Three Lists About Sex

In his book Sex in Public: The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology, Eric Naiman provides some bizarre examples of the rhetoric used in the Soviet Union, during the 1920s, in order to discourage sex and desire. For instance Dr. M. Lemberg, writing in 1925, recommended five rules for “avoiding sexual stimulation”:

  1. Never drink alcohol.
  2. Sleep on a hard bed. Upon waking stand up at once.
  3. Don’t eat too much meat. Eat three hours before sleep. Urinate before going to bed.
  4. Don’t read erotic literature.
  5. Don’t lead a sedentary life.

Also one of the most important figures of the socialist “new morality” was engaged in similar prescriptions. Aron Zalkind, in fact, went a step further and provided us with twelve commandments, most of them phrased in the negative:

  1. Sexual life shall not develop too early.
  2. Thou shalt exercise sexual restraint until marriage, and marriage shall take place only upon full social and biological maturity (20-24 years).
  3. Sexual relations shall be the culmination of a deep and comprehensive sympathy and attachment to the object of thy sexual love.
  4. The sexual act shall be the final link in a chain of deep and complex experiences binding the lovers together at that moment.
  5. The sexual act shall not be repeated often.
  6. Thou shalt not often change thy sexual object. There shall be less sexual variation.
  7. Love shall be monogamous and monandrous.
  8. Every sexual act must be committed without forgetting the possibility of conceiving a child – thou shalt always remember thy progeny.
  9. Sexual selection shall always be conducted along the lines of revolutionary-proletarian class objectives. Elements of flirtation, skirt-chasing, coquetry, and other particular methods of sexual conquest must not be introduced into love relations.
  10. Thou shalt not be jealous.
  11. Thou shalt not engage in sexual perversions.
  12. In the interest of revolutionary expedience, class shall have the right to interfere in the sexual life of its co-members; the sexual shall always be subordinate to class interests, never interfering with the latter, but shall always serve it.

Not just sex, love itself was one of the central themes of the October Revolution. In his book Reminiscences of Lenin, Clara Zetkin reveals that Lenin often spoke about the women’s question as an essential part of the communist movement. But as is clear from a letter sent to Inessa Armand in January 1915 as a comment to her pamphlet on the “freedom of love”, the concept of “free love” to Lenin «is not really a proletarian but a bourgeois demand». And in order to try and understand Inessa’s concept of free love, Lenin lists ten possible interpretations:

  1. Freedom from material (financial) calculations in affairs of love?
  2. The same, from material worries?
  3. From religious prejudices?
  4. From prohibitions by Papa, etc.?
  5. From the prejudices of “society”?
  6. From the narrow circumstances of one’s environment (peasant or petty-bourgeois or bourgeois intellectual)?
  7. From the fetters of the law, the courts and the police?
  8. From the serious element in love?
  9. From child-birth?
  10. Freedom of adultery? Etc.

To Lenin, nos. 1-7 are what proletarian women have in mind. But the public, the readers of the pamphlet, and bourgeois women, too, will inevitably understand by “freedom of love”, in general, something like nos. 8–10, even without her wishing it.

Curious fact: when Inessa died, in 1920, Lenin was utterly broken. Angelica Balabanoff wrote, about Inessa’s funeral: «He was plunged in despair, his cap down over his eyes; small as he was, he seemed to shrink and grow smaller. He looked pitiful and broken in spirit. I never saw him look like that before. It was something more than the loss of a good Bolshevik or a good friend. He had lost some one very dear and very close to him and made no effort to conceal it.»

For sure, Lenin’s love was not free.


[F.O. – adapted from Srećko Horvat, The Radicality of Love (2015)]
Featured image: Larry Rodda, Sipping Coffee (1930)

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