Stephen Fry, Russian gay rights and Putin’s UK apologists

August 12, 2013 at 2:28 pm (apologists and collaborators, civil rights, Daily Mail, gay, homophobia, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, LGBT, relativism, Russia, stalinism)

Russia gay activists protest

More relativist garbage  and pro-Putin apologetics from Mr John Wight and his fellow sub-Stalinists at the laughably misnamed Socialist Unity blog:

Many societies remain uncomfortable with homosexuality. In our own country gains in LGBT rights and equality are a relatively recent phenomenon. Whether we like to admit it or not, homosexuality and sexual promiscuity are still viewed as two sides of the same coin in some societies, feeding a misplaced understanding of homosexuality as solely a lifestyle choice motivated by hedonism. It is seen as a corrupting and corrosive influence on social cohesion as a consequence. There is of course nothing wrong with homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. The freedom to choose any lifestyle a person so wishes, as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others, is rightly deemed sacrosanct in a healthy society.

But social attitudes are inevitably buttressed and influenced by cultural traditions, which differ across the world and are the product of specific histories and inevitably develop at different rates of progress. These factors cannot simply be abstracted in favour of a western-centric approach on the part of liberal commentators and activists in Britain.

If you want the context, and/or have a morbid fascination with moral relativism, the full article is here.

Today’s Morning Star editorial  is almost as craven, but at least makes it clear that, in their opinion “Russia’s law banning so-called propaganda in favour of homosexuality is a repressive measure that cannot be justified” … before going on to lecture Stephen Fry and Russian LGBT organisations to the effect that they “would gain more from closer links with oversees groups in and heightened publicity about discrimination rather than boycott proposals that imply a Western moral superiority.”

Again, readers may wish to read the full article in all its wretched, squirming relativism: it’s here.

Wight, Nooman, and the Starlinists find themselves in thoroughly suitable company when they denounce Stephen Fry over his call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics over this issue: the Daily Mail.

Fry has written a scathing response to the Mail. One section, in particular, applies to Wight, Nooman and the Starlinists every bit as much as it does to the Mail:

Of course I know Putin isn’t Hitler. But then Hitler wasn’t the full Hitler we now think of in back in 1935 either. The death camps and atrocities were years away. He became the Hitler of 1939 because we never stopped him. All historians agree now on how doubtful and uncertain he was in 35, 36, 37, and 38. The occupation of the Rheinland provinces of Alsace Lorraine and the annexation of Austria went unchallenged. The Olympic games reinforced his huge status at home.

Nor was Stalin the full Stalin in 1920. True terrible bloody leaders become so because they are not stopped. The last four lines of W. H. Auden’s The Tyrant come to mind:


He knew human folly like the back of his hand,

And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried the little children died in the streets.


Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Franco and any other despot you care to mention: they become despotic, maniacal, more autocratic, more insane every time they are given a greater sense of their own power. The fanatical junior KGB officer Vladimir Putin will become, if he is allowed to get away with it, as autocratic as any Tsar or any Soviet chairman. Vladimir the Terrible will have blood on his hands. He already does, but there will be so so much more. Little children will die in the streets. All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. That saying is so well-known it’s hardly worth repeating. You would think…

But apparently I don’t have the right to bleat my liberal opinion…

PS: and before anyone points it out, yes, I am generally sceptical about the political effectiveness of boycotts and certainly oppose the proposed “delegitimisation” boycott/disinvestment campaign against Israel. But Fry’s call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics so long as Russia hosts it, is an entirely proper response to Putin’s fascistic outlawing of so-called “gay propaganda” and Russian state-sponsored physical attacks on gay individuals – JD.


  1. Whisperingtodarkness said,

    Thanks for this well-measured post, highlighting some of the more important aspects of Stephen’s opinions. It seems the press is deliberately playing down the story, trying to ignore the victims and dismiss the real threats of an increasingly fascist Russia.

    I have also written something in-depth about the dangers of an unchallenged crisis like the one we are seeing in Russia, where I present the “Bystander Effect” and the Milgram experiments as part of the discussion.

    It’s about more than just disagreeing with a nations laws and traditions, this is about the genuine threat of social psychology turning on chosen groups as an “enemy within” and excusing all forms of barbarism used against those victims.

    Unless people really start confronting this danger properly, we genuinely risk seeing a repeat of what we failed to prevent before.

