Russian Cultural Studies: An Introduction

By David Shepherd; Catriona Kelly | Go to book overview

15
Sexuality

MARK BANTING

CATRIONA KELLY

JAMES RIORDAN

The history of sexuality after the Russian Revolution well illustrates the conflicts and contradictions that beset this period of Soviet history. Even if the Bolsheviks' plans for cultural revolution had been coherent and straightforward, they would have had difficulty in imposing uniformity on the huge and diverse territory that they were attempting to control. The former Russian Empire was a patchwork of ethnic groups and creeds, of settled and nomadic populations, of big industrialized cities, small workers' settlements, villages touched by migrancy and untouched by migrancy, and outlying small farms. There was also a massive range of life patterns and moral perceptions: both homosexuality and polygamy were tolerated in large stretches of central Asia, while within Russia itself, heterosexual relations ranged from the dynastic alliance of traditional peasant households, based on property held in common and shared labour, to the occasional alliances of factory workers constantly unsettled by their movement back and forth to the villages, to the more or less longterm affective unions of the upper middle classes and intelligentsia, which themselves might be sanctioned or not by a church ceremony (though the institution of civil marriage, grazhdanskii brak, had no legal validity, it carried wide symbolic and moral authority among the increasing numbers of intellectuals who contracted such unions).

The situation was further complicated by the fact that Bolshevik, and later Soviet, attitudes to marriage, the family, and sexual relationships were always torn between two conflicting imperatives inherited

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