Sex and morality: Desires, experiments, permissions, limits

"By one estimate 2% of gay men in the U.S. are having 24% of gay sexual activity. The enjoyment may result in part precisely from novelty, variety and impersonal nature of the interaction.

"So, having agreed that it’s ok to be gay, and to marry members of one’s own sex, how do we approach a subculture of promiscuity?"

"It is one thing to accept or tolerate a homosexuality that mirrors heterosexuality and.... stable, long-term, monogamous domestic relationships. And another thing to accept the realities of gay/queer sexual behavior."

"I almost feel I should apologize for including the detail to follow, but I think it reasonable in the context of this discussion to be frank and specific. Anyone uncomfortable with mildly explicit discussion of sex can skip to the end."

"The mounting support for equal rights for gay men and lesbians is a good thing, but one should challenge the expectation that the legally equal queer emulate the straight married person, and that we should aspire towards a broad and tolerant vision of multiple sexualities."

* * * * * * ** * *

Ish's post on Gay Pride day (predictably) developed a thoughtful exchange on sexuality and capitalism. The following is excerpted from two comments that appeared in that discussion.

This continues several discussions here on Kasama including "On telling each other how to fuck" and Jed Brandt's "Misuses of the Erotic: Debate Among Revolutionary Youth."

* * * * * ** * * * *

by Gary Keith wrote:

“But there is not an inherently and necessarily antagonistic contradiction between capital and gay liberation.”

I agree.

If by “gay liberation” we mean broad and growing acceptance of the idea that it’s ok for people of the same sex to fall in love, have sex, co-reside, get married, adopt kids, enjoy legal protections against discrimination in housing, employment, etc.—then no, there’s no antagonistic contradiction with capital. There are surely members of the ruling class motivated by religious beliefs to fund attacks on gay rights. But investors profiting off industries like fashion and entertainment surely don’t care if these are largely led by gay men.

When European “socialist” parties having embraced austerity programs try to maintain their support base by endorsing gay marriage; when the Pentagon announces plans to celebrate Gay Pride Month, and when Dick Cheney and his wife proudly announce their daughter’s marriage to her long-time woman partner, you know there’s no antagonistic contradiction between capitalism and gayness. Some of the most avid promoters of the Iraq War (like Andrew Sullivan) were openly gay… If you were to poll people at a gay pride march and ask their views about Obama’s drone strikes on Pakistan and Yemen I doubt the results would appreciably differ from a poll among the general population. In other words, homosexuality per se does not constitute a particular politics threatening the ruling class.

At this point there’d be nothing incongruous about the Navy recruiting young gay men to bomb Iran by means of the Village People’s 1978 (very gay) hit “In the Navy.”

For a variety of reasons—political struggle, the spread of knowledge, advances in science (the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to removed homosexuality from its list of “mental disorders,” the same decision by the American Psychological Association two years later and similar decisions by comparable bodies around the world), breakthroughs in popular culture such as the positive portrayal of gay men and lesbians on television and in film), the activities of “Gay Straight Alliances” in high schools, etc.—almost as many people in the U.S. now support as oppose gay marriage. Since the Netherlands legalized gay marriage in 2001, 14 countries have done so, plus eight U.S. states. Obama says he personally supports it. One has the sense that the battle for acceptance of homosexuality is being won (although I agree with Ish that what’s been obtained so far is not “gay liberation” but some (significant) reforms accompanied by the corporate cooption of parts of the movement).

But it is one thing to accept or tolerate a homosexuality that mirrors heterosexuality and the still dominant paradigm of stable, long-term, monogamous domestic relationships, and another to accept the realities of gay/queer sexual behavior.

While gay men and lesbians appear to have on average around 6 sexual partners during their lifetimes (the same figure that applies to straight men and women) a significant minority are not interested in or involved in a long-term relationship and not committed to long periods of celibacy but pursue “no strings” sex with numerous partners. Promiscuous by preference, they are perhaps no greater a proportion of the gay male population than their promiscuous counterparts in the straight male population but are the principal patrons of key gay institutions like gay bars and bathhouses.

By one estimate 2% of gay men in the U.S. are having 24% of gay sexual activity. The enjoyment may result in part precisely from novelty, variety and impersonal nature of the interaction.

So, having agreed that it’s ok to be gay, and to marry members of one’s own sex, how do we approach a subculture of promiscuity? Do we say: this is unhealthy, selfishly hedonistic, non-productive, etc., or concede that it’s a valid lifestyle appropriate for some? (I recall Bill Martin’s question: “Shouldn’t there be room in our understanding of sexuality for not letting go of the question, ‘Why can’t the myriad forms of sexuality simply be a source of joy?’ Yes, we go on from there to complicate things with questions of power and gender relations, etc., but why not allow ourselves the possibility (to say something slightly more complicated and less naive) that there is a ‘different economy’ possible and at work in sexuality that ought to be a beautiful thing and sometimes even is a beautiful thing.”)

Similarly: how do we approach the vast array of fetishes apparent in both gay and straight communities? If you peruse on-line sex ads (have largely taken the place of “hook up” areas as places where people arrange to meet) you find that gay men typically self-identify as either “bottoms” or “tops” and specify interest in anal and/or oral sex. (Such sources have been used by the way to produce some plausible statistics on sexual behavior; see for example this: .) These can be further subdivided into categories; there are men who like to suck but will not swallow, men who suck and like to swallow, etc. There is a division of labor, you might say, allowing the man who wants to fuck or be sucked to meet someone who wants to satisfy those needs. Do we “complicate things with questions of power and gender relations”? Do we say: this is un-egalitarian; we should strive for a world in which all gay men are “versatile”? Or do we accept the fact that sexual desire isn’t just about gender but the specific psychological and physical pleasures of favored acts?

I almost feel I should apologize for including the detail to follow, but I think it reasonable in the context of this discussion to be frank and specific. Anyone uncomfortable with mildly explicit discussion of sex can skip to the end.

Among the fetishes often mentioned in sex ads is bondage, which could involve handcuffs, rope, neckties etc. There are many people (gay and straight) who derive pleasure from the feeling of being controlled and unable to resist during sex. Do we say: bondage is the opposite of liberation, this is a matter of internalizing oppression, probably the result of a traumatizing experience in the past (etc)., or simply concede that this gratifies some people and accept it as socially harmless? Some people like to be blindfolded during sex, to highlight the anonymity of the act and allow for fantasy. Some men enjoy sucking penises through “glory holes;” the only thing they see of the partner is his penis. Do we say: this is dangerous, degrading behavior and struggle with such people to change their behavior? Or do we recognize it as their “source of joy”?

Many ads mention “watersports,” involving urinating on someone, or being urinated on, or even “drinking from the tap.” Do we say: that’s disgusting, unhealthy, and humiliating? (The person might respond that humiliation is in fact a turn-on.) Many ads mention specific clothes fetishes, all conveying different meanings: lingerie, leather, jock-straps. Do we tell the cross-dresser, you’re mocking women, and contributing to their oppression, by this behavior, and try to discourage it? Or do we say it’s harmless, and a source of stimulation for both the man in lingerie and his partner? Many ads are posted by, or in search of, transsexuals, most often feminine-looking males who’ve acquired breasts. Sometimes the partner wants to be the active partner, but some want it the other way around.

Many ads specify age preferences (athletic 23 seeking similar; son ,19 for dad over 40; older gent seeking same, etc.) Some seek “bears” (older, hairy men with bellies, typically tops) or “twinks” (smooth young men, typically bottoms). Should we say: the men shouldn’t have age preferences? Or suggest that older/younger relations are inherently exploitative of the younger? Or do we acknowledge that such preferences are normal and legitimate?

Some ads mention porn, and meeting to watch during mutual masturbations. Do we say that two men acquiring gratification while watching male-male sex are somehow—in the usual argument against porn—promoting the objectification of women? Or do we say: so long as the porn was made by consenting adults and contains nothing egregious, fine, noting that this is about as “safe” as sex gets?

The list could go on and on… Some have feet and footwear fetishes. Do we say: it’s wrong to debase yourself like that? Or do we realize that the odors powerfully stimulate some people? Some ask for sado-masochism (SM), of a lighter or heavier variety involving spanking (which some on the receiving end find very pleasurable) specially-made whips, clothespins on the nipples, “C&B torture” etc. Do we say: you’re nuts to take pleasure in pain and humiliation, or in its infliction on others? Or accept this too, as tolerable sexual activity? A lot of men like to rim (lick) other men’s anuses, sometimes specifying that they be “musky.” Do we say: that’s just nasty? Or recognize that it’s some men’s principal source of sexual pleasure?

Some gay couples seek out strangers for threesomes, or search for group sex parties. Do we criticize that, or accept is as innocent enjoyment? Some gay men like to seek out sex in specific venues like parks know as cruising zones, or public restrooms, “adult” bookstores, etc. Do we say: that’s all unacceptable, and we should make sure that police prevent it? Or do we conclude that so long as other people are not harmed by it or complaining about it, it can be tolerated? How do we view gay bathhouses, designed to facilitate multiple anonymous sexual encounters by providing private rooms, ambient pornography and facilities for group activity? Do we call them a threat to public health, or tolerate them while urging all involved to “play safe” knowing many will not?

I’m not suggesting that in the socialist society we hope for in the future revolutionary forces would intrude into the bedroom to prevent any mutual, consensual sexual activity. (But it might through the education system and various methods of propaganda try to promote some notion of “healthy sexuality” that is fundamentally conservative, as was surely the case in the USSR and China.)

I’m merely suggesting that tolerance for homosexuality, which did not for the most part exist in the two great socialist experiments of the 20th century, and came so late to the RCP and so many of us, is just part of the needed tolerance for sexual diversity as we struggle to liberate ourselves in all respects.

In my own opinion, all of the above is ok.

There need not be a communist “line” on any of it, just recognition of the complexity and variety of sexual desire and behavior. There are plainly forms of behavior that are wrong and ought to be illegal, including use of any kind of force. (But the issue is complicated by the fact that there are those who say they WANT to be forced, as part of a scenario discussed in advance. A lot of sex is part-theater.) Sex with children should be illegal; but note that the legal definition of child varies from country to country and the age of consent is 16 in most of Europe. (So gay or straight sex with a consenting 16 year old is ok in Britain, but if the U.S. government finds out about it, the man involved can be arrested upon arrival in the U.S. for breaking U.S. law overseas.) Kids are becoming active earlier and earlier, both with peers and much older people, often at their own initiative. The assumption that any sexual experience before one’s 18th birthday is damaging or a source of subsequent regret is simply wrong. (See Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors, intro by Jocelyn Elder, University of Minnesota, 2002.)

I’ve been referring to gay men (although many of the same fetishes occur among lesbians to—although apparently a lot less). But the situation is complicated by the fact that lots of self-defined “straight” men (perhaps heterosexually married and on the “down low”) seek out particular forms of gay sex. They may say they’re “not into men at all” and are absolutely not into kissing them, but they enjoy the experience of sucking a penis, or being sucked, or taking one or the other role in anal sex. You might think that would make them “bi” by definition but they will insist that no, they’re totally straight but just enjoy this sort of physical interaction. The term “metrosexual” has come to mean (rather like “queer”) someone who wants to defy sexual categories. An increasing number of youth are declining to categorize themselves as either straight or gay; I can’t find it now but there was a recent survey of high school students, I think in New York City, with figures showing this. In any case the world is not divided into straight and gay, but there are intermediate categories among both men and women and of course people less concerned about the gender of their partner than some other physical attribute or the activity they indulge in. The podophiliac (foot fetishist) might be equally stimulated by male or female feet…

Gay marriage is no threat to the system

But I’m wondering: might a society truly tolerant of diverse sexualities, that promotes sex education and the matter-of-fact study of alternative sexual practices, that promotes a cheerful attitude towards sexual pleasure including the “no-strings” type, and doesn’t uphold monogamy as a universal model, indeed threaten the system? Or will the system have to come down before such a society is possible?

In The Origin of the Family, Frederick Engels (following Lewis Henry Morgan) described the evolution of the family as the basic unit in human relations through specific stages, including the “pairing family” based on gender equality and the “monogamous family” based on patriarchy. He discussed how all kinds of events, such as the Protestant Reformation and European colonization, affected the family and marriage in modern times.

As I see it, the basic Marxist insight into gender and sexuality is to posit these things as ever changing and contingent on relations of production and other material circumstances such as the progress of science.

This contrasts with the religious viewpoint that marriage, established by God, has no history and the only “origin of the family” is the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation—the view expressed often in opposition to gay marriage by those declaring “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” or “I believe in marriage as it’s existed for 5000 years” etc.

In other words, Marx and Engels rejected any “natural” (fixed) state of human relationships. They were influenced by the radical critiques of the contemporary family made by Fourier and Owen and indeed asserted (as early as the Theses on Feuerbach) that the “earthly family” as it existed in the early nineteenth century must “be theoretically and practically destroyed.”

(On the other hand Engels was convinced homosexuality was “unnatural.” When sexual liberation pioneer Karl Heinz Ulrichs sent Marx and Engels his book on homosexuality in 1869 Engels opined that same-sex relations were “extremely against nature,” and repeated this view in Origin of the Family. This was a major error/blind spot in Marx & Engels’ work.)

Ish asks:

“…is it possible to judge human relationships free of the power relationships in capitalism?”

I’m not sure the problem is to “judge,” but rather to understand. Certainly the (good academic) studies of the history of sexuality firmly ground it in analyses of class society and material conditions. Geopolitical circumstances (the integration of large numbers of “Rosie the riveters” into the labor force in the 1940s), advances in science (the pill), the women’s liberation and gay liberation movements of the 1960s, the advent of the internet etc. have helped shape the sexual (and other) relationships of men and women in this country today.


How to understand “human relationships free of the power relationships in capitalism?” We can look at the socialisms which actually existed in the twentieth century, which of course were not at all “free of the power relationships in capitalism” (as Mao contra Stalin emphasized) but at least took steps towards sexual liberation (with landmarks like the New Marriage Law in China in 1950). My sense is that guaranteed education, housing, employment and medical care eroded the power of the father and husband and allowed people to more freely pursue all kinds of relationships. Women became formally, legally equal to men and much more independent. A general culture of egalitarianism emerged.

On the other hand, relationships could be affected by fear of the powerful state apparatus; in the Soviet Union, certainly, one hesitated to express criticisms even to close friends and relatives for fear of punishment. Homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union from 1933. This was not liberation. (Strangely enough, East Germany decriminalized homosexuality in 1957 and by the 1980s there was at least one state-run gay bar. The DDR was simultaneously the most efficiently repressive Soviet-bloc state—I think the depiction in the film The Lives of Others (2006) is probably accurate—and maybe the most “liberal” in terms of terms of sexual expression. Famed for its nudist venues.)

Imagine a society in which all the advantages of those (defeated or failed) socialisms are combined with legal and institutional frameworks allowing people to express their (innumerably varied) sexualities freely. One can’t predict specifically what it’d look like, but I think it’s an important goal.

@ Ghan Buri Ghan: I think you misunderstand and caricature my point, which you refer to as a “common error.” I am NOT saying that

“Marriage equality, openly gay military service, and Ellen DeGeneres have freed us up to fight for the civil rights of foot fetishists and water-sports enthusiasts.”

And I didn’t say that

“we are on the verge of winning the struggle for gay liberation.”

Quite the opposite!


I’m saying that the mounting support for equal rights for gay men and lesbians is a good thing, but one should challenge the expectation that the legally equal queer emulate the straight married person, and that we should aspire towards a broad and tolerant vision of multiple sexualities.

People in this conversation

Load Previous Comments
  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Was very happy to read what Mike said in his <b>Comment #131</b>. as I’ve been grizzuring about some of the tone of this debate.

    Hope Ian doesn’t take this in the wrong way, and I am not trying to single him out, but when in response to something I reiterated, he said, “Of course everything exists in a social context. That’s a moot point,” have to admit, I gave up wanting to even participate in this discussion.

    From what I’ve read thus far, what does seem to be an <i> overall point of unity </i>. is—not only do people agree that no one wants some form of bedroom police (be it bourgeois or proletarian), also--nor do people necessarily agree with the way communist revolutionaries have handled the myriad of contradictions surrounding sexuality and sexual behavior in the past.

    Guess I missed something, but what I have found sorely lacking in many of the comments is—does society, its values, social relations, its transformations, et al. go through actual changes when that society is either building socialism or when communism, is achieved?

    Kasama’s (as well as other revolutionaries) call for a “radical rupture in all social relations” is a lofty goal and premise; in fact, it’s a very tall order to fill—but hopefully it’s a premise, starting point, and basis for how we tend to view many of the contradictions that the people (and the revolutionaries among the people) face—both in the present and beyond.

    I’m from the old school—wherein, I tend to analyze things both from the economic base as well as the superstructure. What is predominant at different points in time? My view (which I’m hopefully not dogmatic about) is that sexuality and a variance of sexual behaviors, while related to the economic base, more fall under the purview of the superstructure, and/or some prevailing (and embedded) ideology.

    Was Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time,” with her vision of a more androgynous and gentler, less exploitative society all around but more specifically in the realm of sexuality, so whacky? Or is it something to be taken more seriously?

    Are we simply operating in a reactive (and defensive) way—in this case reacting to bourgeois (capitalist, semi-feudal) exploitative relations, or can we envision something else for the future—while fighting for that future in the here and now?

    Am going to repeat an example that has stuck with me for over 40 years, albeit not about sex but about religion. When the Revolutionary Union (precursor to the rcp) sent a delegation to then revolutionary China around 1970, upon their return, one of the comrades related one of his powerful experiences. He had met a peasant woman who was formerly a practicing Catholic. She said she was no longer either Catholic or religious. How come? “Because,” she said, “I no longer need to be.”

    And BTW—in revolutionary China there was only one crime considered a “capital offense,” and that was rape.

  • Guest - Maju

    @Mike: I really hate your example, which seems taken from the hyper-Patriarchal 10 commandments. And in order to sound even more Patriarchal, you totally obviated the role and desire of the woman in the love triangle of your example. Sorry, but you just did that.

    It's even possible that both wife and friend think that they are actually doing their husband/friend a favor by doing it secretly... you know.

    Whatever the case, while there may be issues of (betrayal of ) love and trust in your example, they are not comparable to the much more fundamental issues that ritually reproducing enslavement (a major scourge of Human history) for sexual satisfaction should trigger. If you compare slavery with adultery, it should be clear that they can't be compared at all.