    This will not only be an attack on LGBT people, it will extend to Muslims, journalists, political opponents, artists, writers… I wonder what it would take this time before any government grows a pair?

    I hope you’ll take the time to check out my post too –


  2. Andrew Coates said,

    I find Socialist Unity’s response rather sweet.

    They have such a genuine concern for anti-imperialism, and the feelings of the ordinary Russian that one can only admire their brave stand.

    Wight boldly asks, ” Where was the call from Stephen Fry for the 2012 London Summer Olympics to be moved in protest at Britain’s participation in illegal wars responsible for so much chaos and carnage in the Middle East, for example?”

    Where was this call- we may well ask.

    Indeed as one canny commentator observes on their site, asking why Russia has been singled out over gay rights,

    “But it’s remarkable how the media, with some of the left in tow, tends to pick on either useful / convenient targets (for Western foreign policy) or soft targets (eg certain African countries) when pointing out human rights violations.”


    And let’s hear no more of whataboutery, ever!

    We can all agree in wishing the best of luck in Andy Newman’s Labour Party career.

    Newman’s comradely work in building up Swindon Respect – to help the local Labour Party – stand out on its own.

    He certainly did well in organising the Swindon Pride event.

  3. Rosie B said,

    Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993 and though there are still cultural issues with regard to prejudice against gays in the country, the idea that liberals and activists in Britain have the requisite moral authority to preach to the Russian government over the issue is the product of arrogance.

    So it’s their nationality that decides whether activists have any moral authority to preach about any issues, is it? When Wight calls for boycotts of Israeli what have you, he is of course totally lacking in moral authority to do so.

    And the “lifestyle choice”. Jeez! As if your sexual identity was the same as choosing Laura Ashley instead of minimalism for your decor.

    Wight is basically a romantic sentimentalist about Russia. Most of his posts are re-runs of the Battle of Stalingrad.

  4. sheffielder said,

    Love the way Andy Newman gets the second comment on his Swindon Pride post in with how he attended with his girlfriend. Don’t worry dear, we didn’t think you might be gay.

  5. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    The occupation of the Rheinland provinces of Alsace Lorraine and the annexation of Austria went unchallenged.

    OK I know his degree was in English and not History but the man is meant to be a polymath FFS and even cites ‘all historians’ as agreeing (which is something no actual historian would ever say….) as if he has actually read them:

    a) Unless you are talking to Germans in German its Rhine not ‘Rhein’.

    b) The Rhineland has nothing whatsoever to do with Alsace Lorraine (properly Alsace and Lorraine) which were integral parts of France in 1935 (but were annexed by the Kaiserreich from 1871 to 1918).

    Rather it is Germany west of the Rhine which was demilitarised under Versailles meaning that it remained fully German but that no German military units were allowed to deploy there – and so it was not occupied by Hitler but simply remilitarised by sending some armed troops across the bridges.

    c) The annexation of Austria was challenged by of all people Mussolini who mobilised his army to prevent the Germans from invading in support of the first coup attempt by Austrian Nazis in June 1934 – which is why Hitler in March 1938 had to engineer a constitutional takeover of the Austrian state before the Wehrmacht crossed the border – by which point there was nothing very practical that anyone could do about it.

    In fact the only point at which many (but not all or even most historians) would agree Hitler was ‘stoppable’ was at Munich as so terrified were the army general staff of precipitating a war at that point that they were seriously contemplating a military coup to prevent it if Britain and France stood firm behind the Czechs – but of course at that point neither the British and French ruling class nor their people were willing to go to war for a faraway country of which they knew nothing.

    Now he is right about the Olympics had considerable symbolic value to Hitler but his ‘huge’ status at home was based firstly on his ability to imprison, torture and kill any real or imagined enemy who spoke out against the regime, secondly on the support of the army and other German elites and thirdly on his actually managing to put Germany back to work (even if that was largely by conscription and rearmament) and the Olympics hardly added greatly to it.

    So a boycott would no more have halted him on the path that led him to kill a large part of Fry’s mother’s family and millions of others than Thatcher and Reagan’s attempt to boycott the 1980 Olympics actually liberated Afghanistan from the Soviet yoke.

    And vile though Putin is he is hardly a despotic free agent in the sense that Hitler was but merely the current manager-in-chief of the klepto-oligarchy (the former manager having drunk himself out of the job).

