor movement, both puts forward a program of political action that will help working people as they face the bleak future designed for them by the Democrats and Republicans–including fielding candidates for elective office where that is feasible–and provides a helpful presence in the daily lives of those who are being thrown overboard by the current system. I suspect that if the left finds a way to start with the helpful presence, the rest will get easier.

    It does not need an antiwar movement idolizing a foul-mouthed mass murdering gangster oligarch who himself is a devoted warmonger, only just not a crazy one.

    Oliver Stone is a dangerous crackpot whose gifts should be confined to narrative films about fictitious people. He has no credibility politically at all.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 25, 2017 @ 11:36 pm

  7. Never cared too much about Stone’s films about the presidents. It always seemed to me — as a third worlder who sees not just the individual ‘leaders’ but the system that upholds them — that Stone was idolizing those presidents either positively or negatively, and was displaying a sycophantic view of presidency, as in, he makes the audience mentally suck up to those non-fictional fictional characters he creates. He seems to be mesmerized by powerful people.

    As for Putin, also consider this question: What would these ‘leftist’ ass-kissers of Putin say and do when Russian working classes try to put up some resistance to Putin’s regime, or if they organize a general strike at some future point?

    That is where Farans’s observation kicks in, when he says: “I make an exception in the case of Mike Whitney and John Wight, both of whom are paid by Russia Today and Sputnik News for their sycophancy. I think those two know exactly what they are doing.”

    When the workers in Russia rise up, Mike Whitney and John Wight can be relied on to spread the lie that the Russian workers are CIA stooges, and that Putin is the true anti-authoritarian.

    Comment by Reza — June 26, 2017 @ 1:14 am

  8. “For me, the whole Russiagate question is a joke. I say that as someone who is sympathetic to Putin pointing out in the fourth and final episode of the interviews that the USA has meddled in Russian elections ever since the fall of the USSR, not to speak of a country like Nicaragua whose elections the CIA, the NED and other American agencies subverted with impunity.”

    Not to mention the fact that US politicians have harvested money from people associated with the foreign policies of various countries for decades. In terms of effort and effectiveness, the Russian Republic is pretty far down the list. If anything, people like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort miscalculated American sentiment when they failed to realize that the Cold War could be reignited to attack them.

    “Is it possible that Oliver Stone has a thing about gays? Remember “JFK”, his dramatically compelling but ideologically nonsensical film blaming the “deep state” for killing his idol? One of the co-conspirators, according to Jim Garrison, was Clay Shaw who was played by Tommy Lee Jones as a stereotypical flamboyant homosexual. He and two other in the cabal are portrayed as “a trio of debauched New Orleans homosexuals who dress up like Marie Antoinette and Mercury and flog one another with chains” as John Weir pointed out in a NY Times article about Hollywood gay-bashing.”

    Possible??? I’d say definitely. Stone’s films are noteworthy for the machismo that runs through them, all the way back to “Platoon” and “The Doors”. “The Doors” provides some great insight here, given that the subject, Jim Morrison, is not political, revealing the hypnotic machismo that Stone centers at the heart of American culture. The movie comes across as a love letter from Stone to Morrison. Stone’s personalized political vision is one where mass political organization and radical feminism have no place because the ultimate objective is the empowerment of a hypermasculine leader capable of positively transforming society from above.

    So, it’s predictable that Stone would be seduced by Putin. He’d probably make a movie about Putin if he could find the financing for it. The flip side of Stone’s political homoeroticism is the hostile gay stereotypes that he presents in “JFK”. He would also present women in the same way if he found a place for them in his movies.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 26, 2017 @ 7:33 pm

  9. Richard Estes analysis seems pretty good except I’d add that anyone who thinks that Putin is an example of a “hyper masculine leader capable of positively transforming society from above” has to have some truly conservative, traditionalist, religious fundamentalist, reactionary idea about what is “positive.” For Stone I guess sanctioned and legalized spousal/child abuse is “positive.” Ditto draconian intertwining of the police state and religion to make “blasphemy” and homosexuality major crimes. Also massive Mafia-like organized corruption. And silencing dissent including by killing any one who seems like they seriously challenge this social order. If all that’s “positive” to someone…they’re both insanely conservative and right-wing, and morally bankrupt. But as they said of Oliver Stone on “Family Guy” back in 2007 : “A dangerously insane man, there.”

    Comment by Squirrel L — June 27, 2017 @ 5:05 am

  10. The Russians did not meddle. The Divine Putin does not meddle. Non captat muscas aquila.

    However He did meddle. And so what. Tu quoque.

    There’s no drug more satisfying than faux left self-contradiction unless it’s fasicist illogic compounded by the creepy religion of Solzhenitsyn and Dugin.

    How daunting to thing that America mostly avoids this because America, as a whole, cannot think even that deeply and can go straight to Hell without making any sense at all.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 27, 2017 @ 12:03 pm

  11. “If all that’s “positive” to someone…they’re both insanely conservative and right-wing, and morally bankrupt. But as they said of Oliver Stone on “Family Guy” back in 2007 : “A dangerously insane man, there.””

    As implied in my comment, there is a fascistic thread that runs through Stone’s films. One can go back even farther, to his screenplay for “Scarface”, for another example of it.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 27, 2017 @ 5:56 pm


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