    Otherwise I agree that, legal matters apart, there are important ethical implications and the matter of SM deserves deep debate - but not really (at least not at this stage) "official" moral judgments.

    @Gregory: I am sure that there are many cases in which SM is used as cover up or pretext for gender violence and other criminal behaviors. I visit BDSM blogs and sites frequently and I have to avoid certain kinds because they really trouble my sensibility (and in some specific cases I've felt obliged to file reports to the corresponding authorities because there was clear abuse of minors). But more critically I too frequently read people inside "the scene" discussing how there are too many instances of abuse under the pretext of an SM relation.

    True that this kind of abuse does also exist in other circumstances... but in BDSM the line between consensual "rape-play" and a real rape can be, depending of the people involved, very blurry. And the line between "playing kidnapping" and a real kidnapping as well... etc.

    So IMO there are particular criminal concerns surrounding this practice. I do not mean to imply that all BDSM doms are criminals and rapists, not at all, but that some are indeed and that "the lifestyle" serves them as cover and ideological excuse to bully their subs to silence and submission.

    This kind of line is much more clear in "vanilla" relations, where cuffs, cages, gags, spankings and basement dungeons are at the very least less quite rare.

    @Miles: you say some rather interesting things. I'll keep this one:

    "And BTW—in revolutionary China there was only one crime considered a “capital offense,” and that was rape".

    I can think other good reasons for capital punishment but of course rape, at the very least re-incident rape and much more rape of minors, should be most severely punished.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Apologies for perhaps coming off as hostile, as a gay-leaning guy who enjoys a bit of pain I was getting pretty frustrated with the tone myself - not because people were being hostile, more presumptuous.

    On social context, the point had been made a couple of times that sex was not just about individual gratification. Having argued we want to see a transformation in gender relations *overall* (ie not just in the realm of casual sex) and that consent should be a bottom line, reiterating that sex isn't just about individual gratification seemed like a strawman.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Maju - I'm on the fringes of the BDSM community, so I really have to disagree with your rather broad claim that <i>"there are too many instances of abuse under the pretext of an SM relation"</i>

    Are their abusive Doms in the various scenes?

    Of course there are - <b><i>just like there are abusive partners in the broader straight/vanilla community</i></b>

    it it any more prevalent in BDSM scenes?

    That's a good question.

    Do you have some hard numbers to back up your claims?

    In my limited experience - and in the far broader experience of my close friends and acquaintances in the BDSM world, in general folks in the various scenes are pretty damned anal about the whole consent thing (way more than most vanilla folks are, actually).

    In the better scenes doing nonconsensual stuff can get you kicked out and ostracized.

    On the commercial side of BDSM, bad clients can be, and from what I understand from women <i>"in the life"</i> (that is, they work as escorts) often are, informally blacklisted by the escorts. Independent escorts - and even a lot of the agency girls/boys - can, and do, verify references before they take on a client (there are informal but very effective means to do that, which I won't go into here since we're talking on an open wire) - getting bad references can make it really hard to get an escort.

    Speaking of prostitution, Mike and others here have spoken at length and quite passionately about the evils of pimps and pimping.

    It might interest them to know that, thanks in large part to the internet, it is possible for a prostitute to work without a pimp. Lots of them have websites (they have to be careful, but there are ways to avoid prosecution that I'm not going to share here because who knows who else besides us is reading this) and there are services like the Village Voice's backpage website that take adult ads.

    Craigslist used to be an option until the moralistic assholes from the <i>"rescue"</i> and <i>"anti trafficking"</i> groups teamed up with law enforcement to force that site to shut down it's adult ads - the same crowd of reactionaries are now targeting backpage.

    In any case, I forgot to mention that earlier and I wanted to put that out there to balance some of the moralistic "save the fallen women" rhetoric in above posts.

    Also, somebody upthread recommended Dr Laura Agustin and her excellent book <i>"Sex At The Margins"</i> a serious ethnographic study of migrant sex workers (hint - they aren't the helpless victims they are often portrayed as) - she also has an excellent website with a very amusing name, <i>"The Naked Anthropologist"</I> (lots of good info on sex work, including lots of space for the voices of actual sex workers, rather than the overbearing rhetoric of the moralists who want to "save" them).

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Miles Ahead - Just an aside, and sorry to go off topic, but the claim you make that <i>"in revolutionary China there was only one crime considered a “capital offense,” and that was rape"</i> simply isn't true.

    There were lots of death penalty offenses in Maoist-era China (1949-78) - including, depending on the time, place and circumstances; bribery, tax evasion, theft of state assets, cheating on government contracts, theft of state economic secrets and flagrant counterrevolution,

    Rape actually wasn't one of those death penalty offenses.

    Generally speaking, in the years between 1949 and 1975, convicted rapists only got 3 to 5 years in prison.

    There was a brief period, basically dating from 1975-77, when there were lots of executions for rape, as well as burglary, arson, looting and creating mass panic. Those defendants generally didn't get actual trials - either the police or the local revolutionary committee held an impromptu "struggle meeting" shortly after the arrest, the defendant didn't get a lawyer or have a right to a defense and the execution was carried out shortly thereafter. It's anybody's guess how many of those defendants were actually guilty of the crime they were charged with and executed for.

  • Guest - Maju

    @Gregory: I do not have hard figures. I just read stuff from people inside. Surely most BDSM scene people are strict with consensuality (I also read a lot of stuff about that, of course) but there are also those other stories. For example:

    The kind of answer she gets is: "I don’t do drama. This is a respected person in the community. I’m very sorry that you had a miscommunication during your scene that made it not very fun for you, but I don’t want to hear about it".

    Rape becomes miscommunication?

    "Stryker argued in her essay, “I Never Called It Rape,” that the community is so “focused on saying how BDSM isn’t a cover for abuse that we willingly blind ourselves to the times that it can be,” she wrote. “How on earth can we possibly say to society at large that BDSM is not abuse when we so carefully hide our abusers and shame our abused into silence?”

    You can find these stories all around if you look for them.

    Of course things even much worse can happen in vanilla relations but in vanilla relations we all know (in theory at least) that "no" means no and "elephant" is a big gray animal instead. A problem in BDSM is that boundaries are a lot blurrier.

    But I'm sure that MOST doms, who are the ones actually running the BDSM show most of the time, want or at least like to think of themselves as 200% respectful and safe... but they (we, as I must include myself at least to some extent) must know well that the boundaries are blurry and there's a clear risk of abuse in that blurry zone.

    You can find many more stories like those if you google for keywords like "BDSM abuse" or similar. Nobody is talking of prostitution but initially free BDSM relations.

    But, whatever the case, I do not like your attempt to whitewash or water down the seriousness of sex slavery rings. Maybe many migrant sexual workers are willing (as "willing" as one can be under capitalist conditions) but there is also a lot of slave trade in extreme abusive conditions under the cover of "honest" prostitution. That's for real and I do not feel the need to document it because I know for sure: I have read, watched and even heard personally the stories by some of the victims.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Maju - Anecdotes =/= data.

    As i said, I'm sure there are abusive Doms - however, absent hard numbers I'm not going to make broad brush allegations against an often persecuted sexual minority - especially because that persecution is often justified by just those sorts of claims of abuse.

    As far as human trafficking, whatever anecdotes you may want to offer, the cold hard fact is, there is a whole industry of NGOs and police agencies around the world that get an awful lot of funding trying to "rescue" sex workers who, allegedly, are slaves. It's quite common for them to cook up numbers out of whole cloth. A perfect example being the absurd claims that <i>100,000 human trafficked prostituted women</i> were going to be brought to Dallas for last year's Super Bowl.

    The Dallas Police actually launched an investigation based on those claims.

    They discovered exactly <i><b>ONE</i></i> allegedly human trafficked sex worker in the entire city on Super Bowl weekend.

    Dr Laura Agustin has extensively documented these myths of human trafficking, and the actual realities of sex workers lives.

    She's done extensive research and also writes about the issue extensively on her excellent blog:

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    This is what Cambodian sex workers have to say about the whole <i>"human trafficking"</i> issue, and all the police abuse they've had to suffer because the NGOs claim that they are "trafficking victims" rather than sex workers who are "in the life" voluntarily.

  • Guest - Maju

    Gregory, I understand that you are worried about police hostility against sex workers and I share your concern but that should not serve to whitewash or relativize the most pressing issue of sexual slavery in some prostitution rings all around the World.

    Prostitution should be legal (at least until an "open access" alternative is widespread) and prostitutes should be legally protected. But that is exactly my point.

    Instead you seem to be using the issue of fascist cops harassing sex workers as an excuse to ignore the matter of sexual slavery, which even in your articles is described as very real: "... not just children and sex slaves locked in brothels" or "we all hate human trafficking, especially when children are affected".

    It's real. Get real.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Maju - There are a couple of problems with the whole "sexual slavery" narrative.

    One, "rescuing sex slaves" gets used as a justification for <i>police persecution of adults who are voluntarily in the life". In places like Cambodia, this often leads to sex workers being <b><i>robbed and raped</i></b> by the police who are supposedly <i>"rescuing"</i> them. Even in places like New York City or Philadelphia, arrested sex workers are often given the "choice" of prison time or "voluntarily" entering "rescue" programs that will "reeducate" them into accepting their proper lot in life as low wage workers (a far more "moral" alternative to them actually making decent money as sex workers"

    Two, we actually have no idea how big the sexual slavery problem really is, because the NGOs and police agencies who are getting funded to "fight sex trafficking" systematically lie and exaggerate the scope of the problem. You claim that "it's real" but neither you nor the Rescue Industry NGOs have any reliable statistics.

    Three, nobody wants to end human trafficking more than sex workers, and, since they are on the ground in the life, nobody can detect human trafficking more easily than sex workers. However, as long as sex work is criminalized, any sex worker who tries to report human trafficking puts her/his freedom at risk to do so.

    Bottom line, we really need to cut it out with this whole "fallen women" narrative of prostitution (besides the fact that it invisibilized the many <b>male and transgendered sex workers</b> who don't quite fit the bill of maidens who need to be rescued from evil pimps and perverted johns).

    We have to support the <i><b>labor struggles of sex workers</i></b> rather than viewing them as helpless victims who need to be rescued by the police and the NGOs.

    This whole moralistic idea that sex workers need to be "rescued" has been around since the 1830s and it's as false now as it was then.

    Also, while you seem uninterested in statistically quantifying the scope of human trafficking. I really don't see how we can solve the problem without having hard numbers.

    Are we talking about 100 women, or 1,000, or 10,000, or 1 million? What about male and trangendered trafficked sex workers? Those are both big market sectors, in some cities (New York, Bangkok, Abidjan) possibly as big as if not bigger than the traditional cisgendered female sex worker market. Are the guys and the transfolk being trafficked too?

    Also, how many of those "trafficked" persons are just garden variety <i>international migrant workers who had to pay a smuggler to help them get into imperialist countries with high wage scales and strict immigration laws</i>? There are about 11 million Americans who had to pay a <i>pollero</i> or a <i>coyote</i> money to get across the Mexican border to get here - how come we don't hear any hue and cry about "human trafficking" of construction laborers and restaurant cooks? Could it possibly be the fact that most of those migrant workers are <i><b>men</i></b> who are presumed to have personal agency when they make decisions to pay a smuggler to help them get to higher paying job opportunities in other countries?

    The "human trafficking" myth doesn't help our sisters and brothers in the sex work industry.

    It only helps the police (and not just the "fascist" police in Cambodia but "democratic" police in places like New York and Vancouver as well) and the Non Governmental Organizations and Not For Profit Community Based Organizations who get funded to help the police persecute sex workers (GEMS, the New York City-based group that made that HBO "documentary" <i>Very Young Girls</i> is a perfect example of one of these groups that profits from police persecution of sex workers - it's leader Rachel Lloyd has become famous and wealthy thanks to the Rescue Industry and the steady stream of sex workers that are forced into her privatized corrections program by the courts in Brooklyn, New York)

    So no, I'm not going to take your claims that "human trafficking is real" just on faith alone.

    Back it up with some statistics - not just fairy tales about "fallen women".

  • Guest - Maju

    All you say has NOTHING to do (except maybe in the police discourse, which is obviously contradictory) with the existence of sexual/prostitution slavery. It has to do with prostitution being illegal or borderline legal because of puritanism (be it Christian or Buddhist or Islamic or whatever other kind of stupid annoying puritanism) and most specifically with the US system of prison (or otherwise corrective) slavery.

    So I do not say that your complaints are not justified but that's not because sexual slavery is not real but because there are way too many exploitative hypocrites in the System, ready to make a quick profit out of ANYTHING.

    In the Netherlands, a country that is world famous for its tolerance of almost everything (in spite of its truly Puritan roots) it is estimated that there are thousands of sex slaves being trafficked every year, and some 800 are effectively rescued yearly (most but not all women, cf. There is no relevant police corruption nor moralist persecution nor prison slavery in the Netherlands AFAIK, prostitution is legal and regulated... yet exploitation and abuse are common enough.

    I watched recently a documentary that tangentially dealt on the sexual slavery of minors in Thailand and apparently the Dutch colony of pedophiles and pederasts is particularly notable. Off camera personal of the embassy acknowledged it and said that they would not want them back to the Netherlands.

    But of course that's a lot of "tourism money" for the Thai economy, so in most cases the real criminals, the pederasts, will not be persecuted at all. I can only presume that the Cambodian case is similar but less well known.

    Back to Europe, anecdotal stories are known by the thousands (for instance: but we all know that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    Sure maybe 80% or even 95% of all prostitution business (depending where) are legit but there's a big number of truly criminal enterprises that are absolutely unacceptable.

    You can't just pretend that it does not exist.


    And I do hear of exploitation of male immigrants or immigrants regardless of gender, very specially at the Mexico-US border, where the most brutal mafias often extort migrants for money and kill them if their relatives don't pay, or just abandon them in the desert after getting paid for the journey. But stories about withholding of passports and other documents, effective imprisonment, etc. AFTER crossing the borders are quite rarer, they are more likely to happen in Chinese rural sweatshops or Indian child slave labor quarries, at the other side of the imperial border, so to say.

    Nobody says they must not be persecuted but they are less likely to affect migrants.

    There is one major exception however: Arab countries, specially in the Gulf but also Lebanon, etc., where migrant workers, typically from Tropical Asia, are brutally abused in conditions of de facto slavery. Again this major labor slavery issue is only rarely debated in the mainstream or even the red media.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Maju - We're having two different conversations here.

    You're talking about the alleged widespread sex slavery. I am glad that you finally decided to offer a side order of statistics with your main course of moral outrage and anecdotes. Unfortunately, your stats come from the Rescue industry and are thus unreliable.

    I'm talking about showing solidarity with our sisters and brothers who work in the sex industry and ending police persecution of them, in particular police persecution of immigrant sex workers in places like Cambodia. To me, solidarity with sex workers and decriminalization of sex work is the priority. Dealing with the trafficked sex worker population (first and foremost finding out how many there are) will only happen with decriminalization. Yes, <i>decriminalization</i> is very different than the <i>licensing</i> model that we see in the Netherlands and Nevada. Under licensing, sex workers are still subject to police surveillance and persecution - decriminalization means that the legal system leaves sex workers the hell alone and lets them work without harassment.

    You seem to only want to talk about trafficking.

    I want to talk about sex worker solidarity.

    We're talking past each other and that's pointless.

    Have a nice day, and good luck rescuing all the fallen women.

  • Guest - Gary

    As in all these questions of sexuality, I think we should start from the observation that they are complicated, then ask educated questions and try to critically analyze.

    Prostitution in the sense of exchanging sex for remuneration has been going on since the dawn of class society (and maybe even earlier). The term has even been applied by Marxists and feminists to the institution of bourgeois marriage, and certainly there are people who engage in unfulfilling unwanted sex in exchange for security and support in marriages or domestic partnerships. Prostitution is a range of behaviors, from male and female prostitutes in the ancient Middle East (who had a religious role in raising money for the temple) to the berdache shamans among many Native American peoples to the Noh actors of medieval Japan who often doubled as prostitutes serving theater patrons. On the one extreme is the outright sexual slavery (say, of Nepali girls kidnapped and sent to Mumbai brothels); on the other, the entirely voluntary sex-labor of (some) male prostitutes in Manila who tell researchers that yes, in fact, they enjoy what they do. Or the courtesans of various cultures, from ancient India to Renaissance Venice, who definitely made their money from sex but also could choose their customers and held a position of some prestige in their societies.

    And there are many gradations in between. Think of the Japanese girl (or boy) up to the early 20th century “indentured” to a brothel by a parent driven by poverty to seek the advance payment (maybe to support other children) knowing that the prostituted child would be better fed and clothed than if she remained in the household? In that culture of Confucian-based filial piety and somewhat Buddhistic resignation to fate, what we assume to be the pain of the profession might be mitigated by a sense of “doing the right thing.”

    Some questions (in no particular order).

    How does the prostitute feel about what he/she is doing? Should we assume a sense of regret and shame?

    Should we pooh-pooh the assertion by some sex workers that they are doing what they do happily? Should we try to psychoanalyze them as people who don’t really know what they want or should want, who are mired in deep delusion and denial?
    There are studies suggesting that we should not automatically.

    How do cultures differ in their attitudes towards having sex for money? How do they differ in their views of the prostitutes, for example, as prospective marriage partners? (Many prestigious Japanese men have married ex-prostitutes. I once heard a scholar denouncing the “comfort women” sexual enslavement of Korean women by the Japanese during the Second World War claim that while Japanese have not traditionally been much concerned about virginity as a moral good and premise for marriage, Korean culture more influenced by Confucianism emphasizes these. Hence the vile practice of the Japanese Army was linked to a broader criticism of Japanese culture---as though it naturally produced these type of moral atrocities. I’ve always opposed this kind of reductionist thinking.)

    How does religion shape views on this issue? And how flexible are religions in finding rationales to circumvent what might seem to be clear prohibitions of commercial sex? (In some parts of the Muslim world, it’s ok for a prostitute and patron to have sex if they enter into a temporary marriage, even if it only lasts half an hour…)

    How much does all this have to do with views of sex and the body and pleasure more generally?

    Is it possible that someone making money from sexual activity and using it to support family derives some sense of moral satisfaction from it? The sense of doing what is necessary to help mom and dad, or other family members?