    His regime is building a new generation of labour camps and will almost certainly get worse but it is hardly imaginable that it will embark on a genocidal world war.

    So Fry while he has done a lot to publicise this campaign really is talking the most utter bollocks here.

    • Ben said,

      The historian Andrew Boyle wrote in his book The Fourth Man that the French cabinet vote against a military response to the German militarization of the Rhineland in 1936 was 13-12. It is very likely that such a move by the French would have brought about the demise of Hitler.

      Just one ballot going the other way could have completely changed the course of history.

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        Except that in Spring 1936 Britain was not willing to back France in any showdown with Germany and although the then massively superior French army would have sent the Wehrmacht scuttling back over the Rhine bridges with ease, France was quite incapable politically and economically of prosecuting a full-scale war against Germany over what was ultimately the issue of whether it should be able to station armed forces on what everyone agreed was its sovereign territory (and indeed was in a state of political crisis which led several months later to the election of a Popular Front government).

        And the problem with counterfactuals is that multiple outcomes are possible.

        Firstly the structure of the German state make it difficult to visualise how Hitler could have ‘met his demise’ – there was no institution like the Fascist Grand Council which eventually did meet to depose Mussolini, the Reichstag and cabinet met only very infrequently and were packed with Nazi placemen and even the army could hardly have mounted a coup if they were actually fighting the French (the putative military coup to prevent a premature war in 1938 would only have been triggered at all – which is doubtful – if orders had been issued to invade without a guarantee that France and Britain would stand back and allow the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia).

        And secondly Hitler could in fact have withdrawn his troops, fortified the Rhine itself and encouraged passive resistance against the occupiers similar to that which erupted during the French occupation of the Ruhr (when even the communists made common cause with the nascent Nazis and other far right groups against the French imperialists under the Schlageter Line) and simply waited for the French resolve to crumble and their forces to be withdrawn as part of some mediated general agreement (which is what happened in the Ruhr) – and this could have conceivably resulted in an even stronger Third Reich.

        And if we are in this counterfactual territory one could argue that an actual setback in 1936 which strengthened the more cautious elements in the military and put some brakes on Hitler’s reckless opportunism could actually have resulted in Germany not going to war until it had more fully re-armed (Wehrmacht planners themselves did not believe Germany would be actually ready to fight a full scale war until 1945 and historians who’ve studied the real balance of forces generally stress that German victories in 1939-41 were due more to a quite extraordinary run of luck and the inexplicable incompetence of their enemies rather than real military superiority at the strategic level) and made them a more rather than less dangerous enemy.

        But in any case none of this has anything to do with the Berlin Olympics – which had a real Rhineland crisis erupted have been cancelled anyway.

        If Fry’s analogy was in any sense at all valid a few Western countries declaring that they would boycott the Summer 1936 Olympics would have had to so discredit Hitler that he would have been too weakened to even consider remilitarising the Rhineland and been forced to give up on that whole lebensraum idea – which is just ridiculous.

        And FFS these aren’t even the real Olympics were are talking about now but just some people skiing and tobogganing around the Caucasus.

  6. Clive said,

    Roger, I think you’re being a bit obtuse. The analogy with 1935/36 doesn’t really hang on precise calculations of what would or would not have happened to Hitler if the Games had been boycotted. Plainly if anyone thinks a boycott of the Berlin Olympics would have led to the collapse of Nazism, no World War Two, or whatever, they are being ridiculous.

    But then nobody is suggesting, are they, that boycotting Moscow will result in the fall of Putin.

    The point to the analogy is that it is quite shocking in retrospect that the Nazi regime wasn’t treated as a political leper. The world turning up to play in Berlin conferred some kind of legitimacy on them; and you don’t have to think that not conferring this particular bit of legitimacy would have been decisive – only that the world needed to wake the fuck up about what was happening in Germany.

    You’re probably right that Russia right now is not more generally analogous to Germany in 1935; I don’t know enough about it to judge. But what is happening to LGBT people in Russia certainly is utterly terrible, and it is reasonable to want to make a fuss about it, and shouting loudly against the normalisation of people skiing and tabogganing is one effective way to do so.

    It also, surely, might well be the case that even if this isn’t a stage in the process towards something more like Germany in, say, late 1938, it’s a stage on the journey to somewhere very unpleasant.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      It is not me but Fry who is being obtuse in the almost literal sense of employing an argument so wide-angled that it is completely useless,

      He is actually saying we should boycott Putin’s Winter Olympics because not boycotting Hitler’s Olympics was part of a general failure of will to ‘stop’ him at a point when he was weak enough to be stopped and which caused tens of millions of deaths.

