“Our body, our life, our class, our struggle!” An analysis of prostitution from the PMLT

I was given permission to share this analysis of the sex trade by the Partido (M-L) De Los Trabajadores, a Marxist-Leninist communist party in Spain. Given the recent discourse, I was struck by how principled and deep this analysis went and how it corrected the ideological and theoretical line on prostitution that gets distorted by liberals posturing as communists, which is especially common here in the U.S. This will be published on Red Spark as well, so check there for updates. Solidarity with our comrades around the world fighting capitalism! Land and women not for conquest! -Esperanza

Women do not choose prostitution.

Prostitution is and has always been the most aggressive and visible expression of the oppression suffered by working women, constituting at the same time an ideological instrument that allows the reproduction of hierarchy in the relations between men and women and the absolute mercantilisation, objectification and dehumanization of women. That is why the prostitution issue does not concern exclusively prostituted women, but all women -as potentially prostitutable subjects- and men -in our struggle as a class-.

It is not a coincidence that it is women in a situation of extreme precariousness and vulnerability who fall into the hands of prostitution, and that is why we want to highlight three relevant issues, on the one hand the statistics on “free prostitution” and on the other hand the relationship that prostitution has with: migration and transphobia.

According to statistics, 8 out of 10 women are engaged in prostitution against their will, specifically victims of trafficking for the sexual exploitation, however, trafficking is the ultimate expression of sexual exploitation, and we should not present it as the only form of obligation. Many prostitutes come from trafficking networks and others are pushed into prostitution due to the economic situation they live in. And even if this so-called ‘’free prostitution’’ existed, the extension of prostitution consumption would clash with that minority who ‘’want to prostitute themselves’’. On the issue of prostitution, we often forget the context of these women and the psychological problems they can develop with prostitution. The information already given on mental health of women prostitutes clearly shows the situation of continuous violence they live in. We must fight against the belief that trafficking is the only way to force a woman into prostitution, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the widespread belief that there are a considerable number of prostitutes who are prostitutes because they want to.

With regard to the issue of trafficking, it is important to mention that at the international level, according to the UNODC report on human trafficking, we see that trafficking flows do not occur arbitrarily, in fact it is a flow of people from the poorest countries to the richest ones. Women represent half of the detected victims of trafficking. The percentage of women has been decreasing while the proportion of the number of victims has been increasing (the percentage of trafficked girls has increased by more than 10% while the percentage of women has decreased by 25%). At the European level, 80% of the victims of trafficking are women, 95% of this trafficking is for sexual exploitation, most of them coming from European countries.

Spain is the main destination of this trafficking of women for sexual exploitation; the Foreigners Unit of the State Attorney General’s Office has counted between 2013–2018 more than 1000 women victims of trafficking, 10% of these were minors.

In the relationship of migration and prostitution we observe that these victims of trafficking usually come from European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary) and countries from different continents (Nigeria, Brazil, China, Vietnam, Russia). The integration of the victims of trafficking in society is blocked by several issues: first of all, there is a constant movement of victims throughout the country or outside it, in addition to the lack of resources, the lack of knowledge of the language, the low educational level so that if there is any possibility to work, it is blocked by these issues or by the extortion of the trafficker, making the victim fearful. The barriers to finding work are also present in the transgender community, with transgender women being more excluded from the labour market, which leads them to prostitution. Eighty percent of transgender people are unemployed.

Prostitution in Spain is legally undefined in terms of the legal situation of prostitution, and it is neither licit nor illicit; therefore, on the one hand, prostitution classified as ‘’voluntary and freely exercised’’ is not considered a criminal act; On the other hand, being a pimp, the businessman behind this exploitation, was considered a crime (coercive or not), but after a reform of the Penal Code in 1995, ‘’non-coercive’’ pimping was suppressed as a crime, so as intermediation in prostitution by lucrative means was not penalized, except in cases of coercion, brothels began to be advertised in the media. There were several reforms such as the 2003 and 2015 reforms that advocated for the punishment of those who used some kind of violence to make a third person exercise prostitution.