    Might there not be a range of psychologies pertaining to the exchange of money for sex? There are people who seek out sex, specifying that they’d appreciate some $, but that might not be principal. There are people who are not at all destitute (including some affluent housewives) who derive excitement from role-playing as prostitute and collecting a fee. Might not the exchange of money itself have an erotic content for some, both buyer and seller?

    How are individual responses to sex relevant? There are people who are “highly sexed” (for various reasons, maybe not only hormonal), and there are those who aren’t. Might some pressured or forced into “sex work” for some reason readily take to it as they experience what it means for their bodies and minds, while others hate every minute and try to switch off their minds to reduce the pain?

    Shouldn’t people committed to (what they consider) the emancipation of sex workers think about such questions? Wouldn’t it be arrogant and insensitive to those they want to free not to do so?

    Pimps are a form of capitalist. They make money from the labor of others. (I think prostitution is a form of productive labor---producing a service in exchange for money.) But aren’t there a wide range of pimps? There’s the big brothel owner (male or female, and gender might impact the nature of the relationship between employer and worker). Then there’s the destitute young couple who’ve decided to do this for awhile, and the man (maybe dealing drugs too) who (by what might be mutual agreement) arranges for his girlfriend to get tricks. (In college I once bought weed from a guy on the street. He was kind enough to drive me to a place to buy it and drove me back, for a small commission. I wanted to show my appreciation so I shared some with him in his tiny cubicle apartment. There was a woman there, whom I understood to be his girlfriend. He hinted---I only realized it later---that she was available. He assumed that I was interested, but I was totally not. So we just toked up and then I left, confronted at the door by an angry landlord complaining about prostitution in the building. I think I just laughed in his face. Anyway I thought: this is just very sad---a young couple agreeing to commercial sex because they need the money. Anyway I don’t think the man in this case was comparable to brothel owner or even despised as a “pimp” although I suppose he was by definition.

    How do we differentiate morally (and should we?) between the couple doing something like that, and the various kinds of “swingers” who (seeking no remuneration at all) do comparable things? There are couples who derive enjoyment by hosting strangers who have sex with one or the other while the other watches. Maybe the man finds some sort of stimulation in a sense of humiliation (?) as a more physically powerful man fucks his wife in his presence. Maybe the woman unsatisfied with monogamy finds this liberating. Isn’t it all their business? Shouldn’t we always, even if we find such questions troubling, be asking them?

    There are of course many more questions to ask.

    I personally, as I've said, think sex should be dissociated from money. This may because I feel (egotistically?) that if you "have to" pay for sex, then you're saying to yourself that you're not sufficiently attractive to get it otherwise. So it's demeaning to procure what should just occur through "natural" non-commercial interaction. But this discussion is stimulating, and I feel my thoughts in flux... which is as it should be.

  • Guest - Maju

    IMO it's you who is making an issue of police raids in relation with slavery in the prostitution business (and in some cases also in the foreign bride business). Defending the right of workers obviously should begin with opposing slavery, you however seem to want to minimize it.

    What you should do is to question those "charities" (business) of reeducation (more slavery) and you should oppose that prostitutes are forced to join such exploitation rings. But denying the existence of sexual slavery only harms your cause, which is legitimate otherwise.

    About license model, I can't say if it's better or worse but every business needs a license and are forced to pay taxes, social security, etc. You can't open a shop without a license, you can't legally work as plumber without a license, you can't even drive a car without a license - hell, you can't even sell lemonade before your home without a license anymore (the FDA or equivalent will probably be behind you). I'm not judging that as good or bad but why would you expect prostitution to be different?

  • Guest - Contrarian

    Gary said:

    "I personally, as I’ve said, think sex should be dissociated from money. This may because I feel (egotistically?) that if you “have to” pay for sex, then you’re saying to yourself that you’re not sufficiently attractive to get it otherwise. So it’s demeaning to procure what should just occur through “natural” non-commercial interaction. But this discussion is stimulating, and I feel my thoughts in flux… which is as it should be."

    Let me raise something else in resaponse, something not often discussed: What if the reality is that some people, for a variety of reasons, are actually NOT "considered :sufficiently attractive enough" to get sex without money being a consideration. In some cases, this may happen as a result of traumatic injuries, including losses of limbs, major injury from fire, or developmental delays and problems that make make social interactions difficult for some people. Some elderly people may find it extremely difficult to find normal sex partners and outlets, as may some disabled or ill people.

    I have talked to peeople I know who are sex workers who have numerous stories of having clients in such situations, and who tell me they actually feel like they are doing a public and community service and good in providing the only possible available sexual release for such people.

    Of course you could say that ultimately, we need to create a society in which stereotyped ideas of beauty and physical attractiveness are not the sole basis upon which people enter into intimate personal relationships. In theory, I agree with that. I would like it if many people would not winch away from the idea of having sex with someone who lost a limb or two, was badly burned in a fire, or became partially paralyzed, but instead woul respond to them as people with needs and feelings just like anyone else.

    I was once going to physical therapy sessions myself at a center where there were many people with different kinds of injuries or disabilities. A young man who had been horribly burned and disfigured in an apartment fire started coming there and was scheduled for the same three mornings a week thyat I went there. We all sat around a table in the waiting room while waiting for our turn with the physical, occupational or speech therapist or vocational counselor, or nurse. I quickly saw that most of the other patients very carefully avoided ever even looking at this young man. And yes, he was difficulot to look at at first. I do not exclude myself from that. I shied away at first also from looking at him much. And even MORE clearly NO ONE spoke to him. Not even hi or good morning after he had been sitting with the same group for three or four days.

    I thought about this a lot, and tried to put myself in his place. The seats on either side of his were ALWAYS empty. Some people would even, if that was the only seat available, go instead into the bathroom and sit on the toilet for 15 minutes until time for their therapy rather than sit next to him.

    So I decided that I would myself make a concerted effort to change that, eeven ifr no one else would. I started sitting next to him in the morning, introduced myself to him, asked him about himself and what had happened to him and what he did in his life.

    You know, of course, that it turned out that he was an interesting, intelligent, sensitive person with a lot to offer as a friend, companion, conversationalist. He was also incredibly angry and frustrated about how almost everybody was treating him.

    How far do you think he would get dropping by a bar, a social event, or a party trying to find a girlfriend? In fact, as he told me, his girlfriend, who had previously lived with him, but had not been home when the fire occurred, dropped him after the fire happened. She couldn't cope with it, with his physical appearance.

    Many people with obvious but even lesser disabilities are accustomed to not being treated like people by most of those they encounter. Yes, I had a blind friend in college who ultimately found someone who understood what a special, funny, and wonderful guy he was, and they got married. But he has friends from the school for the blind he once attended long ago, who are now all in their 60's, several of whom have told him that they have never had a real girlfriend their entire lives.

    So I don't know. If one of thesee blind guys or the guy horribly disfigured in the fire had answered an online ad, called up one of the "escort" services in all big city phone books, or otherwise hooked up with a sex worker, I would be awful hesitant to get super judgmental about them doing so, particularly in the current society, where too many treat sex as something only to be engaged in with the very "attractive" in a purely physaical sense, or only with thse with the trappings of "success" like a job with a six figure income, a professional degree and license, or other trappings of what contemporary society views as desirable.

    Just hought I'd throw this into the discussion.

  • Guest - Gary

    I think that's an excellent, thought-provoking contribution to the discussion, Contrarian. In a socialist society I think it would be better to have institutionalized methods for dealing with this very real problem, mobilizing people who---motivated by compassion as opposed to the expectation of monetary reward---would provide sexual companionship to the sort of people you describe. In present society, no, I agree, I shouldn't judge a person shunned for a handicap (or even homeliness or poor social skills) for purchasing sex. But I do think that this is one of those things that will and should "wither away" over time.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    The emphasis here has shifted over to prositution rather than pornography. Since some have tried to merge the two into one, it's worth reemphasizing the distinction again.

    I think that the majority of those who enter prostitution as a way of making money are usually driven by economic impoverishment. There may be some who hit a good deal, get some steady high-paying clients, and are thereafter happy in their profession. Many others would likely quit if a socialist society offered them an alternate way of paying the bills. Hence it is reasonable to expect a decline, though not a total disappearance, of prostitution when the socialist paradise starts to from.

    This is not the case with pornography. There are many women (and not only women) who actually relish the act of posting photos and videos of themselves online and freely available. There is no reason to believe that this would suddenly change under a dictatorship of the proletariat. Unless the intent is to recycle the bollocks where Buddhists and Shakespeare-enthusiasts are damned as capitalist roaders, then all bets are off as to what sort of lunacy may come next. But apart from that as a prospect, it's quite plausible that many women in the workers paradise will find more time available for jerking off in front of a webcam.

  • I think that most pornography is filmed prostitution. There is a subset of pornography today that is related to self-filming... But in general, pornography and prostitution are closely connected -- and many of the problems with one are shared by the other (physical abuse, pressure to perform unsafe acts, economic and drug dependency, unseen but intimidating presence of pimps, etc.)

    Something else: commodified sex is heavily wrapped in fantasy and illusion. Men engage in paid sex for the fantasy of desirability, not just for the physical pleasure of the sex. Part of the "job" of prostitutes is to envelope the experience in the illusion that the client is desirable, that the prostitute herself is enjoying it (and getting off), that she loves the experience and is a voracious "party girl" etc. etc. And of course, that personna is also a mainstay of prostitution fantasies (where the person of the "porn star" is presented as a sexual voracious person, an emissary of sex, etc.)

    It needs to be said that it is a mistake to confuse that fantasy for reality -- and to believe that the image of the prostitute and porn star (presented to the consumer and the client) is actually <em>who</em> those women are, and <em>how</em> those women feel about it. Perhaps, there are some women who do fit that persona (for a period of their life, or at some moment in their day) -- but overall, it is an illusion that is crucial to the prostitution (and mirrors the expectations and desires of the client).

    I also want to note Ian's point much earlier: That once prostitution is legal (as it is in various societies from Colombia to Netherlands etc.), then there is a public effort to intervene in the policy discussions and wage disputes (for the right to have sex with condoms, for safe conditions, for an end to the exploitation by pimps, for decent income, etc.) I understand Ian is talking about those conditions.

    Meanwhile, those conditions (and the very ability of prostitutes to speak publicly in society about their conditions) are limited to a very few countries, and to a certain tier of prostitutes in those countries -- and even within countries where prostitution is legal, there are a lot of conditions where women (for example moving from Eastern Europe to Israel to Amsterdam or Spain) live under highly coerced conditions, sometimes have their papers taken by pimps, are kept in confinement to prevent escape, etc.

  • Guest - Red Terror

    Contrarian: I find your argument bizarre and, speaking as someone who has done time as what is diplomatically being called a "sex worker", rather offensive. No one is entitled to sex. Period. Perhaps it's tragic that some people for whatever reason cannot find sex partners, and they have my sympathy, but that does not entitle them to use the economic violence of the male supremacist system to gain access to female bodies. You argue that prostituted women would be doing a "public service" to these men by having sex with them because they have no other outlet for sexual release...are they incapable of masturbating? Women do not owe men sex. EVER. And I find it disturbing that you frame the issue as "women are too socialized to judge based on looks". Guess what, it is absolutely none of your business who women find attractive, if you are anyone else doesn't meet that standard, IT IS NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF WOMEN TO CHANGE TO ACCOMMODATE YOU. This is the same old re-heated bullshit attempt to control women's sexuality that comes the right everyday, this time dressed up in fancy "left" jargon. The liberation of women will only be possible at the point where women can wield complete control over their sexual and reproductive lives...this is impossible in a world where women are economically and socially pressured into sex. The goal for communists should be the complete abolition of any and all coerced sex, and that obviously includes prostitution.

    And I'm sorry, I cannot help but shake my head when I read the ridiculous happy-hooker fantasies of people like Gregory A Butler. Obviously I cannot speak for everyone who has been prostituted and trafficked, but the vast, VAST, majority of women in the trade are there because they're desperate and feel like they have no other options. Sure, they will bullshit about how much they enjoy their job, but guess what, THE ENTIRE JOB OF THE PROSTITUTED WOMAN IS TO LIE. Lying convincingly is her bread ticket. The better she can lie to the john, the more she can convince him she is enjoying herself, oh yes, it is so wonderful to be here on my knees in a filthy apartment sucking an fat old man's dick so I can pay my rent next week, the better her chances are of keeping him "hooked" and getting return business. And for the record: what prostituted women tell people on the outside and johns and what they tell other people in the same position are two completely different things. I realize this is an appeal to my own personal authority, but in all my time in the business and with all the friendships I forged, I have never, NEVER met a woman who was honestly in it for reasons outside of economic desperation. NEVER. The happy "sex-positive" prostitute is a fabrication of liberal male supremacist post-modern academia. She does not exist, and by brandying her about as a rhetorical device to serve your own arguments, you prove your loyalty lies with the exploiters rather than the exploited.

    I'm sorry for the emotional tone of this post, it's a subject that is very personal to me and if a mod wishes to edit it I understand. And I realize this probably reads like a college freshman term paper in comparison to some of the other posters here, but I'm still honing my writing skills in addition to learning about Maoism, and I'm not totally up on all the jargon yet. So thanks for bearing with me.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Red Terror - I don't doubt your truth and your story - I believe you when you speak of how sex work affected you.

    I understand that sex work is a very difficult job, physically and emotionally and sex workers have to deal with abusive clients, police harassment and the hypocritical moralistic stigma.

    I do doubt you when you claim to speak for <i>"the vast, VAST majority"</i> of other sex workers, current and former, and when you claim that said vast, VAST majority of sex workers lie about <i>the life</i> to folks from the straight world.Nobody that I know who's in the life ever lied and said it was a wonderful job - it's hard work and they are often treated badly, by madams, johns, cops and custys alike, and often even by other sex workers.

    Is your claim that all sex workers lie about <i>the life</i> to outsiders also hold for scholars of sex work like Dr Laura Agustin and sex worker authors like Tracy Quan?

    Also, how do you feel about men and transgender women doing sex work?

    You are very passionate about <i>"prostituted women"</i> - does that passion only extend to cisgender women, or does it include your transgender sisters who were born in male bodies, many of whom are woman-identified folks who retain male anatomy?

    Speaking of male anatomy, how do you feel about the rentboys and male escorts?

    Does your disdain for women being <i>"prostittuted"</i> also extend to <b><i>MEN</I></B> being <i>"prostituted"</i>

    There's quite a few of them, from what I understand, especially in places like New York and LA.

    While were at it, what about strippers, pro dommes, porn actors and actresses and other non-prostitute workers in the sex industry?

    Are they <i>"prostituted women</i> too?

    However, let's say that you're totally right here (despite the lack of any evidence other than your appeal to your own personal authority as a <i>former prostituted woman")</i> and I'm totally wrong.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I take it that you are an <i><b>Abolitionist</i></b> who wants to abolish all sex work.

    Do you have any proposals as to how exactly we would do that?

    Sex work has been around for a very long time, probably since the dawn of private property.

    It's been around for as long as marriage and in fact the two institutions arose together, for basically the same reason (control of female sexuality and reproductive capacity).

    Even major social revolutions like the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949 didn't abolish sex work, despite the extensive persecution inflicted on sex workers in those countries by the vice squad officers of the NKVD ["People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs" - the USSR's pre 1956 national police force] and the People's Armed Police and <i>Hungweibing</i> ["Red Guards"].

    The social forces that created the demand for sex work and the sex worker labor force couldn't be negated no matter how many Soviet sex workers were transported to the GULAG and how many Chinese sex workers were sent down to the <i>Laogai</i>

    If Stalin and Mao couldn't abolish sex work, how do you propose that we do?

    That's the logic of sex worker activism and sex work decriminalization.

    If sex work is always going to be with us (and that seems to be the reality) the most logical approach would be to try and make sex work into as decent a job as possible - first and foremost, to end police persecution of sex workers.

    However, perhaps I'm totally wrong on that - after all, I'm from the straight world and I don't know <i>the life</i> from the inside like you do.

    Again, how would you propose we get to a world where sex work no longer exists?

    What do we do to provide employment for former sex workers?

    Do you advocate we develop an American version of Nick Kristof's <i>"sewing machine"</i> approach for Cambodian sex workers (that is, having the police arrest/"rescue" them from brothels, sending them to NGO-run "rehabitation" facilities that are more accurately described as detention camps and, once "rehabilitated" it's off to the garment sweatshops to work for poverty level wages!) Rachel Lloyd would make a perfect American version of Somaly Mam - all we'd have to do is to find the appropriate low wage sweatshop jobs for "rehabilitated" American sex workers!

    On the real side, that's what sex work abolition looks like on the ground - from GEMS here in NYC to Nick Kristof and Somaly Mam's "rescue" operation in Cambodia - "rehabilitation" of "fallen women" with a policeman's nightstick to force the sex workers to comply or else.

    Again maybe I'm totally wrong here - and I would like to hear your vision of a world without sex work.

    You're actually a pretty good writer and you do a good job of explaining yourself and your views concisely (I wish I could be as brief and focused as you were in your post - I tend to be rather long-winded) - I'd like to hear what you propose to abolish sex work.

  • Guest - Contrarian

    Well, Red Terror, there are valid points in part of what you say. True, no one is "entitled" to sex, in the sense of having the right to demand it from a particular person. But then again, I think it is a real genuine tragedy that so many are denied it because of personal appearance, injury, disability or streotypical ideas of beauty which are indocrinated into people by the profit system Second, don't put words into my mouth. I said nothing about how women, in particular, are socialized vis a vis appearance. It applies to both genders. There are also women who are unable to easily find sex partners (except possibly abusive ones) because of appearance, disability, illness, elderly age, major injury. (There are also, as you know, sex workers of both genders, as well as some who are in the transgender group,).

    I would like, ultimately, to live in a society in which each and every adult human being who wanted to find a lover would be able to, because we had gotten beyond the superficial and learned to value people for their overall qualities, and to regard each and every other person as a brother or sister in the broadest sense of that term.

    I am not saying that disabled or disfiguired people buying sex is any sort of ideal or to be "promoted." I am simply saying that, in many instances, it is understandable under current conditions, and I would hesitate to be judgmental about those who do. The way to change that is to alter the entirety of all existing social relations and the ideas which grow out of and support them.

    Additionally, it was sex workers I have talked to (or both genders by the way) who said that they felt like they were doing something good by taking clients who were disabled or disfigured.