      Which is an absurd analogy as vile as he is Putin is no Hitler, Russia is not Nazi Germany and its homophobia is not exterminatory genocidal racism linked to an expansionist imperialism fuelled by an economic system which literally had to colonise and plunder its neighbours or collapse.

      Plus his self-identification as a liberal and citation of Lord Acton’s dictum about power corrupting shows exactly where Fry is coming from: as a bourgeois liberal he sees power as not something which is exercised by classes and systems to increase and defend the wealth of people exactly like him, but as a demonic force in itself that inexorably will turn a cynical soulless little apparatchik like Putin into a new Hitler or Stalin or Ivan the Terrible.

      Which completely misreads who and what a Putin is and the true significance of the petty demonisations that not just his but every bourgeois regime must now increasingly resort to divide and rule.

      • Clive said,

        No, you’re being obtuse in the normal sense of the word in this context. Monstrous things are happening to LGBT people in Russia. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the governments of the western world, starting with Obama and Cameron, make a public stand about it (and so do the Olympic authorities). An obvious parallel which comes to mind is Berlin in 1936 – and I think most people will think it is actually quite shocking that those games went ahead with all the propaganda value they were intended to have for the Nazis.

        Someone responds to this point (of Fry’s) by referring to the Holocaust and what have you, ergo ‘Putin is not Hitler’, and Fry makes the entirely reasonable point in response that Hitler wasn’t ‘Hitler’ in 1935 (ie before the games).

        Of course you can’t stretch the parallel too far (and I take your point that some of Fry’s history is shaky, well, wrong).

        But the force to the analogy is not that unless we boycott the Winter Olympics Putin will invade Poland and then the rest of Europe and bring about the deaths of millions of people. It is that unless something is done, by the world, about the Russian government’s appalling treatment of LGBT people, the situation for those people (and others, because loss of human rights are the thin end of the wedge; and other LGBT people in other countries, because of the example being set) will get worse, and worse, and worse.

        It’s a broad parallel, but as a broad parallel it has considerable force. Those rolling their eyes and deconstructing all the ways in which Russia in 2013 is nothing like Germany in 1935 are actually, in effect, saying that all this moaning about LGBT rights in Russia is a lot of fuss about nothing. The idiot at Socialist Unity, for instance, writes about it as if it’s nothing worse than Clause 28 was, if indeed it’s as bad as that (since ‘Russians’ have a ‘tradition’ which predisposes them to beat up LGBT people, want their organs incinerated lest they poison the rest of the world, arrest tourists who look a bit dodgy, and what have you).

        This is a big deal. It is a big deal that the US and Britain are not prepared to put their money where their mouths are about LGBT rights. That’s what’s actually at issue here, not whether 1935 is an exact parallel, and I suggest this could not be more obvious to anyone not more concerned to demonstrate their knowledge of history than deal with actual politics.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      And utterly agree that what is happening in Russia (and which goes much further than anti-gay campaigns) is terrible and everything possible should be done to bring it to public attention – including demanding a boycott of these Winter Olympics – and will happily sign petitions, stand outside the Russian embassy with a placard and bore anyone who’ll listen to me about it to contribute to that end.

      I just cannot see how completely bonkers analogies by someone who makes the most elementary historical errors are very helpful.

      • Clive said,

        Sorry, missed each other I think. Okay.

  7. Rosie B said,

    Were international sports events like the Olympics such big events as they are now? Also, would anyone have suggested boycotts? My sense is that boycotts of sporting events are a fairly recent phenomenon. Also, activists in the 1930s were carrying out far more direct and dangerous actions than calling for boycotts.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      No they weren’t such a big deal until precisely 1936 when Leni Riefenstahl’s genius, Hitler and Speer’s real talent for creating massive spectacles and the very political context of the Games created arresting images and narratives that were given much greater prominence in news reels, radio and newspapers.

      And there was a real Berlin Olympics Boycott campaign driven by the left and by Jewish organisations and which was effective enough to temporarily moderate Nazi policies – visible evidence of public anti-semitism (the ‘no Jews or dogs’ signs, the public boards displaying Die Sturmer etc) were removed at least anywhere an IOC official, tourist or journalist was likely to go and part-Jewish athletes were included in the German team.