In these laws and reforms, prostitution is not considered to be a form of exploitation alone, but rather emphasizes the difference between whether or not there is coercion, whether or not there is an obligation.

Is it the oldest profession in the world? The link between capitalism and monogamy.

No, prostitution is not the oldest profession in the world. It is an argument rooted in tradition, in historical staticity. Occupations have been changing, exploitations have been changing, but let us take a look at the history of prostitution to understand this:

The origin of prostitution in Prehistory is spoken with very little precision, although the evidence supports the existence of matrilineal societies (social system that is defined by maternal line). In these societies there was no domination of women, until the Neolithic the sexual division of labour did not begin to develop, which ended up originating the patriarchy, and the nuclear family and monogamy became the predominant system. As a result, societies were no longer matrilineal, inheritance went from matrilineal to patrilineal (ownership of the land), and women were relegated to the only private and domestic sphere, leading to the appearance of prostitution. Prostitution cannot be prior to marriage, to the power of capital accumulation or to the differentiation between men and women. No, prostitution is not the oldest profession in the world, and prior to being prostitutes, women were: potters, farmers, shamans.

Many times, this argument uses the idealization of the past ignoring that prostitutes have been seen as an object from the beginning, mistreated and stigmatized, even though it was in the name of religion, in this case of the goddess of love. This continues to prove the ability of men to buy women’s bodies, and shows that from the beginning, religion and prostitution went hand in hand.

That is why the abolition of prostitution will not come hand in hand with a pink capitalism or a more humane capitalism. The birth of prostitution is intimately linked to the appearance of private property, so any attempt to abolish prostitution without openly fighting against the system that sustains it will fall on deaf ears. We do not reject the struggle for possible improvements that prostituted women can achieve, what we protest is that it is possible for these improvements to result in a qualitative change that would really shake the status quo.

Is prostitution a job?

Absolutely not. Under capitalism, it is the private ownership of the means of production that allows the bourgeoisie, which owns them, to exploit the working class by forcing it to sell its labour power in exchange for a wage that allows them to survive. The labour power of a human being is transformed into work, not with the goal in itself of creating a product, but with the goal of extracting surplus value from this work. Through this sale of labour power, the worker also sees himself alienated, objectified, reified.

There is no sale of a labour force in prostitution, a “ doing “ is not traded. There are no means of production that allow the exploitation of the prostituted woman, there is no activity through which what is produced is revalued. Prostitution is simply the mercantilisation of free access to a totally dehumanized body, a remnant of slavery in which the exchange, the transaction, falls on the person herself. It is no longer the labour force that is sold, it is the woman's body itself that is sold.

In short, under capitalism the labour force of a human being is mercantilised, through which the human being goes through a process of reification or alienation, which derives in the reification of the human being; in prostitution, on the other hand, it is the body itself that is mercantilised, without mediation, without this reification deriving from a "doing".

We believe that, in a world without exploitation, where there really existed a real equality and a relationship of solidarity between men and women, no one would consider accessing the body of another for money, nor would anyone allow it.

Regulationism and freedom.

Regulationism presents itself as the most favourable alternative for women in prostitution, advocating for the legalization of their situation and with it the equalization of their rights to any other worker -unionization, contributions, sick leave, protection against the client… -. In spite of being legitimate goals as such, the evidence shows us a very different reality. The so-called prostitutes’ unions all over the world are run by pimps or brothel owners, which in practice does not change the life of the prostituted woman, while the pimp becomes a businessman. A great example of this is COYOTE, the first union of women prostitutes, created in the 1970s in the United States. Ten years later, in 1981, prostitutes represented only 3% of its membership.

Similarly, we consider regulationism as a position derived from the most liberal feminism, which approaches it from a totally individual perspective, appealing to women’s autonomy, free choice, and sexual freedom. A debate in these terms completely separates it from the causes that lead women to prostitution, making a special distinction between what is prostitution and what is trafficking, as if one could exist without the other.

We must reject these ideas; the issue surrounding prostitution is not whether the woman wants or does not want to prostitute herself, but whether she wants or desires the sexual act itself. Any sexual consent given by coercion (in this case, economic coercion, money) is a corrupted consent. The legalization of prostitution would in itself give legal cover to the rape of thousands of women.