    And as for offensive, what is this image you conjure up of "sucking an fat old man’s dick." It is one thing to say you are against the practice of prostituion, i.e. selling and buying sex for money. I would suspect that just about everone in this discussion is, although many do not support the current hypocrisy of using police, laws, courts, etc. to suppress it. But the way you put it partially makes my point. Do you think there is something so horrible about a sexual act with a person because they are old or fat? I'll also assume that you don't think there is anything inherently bad about oral sex in particular. I'll assume you are not saying you are a big fan of sex workers kneeling down "in a filthy apartment" to suck the dick of a "young thin man." The emotional edge of the way you expressed your position was to stigmatise the fat and the old.

    There are terrific people in this world who are 75 lbs and others who are 450, some of whom are 18 and some of whom are 104. Most of them desire sex at some time, it is a natural desire. And of course they can masturbate. (as someone said, don't knock masturbation, it is sex with someone I love). But most people prefer to have sex with a partner. A posiive social goal would be to strive for a society where everybody could find one.

  • Guest - Maju

    Red Terror: thanks for saying what must be said. I was reading Contrarian's male-centric "sex utopy" and I thought about replying something in the line of much more likely that sex toys and robots take charge of that (or more commonly in people with functional hands the old good self-managed wanking).

    But I was tired of the debate, so I shut up.

    Gregory replies about men being prostituted, what brings me to two things:

    (1) Many men (and underage boys, who are often the victims of male sex trade) would probably prefer some other kind of job. Personally I was placed in that alternative when I was 20 and I decided to decline (and beg for food instead) but it was clearly a very bad option. Yes also for men it is abuse: much better to make some productive manual work in a farm or whatever, at least according to my mentality, which tends to consider that sex and love should be related (not exactly the same thing but certainly in close contact) and hence all sex without love (friendship is ok, I'm not too supportive of monogamy or soap operas either, but horizontal, consensual and not-for-profit in any case) and very specially tainted by money as corrupt (and is probably true that it's corrupt in most cases).

    (2) I have seen before among some people in the gay community this lack of criticism towards male prostitution, even when it is performed by minors. I do not like it and I find it very much questionable: some old boys are here hanging to the privileges that money gives (and renouncing to the responsibility that age should carry with) them and causing psycho-emotional damage to children in the process.

    I stopped reading when he began waving gulag stories that are mostly irrelevant scarecrows. I am concerned about young boys and women (and transgender, sure) who are being exploited this way. Maybe they have no other options and other ways of exploitation are similarly bad... but still.

    Then Contrarian raises some good points about people (also women, yes) being discriminated because of looks or age in their opportunity to find relations. However I suspect that prostitution or the "sisters &amp; brothers of the blowjob" (s)he seems to be promoting, is some sort of neo-Christian failure, just that instead of patching economic inequalities through charity wrapped in reactionary propaganda, (s)he aims to patch aesthetic inequalities...

    I must say that today there are wonderful sex toys and excellent plastic surgeons to put up for what biology fell short to some extent. You won't get love via those but neither through prostitution... so it's the same.

    But more critically it opens another debate: that of sedentarism and exercise (and obesity) in a modern society. There is simply no fat people among the Hadza or the Bushmen... it's an illness and must be prevented by intelligent but somewhat luddite destruction of an urbanism and social conceptualizations that strongly promote sedentarism.

    Little details like forcing people to walk for 15/30 minutes daily between parking/home and job place make a healthy and beautiful society. Making things too easy make a fat humankind and that is bad for sex, because beauty is to a large extent selection for fitness.

    Let's not fool ourselves: Biology rules... one way or the other.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @Maju - There are no fat people among the Hadza and the San (that's what "Bushmen" actually call themselves) because <i>they are poor and can't afford to buy enough food</i>

    As for your idea of <i>"forcing people to walk for 15/30 minutes daily between parking/home and job"</i> that sounds pretty totalitarian to me - that's GULAG thinking, and it needs to be left in the ruins of the old mid 20th century European concentration camps where it belongs.

    The same goes for demonizing certain body types and branding them as diseased bodies needing state-mandated punishment and correction - that's T4 program thinking, and it leads straight to the gates of Buchenwald if taken to it's logical conclusion.

    How about <i>shorten the work day with no cut in pay and provide the working class with access to cheap, subsidized fresh fruit, free publicly run gyms and free 24 hour a day child care so working class folks can go to the gym <b>if they choose to do so</b>

    That would be a revolutionary approach, rather than moralistically berating workers for being fat, ignoring the social factors that cause mass fatness in the imperialist countries (long work days at sedentary jobs and cheap synthetic corn-based food products that cannot be properly digested by the human body) and forcing them to exercise after 10 hours a day at work and (for the women) several hours of housework and child care before and after work.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Contrarian - Speak for yourself, Not everybody in this discussion is against the practice of buying and selling sex for money.

    I for one feel that our goal should be to remove the hypocritical sexist moral stigma around sex work, and abolish the violence, rape and abuse inflicted upon sex workers by police, pimps and abusive johns. That way, commercial sex could be like any other commercialized personal service business, and sex workers would be no more stigmatized than barbers, nail technicians and massage therapists are today.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Maju: "some old boys are here hanging to the privileges that money gives (and renouncing to the responsibility that age should carry with) them and causing psycho-emotional damage to children in the process."

    Although this 'protesteth too much' stuff annoys the hell out of me, phrasing in this sentence was ambiguous in who it referred to, so just wanted to say I'm not a john. I'd also have political problems with paying for sex. My perspective is more about how to support sex workers.

    But also, tired of the debate as a few people clearly are, so I'll try to leave it there unless something really leaps out.

  • Guest - Maju


    1. Both Bushmen and San are exonyms and can be offensive depending on context, they call themselves by no single name, using instead tribal names quite hard to pronounce for us. The term San is an exonym in Khoikhoi language (i.e. Hottentots) meaning "outsider". It's as good or bad to use one or the other.

    2. "As for your idea of “forcing people to walk for 15/30 minutes daily between parking/home and job” that sounds pretty totalitarian to me"

    For me cars are much more totalitarian, specially when they effectively force you to have one, pay for one (and all associated costs like super-highways, pollution, etc.) I know that opposing the car culture specially in the USA is very unpopular but let's get real: cars are bad for you, Humankind and Earth, at least in many aspects.

    Also Socialism implies some form of collectivist "tyranny", no matter how democratic it is, in the sense that not everyone would be allowed to do anything, notably if that "liberty" is bad for the whole.

    In any case, I'm borrowing this idea from a capitalist company from California (I don't recall more details). They just designed the workplace so people had to walk and even climb some stairs everyday. After due adaption nobody really complained: it's not "gulag" at all.

    Your alternatives are alright but, really, it should be guaranteed that everybody makes some exercise regularly. It's natural and it's good for you. Left to our own devices we tend to become couch potatoes and that is because in natural conditions we had no such opportunities, so eating fat and resting was almost always good. But in the current technologically enhanced artificial environments, we need to recover the naturalness of daily work at least to some extent.

    Going off topic a bit but I don't think that couch-potato-ism should be rewarded with free "charity sex" in any case.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Maju - Private cars actually helped free American workers from the tyranny of the company town. Prior to the 1950s, most Americans could only work at jobs that were within walking distance or (for a minority of urban workers) that were within range of bus, subway or trolley lines.

    The rise of the private car after WW II greatly increased the employment opportunities of workers, because now you could work anywhere within reasonable driving distance.

    That led directly to the collapse of company towns in the coal mining and textile milling regions of this country.

    Far from being <i>totalitarian</i> cars are democratic and liberating.

    As for your example of forced exercise, does it not bother you in the least bit that this is a <b>management imposed</b> idea inflicted on a (presumably) non union workforce against their will?

    Rather odd for a revolutionary to be praising the exploitative methods of the bourgeoisie. Then again, you say yourself that your idea of socialism is tyranny, so your embrace of management imposed exercise doesn't surprise me in the least.

    My idea of socialism is <b><i>freedom and power for the working class</i></b> - not condescending saviours bullying us to do pushups.

    As I said above, that's a GULAG mentality, and we all know how well that worked out in Russia.

  • Guest - Travis

    It’s funny how mere proposals are seen as “totalitarian” by many progressives while if something similar is actually put into place “naturally” under capitalism, it is okay and even seen as “democratic.” I’m not singling Gregory out but he represents this familiar phenomenon.

    While I suppose it’s true that automobiles liberated workers from being trapped in company towns, many workers are forced to have automobiles. It’s not a choice they have. On top of that are the expenses forced on workers related to maintaining a car. Again, not a choice. I mean, I suppose they can choose to not have a car or maintain one but it’s at the risk of not having a job. This type of “invisible hand” coercion don’t seem to bother many leftists. It’s probably because it’s been internalized and minimized as normal or natural. “No one said life was fair”, “those are the breaks”, etc.

    Some leftists would have been outraged if calorie counts on menus, letter grades for restaurants, public smoking bans, bike lanes, etc., were “forced” on the populations of the Soviet Union or China. But if these things happen under capitalism like it has actually happened in New York City, the same outrage would not be there. Actually imposing these measures on New Yorkers is not as bad as a progressive merely proposing a measure. If a progressive proposes it, the next step is the gulag! Better let Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it into actual practice so that the totalitarian averse sensibilities of some leftists are not offended.

  • Guest - Gary

    So much here to comment on, and again, I'm pleased that my modest posting has stimulated so much discussion. I think it might be more important to talk about things like the standoff between the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the popular movement that brought down Mubarak, but he I go again on issues of sexuality. This is mainly in response to Mike (# 151).

    1. “Most pornography is filmed prostitution.” There are of course lots of categories of porn
    outside of filmed and photographed pornography: stories, comic books such as Japanese manga,
    animated material, etc. There was porn in many forms for millennia before the invention of the
    camera, affected by each new technological innovation (such as the printing press and woodblock
    prints), and of course when photography appeared it was immediately (in the 1840s) used
    to produce porn. The same with film.

    2. There are continuities between, say, the porn scenes depicted on ancient Greek amphora, the
    frescoes ion the walls of banquet halls in Pompeii, Persian miniatures, Chinese scrolls, etc. and what
    one sees in a modern porn flick. And there are continuities in the functions of such material.

    3. From the point of view of the “consumer” of the material, there is probably little difference
    (morally) between deriving enjoyment from a graphic comic or animated film, and from the viewing
    of a video of real live people having sex. (I think most men---or women---aroused by what they see
    don’t think: “I gratification I’m getting is based upon the oppression of at least one of the parties in the
    video I’m watching; hence by accessing it, I’m part of the problem. Animated images may be ok, but
    since this involves real people paid to do what they do---or even not paid for what they do, in the
    case of exhibitionists’ homemade stuff, it’s wrong for anyone to watch it.” I think that’s close to
    religious thinking about the sinfulness of porn and maybe even masturbation. Some people think
    everyone should be “educated” to acquire this understanding, and shamed if they don’t. But as
    the discussion here shows, revolutionary-minded people hold different views.)

    4. If one grants that the use of porn over the centuries to sexually stimulate people has been practically
    universal and “natural” in the sense that it has that universality, I think one ought to grant that the
    “consumer” of it was doing nothing wrong. Scrolls from Egypt consisting of pure porn were popular
    among some strata who could afford them in the Roman Empire. Were men who masturbated while
    viewing them contributing to the oppression of Roman women by doing so? (And what of women
    in nineteenth century Japan who, from the maidservant to wealthy mistress, read books filled with
    pornographic images while using dildos? Were they contributing to their own oppression as women,
    even while looking at lesbian scenes?)

    5. It would be difficult to argue (I think) that it’s ok for someone to “consume” cartoons or fiction
    designed to titillate, while condemning the same person for viewing porn films. Put another way,
    doesn’t the critique of filmed pornography require the critique of all forms of (that notoriously
    difficult to define phenomenon of) porn?

    6. Sexual acts that are photographed or filmed are unique in involving real people. The porn “industry”
    pays people to have sex. In that sense, the porn performer is a (type of) prostitute by definition. (But
    again, one can argue that someone who marries or enters into a sexual relationship for financial
    reasons---Jacqueline Onassis!---is involved in something similar.)

    7. The porn performer may see things otherwise. There are surely people proud of their bodies
    and looks who head to San Fernando Valley, the U.S. porn capital, wanting to get into the business. I
    imagine their feelings are not dissimilar to the aspiring actor who goes to Hollywood hoping to become
    a star, to be admired, acquire a fandom, and of course hit big money. (There is no doubt some overlap,
    as unemployed “legitimate” actors resort to filming porn to pay bills.) If one is already promiscuous
    and finds sex with various partners exciting, it might be quite a thrill to be paired with some famous
    established “model” in a shoot. In any case I imagine the lifestyle is appreciably different than that
    of (say) a streetwalking prostitute at the mercy of pimps and police.

    8. Of course we should not suppose that performers’ behavior reflects their true feelings, or that
    the responses, verbalizations etc. of a woman in some film represent what women generically feel
    or want. Porn is fantasy. On the other hand, it’s a different sort of fantasy than “legitimate” film
    which requires a (usually sophisticated) plot, line memorization, rehearsals, multiple takes, etc. In porn,
    the director/producer apparently gives general instructions about what should happen in a sexual
    sequence, but there’s inevitably a great deal of improvisation given the nature of the activity.
    To make a saleable film, things that can’t be (physically) faked have to happen. Anyone can moan
    or say what’s demanded by a (minimal) script, but a man can’t fake an erection or ejaculation or follow
    a precise timeline. A woman can’t just pretend to experience changes in the lips of her vagina or in a
    clitoris; these visibly happen, or they don’t. In a “legitimate” film basic aspects of a sex scene can
    be staged through implication; it may look like the actor is having sex with the actress but we all
    know no real penetration is going on. It’s ACTING. In porn the actual sex, explicit and in your face,
    is the whole point. And while it’s entirely conceivable that the female performer is wishing she didn’t
    have to do this or was somewhere else, it’s hard to fake certain physiological signs of excitement
    which, if she displays them, may make her more appealing to the audience and pornographer.

    9. Linda Lovelace became well-known in the 70s for her role in “Deep Throat,” which was shown
    in some mainstream theaters and became so famous that the “Watergate” informant used that nickname.
    Probably the best-known porn “actress” of all time, she had what became a famously horrifying
    relationship with her pimp/manager/husband and after leaving him she became involved from 1980
    in the anti-porn movement alongside Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon. But her wholesale
    denunciation of the “industry” was challenged by other women in it, and she herself later alleged
    she had been “used” by Dworkin and McKinnon. Her husband/producer abused and threatened her
    and forced her to film having sex with a dog. Hers was an extreme case. It should not be assumed
    that the experience of the average porn “actor” today resembles it. These days the more popular
    performers have their own blogs where they might discuss their relationships to studios, contract issues,
    safety, government regulation etc. Perhaps the nature of their exploitation is closer that of legitimate
    actors rather than prostitutes.

    I say this not to prettify the situation: I have not investigated the porn world of San Fernando Valley,
    and perhaps have no right to speak. But I am counseling against any of us without investigation making
    assumptions about various aspects of the porn film “industry.”

    10. In looking at the social impact of porn, I think it necessary to go beyond the observation that it
    shows women apparently enjoying rough sex (orwhat to us, or some of us, might seem
    OBJECTIONALLY rough sex, since in the real world many people LIKE rough sex)
    and thus encourages men to emulate this. It also shows exciting sex, which many couples like
    to watch together because it enhances their sexual activity. (A gay “bottom” may find a video
    of violent anal penetration appealing because in real life he he enjoys that kind of experience.)
    And porn is, I submit, primarily masturbatory material. For some its viewing becomes
    obsessive-compulsive behavior, and that may be a social problem. But how to deal with
    it other than through therapy?

    11. How should a revolutionary regime headed by communists deal with porn? I think it would be
    wrong to use the method of dictatorship and, applying the thesis that such depictions of sexuality
    are socially harmful, to immediately shut down the film studios (throwing 1000s out of work). Or to
    shut down porn magazines such as Hustler (and even the mainstream Playboy). Or to impose the kind
    of internet restrictions which many Christian fundamentalists would like to do. Or to ban “sexting.”
    Or even to shutter all establishments that facilitate masturbation and anonymous sex in video booths.
    The rules surrounding porn should be determined through democratic discussion and law,
    with an eye towards its eventual “withering away.” But surely this cannot happen soon.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

  • Guest - Mike E

    I wrote (<a href="/" rel="nofollow">in #131</a>)

    <blockquote>"But state policy is not the sum total of “what we do” as communists (nor is “running society” an apt description). The absence of state policies still leaves open questions of morality and transformation. What do we consider right and wrong (not just criminal and non-criminal)?

    Crude and obvious example: If you secretly sleep with your best friend’s spouse, it is not a matter for any state, but there are matters of morality involved (that touch on male right, on matters of mutual respect etc.)"</blockquote>

    Maju <a href="/" rel="nofollow">replied</a>:

    <blockquote>@Mike: I really hate your example, which seems taken from the hyper-Patriarchal 10 commandments. And in order to sound even more Patriarchal, you totally obviated the role and desire of the woman in the love triangle of your example. Sorry, but you just did that.

    It’s even possible that both wife and friend think that they are actually doing their husband/friend a favor by doing it secretly… you know.

    Whatever the case, while there may be issues of (betrayal of ) love and trust in your example, they are not comparable to the much more fundamental issues that ritually reproducing enslavement (a major scourge of Human history) for sexual satisfaction should trigger. If you compare slavery with adultery, it should be clear that they can’t be compared at all."</blockquote>

    Let me respond piece by piece:

    <blockquote>@Mike: I really hate your example, which seems taken from the hyper-Patriarchal 10 commandments.</blockquote>

    Why? I'm arguing for intimate relations based on respect, love, equality and honesty.... and having a communist morality where you don't casually fuck over the people you are intimate with (and lie to them...) And you respond by saying that seems patriarchal. Actually for people to selfishly do whatever they feel like, and lie to cover it up, and hurt those who love them is rather integral to the hypocrisy and practice of dominant patriarchy.

    In my view: it is a big mistake to equate patriarchy with monogamous, man-woman, nuclear families, with their children. ON the ocntrary, the patriarchy that is dominant in our society is sprawling and complex: there is the patriarchy of "mistress" relations (defacto polygamy of arranged and maintained second wives), there is the patriarchy of incest and child rape, there is patriarchy without women (in the male gay community) and patriarchy without men (among lesbians) where dominant patterns of property, dependence, spousal abuse and traditional child rearing play themselves out as well.

    If you want to assume that simple honesty and fidelity between love partners is "Patriarchy 101" -- then make the argument. If you think criticizing deceit around sex and friendship is conservative, then make the argument.

