A ruling class vs. revolutionary response to prostitution
A New York Times article published on May 22nd reports on how the economic misery inflicted on Greeks has forced many into prostitution in order to survive. Here is an excerpt:
With the country heading into the fifth year of economic depression, and unemployment near 60 percent for young people, greater numbers of women and men are offering their bodies for next to nothing to get any scrap of money. According to the National Center for Social Research, the number of people selling sex has surged 150 percent in the last two years.Many prostitutes have been selling their services for as little as 10 to 15 euros, a price that has shrunk along with the income of clients afflicted by the crisis. Many more prostitutes are taking greater health risks by having unprotected sex, which sells for a premium. Still more are subject to violence and rape.
There are two ways to respond to what is happening in Greece and reported in the above article. One way, the way I respond, is to cite the fact that people are being driven into prostitution by economic hardship as evidence that we need to abolish the economic inequality that leads to this economic hardship, because being forced into prostitution is a terrible social injustice akin to slavery.
Abolishing this economic hardship does not entail making prostitution illegal or supporting the terrible working conditions of prostitutes. Nor does it entail stigmatizing people who are driven into prostitution. In fact, I propose that we refer to prostitutes as “People Unjustly Driven by Economic Hardship into Prostitution” or, for short, “PUDEPs” in a manner analogous to the way academics refer to categories of people such as Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM) or People With AIDS (PWA). Keep this in mind in what follows.
The other way to respond is the way that Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey and George Soros (who founded the “Open Society Foundations” mentioned in the article cited below) respond. It is the way that the liberal ideologues of the ruling class respond. It is the way that the people who are causing the economic hardship in Greece and elsewhere and who are imposing savage austerity that drives people into prostitution, respond. This response is discussed here in “Sex Workers, Oprah, and Hillary: Women Who Deliver.” The ruling class response to women being forced into prostitution is to say essentially this:
There is nothing wrong with being a prostitute. We should stop stigmatizing prostitutes by calling them prostitutes. We should call them ‘sex workers’ in the ‘sex worker industry’ and we should view occupation in this industry as no less legitimate and respectable than occupation in any other industry and we should view sex workers the same way we view teachers and electricians and hairdressers and autoworkers etc.The only problem in society in this regard is that sex workers don’t have good enough working conditions and they are wrongly oppressed by police who arrest them for prostitution when prostitution should not be a crime in the first place.
Aside from these problems, there is, with respect to the rise of prostitution in Greece, nothing bad happening at all. In fact, it is fortunate for the Greeks that the new and growing sex worker industry is thriving and offering employment to so many people who need jobs. This shows that the economic system we have is wonderful because it creates new industries to provide employment when necessary.
The liberal ruling class response is designed to deflect attention away from the wrongness of the economic inequality that causes the economic hardship that drives people into prostitution. The liberal elite hope that their support for better working conditions for prostitutes and their opposition to making prostitutes criminals under the law and their concern for not stigmatizing prostitutes will make people forget about the wrongness of the economic hardship that drives people into prostitution. They hope it will make people forget that the vast majority of prostitutes in the world do it only to survive, that they would otherwise never offer their bodies to be used for sex by strangers, and that they feel humiliated by having been forced into prostitution and don’t want their children to ever know what they do for a living.
The ruling elite are making an alliance with “sex worker activists” with an implicit deal: The elite will support making prostitution legal and improving working conditions for a minority of prostitutes, and in exchange the “sex worker activists” will never talk about the wrongness of the economic inequality of our society that drives most prostitutes involuntarily into prostitution.
What the ruling elite is doing is as if slave owners in the time of slavery in the United States had insisted that people call slaves “agricultural workers” in order not to stigmatize them, and insisted that there was nothing wrong with slavery, now called “agricultural work,” insisted that it should not be made illegal, and asserted that the only thing that needed to be done was to ensure that working conditions of “agricultural workers” be improved. How would the abolitionist movement have responded to THAT? The same way we should respond to the ruling elite’s “just call them ‘sex workers’” ploy.
Like the abolitionists during slavery, we should focus on abolishing the fundamental wrongness, which today is class inequality including its economic inequality. We should respond, in other words, as revolutionaries. This is precisely what the likes of Hillary Clinton want to prevent. They want us to think that the only choice in this context is between a) making prostitution illegal and keeping economic inequality or b) making prostitution a legal “respectable” occupation and keeping economic inequality. The revolutionary approach is to reject both of these ruling-class endorsed terrible alternatives.
What would “sex with strangers” be like in a genuine egalitarian society as described in Thinking about Revolution? Here’s what I think. People, first of all, would enjoy equally, according to need, all of the fruits of the economy–a “sharing economy not based on money”–if they contributed reasonably to it. What is a “reasonable contribution” is determined by their local assembly at which all who support equality and mutual aid are encouraged to attend and, as equals, make policy decisions such as what is a reasonable contribution. Some local assemblies might (who knows?) decide that offering sex to strangers, so many times a day, is a “reasonable contribution to the economy” and approve a certain number of people doing that. In such a community people who wanted to contribute this way could do so, and thereby share in the economy equally to all others. In a community that did not consider “sex for strangers on demand” to be a reasonable contribution to the economy but did not make it illegal, people could offer sex to strangers if they wished, but it wouldn’t be for money (there is no money in a sharing economy) but only because they wanted to do it, for free, as a “hobby” or whatever; their membership in the sharing economy (and right to take what they need from it) would be based on making some other reasonable contribution to it. In communities where people made sex with strangers on demand illegal it would be illegal. We may disagree about which kind of community we’d like to live in, but I hope we agree we wouldn’t want to live in one in which, like today, the powers-that-be tell certain people, “You must provide sex for strangers on demand or else you will starve.”
This article was originally published at newdemocracyworld.org and was cross-posted with permission from the author.