A Neglected Document on Socialism and Sex
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A Neglected Document on Socialism and Sex

The following document, "Socialism and Sex," was long forgotten until this rediscovery.1 In it, H. L. Small—most likely a pseudonym—provides an elegant, if concise, exposition on behalf of destigmatizing consensual sexuality between same-sex lovers. Issued in 1952, "Socialism and Sex" was written at a moment when few in the United States imagined, let alone expressed, so bold a philosophy of sexual liberation or so explicit a political program in favor of decriminalizing sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex. Therefore, it provides fresh evidence supplementing recent understandings that a "homophile" or homosexual rights consciousness was tentatively emerging within that severely repressive context. The important developments of the 1950s cataloged by scholars include the Mattachine Society (formed in 1951), ONE magazine (first issued in 1953), the Daughters of Bilitis (launched in 1955), and literary manifestations such as Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" (1956) and [End Page 1] Ann Bannon's best-selling novel Odd Girl Out (1957).2 "Socialism and Sex" is an example of like-minded views finding expression in yet another subterranean niche: among socialist youth.

Although many American lives in the 1950s did not fit the domestic stereotypes fostered by such radio and television series as Father Knows Best, conservative postwar gender ideology and anti-communist hysteria had severely constrictive consequences for anyone attracted to others of the same sex.3 During and before the Second World War a flourishing gay subculture existed, but, starting in the 1930s and escalating in the late 1940s and 1950s, morals crusades, conformist pressure, and restrictive governmental interventions, including the antigay aspects of cold war repression, combined to impose fear, shame, and invisibility on gay life.4 Quincy Troupe, a writer and friend of James Baldwin, recalls that in the 1950s "You weren't just [End Page 2] in the closet, you were in the basement. Under the basement."5 Martin Duberman observes that in the 1950s "the vast majority of gay people were locked away in painful isolation and fear, doing everything possible not to declare themselves."6 Given this context of loneliness and terror, "Socialism and Sex" is of great significance—a statement rare and daring for its time.

At the same time, "Socialism and Sex" confirms that conceptualizations of homoeroticism as a social issue in need of political solutions existed well before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City and other pivotal events elsewhere signaled the arrival of a vastly larger, bolder, and more visible gay civil rights movement.7 The most famous of these forerunners is the Mattachine Society, formed by Harry Hay and a handful of other veterans and sympathizers of the Communist Party.8 "Socialism and Sex," written one year after Mattachine was founded, appeared within a very different radical milieu: the democratic socialist movement. Because of the great variance between the respective political traditions that produced these efforts on behalf of the rights of homosexuals, "Socialism and Sex" represents a parallel and simultaneous impulse to political action that contrasts in salient ways with the Mattachine approach.

"Socialism and Sex" appeared as a single typewritten page in Young Socialist, the mimeographed discussion bulletin of the Young Socialists, the youth group of the Socialist Party headed by Norman Thomas throughout the mid-twentieth century. Socialists objected not only to capitalism but to the authoritarianism and dogmatism manifested in the American Communist Party and its model state, the Soviet Union. The mood and spirit of the youth organization in the postwar years was well to the left of the adult party. Until shortly before this statement was published the Young Socialists had been known as the Young People's Socialist League and its members as YPSLs (with the acronym affectionately pronounced "Yipsels"). Discussion bulletins were semiregular publications, contributed to by the national group membership and distributed internally, not to the public. Bulletins permitted members of the organization to debate [End Page 3] strategies and tactics, assess contemporary developments, and ruminate on general principles, thereby clarifying thought toward the formulation of formal group policy.

This explains the essay's rhetorical strategy, which seems implausible now and was perhaps all the more incredible...