    But I'm making a very contrary argument: that a morality seeking the liberation of women would involve a practice of honesty in intimacy, would involve trust (between friends and lovers) not deceit.

    The fact that such an argument even comes up here -- is a sign of how little we generally talk about morality, about interpersonal right and wrong, and how primitive this initial discussion is. And how far removed it is from the real-world practical love problems of people (especially among poor people -- single mothers, people with severe economic dependencies and needs, etc.)

    I have said before that in my experience, it is difficult to develop trust relations based on love, equality and mutual respect -- and in my experience the form of "serial monogamy" has seemed the best framework (i have seen) for developing that. I don't think that this needs to be <em>imposed</em> on everyone -- as the only form allowed. I think there needs to be experimentation (and particularly young adults learn from their own experiences what is hurtful and what is nurturing in intimate relations). But (again in my own observation) i think there is value in considering "serial monogamy" (where people generally develop and pursue one serious relationship at a time).

    I imagine in some relationships -- there are conscious agreements of "open" relations -- where it is established ahead of time that sex outside the relationship is acceptable (even there it is usually with rules like: not with my best friends, not with my family members, not within 200 miles of home, not secretly, etc.)

    I am not going to discuss my personal views on "open relationships" other than to say I think people get fucked over anyway... and when people say (or get pressured to say) "It is ok if you fuck around" they generally still can't avoid the pain. (I.e. people can "consent" but that doesn't change the dynamics much -- in my experience.)

    <blockquote>"And in order to sound even more Patriarchal, you totally obviated the role and desire of the woman in the love triangle of your example. Sorry, but you just did that."</blockquote>

    No, actually I didn't just do that.

    My example was completely gender free. Read it again: "If you secretly sleep with your best friend’s spouse, it is not a matter for any state, but there are matters of morality involved (that touch on male right, on matters of mutual respect etc.)"

    <blockquote>"It’s even possible that both wife and friend think that they are actually doing their husband/friend a favor by doing it secretly… you know."</blockquote>

    Puleeze. How classic (and conservative) that selfish reasoning would be?! "I kept it secret because I knew how hurtful it would be for you. I lied to protect you." Sure. :P

    Is there any betrayal of intimacy and love that wasn't justified in such self-delusional and self-justifying way?

    "We are sneaking around, because if xxx knew what we are actually doing xxx would be sooooo hurt. So in the interests of xxxx, because of our concern for xxx's feelings, better to lie to xxx, keep them in the dark, not knowing the most basic details of the love and friend relations they are embedded in."

    Sure, you are explaining <em>why</em> people lie: they do something selfish and thoughtless -- that they are enjoying but that will hurt a third party -- so they lie. And that way they get to do something hurtful, deceitful and betraying of trust, but not have to confront the consequences (until of course their lie is discovered, and the impact is double -- both the betrayal of sexual trust <em>and</em> the betrayal of the deceit).

    And it is worth injecting (in a quick schematic way) that sexual exclusivity is not simply some kind of "materialist possessiveness" -- it has to do with building relations that people can construct lives around. Monogamy is not simply some "i own you and your body" arrangement -- it can also be "we are building a life together, and I know where you and I will be in five years, ten years." that kind of mutual commitment is very important for raising children (if women aren't going to get fucked over), and it is very important for aging (if wealthy men aren't going to dump aging wives for "a younger model.") So the creation of new passionate intimacies outside a marriage is not just a "fun thing," but it has a profound effect on the "third wheel" (the spouse left out) whose web of support is suddenly thrown into question. (How often do women become "less sexually fun" for their husbands once children and child-raising arise, and what does the sudden male interest in "an affair" have to do with escaping real life, and slowly distancing from a now burdened mate? Is that ok?)

    <b>And this has to do with class, and becoming a serious movement of the people: </b> I understand well that radical movements rooted in campus politics (among people in their twenties, among people who aren't married or parents, who generally don't yet have hierarchies of social prestige) have a pull toward sexual morality of "whatever, lets try it."

    But if you want to go out among the people, into a world of single mothers with kids, into a world where bosses "hit on" consenting employees, into a world where husbands leave wives permanently insecure and dissed (because of affairs), then you have to consider a more complex world of morality.

    And if commmunists go out among the people <em>representing</em> a historic call for the equality and liberation of women -- doesn't that have some requirements of modeling and representing in our own behavior. If women joined our movement and were hit on relentlessly, if they saw leading men surrounded by groupies, or younger comrades "passed around," if their husbands easily found new sexual partners at political meetings (while they were stuck home with the kids)... what would all of that say to them (about the seriousness and hypocrisy of our talk of liberation)?

    And forgive me for being blunt: </strong>When discussing sexual matters, we really (generally) are just colliding with those views very common and ordinary in society.

    And we have people (straight out of today's college culture) who think "hooking up" casually and "friends with benefits" is some kind of break (give me a break!) with "vanilla" patriarchy (when discaradable people and selfish sex is one of the most classic feature of patriarchy). It has proven very hard to even get <em>communist</em> morality and goals into a discussion where the assumption is "whatever you want is fine" in the most atomized and consumerist way. Again: the issue is not diverse sex <em>acts</em>, but whether people have any responsibility for the impact of their sexual activity (and for the kinds of intimate social relations they are developing).

    It really strikes me that in this whole discussion there is a lot of talk of doing whatever is <em>personally</em> satisfying (or momentarily amusing), and very little parallel discussion of impact on other people (our responsibilities to treat people well, to have relations that embody love, respect and equality). Don't we need a communist ethical discussion about doing what is socially positive for those who love and rely on you, for governing personal and group behavior. I'm not sure there will be a single "communist morality" that is easily codified -- but doesn't a communist movement need an ongoing discussion about what is right and wrong (based on what we are trying to accomplish, and trying to represent), not just "what is hot" and what is not.

    <blockquote>"Whatever the case, while there may be issues of (betrayal of ) love and trust in your example, they are not comparable to the much more fundamental issues that ritually reproducing enslavement (a major scourge of Human history) for sexual satisfaction should trigger. If you compare slavery with adultery, it should be clear that they can’t be compared at all."</blockquote>

    This is a strawman. I'm not arguing they are comparable at all. Obviously.

    Some things are criminal, and should be suppressed (by people acting collectively, and by revolutinary armed forces acting as an extension of the people). Coercive sex trade (which happens in all countries, not just semifeudal ones) is an example. People engaging in such slave trade in women and children should face extreme penalties. (And here I am not just talking about distant gangs operating in the highlands of Thailand -- I also mean pimps in New York who heat wire hangers and whip terrorized women to prevent them from running away.)

    But I am arguing that our discussion is not limited to that divide -- between the criminal and the not criminal. And it seems impoverished (and obviously so) to limit a discussion of sexual morality to the question of "what is criminal and what is not."

    Obviously the vast majority of human intimacy take place outside the umbra of criminality -- it is not subject to police attention under capitalism, and should obviously not be in a future society. (And in the past, many forms of sexuality have been criminalized - socalled sodomy, adultery, statutory rape between teenagers, interracial sex, use of birth control, etc. And it is an important advance that the state has been pushed <em>away</em> from such intimate relations.)

    But it seems to me to be strangely blind and amoral to simply consign "everything else" to the non-standards of "whatever consenting adults agree to." Really? there are no moral limits to articulate?

    I have mentioned many examples here on this thread, and really few have been addressed (because, apparently, the very discussion of morality seems, to some, to be repressive and conservative.) But let me mention some again:

    * Is it ok for leaders and spokespeople of a revolutionary movement to routinely hit on young people they meet on a speaking tour? (Exploit respect and status in that way?)

    * Is it ok to conceal the development of important new intimate ties from the person you are in a close marriage relationship with?

    * Is it ok to participate in sexual activities that are rooted in highly unequal levels of wealth -- as when rich men keep a poor younger woman "on the side"?

    * Is it only necessary to consider what a sexual relationship means to those immediately involved, or do we have to consider in aggregate what such relations (ubiquitous sex industries, male workmates bonding at strip clubs, etc.) do to the position and perception of women more widely? (In a high school, in a work environment, in society generally.)

    <b>to put it bluntly:</b> "Nothing should get in the way of me getting off" is the oldest, most familiar demand of male right. It is highly patriarchal.

    Imho, male right is at its core a demand for a personal sexual license that is radically severed (conceptually and practically) from any social morality (any responsibility for impact on others, other than personal and mutual pleasure).

    It is a howl of self and insistence so old (as an argument) that I assume it is literally pre-historic in origins. And it is expressed (over and over) in society using whatever ideological garb is at hand. Mormon poligamist men justifying it using Abrahamic references. In the early days of Playboy, it was posed as an exciting break with the puritan values of McCarthyite American conformism (though the words "play" and "boy" were a clue to the driving themes). Muslim fundamentalists say one-man-multiple-women is what makes their faith distinct. And among leftists, of course, it is often promoted in the name of "sexual liberation," (and is usually accompanied by "It is only sex. It means nothing to me. And you are only upset because you are still influenced by conservative, christian-mainstream values.")

    People can argue that any social morality is repressive and intolerable, if they want. They can argue that any social morality will (inevitably) become enforced by police (which is a strawman). But I am arguing that we both need to set clear limits about what is criminal (rape, sexual predation on children, coercive trafficking in women and children), but also have a discussion of actual <em>morality</em> (right and wrong) in regard to intimacy. These involve discussions of love, trust, honesty, reliability between partners, equality (of power and decisionmaking), etc.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Okay, failing at this staying away thing...

    Mike E: "And we have people (straight out of today’s college culture) who think “hooking up” casually and “friends with benefits” is some kind of break (give me a break!) with “vanilla” patriarchy (when discaradable people and selfish sex is one of the most classic feature of patriarchy)"

    Who? That Raspberry Reich clip argued along those lines, but that's a joke about bad theory. Quoting Carol Hanisch again: "We came early to the conclusion that all alternatives are bad under present conditions. Whether we live with or without a man, communally or in couples or alone, are married or unmarried, live with other women, go for free love, celibacy or lesbianism, or any combination, there are only good and bad things about each bad situation. There is no “more liberated” way; there are only bad alternatives."

    This argument is being badly misrepresented; it is an argument that all relationships are affected by social context, and we need a wider scope for this discussion. I have repeatedly made the point that no alternative lifestyles are really alternatives, at the risk of further self indulgence:
    "This is not an argument for BDSM; as Hanisch pointed out, there is no “more liberating” lifestyle under oppressive conditions."
    "Hope a comrade doesn’t mind me quoting him from a Facebook chat, that S&amp;M is the form not the content. Vanilla sex *can* have coercion involved, BDSM *can* be more egalitarian because there’s a conscious effort to ensure enthusiastic consent [ed note: and vice versa]"
    "A monogamous, vanilla couple is affected by wider power relations; a dom and a sub are affected by wider power relations."

    We should be moving from a discussion of sex acts to a discussion of historical oppression and liberation. Ish and Ghan have both hinted at that approach in their posts.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    If you're monogamous or polyamorous, straight or gay, enjoy pain or don't, social relations structure your life. A discussion of gay (or queer) liberation should be about transforming society,* not straight communists choosing which consensual sex acts to sanction.

    *"Collectivised child-rearing, housework etc could lay a basis for less regulated family structures and gender roles."

  • <blockquote>"If you’re monogamous or polyamorous, straight or gay, enjoy pain or don’t, social relations structure your life."</blockquote>

    Yes, but my argument is that the social relations you enter and create also structure the lives <em>of others</em> -- and that thinking of sex <em>solely</em> from a center of self ("your life", your needs, your desires, your satisfaction) makes it hard to think about it at all.

    <blockquote>"A discussion of gay (or queer) liberation should be about transforming society,* not straight communists choosing which consensual sex acts to sanction."</blockquote>

    Yes, but my argument is that all discussions of sexuality are entwined with the discussion of the liberation of <em>women</em> -- historically.

    Society is not a cluster of honey combs where each micro group is seeking its own liberation (Native people seek native liberation, gay people seek gay liberation, women seek women's liberation, workers seek workers power, and do on).

    There is (as you indicate) a larger historic, unitary, global process of "transforming society" -- and the many webs of relationship (hierarchy, exploitation, reproduction, intimate life, public exchange) that make up society.

    In my opinion, monogamous heterosexual marriage with children is not inherently some "vanilla" model of patriarchy that is to be broken down and broken apart. Patriarchy is quite virulent in the world of "hooking up" or the quite traditional habit of wealthy and powerful men of "having a relationship on the side" -- and in all kinds of relations where people are discardable, interchangable or purchased.

    Families raising children will be with us for many centuries (but hopefully in revolutionized forms -- that involve radical new forms of equality, social sharing of tasks of child rearing, reduction of economic dependence of women on men, and so on).

    And while no one (here at least) advocates a process defined by "straight communists choosing which consensual sex acts to sanction" -- there will be a larger discussion about which existing social relations are oppressive, and which are part of the liberatory process. and in that discussion many people will participate and speak (including I assume "straight communists" and heteresexuals generally including from among the oppressed peoples).

    The possible assumption here that "straight people" don't experience profound sexual oppression (including extremes of oppression), or have less voice or authenticity in a discussing of our social future is odd. That this discussion is somehow "not for you"....

    I don't think "acts" need sanction (a theme in this discussion that seems never to be clear or resolved). But certainty there are social relationships that should be discussed. In fact only by public excavation and discussion of common private events do we revolutionize private realms and expectations (since we agree that sending armed forces constantly intruding into private realms is destructive.) Women's "consciousness raising groups" were often about sharing what happened in private -- and realizing that the problems and pains were not just personal, but part of larger oppressive social relationships and pressures.


    How do communists and revolutionaries view intimate relations rooted in very unequal power and economic dependency?

    I knew (to give an example) an older communist (in his sixties) with a significant professional income, who "helped" younger women with school and rent (and over time initiated various sexual relations with them). He <em>liked</em> relations of inequality (for reasons I don't understand)... but I presume there is an element of control, safety and power. And of course it was formally "consensual" -- in the sense that women who had significant economic needs in their lives were willing to have "arrangements" of various kinds over years.What do you think about his morality? what do you think about our passive decision to do or say nothing about it?

    * * * * * * * * *

    Throughout this thread i have tried to inject real life examples of how moral and ethical questions pose themselves in and around a communist movement. the discussion has instead focused on acts and the insistence that there not be state repression. but when do we talk about morality? To those who have been so candid about their acts and desires, when do you talk about your moral approach, and the morality you think we should consider in common?

    Do you think a communist movement doesn't need a morality or perhaps a spectrum of exploratory moralities (beyond the decision not to criminalize consensual relations)?

    Do the behaviors and acts of communists not affect (embody, represent) what we are and where we are going?

  • Going through this thread and reading the last comment by Mike leave me thinking about the idea of communism as a road.

    The difference in looking at sex practices mainly through the idea of what is criminal and what is not on the one hand, and looking at morality and how sexual practices effect our society as such, seems to me at least, a question of "where we get off" on the road to a liberating communist future.

    Looking at sexual practices through the strict lens of what is criminal and what is not (and leaving it at that) is precisely a position that places one at the top of society with power and control making decisions (after all this is us imposing our values) that effect society as a whole and left at the level of law. What is criminal and not criminal leaves the question at the level of the state not the withering away of the state.

    On the other hand taking things to the question of morality and how sexual behaviors (legal or not) effect social relations as a whole goes beyond the level of the state. Talking about the morality of things as such, breaks down social relations and their consequence on the type of world we want and is crucial to staying on the communist road and hence thinking beyond the state and questions of state enforced jurisprudence.

    Just some thoughts in going through this discussion. It's a very important one to have.

  • I agree, Nat.

    Looking at things mainly as a question of state policy also means we don't solve problems that <em>can't</em> be solved by state policy. (How do we end child beating?)

    And it seems like even raising the word "morality" is met by a silence. Is there an assumption that morality is something only conservatives have? Don't we revolutionaries have values, limits, judgements, guidelines on how we act towards others?

    To take one cluster of difficult problems among poor and working class women:

    Millions of women are plunged into poverty because they don't have secure social relations that help them both raise their kids and pay bills. Millions of women drop from middle class life to extreme poverty after a divorce. Millions of women feel trapped in poverty, because they need a companionship and multiple incomes just to hold life together.

    Such women are looking for companionship (as we all are) but also for commitment -- and in particular commitment from someone with a job. And any exploration of sex and relationships (for these women! and for those who initiate relations with them) involve questions of commitment and the sharing of burdens. How does that impact questions of fidelity and exclusivity and monogamy?

    If you are in a sexual relationship with a single mother of two kids, is it ok to lie about developing some new relationship "on the side" that threatens her whole world, and the stability of her kids lives? Is the only issue here whether everyone is "consenting"? Or are there moral issues involved -- touching on creating love relations that are equal, and whether such equality can <em>require</em> assuming burdens for economics, child care, long term commitment?

    Or to (again) inject communist examples: I worked with many communist men who had previously been married and had children. In the hyperactivism of our movement, they often didn't hold steady jobs or pay child support. And this was (typically) justified by saying "we are doing something very important for the world" (while helping raise their own children was, by comparison, apparently not as important). So what is the morality of that? What is the morality of "taking responsibility for the whole world" (which we SHOULD DO!), but in ways that quickly and lightly lays down responsibilities for those who are dependent on you?

    Certainly the often horrible poverty and insecurity of single mothers can be softened by stronger social nets (day care centers, more pay in the workplace, etc.) Certinly, this is a question tied up with socialist revolution (where social wages and social support will take new and liberating forms).

    But I'm asking a side question: How do their needs now intrude on the morality of sexual relations? Is stable commitment something men need to embrace? What does that mean for sexual practices? What do revolutionary communists think, and say, and do about these things?

    Isn't the sexual bonds between parents (of whatever gender) part of what establishes secure family frameworks for children? And aren't the needs of children involved if those frameworks are endangered and weakened by sexual acts? (In other words, sexual acts may involve "consenting adults" -- but don't they often impact children who have no knowledge of them, and no way of consenting or not consenting to what you do?

    What is the impact on children, when husbands, for example, constant cheat on their wives? What is the impact economically? And emotionally (even when the acts are secret and don't come to light)?

    Once sexual intimacy becomes a pillar and part of a family unit and part of what makes the world safe for specific children -- as it is in this epoch of history -- what is the morality of casually and repeatedly risking that, undermining that, through sexual pursuits (including secret ones, impulsive ones, pleasurable ones)?