      As for past boycotts as early as 1908 Irish athletes declared a personal boycott of the London Olympics that year over lack of progress on home rule, in 1948 in London Arab countries successfully demanded that Israel be banned from competing or they wouldn’t turn up, some Arab countries actually did boycott the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in protest over Suez, in 1964 an anti-apartheid boycott was only avoided by South Africa being expelled, there were calls to boycott the 1968 Olympics because the Mexican government had just gunned down hundreds of students in the streets, 1976 saw an African boycott over the participation of countries like NZ that weren’t boycotting South Africa and 1980 and 1984 saw anti-Soviet and anti-American boycotts.

      So as a tactic it is not quite as recent as you’d think.

      As for for anti-Nazi activism this was of course potentially lethal if you were actually doing it in Germany (or Austria or Czechoslovakia after their countries were occupied) but AFAIK nobody took ‘dangerous’ direct action outside Germany until Herschel Grynzspan shot a German diplomat in Paris in November 1938 and gave the Nazis an excuse for Kristallnacht.

      Pre-war Nazi agents were also far less assiduous in hunting down and murdering emigre oppositionists abroad than their Stalinist counterparts were – until the Germans arrived in 1940 it was much more dangerous to be a Trotskyist or White Russian living in France than it was to be an Anti-Nazi German exile.

  8. Clive said,

    Generally I think boycotts are highly problematic – but those are the kinds of boycotts which, in this case, would entail not trading with Russia or buying Russian goods. For one thing – only one of the many reasons – since there are so many obnoxious regimes in the world, if you took such notions seriously you’d be calling for an end to world trade.

    The call here is for a very specific boycott of a particular event. If major governments, starting with the US and Britain, took this step, it would be making a huge statement about how seriously they take LGBT rights – about which Obama and Cameron have a fair bit of rhetoric. Especially given the – actually, I find, quite astonishing – extent to which LGBT rights and specifically ‘same-sex marriage’ has become a central issue all around the world, this would be no small thing. *Not* doing that, acting as if business is normal, will, for sure, have a bad effect on LGBT people, starting in Russia.

    If someone somewhere is making a point-by-point cast-iron analogy with Germany 1935 (though I believe in that case the word would be ‘homology’) they are plainly silly. But nobody is. I’m sure nobody thinks a boycott of the Winter Olympics will mean that LGBT people miraculously achieve equality in Russia overnight (and in the rest of the world). The point being made by Stephen Fry is a general, moral comparison. On that score he is clearly right.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Almost completely agree on what should be done.

      What I can’t agree with is that Fry’s ‘general moral comparison’ is right.

      Clearly Putin and Hitler are both evil.

      But to adapt Tolstoy while good people are all rather similar, evil people and evil systems of government are each evil in their own special way.

      And Putin and his regime represents a new political phenomenon which does not fit into any of the categories we grew up with and we need new analytical tools to comprehend it.

      The likes of Fry however are not in the political analysis game but what Carl Schmitt calls political romantics:

      For Schmitt, political romantics are driven not by the quest for pseudo-religious certainty, but by the search for excitement, for the romance of what he calls ‘the occasion’. They want something, anything, to happen, so that they can feel themselves to be at the heart of things….Schmitt says that the problem is it produces only gesture politics, and that ‘the romantic wants to be productive without being active’.

      For a political romantic like Fry this is not an item in a long and depressing list of the crimes of the new Russian plutocracy which requires a systematic and above all long-term political response, but a personal affront to be responded to by grand moralising harangues to his devoted online fanclub,

      And when nothing much happens and Putin doesn’t actually arrest any Olympians for skiing while gay, Fry and his army of virtual minions will presumably have already long moved on and found other occasions to display their moral superiority at no actual cost to themselves.

      • Clive said,

        I don’t think Fry dreamed up the call for a boycott. There’s been quite a lot of talk about it. He was just the most well-known person in Britain.

        And by this kind of argument, nothing said by anyone who isn’t a serious thinker by your standards can be regarded with anything but dismissiveness. Probably Fry isn’t a rigorous political thinker. Who cares? The issue is important and deserves to be highlighted.

  9. paul maleski said,

    Russia does not want queers and jews, So what? It is their country. Always remember that Russia built a civilization; this is something the jew will never do. And the queer like the jew, inevitably gets its host on its knees.

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