Andrew Sullivan linked to a review of an interesting art exhibit at Winkleman Gallery in New York. The project is called Homosexuality Is Stalin’s Atom Bomb to Destroy America and the artist is Yevgeniy Fiks. The title is from a piece of anti-communist agitprop in 1953.
Taking its title from a 1953 article by the Cold Warrior and pundit Arthur Guy Mathews, this exhibition explores the historical and ideological links between anti-Communism and homophobia in the United States, as well as the intersections between Communism and sexual identity as it played out during the 20th century. Works in the exhibition range from dry factuality to humorous and farcical, and posit the 20th century queerness as the shared “Other” of the Communism-Capitalism dichotomy, while tracing the uneasy yet tangible historical links between the early 20th century Communist activism and the gay rights movement of the second half of the century.
The exhibition delves into the interlocking histories of the “Red” and “Lavender” scares during the McCarthy-era, when anti-Communist and anti-gay sentiments were fused together in the Cold War witch-hunt rhetoric. Pundits and government officials went as far as envisioning a sinister conspiracy: the Soviet Union is promoting homosexuality as a tool to destroy America. Concurrently, the federal government purged homosexuals that it employed, calling them “security risks”—vulnerable of being blackmailed by Soviet agents into working for them. Ironically, in response to and mirroring its ideological enemy, the American Communist Party also purged known gays from its ranks—marking them as “security risks”—for fear that gay Communists were vulnerable to blackmail and could become informants for the Feds. The official charter of the Communist Party USA even before its 1950s anti-gay purge strictly prohibited gays from membership, adhering to the policies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union where homosexuality was officially criminalized under Stalin and stigmatized as a “capitalist degeneracy.”
Works in the exhibition include Stalin’s Atom Bomb a.k.a. Homosexuality, a series of prints that highlights paranoid anti-communist and anti-gay quotations from American politicians and pundits of the era.
It’s fascinating how both the United States and the Soviet Union used homosexuality as a general evil that the other side was creating to undermine them, ignoring the fact that both sides were actively suppressing homosexuals, throwing them in jail and persecuting. But such rhetoric was useful to both sides because it paired two things that everyone just knew were evil, communism (or capitalism, in the USSR) and homosexuality.
It’s a lot like how the far right today tries to claim that there is a liberal/gay/atheist/Muslim axis trying to undermine the country. Just group all the things you think are bad together and imbue them with extraordinary powers they can’t possibly have and — voila — you have the perfect boogeyman.