    Fidelity may not be some eternal fixed moral norm for all times and all people -- but aren't there many situations where sexual fidelity is part of establishing for the needs of people? (I.e. is the hurt and anger of someone "cheated on" simply some superficial and conservative "hang-up of possessiveness" -- or are people's hopes and futures sometimes shattered by careless sexual acts?)

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Mike E: "In my opinion, monogamous heterosexual marriage with children is not inherently some “vanilla” model of patriarchy that is to be broken down and broken apart."

    No, but the historical privileging of this family structure is. If we're going to discuss "morality," it seems problematic that we only focus on deviance from this norm. Casual sex, prostitution, bondage, but marriage (straight or gay) isn't even a topic.

    In NZ, (this is not hugely unusual internationally) rape within marriage was legal until 1985. Divorce may be far more of an option now, but policy is still structured around marriage. Women still perform the bulk of unpaid labour.

    I'd say the primary motor behind women's and queer oppression is the enforcement of this gendered division, at the expense of all other family structures - including the many indigenous kinship structures that were replaced by the nuclear family. So it seems weird to turn a discussion of gay liberation into a discussion of the 2% who have 25% of the sex.

    Recently posted a half-joking slogan on Facebook: "to achieve "marriaqe equality," abolish the distinction between paid and unpaid work!"

    "Patriarchy is quite virulent in the world of “hooking up” or the quite traditional habit of wealthy and powerful men of “having a relationship on the side” — and in all kinds of relations where people are discardable, interchangable or purchased."

    Yes, there are only bad alternatives. I really do recommend Carol Hanisch's critique of the 1968 Miss America protest and her following piece The Personal Is Political:

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    OK, #170 talks far more about marriage. However it continues the trend of "morality" only being discussed in terms of deviance from that norm, focusing a lot on cheating:

    Mike E: "Fidelity may not be some eternal fixed moral norm for all times and all people — but aren’t there many situations where sexual fidelity is part of establishing for the needs of people? (I.e. is the hurt and anger of someone “cheated on” simply some superficial and conservative “hang-up of possessiveness” — or are people’s hopes and futures sometimes shattered by careless sexual acts?)"

    Polyamorists (I'm not particularly one) tend to see cheating as a violation of informed consent. Open relationships, while having their own problems, are distinct from monogamous relationships with 'a bit on the side.' Because if you're cheating, you're violating the agreement you've made with your partner.

    Monogamous marriage remains intact in this discussion of morality. Monogamous marriage can contain rape, it usually contains a gendered division of labour, and in fact the ideology of monogamous marriage is more compatible with "cheating" than it is with open relationships.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Mike - When you embrace so called "morality", you are embracing a very reactionary and sexist concept.

    Morality emerges around the same time that the oppression of women, marriage, prostitution, rape, domestic violence (and the patriarchal man+woman+kids family that you embrace so hard) did - at the dawn of private property about 5,000 years ago. Morality's specific function is to justify the systematic repression of the sexuality of women and the patriarchal control of women's reproductive capacity.

    Morality is a rancid concept and it's shameful and pathetic that a communist would embrace it.

    Then again, you also defend the patriarchal family and ahistorically project it far into the future as the best way to raise children. Fortunately, you're magnanimous enough to concede to the <i>"reduction"</i> of female economic dependence on men (not it's <b><i>ABOLITION</I></B>, of course - because even under communism, men still need to make more than women do!)

    To you, marriage apparently is the only acceptable form of sexual relationship, and casual "hooking up" and "friends with benefits" relationships fill you with horror, dread and disgust.

    You also make the almost Rush Limbaughianly absurd claim that straight people are "sexually oppressed".

    Interestingly enough, out here in the real world that exists outside of your patriarchal morality fantasy, <b><i>marriage is a dying institution in most of the world, especially the developed countries</i></b>

    Among the working class population here in America, a majority of children are born outside of those very same patriarchal marriages that you project far into the future (even though marriage as we now know it has only existed for 5,000 of our species' 200,000 year existence). Among working class African Americans, this trend is overwhelming - marriage is rapidly disappearing in my community, a fact that is the cause of much hue and cry among the respectable Black middle classes and the African American clergy.

    Bottom line, marriage and the patriarchal husband-led family emerged so <i>men with property would be able to control the sexuality of women, to guarantee the paternity of the children eligible to inherit their wealth</i>

    In other words, it was all about money and the repression of women.

    Why the hell would any communist embrace something so reactionary and patriarchal?

    Especially in light of the real world reality where the working class, the class that communists aspire to lead, is <b>rapidly abandoning marriage as a social institution</b>

    It's funny, Friedrich Engels has been resting in his grave for 117 years, but the position on the family he espoused back then is more advanced and more communist than your rotten patriarchal "morality" ridden position is today.

    That's pretty sad, Mike.

  • Mike E wrote:

    <blockquote>“In my opinion, monogamous heterosexual marriage with children is not inherently some 'vanilla' model of patriarchy that is to be broken down and broken apart.”

    Ian replied:

    <blockquote>"No, but the historical privileging of this family structure is."</blockquote>

    Well, yes. But my point is that historically, prostitution, mistresses, fucking the maid etc. have been a quite privileged and integral part of traditional family structures. (Just like raping choir boys is not an aberration in the male patriarchy of the Church but a highly institutionalized tradition (and self-granted license/privilege/perk.)

    The traditional <em>privileged</em> sexual relations are not just "the modern nuclear family" -- it has <em>always</em> included forms of male right outside marriage. (Just go look at the slave plantation, or the British institutions of "mistresses," or the "escort service" norms that connect the Spitzers and Gores of the world). These institutions too have been privileged -- and when people write "there has always been prostitution" it is true because these are institutions <em>integral</em> to dominant patriarchy (protected, reproduced, and privileged... even when they have been also hypocritically condemned in public!)

    As for criticizing the privileging of some "traditional" family forms: I assume everyone on this discussion supports (for example) equality for gay marriages, or social support for single mothers, etc. We haven't discussed that much because (in the main) it is assumed.

    And we all are aware that other forms of family are becoming much more common (objectively) and that the "monogamous heterosexual marriage with children" is no longer normative or assumed.

    <blockquote>"If we’re going to discuss “morality,” it seems problematic that we only focus on deviance from this norm. Casual sex, prostitution, bondage, but marriage (straight or gay) isn’t even a topic."</blockquote>

    This discussion has never "focused on deviance from the norm."

    For example, look back over my own comments -- all of my arguments apply to <em>all </em> sexual relations (including heterosexual marriages) -- and many (if not most) of my examples have to do with <em>hetereosexual</em> people acting in the connection to <em>marriages</em> or other binary relations. (Or just look at the discussion above of single mothers with children, and the question of male commitment).

    And I think most of us assume there isn't any "norm" in this society -- and shouldn't be one. (I.e. there is no single model to uphold, i.e. impose).

    I have been working to inject questions about marriage as a topic (commitment, fidelity, honesty, etc.) into this discussion from the beginning -- including by suggesting a communist "privileging" of intimate relations based on "love, equality and mutual respect." And in discussions of the question of "serial monogamy" as a particular framework for struggling toward non-oppressive intimacies.

    <blockquote>"I’d say the primary motor behind women’s and queer oppression is the enforcement of this gendered division, at the expense of all other family structures – including the many indigenous kinship structures that were replaced by the nuclear family. So it seems weird to turn a discussion of gay liberation into a discussion of the 2% who have 25% of the sex."</blockquote>

    It seems here you are saying that even posting Gary's discussion above is "weird."

    But we didn't "turn a discussion of gay liberation" into that. We took a comment in a thread, and made it an independent discussion -- that is worth having in its own right.

    And in this complex thread, you can see there are many different discussions going on --

    My own discussion is about the <em>social</em> character of sexual relations, and the need to see them as other than disembodied satiation acts without any real or larger impact. (This as some may know is what Lenin called the "glass of water" question.)

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Mike wrote:

    <blockquote>“Patriarchy is quite virulent in the world of “hooking up” or the quite traditional habit of wealthy and powerful men of “having a relationship on the side” — and in all kinds of relations where people are discardable, interchangable or purchased.”</blockquote>

    Ian wrote:
    <blockquote>"Yes, there are only bad alternatives."</blockquote>

    I don't know if your response is sarcastic....

    But I am trying to make four points:

    First: sexual relationships are not isolated interpersonal events (separate in time and society) -- "ships passing in the night." Sexual intimacies create, embody and reproduce social relations, and have (both individual and in aggregate) social impact on the world (including on people not even vaguely involved in the sex itself -- children, women generally, other intimates in your lives etc.)

    Second, because of capitalism and class society, "alternative" forms of sexuality often reproduce dominant patriarchy. (including in the everyday ways -- like economic dependence -- but also in acute problems like spouse beating, sale of bodies and more).

    One example I <a href="/" rel="nofollow">have discussed before</a> involves some personal experiences as a communist "couple": I went with my then-partner to help organize a communist project in the coalfields. We were deeply committed to women's liberation and interpersonal equality... but in an area where only men worked, and women "kept house," and where social life was segregated (women meeting with women, men hanging out with men), the larger society had a profound effect on <em>our</em> marriage relationship (operating despite, yet through, our conscious minds). And it operated in ways sometimes felt-but-not-seen -- that took years to unravel.

    Our leftist alternative marriage concepts (which were quite radical for that area, and which were an important part of what we "represented" in our political work) were (over time) influenced by the world we were embedded in -- we could have a sincere "commitment" to equality, but then "find ourselves" acting out (every day) relations of inequality.

    We can try to establish families in a communal or egalitarian-nuclear way -- but problems over money, dependency, decisionmaking, etc. reemerge, and patriarchal norms are often reasserted.

    Third, there are good "alternatives" -- ways of representing attempts at liberating social forms (with, i repeat, love, equality, and mutual respect). And my own (limited and tentative) view is that developing such relations is achieved best in frameworks of some stability -- and personally, I have developed "serial monogamous" relationships in my life. But (as I noted above) these are attempts at alternative <em>within</em> capitalism -- that don't generally <em>break out</em> of the larger framework and pulls of society.

    Fourth, ultimately (precisely because these are social relations, produced and reproduced by powerful social forces) the "alternative" involves larger changes (women going to work, society becoming socialist overall, developments of social child care, a future society where human beings are not generally bought, sold and viewed as discardable instrumentalist objects-for-use... etc.)

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    @Mike: To clarify, "there are only bad alternatives" was summarising Hanisch's point about alternatives <i>under current conditions</i>. So as you say, the real alternatives in terms of family structure involve much larger changes.

  • Hmmmmm, Greg... I'm not going to respond to your comment in detail: because you have distorted my views in ways that anyone can see.

    But i do want to assert that great social changes are accompanied by great changes in morality (by new norms of right and wrong)... and that no social project and no society exists without an ongoing struggle over morality.

    And i'm curious why we don't have a richer discussion here of ethics and morality? Is it because other people (like Greg) think the very <em>idea</em> of having a morality is wrong? And that the very idea of broaching a revolutionary set of moralities risks repression and oppression? And if you don't want morality, how will you judge behaviors (including your own), and evaluate right from wrong?

    In some ways the complication is that we communists have need for morality now (under capitalism), and also need to think about what moral norms are in post-revolutionary society (when such things can undergo more rapid large-scale change, <em>and regression</em>). And in some ways our morality now is prefigurative (and "represents" within the present, and "represents" for our social values)... and then, there is a separate discussion about how social and moral norms develop at an actual social scale.

    (Example: At a certain point, beating a subordinate -- slave, serf, wife, servant, child, footsoldier -- became controversial and was increasingly considered wrong, and then criminal. How do such changes happen?

    I don't think such changes are <em>just</em> declared ("Here is our new written down morality, please adopt it now.") -- they emerged from real life and real people, and countless real-struggles throughout society.

    Greg writes:

    <blockquote>"To you, marriage apparently is the only acceptable form of sexual relationship, and casual “hooking up” and “friends with benefits” relationships fill you with horror, dread and disgust."</blockquote>

    People will note that I consciously <em>never</em> inject visceral emotional language into political discussion. Unlike Greg, I <em>never</em> say the views of others "disgust" me. this is a way of thinking and speaking that really takes politics out of the realm of serious engagment -- it simply becomes moralistic condemnation (of the spittle-slinging Spart kind that we have all seen).

    Greg: Nothing you do or say fills me with horror, dread or disgust. And (as you know) when you use that kind of language on Kasama you are often asked to stop it.

    And more: I am not talking about marriage being "the only acceptable form of sexual relationship" -- and you are obviously creating a gross strawman and distortion by even implying that.

    No one here argues for forbidding or condemning sex outside of marriage (dating, teenage explorations, one-night stands between adults, longterm sexual relations without "moving in together," etc). And of course, relations can be monogamous without there being formal marriage (in ways that Greg deliberately ignores).

    I'm not a big fan of formal marriage -- but I do think there is importance to committed relationships.

    I am saying that we want to encourage (overall) sexual relations that are connected to love, equality and mutual respect. (There are many other kinds of sexual relations... all over society.... i'm not saying they are, as a whole unacceptable.) I am merely saying that (in my experience) the kind of work and intimacy needed for relations of love, equality and mutual respect developed best within forms of monogamy. And that experiments with "open relationships" and multiple partners ("playing the field," sleeping with several people at once, "having someone on the side") often ended up hurting people rather quickly (sometimes despite intentions).

    I am open to hearing other people's experiences -- and how they grappled with these questions. And I don't think that every relationship needs to be pressed into a mold of serial monogamy. I'm merely saying that in my (very limited) experience -- this was the best framework I have found for developing intimate relations based on love, equality and mutual respect.

    Greg writes:

    <blockquote>"Bottom line, marriage and the patriarchal husband-led family emerged so men with property would be able to control the sexuality of women, to guarantee the paternity of the children eligible to inherit their wealth."</blockquote>

    I think we may all agree that this is historically true. And genreally, all social institutions of society have emerged in the context of class society -- and they all served dominant property relations.

    But that doesn't mean that all marriage and family has to be patriarchal and "husband-led" or tied to controlling women or based on economic dependency. It is possible to aspire to forms of family that are not oppressive, and that are tied to different social roads. (And they need not be nuclear families, of course, they can include communal families, and extended families etc.)

    * * * * * * * * *


    Greg writes:

    <blockquote>"Among working class African Americans, this trend is overwhelming – marriage is rapidly disappearing in my community, a fact that is the cause of much hue and cry among the respectable Black middle classes and the African American clergy."</blockquote>

    this is true and complicated. Part of it is because the wages of even-employed young black men have dropped steadily -- and so they often have little to contribute to a stable marriage. (It used to be that a fully employed worker made enough to sustain a household. A third of <em>fully-employed</em> young black men (18-25) have no money beyond the cost of maintaining themselves. this has a profound impact on social life.)

    Also it is worth asking (as many do!) what do black women want? Do young Black women with children want a stable relationship with a man who is committed and can help raise the kids?

    Yes marriage is breaking apart -- but it is not the choice or desire of the women (or, I believe) the men.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    @ Mike - Bottom line, you embrace the reactionary patriarchal institution of marriage (at a historical moment that this historically recent reactionary custom is being rapidly abandoned by the working class) and you embrace bourgeois morality, knowing full well the sexist and reactionary origins of that institution. You also have some very conservative and puritanical views on extramarital sexuality, particularly casual non relationship-based sexuality. You also made a downright bizarre claim that heterosexuals are "sexually oppressed"

    Yes, I do have a problem with somebody who calls himself a communist taking positions like that and I make no apologies for that.

    Communism is supposed to be about freedom for the working class - including sexual freedom.

    In any event, with that, I'm done here.

    There are more important issues in the world going on right now - including the largest labor dispute in the United States, the lockout of 8,500 unionized utility workers by Consolidated Edison here in New York City (a dispute that I see has gone totally unmentioned here on Kasama, despite it's political importance to the class struggle in America) - so I think I'll choose this moment to retire from this discussion of maoist sex puritanism.

    Have a nice day!

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    As recently as 2 decades ago it could still have made sense to view pornography as filmed prostitution. The rise of the internet has greatly changed all forms of media communication including, but not restricted to, pornography. I can remember how 25 years ago a thought which constantly haunted my political imagination was about the corporate mass-media seemed almost like one giant monolith, masking itself in the guise of a free press while serving as the spokesman of the ruling class. I still find it useful to keep that Chomskyesque paradigm in mind as a point of reference. But it is obvious that the development of the internet has greatly complicated the old picture.

    There is something analogous going on with respect to porn. Just as the internet now makes it easy for bloggers to launch their own news service in a way can often bypass The Gray Lady, so too is it now much easier for anyone who cares to post a video of themselves going through orgasm. This can not be taken into account through just a routine listing of traditional pornography publishers. Moreover, there is every reason to expect that such trends will continue. Just as nothing can turn the current situation with respect to media back to pre-1990 days.

    The comparison is already explicit:

    "Like the porn studios, big media companies have seen their own profits plummet in the face of free aggregators, amateur bloggers, and the nearly limitless competition supplied by the web."

    While such developments do not a revolution make, they are a progressive trend of sorts which should be recognized as such.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    I hope that all the people weighing in on (or lurking around) this “discussion” will read and re-read what Mike has contributed. And IMO what he has articulated goes to the heart of the matter and is much more profound than a lot of the back and forth’s.

    What he and a few other people are struggling with is an entire rupture in outlook. No matter how one dresses it up, women’s real liberation, and subsequently the path to the liberation of humankind, are completely entwined with the way we (as both individuals and a society) view and treat people, as well as to how the people actually view themselves.

    Much of this “debate” has been so individualized, defensive (seemingly on bourgeois terms), even dismissive (look at some of the retorts to Red Terror), in the name of (personal) sexual liberation. IMO, while seeming to come through the back door; a lot of what has been expressed is a reflection of the “dominant” ideology in society…whether that society is based on slavery, feudalism, capitalism and/or imperialism. Some end up upholding (or at least emulating) patriarchy and male-dominated society—albeit it in a more subtle form.

    Hopefully without sounding histrionic, while I have chimed in periodically, I have refrained from chiming in in any kind of forceful way, not because I find the discussion boring, but instead have almost felt suffocated by it.

    I have been looking at this thread very much like I view most of the posts and threads on Kasama—to actually learn something, to go to a higher level in understanding and one that helps transform one’s thinking. And I am sorry to be so blunt—probably no apologies necessary—but I think some of the comments have lowered the bar—do not pass go, do not collect $200, and go directly to the toilet.

