Kurt Hiller's Literary Activism

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Sep 23 1928

Kurt Hiller’s Literary Activism 


Sexual revolution and sexual liberation movements are traditionally associated with the 1960s and 1970s, and particularly linked to western protests and liberation discourses. However, there are some examples of sexual activism before this period. 

Kurt Hiller, though not very known, was one of the most influential gay rights activists in the early 20th century Germany. Perhaps his most influential action was coining the term “literary activism”, which meant literature in the service of political intervention. This new channel for action and resistance to oppression was particularly important in a time where totalitarian regimes were in power in a lot of countries. 

In the first decades of the 19th century homosexual rights movements were associated with socialism, and both the movements supported one another. In the late 1920s homosexuality was paired to heterosexuality in the Soviet Union’s laws, granting an important victory to the sexual reform movement. However, in the 1930s homosexuality became illegal again, both in the Soviet Union and in Nazi Germany. According to John Lauritsen: 

 “Gay men found themselves attacked on all sides, their rights defended by no government in the world. It is bitterly ironical that while the Nazis were attacking homosexuality as “sexual bolshevism”, the Communists were attacking it as “the fascist perversion”. 

Hiller’s attack on the misconception of homosexuality criticized not only the fascist rejection of the homosexual act, but also evidenced the socialists’ discriminating vision of homosexuality as a “product of decadence in the bourgeois sector of society”. Perhaps the most influential work of Hiller’s literary activism was his Appeal to the Second International Congress for Sexual Reform on Behalf of an Oppressed Human Variety. (Copenhagen 1928) in which he rejected the understanding of homosexuality as something contrary to nature, and contested traditional conceptions of same-sex love.
 

Kurt Hiller, a socialist, pacifist, homosexual, Jew was on the Nazi’s detention list and ended up spending time in Oranienburg and other concentration camps. He was released in April 1934, and though in precarious conditions, managed to escape a second arrest and fled to Prague. He was a prolific writer until his death in 1972, back in Hamburg.
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