And this is why we say that prostitution is the perpetuation of hierarchical relations between men and women, and that as long as it exists, real equality between men and women will be impossible. Prostitution means, once again, reinforcing the idea that men desire -actively- and we consent -passively-. It reinforces the idea that it makes no difference whether a sexual act is sought, wanted, desired, healthy, safe, and free; it is enough if it is “ consented “. It reinforces the idea that women’s desire does not matter in a sexual relationship of any kind, since we are not active subjects in the sexual act but mere sexual objects that are simply willing to consent and “ host” the desire of others. It reproduces and legitimizes exploitation within the working class, ensuring the right of men to have access to a woman as if she were a mere object or a mere provider of a sexual service. The struggle against prostitution and for the emancipation of women does not divide the working class, on the contrary, the gender problem is crossed by the class struggle and any victory of working women is also a victory as a class.

None of this can be allowed for the protection of individual freedom. It has been said many times that patriarchy in our times has gone from being the so-called “patriarchy of coercion” to the “patriarchy of consent”. Both concepts have been used to explain how, while in the past women were in a situation of inferiority to men, protected by a whole legislative system that allowed it, today women are equal under the law and this position of subjugation is justified by free choice. It is ignored that women have been through a process of socialization through which certain values, ideas and roles are internalized, whose function is none other than to legitimize and naturalize inequality, affirming that any choice a woman makes is "empowering" and "liberating" by the simple fact that "she wants to". And beneath the "she wants" it is applauded that women submit to thousands of dietary and surgical treatments to conform to an aesthetic canon impossible to meet, that it is she and not her husband who abandons her job to take charge of raising children, or that she is forced into the wrongly named "sex work" in any of its forms as a source of livelihood.

None of these actions is empowering, nor is any of these actions really free, they are conditioned not only by the situation of need and economic dependence, but also by the assimilation and naturalization of ideas that place us at an unequal level, that influence our decisions and that, in the wrong hands, are used as arguments to justify our absolute dehumanization. Women's liberation does not and never will be achieved through the mercantilisation of their bodies.

Abolitionism from a Marxist perspective.

As Marxists, we understand that the real emancipation of women and consequently, the abolition of prostitution, comes hand in hand with overcoming the conditions that maintain our subjugation, the class society.

The struggle of women is indissolubly linked to their struggle as workers, and their emancipation cannot exist without either of them. We must understand that women in prostitution share our struggle and that we are all part of the same revolutionary subject. We must firmly fight against that vision of abolitionists as mere prohibitionists who persecute women in prostitution. Our struggle is against pimps and sex buyers, and hand in hand with prostituted women.

If we assume that prostitution has eminently social and economic causes, we recognize that it is undoubtedly connected to their unequal position and economic dependence. Only by overcoming class society can we lay the foundations that will allow us to put an end to prostitution once and for all, just as we must fight against all those ideas which have been inherited and destroy solidarity within the working class.

Only through our organization as a class shall we be able to fight against capitalism that profits and reproduces itself thanks to the dehumanization and mercantilisation of our bodies, against the system that condemns us to exploitation in all of its forms.

Our body, our life, our class, and our struggle!

“What is the fundamental attribute of the working class? Which is its strongest moral weapon in this struggle? Solidarity and comradeship are the basis of communism. As long as this aspect is not widely developed among the workers, the construction of a true communist society is inconceivable. The most politically conscious communists should accordingly encourage the development of solidarity in every way and fight against those who hinder its development — prostitution destroys the equality, solidarity, and comradeship of the two halves of the working class. A man who buys a woman’s favours does not see her as a comrade or as a person with equal rights. He sees the woman as being dependent on himself and as an unequal creature of inferior rank who is useless to the workers’ State. The disdain he has for the prostitute, whose favours he has bought, affects his attitude toward all women.” A. Kollontai, “Prostitution and Ways of Fighting It” (1921).

Member of AF3IRM. Anti-imperialist, scientific socialist, and transnational proletarian feminist.