    (N.B.—no one, not one person, has said that there shouldn’t be an unspoken solidarity with so-called “sex workers.” That’s a given, even if some pose as if they have a monopoly on solidarity and the rest are just a bunch of moralizers. But do people who are so keen on upholding prostitution, even in a more rarified form, really think that by fighting for equal pay for equal work, legalizing prostitution, etc. is going to solve the overall enormous contradictions surrounding women’s oppression?)

    But along with the things Mike spoke of, I would like to add another element…and that is the psychological torment that millions of women (and LGBT) face because of their oppression—under society’s “norms” (whether blatant or not.) By way of example—

    Andrea Dworkin was married to a physically and mentally abusive (violently so) man for 9-11 years. She kept trying to leave the relationship but it took her 11 years to do so. Dworkin was repeatedly asked (like so many abused women)—why did you (and therefore so many women) stay or keep going back to your husband? (Almost sounds “consentual”—right?) And Dworkin, after an epiphany of sorts, responded, that she didn’t believe she <i> deserved </i> anything better. (How many of us have felt like that?)

    And when the dominant social relations are emulated, this can wreck havoc amongst different sections of the people, be they straight or gay, etc. An old friend, who had been with her lesbian partner for years, finally decided to “tie the knot.” (An expression that might be foreboding in some circles. In some situations, but certainly not all, “tie the noose” might be more appropriate.) Anyway…a few weeks after this couple took their vows, her “lifelong” partner betrayed (and lied to) her royally…running off with their mutual “shaman” (oy—but later on felt she was “entitled” to certain material things.) It was a Dr. Feel Good moment for the runaway bride, and her “feelings” and actions took precedence over any kind of trust, loyalty, respect or even honest <i> struggle</i> with my friend. That same friend was devastated for years, and to this day has issues with trusting people.

    Point being—there is responsibility and consequences to our collective ideas and actions.

    My own personal experience—as an heterosexual woman who has been raped, betrayed, lied to, abused, encountered fear for just being a woman, condescended to, dismissed (intellectually for sure) and paternalized, the bread winner and at times a single mother, is really <i> not </i> that key.

    What is important is when millions upon millions are experiencing the same thing, even under the guise of sexual liberation.

    May seem strange, but even given some of my life experience, it has made me more determined to be part of revolutionizing society, with our continued attempts at how we, in tandem with the people, actually do just that. I don’t think any of us “deserve” any less.

  • Guest - Maju

    @Gregory: those "liberating" cars are actually part of the burden imposed to workers all around the World by US imperialism, and also onto Earth, which is quite exhausted.

    After this last I realize that your discourse is bourgeois and counter-revolutionary in all, making meaningful debate rather difficult.

    @Mike: I still think that your example is totally irrelevant and rather distracting to the matter at hand. Adultery and sexual slavery are just not comparable. It is a horrible example.

    Regardless: in your example both partners are having consesual sex, nobody is being raped or abused and the third person, who is psychologically retrograde (we presume he/she believes in monogamy as important, from context), is being prevented from unnecessary pain by disclosing from him/her some information he/she might not be able to digest properly.

    Of course there are many elements of question in the exemplary triangle but it's of no use in this debate. IMO here the principle of compassionate lies applies, at least arguably, above the principle of general honesty. For you and the misled spouse of the example there is wrong in polyamory but not for me nor the other two people involved.

    Besides, "spouse" means marriage, means monogamy... not at all my favorite concepts. Again even if I may personally feel more comfortable (out of laziness and lack of desire for adventure) in monogamy, I reckon it being unnatural and intrinsically Patriarchal. I prefer that my partners don't hide their other relations but they have generally known that for a fact, so it's alright.

    Your Patriarchal polygynistic counter-examples tell nothing to me, I'm straight with monogamous tendencies but I'm almost absolutely not jealous and my partners (when I have them, always women) tend to have other relations than me sooner or later... I haven't really ever felt bothered by that unless that was part of a break up (and that you can only know a posteriori).

    I don't bow before the concept of marriage or monogamy in general, sorry. It's just an option. But then, would I be selfish and lazy, I'd chose monogamy because it's simpler (but not out of conviction, just selfishness and laziness).

    "Do you think a communist movement doesn't need a morality (beyond the decision not to criminalize consensual relations)?"

    The word "morality" is essentially wrong here: morality comes from Latin "mores" (custom, tradition) and tends to imply attachment to traditional concepts and principles. Communists should have ethics instead, something we create in a dynamic and consensual way, based on what we want and need and not what the ghosts of the past oligarchs tell us.

    Regardless of this not-so-subtle distinction, I do not think this is an specific debate of the communist movement or party or whatever but a broader social debate. In the best case, communists can only help set up generally social-solidarious and democratic grounds for that debate to take place in the broader social context. I do not think that communist movements should be like the Catholic Church, which has doctrine for almost every single thing (but then go moral-relativist at convenience).

    I think this kind of debate is interesting and necessary but there should not be a single monolithic doctrine as result unless the broader society happens to converge into a clear (and generally liberating) consensus (it might also converge into a repressive reactionary consensus and that would be quite a problem).

  • Two responses:

    In the triangle discussion: the issue is not just monogamy but honesty. If I say to a trusted partner "You would think that what I'm doing is wrong, so I have a right to conceal it" -- what does that say about honesty? If you and I are involved in difficult projects together (say, risky political work), do you have a right to lie to me if you are doing things you know I will disapprove of?

    Second: You make repeated leaps here.

    <blockquote>"The word “morality” is essentially wrong here: morality comes from Latin “mores” (custom, tradition) and tends to imply attachment to traditional concepts and principles. Communists should have ethics instead, something we create in a dynamic and consensual way, based on what we want and need and not what the ghosts of the past oligarchs tell us. "</blockquote>

    There is nothing about morality that implies "attachment to traditional concepts" -- on the contrary, there are traditional moralities and revolutionary moralities. Any revolutionary process critiques and replaces traditional moralities -- and seeks to establish new social norms. (In traditional chinese morality, the sale of female children was ok, in revolutionary morality it was considered very wrong.)

    Morality to me is a subset of ethics.

    But in one sense, who cares about the semantics. If we communists need a morality (or an ethics) the question is what is it.

    You say "we create it in a dynamic and consensual way" -- yes, exactly. Why don't you help here? What does that look like?

    You imply that the notion that communism needs values and morality, means that we have "like the Catholic Church... a doctrine for every single thing." Why?

    Who says? Why does our morality need to be judgemental and restrictive? Why do our values need to be traditional?

    Why can't we have as a values things like privacy, and choice, and pleasure <em>and</em> equality <em>and</em> women's liberation?

    <em>any</em> human institution and project has values and limits and common forms of interacting. The question is what they are, and whether they are articulated or implicit (and whether they are honestly applied or hypocritically flouted.)

    Obviously an abolitionist who secretly made money from the slave trade would not be a fitting representative of his movement.
    What are our equivalents? What do we affirm, what do we negate about the social relations around us? Or (put a negative way) what kinds of behavior should get you tossed out?

    When I was a coal miner, it was a relatively big deal that my wife would say she was never hit or beaten. Wife beating was so common, that many people just assumed she was lying. But clearly our relationship (not just our public words) were part of how our movement "presented" itself, and represented itself.

    I have raised this example before:

    If a leading spokesperson of a communist movement travels the country and hits on a different young woman at every stop, is that a problem for how the movement represents itself?Or should such a person (using your logic) say he were to say "some people in our movement (and my spouse) will certainly think this is wrong, so I better lie and keep it hidden -- to protect them."

    So again, don't we have values and morality that represent where we are going? And what are they?

    And I raise this because the simple assertion of "anything consenting adults do is nobodies' business" is not an affirmation of values and actual relations.

    Another example:

    Is equality between men and women (and equality between love partners) a value our movement promotes and represents (as part of the communist road)? Is it ok if a husband orders a wife around and even verbally degrades her in public? Is it just their business (as consenting adults)? Or is there a natural question "How can you be a communist and think that is ok? And how can you represent as communists if that's how you act?"

  • Guest - Ex-RCYB Member

    <b>Mike says:</b>

    <blockquote>"By the way, the term “vanilla” sexual relations has cropped up (as a handy description of a particular kind of non-kinky sexuality). I’m not sure if that captures how I want to discuss or view sexual relations — and I think again I think there is often a general confusion about acknowledging the desire toward particular sexual acts, and the revolutionary process (which inevitably, throughout history, radically affects social relations, even intimate social relations).

    I don’t think the state should stick its nose into private intimate relations of specific people. But I think a revolutionary process will (inevitably) create a public space for discussing society’s current webs of intimate relations (in a critical and empowering way). "</blockquote>

    Point taken, Mike. Sorry about that, it's more of a matter of habit because it's such an integral part of "our" (ahem) vocabulary. I don't mean it to be a derogatory remark or imply that any form of sex that isn't BDSM is "boring" or "inferior" to the way we do it.

    <b>Gregory says:</b>

    <blockquote>"We don’t need the commissars prying into people’s bedrooms, or comrades being forced to engage in “criticism and self criticism” sessions because of their private, consensual sexual activity with adult partners."</blockquote>

    I certainly agree with both Mike and you. However, my question is: how do we make sure that a socialist society approaches these things in a way that Mike is talking about, and not in the way that you're talking about? What would a <i>"public space for discussing society's current webs of intimate relations"</i> look like? How would it contrast to Cultural Revolution-style "dunce cap" meetings or RCYB-style "criticism/self-criticism" sessions?

    <b>Maju says:</b>

    <blockquote> I am sure that there are many cases in which SM is used as cover up or pretext for gender violence and other criminal behaviors. I visit BDSM blogs and sites frequently and I have to avoid certain kinds because they really trouble my sensibility (and in some specific cases I’ve felt obliged to file reports to the corresponding authorities because there was clear abuse of minors). But more critically I too frequently read people inside “the scene” discussing how there are too many instances of abuse under the pretext of an SM relation.</blockquote>

    Indeed, Maju! Like I said earlier: <i>"Absolutely! This very thing is something that must be taken into account in BDSM. However, many fetish communities- especially those that are closely knit- actually consciously keep watch for such things and it WILL be called out. It’s something that should be done more. Maybe that’s something we should examine more: how do we recognize and deal with such problems (without becoming bedroom police)?"</i>

    (Also, good on you to help catch predators online!)

    <b>Maju says:</b>

    <blockquote>Of course things even much worse can happen in vanilla relations but in vanilla relations we all know (in theory at least) that “no” means no and “elephant” is a big gray animal instead. A problem in BDSM is that boundaries are a lot blurrier.</blockquote>

    Mmmm... not neccessarily. One great thing about BDSM is that oftentimes there is <i>more</i> communication and honesty in D/s relationships than in vanilla relationships because of how volatile and intense it is. In my personal experience, I've discussed the boundaries and feelings of sex with my partners in my BDSM relationships than I have in my vanilla relationships.

    <b>Mike says:</b>

    <blockquote>And i’m curious why we don’t have a richer discussion here of ethics and morality? Is it because other people (like Greg) think the very idea of having a morality is wrong? And that the very idea of broaching a revolutionary set of moralities risks repression and oppression? And if you don’t want morality, how will you judge behaviors (including your own), and evaluate right from wrong?</blockquote>

    Well, let's do that then; maybe we could have a separate article about it? This could really help with clearing up my question about how to build the "public spaces" you discussed earlier.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Mike E: "I understand well that radical movements rooted in campus politics (among people in their twenties, among people who aren’t married or parents, who generally don’t yet have hierarchies of social prestige) have a pull toward sexual morality of “whatever, lets try it.”... If women joined our movement and were hit on relentlessly, if they saw leading men surrounded by groupies, or younger comrades “passed around,” if their husbands easily found new sexual partners at political meetings (while they were stuck home with the kids)… what would all of that say to them (about the seriousness and hypocrisy of our talk of liberation)?"

    Miles Ahead: "Andrea Dworkin was married to a physically and mentally abusive (violently so) man for 9-11 years. She kept trying to leave the relationship but it took her 11 years to do so. Dworkin was repeatedly asked (like so many abused women)—why did you (and therefore so many women) stay or keep going back to your husband? (Almost sounds “consentual”—right?) And Dworkin, after an epiphany of sorts, responded, that she didn’t believe she deserved anything better. (How many of us have felt like that?)"

    This is something we need to seriously challenge. On the NZ left a little while ago, there was a guy who saw meetings as pick-up spaces, who used alcohol to get women into bed, who generally had a really bad attitude towards women. Repeated efforts to challenge him about this directly failed. Many of his comrades also tried to hush the situation and not deal with it. Finally, he left the city and headed to another, where by all accounts his behaviour continued. As a last resort a number of individuals and groups wrote/signed an open letter to his comrades, so people (particularly women) could be aware of this behaviour which had been repeatedly hushed up.

    So a politics of emphasising consent does not run against the grain of challenging abuse. On the contrary I'd argue they're mutually essential.

  • Guest - Maju


    That's what I studied in Philosophy class at High School (and it's the first time I am ever questioned about the concept): ethics = creative innovative values, morals = conservative rigid values. Christians or Muslims have morals, we have ethics.

    How do I discern what's right or wrong? Not because anyone tells me, that's for sure. Because I have often meditated and debated about it. I'm not sure 100% of what's right or wrong but who can be?

    My general principles are justice, dignity, freedom and truth (= good), but in your horrible monogamist example some of these they clash with each other, so I'm sure it is a bad example, unless your intention was to entice debate on it.


    Fair enough. I take due notice of your comments, which I find very sensible.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Maybe this is off the beaten (literally and figuratively) track—but how many times has it been reiterated in revolutionary circles that, within just about every situation, “all depends on who holds state power.” As we struggle to understand the various levels of what’s liberating or oppressive, are any of us totally exempt from whom it is that currently holds state power or what ideology holds sway?

    A pathetic (and sad) example of power and control is when an obvious (more so male) wage-slave has little if any power over his life, work and social being, and ends up being abusive or controlling to his wife, social partner or children. May not have power in the outside world but am gonna try and exercise some power and control on the home front or his own "domain."

    Rather than simply reducing everything to state or power relations, I would like to know what people think are more positive examples, in the social and political sphere in terms of empowerment for the people en masse? E.g., while “Take Back the Night” surely did not liberate all women, it certainly was an empowering moment/movement helping to change some of the fundamental ways women, or sexual and intimate relations, were “commonly” thought of.

    And, as A.S. Neil pointed out, decades ago, in his philosophical treatise on education, “Summerhill”—there is a difference between “freedom and license.”

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Few general points, mostly on Mike's line of argument:

    -Broadly prefer "ethics" to "morality," but on this topic I'd say "sexual politics" is a good way to frame it. What are our sexual politics. Morality is about right and wrong actions, sexual politics is about power, including at a personal level.

    -Anecdata: not poly, but polyamorous folks are some of the more respectful, honest, considerate people I know when it comes to sexuality. Not sure how that squares with your "serial monogamy" suggestion.

    -Along with consent, the gendered division of labour is something we should think about not just programmatically but in our daily lives. This is something I'm quite shoddy on and need to improve. It also relates to the question of childcare, which is both organisational and programmatic.

    Miles: "I would like to know what people think are more positive examples, in the social and political sphere in terms of empowerment for the people en masse? E.g., while “Take Back the Night” surely did not liberate all women, it certainly was an empowering moment/movement helping to change some of the fundamental ways women, or sexual and intimate relations, were “commonly” thought of."

    Pretty modest in scale, but our Queer The Night action in NZ 2011/2012 (triggered initially by homophobic street violence) was partly inspired by Reclaim the Night:

  • Guest - Mike E

    Maju: thanks for engaging on these matters. Let me give some candid responses.

    <blockquote>That’s what I studied in Philosophy class at High School (and it’s the first time I am ever questioned about the concept): ethics = creative innovative values, morals = conservative rigid values. Christians or Muslims have morals, we have ethics.</blockquote>

    Part of our purpose here is to develop a "common language" among communists. We may start with different assumptions (and meanings for words) -- and that is just part of a larger process of clarification (and communist regroupment).

    <blockquote>"How do I discern what’s right or wrong? Not because anyone tells me, that’s for sure."</blockquote>

    This is an interesting remark. And a heartfelt rejection of popes and the imposition of reactionary morality.

    But let me explore it a bit.

    In my experience (with communists of many time-moments and different countries) I have noticed something over and over again in regard to sexual morality. People often think they are expressing a universal communist (or sometimes proletarian) approach to sexuality -- but when you examine it (in 3D, in context, in comparison with other communist views), people are often expressing rather common and familiar views of their <em>particular</em> milieu.

    This was true when parts of the New Communist Movement took rather common homophobic views (from working class prejudices or Black Nationalist circles) and announced it was "scientific" and "proletarian morality" etc.

    But phenom is often true more generally... even if the sexual verdicts are as crudely reactionary.

    In the U.S. today a common (and even increasingly dominant) view of morality is "we each create our own beliefs." There has been a documented and general decline in "organized religion" -- and a rise of self-invented ethics.

    I mention that because your comment "how do I tell right from wrong? Not cuz anyone tells me!!" is very mainstream American, very typical, very American and not particularly radical -- even if (in your mind) it is part of your own thinking (and therefore presumably appears communist, revolutionary etc. to you).

    It is also, in large part, an illusion.Ideas (and morality more than most ideas) have a <em>social</em> life. Behaviors have social meaning.

    Obviously we communists don't want a pope. Or micro-manage behaviors, or reject provocative experimentations. (One of our moral choices should be to encourage experimentation.)

    But developing ethics and morality do require sophisticated social experience and summation. There are reasons why people have historically read (and learned from) ethical teachers who have thought about these matters in specialized ways.

    The idea that each teenager in a society "decides for themselves" what is right and wrong (about sex, marriage, intimacy, or larger ethical matters) -- really severs verdicts from necessarily complex and contradictory experience. How could people who have not raised children, gone through divorce, seen different cultures, experience loss of a partner, experienced abandonment or betrayal of trust, freely and personally invent a personal ethical system? What happens to a society (or a revolutionary movement) if its assumption is that <em>each</em> person freely invents from scratch.

    IN some ways, we all learn ethics from other people (from a collective process). Certainly I have (and still do).

    And so my view on this is quite the opposite of yours: I have learned right and wrong <em>precisely</em> because many other people have told me things. "That's for sure."

    It is a social process, and without people telling me (and struggling with me, and sharing their views and experience) I can't imagine having <em>any</em> credible (or radical) sense of right and wrong.

    We are at the very beginning of an attempt at a revolutionary movement -- isn't our process of exploration collective?

    <blockquote>"My general principles are justice, dignity, freedom and truth (= good)..."</blockquote>

    These are fine. And i'm not going to debate them, or pretend to lay out some system of ethics.

    One thing I would raise is "freedom" is a complex value. "Freedom for what?" The confederacy waged war in the name of their "freedom" (to their way of life, to own slaves). The fight against integration in the South was waged in the name of freedom (including the freedom of small business owners to decide who to serve in their restaurants). A significant amount of oppressive sexual practice is justified in the name of male "freedom" to do whatever feels good (without the constraint of considering its impact). So freedom is a mixed banner... and needs to be understood with some context.

    i would suggest adding several other things to your principles just off the bat: including equality between men and women, and taking social responsibility for the impact of your personal (and public) actions.

    And overall, i think our approach to personal and collective morality should encompass what we are attempting: taking the communist road, and seeking to represent that (or at least be compatible with that) in ways both immanent and long-term.

  • Ian writes:

    <blockquote>"-Anecdata: not poly, but polyamorous folks are some of the more respectful, honest, considerate people I know when it comes to sexuality. Not sure how that squares with your “serial monogamy” suggestion."</blockquote>

    That is a serious question. Let me try to reply seriously.

    First, i don't doubt it is true that fine and wonderful people are involved in polyamorous relations. And basically, I am in favor of experimentation -- including especially in communal relations.

    Second: My thoughts are not about the character or intentions of people. I have zero doubt that many people exploring new kinds of relations are serious, sincere and considerate.

    Third, my own observations are that polyamorous relations are hard to maintain (as a social form) over time -- in part because doing it "right" is very complex and consuming, but also because it is very hard to do it in a way that maintains nuturing intimacies.

    One of my dearest comrades once quipped: "In the 60s we women thought we were exploring radical new sexualities, but many of the men just thought they were getting laid a lot."

    I am open to learning from new (and old) sexual explorations... and with polyamorous experiments, I simply ask: what does it look like in five years, ten years, once there are children? In my (admittedly limited and tentative) observation, contradictions emerge that people can't solve well in that framework.

    In my experience, it is very hard (under all conditions, generally) to have intimate relations that are equal, ongoing, shifting with age, non-routinized and really non-oppressive. (And by intimate relations, I don't just mean sexual relations, but the larger intimate bonding between people.)

    I am not making a "suggestion" or proposing a model or urging a set of rules -- but simply saying that (in my experience) it has been very hard to conduct principled and ongoing intimacies outside the framework of serial monogamy. Other people may be more sophisticated and determned than I am -- perhaps they can do it in other frameworks.

    Put another way: I'm not arguing here for "privileging" monogamy -- or assuming it is "the answer" (to interpersonal contradictions that don't <em>have</em> a simple structural solution). I'm simply urging that monogamy not be casually assumed to be "the problem."

    And really we have a lot of experience. I watched the campaign to "smash monogamy" in Weatherman -- where couples were broken up (seen as possessive) and where group sexuality was enforced (to build collective spirit and break with old thinking). I have seen people pained and abandoned under the guise of "open relations" that (in my view) often seemed to reproduce rather traditional male freedoms and female disposability.

    Let me give another example from life: Someone close to me chose a different path from my very political road. They moved to a rural area (during the 60s) and were part of the movement to form communes. And in such communes (which were very numerous) people often pooled money, and blurred monogamy, and raised kids communally etc. And (as you are saying) these were very progressive people, who wanted new ways of living and non-possessive ways of interacting, And there was a lot that was enlightened, and positive about those experiences.

    But if you "flash forward" -- a decade or two later -- those communes don't exist. And those same people live in nuclear families, raising their kinds in monogamous ways. And (interestingly enough) I think most of them have the same values -- and <em>want</em> new communal forms of life and childrearing. In the case of those communes, the pressure of the surrounding society was very strong (once kids go to school, and once there are mortgages, financial differences, interitances and conflicts over decision-making, etc.) Part of the decline of the communal movements was that the <em>surrounding</em> society was not revolutionized (i.e. we didn't succeed in overthrowing capitalism, and all the social dynamics it imposes). And I believe that in a future socialist society there will be much more success in developing new communal forms of living.

    But life itself has impressed upon me how difficult it is to have genuine intimacy and relations of equality -- and the attempt to develop that has (in my experience) required the trust, and ongoing commitment between people, that has only seemed possible within monogamy. The 'serial" part arises from the fact that "until death do us part" is a form derived from agricultural society (where the family is a production unit), and lifetime commitments don't correspond with how we now live and grow. But real commitment has value between people -- for their relative security in an insecure world, for their happiness, for the ability to raise children, for lifting the burdens of inequality from women. And so I don't view the mutual commitment of monogamy as some "possession" thing (inherently, though it <em>can</em> and <em>does</em> often involve that)... but that it can serve as a framework in which we hurt each other less, and grow together more.

  • Guest - Maju

    @Mike: on the contrary, there is growing evidence that most people, oddly enough, are born with an innate sense of justice. Even very young children can discern the basics of right and wrong... (vide for instance: or the press release: - there's more than just this study).

    Why is this because the blank slate model of the mind is largely wrong: as humans we are born with a highly adaptive and powerful mind but also with some basic wiring on it (just like your PC usually comes with an operative system). This fundamental wiring is geared towards efficient social life, because for most of our evolutionary history we have been living in small cooperative societies - and that's why we tend to like both solidarity and freedom: we are instinctively drawn to it in most cases - and that's why we have a basic sense of fairness or justice also hard-wired.

    The particulars of how we articulate that instinctive fairness are debatable and even variable along individuals and societies, but the essence of the idea of fairness is common to all or most.

    (Notice that there can be some dynamic equilibrium with a minority of predatory, psychopathic, personalities, and whatever gradations there are, being able to exist within a dominantly fair society).

    "the idea that each teenager in society "decides for themselves" what is right and wrong (about sex, marriage, intimacy, or larger ethical matters) -- really severs verdicts from experience".

    Experience is not anymore what used to be. I understand (inspired largely by "Anti-Oedipus") that Capitalism decodes what is essentially a Pre-Capitalist, residual-Feudal, society by means of co-opting and corrupting all its institutions and values (like morals, religion, etc.) This is not likable because it is a corruption but it's also pretty much unavoidable and anyhow all those Feudal values had to be removed (and that's why the Cultural Revolution in China made sense after all, let's not forget that peripheral socialism also exerts the decoding and other roles of Capitalism in the Center). As revolutionaries we cannot nor should generally oppose this decoding, although we do not participate of the corrupting means by which it is done. Rather we take the Naked Humankind that the Capitalist decoding produces (so far it can't yet be biologically decoded) and try to make a new post-Capitalist (but also post-Feudal) society at the end of the process (and to prefigure it as much as possible in th meantime).

    So, while well pondered experience is valuable, that does not mean it is the only possible truth or that teenagers are not doing it right when they decide to ignore some of the warnings and experiment. Experimentation and rupture with the past is part of the construction of the communist society or whatever is at the end of the Capitalist tunnel of social decoding and rot.

    Probably it's best that there's a balance between old and new but a lot of the old stuff must be discarded anyhow and neither young nor old know for sure what that should be. So while it's probably correct to warn caution to the young ones, it's probably wrong also to try to force them into schemes and value sets that must be removed and dumped in any case. A balance must be achieved but this balance is dynamic, not rigid. Trust must be given to the young ones that they will be smart enough to find their own optimal balance - if luck allows.

    "adding several things just off the bat: including equality between men and women"

    It's in Justice and Dignity.

    "the communist road"

    In Justice and Dignity and also Freedom and Truth. It's all included. Maybe the wording can be refined, the forms specified... but the instincts of fairness and freedom and truth and dignity are what leads us.

    All the rest is formalizations and concretions. The ethics are in the end instincts, universal ones.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    Maju says: "I do not think this is a specific debate of the communist movement..."

    That's the point which deserves to be underlined here. When it comes to ethics or morality or whatever the best word is, I've simply relied upon things which my mother impressed upon me as a youth. Though I haven't always followed the rules given to me in our non-religious household, the success or failure on that score has always been independent of Marxist doctrine. Marxism didn't suddenly teach me a whole new morality, nor did it especially set me free of old moral strictures. That is not principally what it is for.

    Many non-communist actors in current capitalist society have sought to teach youth not to lie. The influence of such teachers can be blunted by the fact that ordinary people can see that lying sometimes works well for Dick Cheney or whoever. Modern capitalism can't help but nurture a sense of cynicism within people. That is the one place where an actual socialist party coming to power could do something constructive on morality. By sending someone like Cheney to the gallows a socialist government would reaffirm for many people what they have already been taught a thousand times anyway.

    But it's a different matter when talk about "communist morality" begins circulating. At it's best what one gets is a pretentious recycling of ideas which have already long been in circulation among people. At its worst it leads to a mess like the Cultural Revolution which, let's recall, was a complete and total failure at its own principally expressed aim, i.e., preventing capitalist roaders from taking control of the party.

    The job of a ruling socialist party should not principally be seen as one of setting down new ethics, particularly not in a highly developed capitalst society like the USA where an abundance of ethical teachings are readily available. At most, perhaps when a process of communist development is very far advanced along there may start to emerge some distinctively "communist ethics" which will be identifiable as such. But for right now the more pertinent task is to simply show people why they needn't feel so cynical about their current ethics.

    Schools all across the country regularly teach about Martin Luther King and explicitly offer this as a lesson on ethics. If people see a black man gunned down in the street by a cop while he's holding his hands in the air then, yes, that can nurture some cynicism towards the ethics which one learned in school. But there is no need in such a case to pronounce and elaborate on "communist ethics" for the audience. It would be better to simply show them that the ethics which they have already learned at school can now be put into practice through the revolution.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Hope I don’t get shot down for using the term “relative”—then again, maybe I need to be.

    But just taking the term “freedom”—think it is a relative one. Freedom (or “free”) means different things to different people and in different contexts, and that also means in the realm of sexuality, experimentation and a set of ethics.

    One kind of freedom I welcome is a flourishing of different ideas and to be able to create an atmosphere where those ideas can be openly expressed, discussed, struggled over. and in some instances take hold.

    While there is the flimsy veneer of “democracy and freedom” under capitalism, who does the concept of “freedom” in that context really serve? A “free market,” “free trade,” “freedom fighters for imperialism,” ad nauseum. I also think there is a difference for a call for justice and human rights vs. some wanton freedom.

    Rather than cynicism, what I see as a fundamental problem throughout a society like the U.S. (with its very system being bolstered—economically, politically and ideologically) is individualism. The overbearing individualistic mind-set/behavior ultimately leads to cynicism.

    Am not talking about individuals and their role in the progress within an overall scheme—but the “me first” mentality, “meet my needs and the hell with everyone else” (as if that was really attainable but instead, in reality for most people is just another illusion) –is definitely “toxic.”

    Under a different system, undoubtedly ideally, such as socialism, or communism with the abolishment of classes, those individual needs and wants take on a new character and are judged by a collective yardstick, hopefully reflecting what is beneficial to the society as a whole; including even in the arena of ethics, “morality,” as well as non-exploitative sexual attitudes and behavior.

    I suspect big changes are on the horizon—and some of those changes at this point in time are somewhat unimaginable.

    While some have suggested that the notion of “fairness” is instinctual, unfortunately, capitalist/imperialist society has been steeped philosophically in “unfairness.” In so many instances, “Anything goes” is the order of the day—even amongst the most altruistic. And the contradictions among the people on the questions of freedom, truth and justice are things that revolutionary-minded people are going to have to tackle head-on…both now and in the future.

  • Guest - Maju

    But what's the alternative to freedom, not free market but to let people choose? True that sometimes, maybe even often, freedom is used to avoid compromise but then again compromise is often perceived as altruist giving with no returns, so it's somewhat logical that people avoid compromise in the long run unless they are truly convinced in ideological terms.

    So rather than trying to curtail freedom, I'd ponder how can we increase compromise, responsibility, discipline (not as much hierarchical but self-discipline and group discipline), while still allowing for freedom as much as reasonable.

    Otherwise you end up with people climbing the Berlin Wall: you can't force people forever, you must persuade them, with not just ideology (also) but results. Even capitalists understand that, better than communists often.

  • You are thinking of freedom as a coherent "thing." But freedom is a unity of opposites. The freedom of the slave owner to hold slaves means that the slave is not free. If the slave is free, then the slaveowner has lost previous freedom.

    The freedom to buy and sell human labor is essential to capitalism, but the liberation of people involves the socialist overthrow of that (and there starts the freedom of oppressed people to rule and direct society).

    there is no single solitary "freedom." And the freedom (emancipation) of the people requires the historical ending of the freedom to be oppressors (with all that THOSE freedoms entailed).

  • Guest - Maju

    I don't call those things "freedom", unless we go Orwellian as in "freedom is slavery". I'm always thinking of individual and group freedom as in not being dictated what to do.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    Marx rejected bourgeois morality in favor of an ethics of human emancipation:

  • Greg writes:

    <blockquote>"Marx rejected bourgeois morality in favor of an ethics of human emancipation."</blockquote>

    I think everyone in this discussion does too. The issue is "what does an ethics of human emancipation look like?"

    It is true about many of our common words -- just declaring them (proletariat, socialism, communism, revolution, dictatorship of proletariat) doesn't solve any problems, because there first have to be a discussion of what they mean, what their content is, before we simply declare we are for them.

    We can all say (easily and quickly) that we are against "bourgeois morality" and we are for "an ethics of human emancipation."

    But then, what do they mean? Where do they differ? How does one confront the other?

    I have views on that. In my experience, almost everyone has views on that (often simply absorbed from the air around them). And so we need to really dig into it.... and the collectively created ethics of the real-time human emancipation will actually emerge (from real conditions, and from large numbers of people in motion) not simply from what small circles of individuals think "make sense" for the organization of human action.

  • Guest - Ian Anderson

    Mike E: "I am open to learning from new (and old) sexual explorations… and with polyamorous experiments, I simply ask: what does it look like in five years, ten years, once there are children?"

    Not going to comment on whether polyamorous relationships are right to raise children, but should it particularly matter? Should we judge all human relationships on whether they're fit to raise children? People are having children at older ages, many people won't have children at all, and many relationships will have nothing to do with child-rearing. If you think serial monogamy makes sense, why should all of those relationships be judged by the standards of raising a child and settling down?

    Meanwhile, the pressures in current society make a monogamous, even hetero relationship in many ways the best choice for raising a kid. Social policy is significantly structured around it, not to mention various embedded prejudices. It's utopian to think we can create an "alternative" to this within the current structure, although we can challenge and undermine it.

    But as I've argued (and as Kollontai, and Engels argued in different ways) collective approaches to reproductive labour would free up many of those pressures on gender roles.

  • Guest - bezdomni

    Mike wrote:

    "And is the main oppression around prostitution really that it is criminalized and stigmatized by small minded puritans?"

    This is a particular problem which is (as far as I am aware) pretty much specific to prostitution -- the social relations that correspond to being a prostitute are oppressive and exploitative (in an unusually deep and personal way), but the stigmatization and legal implications associated with being a prostitute deepen these social relations even further.

    Prostitution and the sex industry in general is very very complicated.

  • Guest - Mike E

    I feel the need to raise a question about the term "sex workers" -- because I think its adoption should be discussed (not assumed) and its implications should be explicit.

    There are obviously many terms seen as demeaning. (hooker, whore, etc.) that are also used by the women themselves at times, but are nonetheless clearly demeaning in general discussion. (the demeaning connotation comes from the fact that calling peole generally "whores" associates them with a demeaned occupation. Describing a whore as a whore may be merely descriptive, but the association and stigma follow.

    In my experience the word prostitute is generally (in American English) more descriptive and less pejorative. The reason is that it is not used as a slur. (I.e. An angry patriarchal father may yell "Listen you little slut, you can't go out there looking like a whore." But the word prostitute doesn't quite tumble off the lips the same way, and remains with a bit more clincial/descriptive feel as a result).

    I know of no-one outside the "PC Left" that uses the word "sex workers." Though i have heard it from friends of mine who are in the business (and typically they are leftish, and use leftish language).

    <b>Here is the main point I'm raising for discussion: </b>

    The term "sex workers" and its use (and particularly the occasional assumption that <em>any other term</em> is demeaning and non-progressive) is based on the assumption that the sale of women is itself NOT inherently demeaning to the women involved (and to women generally in the society). And it embodies the assumption that the central agreed approach of pregressive people is to destigmatize prostitution, accept it as meaningful work ("no different" socially from picking strawberries or truckdriving), and (based on that approach) seek to eliminate the obvious abuses without questioning the existence of the institution

    In other words: I think that there is a whole analysis embedded in the term "sex workers" -- so that verdicts are assumed (before discussion has been articulated). It is (obviously) that there is a sex industry (like any other industry) and so therefore the workers there are sex workers (like any other workers). And (on that basis) the stigma is to be combated by simply normalizing the work, and the focus of struggle is not on decriminalizing the women while abolishing the practice -- but simply on regulating it and softening the edges of the oppression (disease control, ending coerced conditions, protecting women against john beatings etc, raising wages, etc.)

    The issue is whether selling womens bodies is a) inherently part of the oppression of women in patriarchy and inherently oppressive, and b) whether its vast expansion affects the conditions of women (generally) beyond its impact on the women directly involved.

    There tends to be a view (among those who use the term "sex workers") that there is nothing inherently degrading or oppressive about sexual sale of women (or presumably men), and that the idea that it is inherently degrading (compared to other work) is an idea they associate with conservative religious, repressive, sex-negative, puritanical views (that have supposedly penetrated the world of communists, feminists and others).

    There are many significant differences between coercive sex slavery (say of imprisoned children in a sex tourist brothel in Cambodia, where kids are essentially captive, raped and exposed to death by AIDS etc.) and the legalized prostitution of various social democratic countries (Amsterdam etc.) And there is a significant class difference between child sex slavery in the third world and the relatively elite conditions of upper class "escorts" (around the world).

    But does the legalization of prostitution (from Las Vegas to Amsterdam) make the issue (i.e. the focus of progressive political discussion and organizing) the more-and-more-enlightened regulation or "cleaning up" of "the industry"? (I.e. weakening of pimp structures, payment, destigmatization, formal government disease control, ability to flee and prosecute those who imprison women, etc).

    Or, at some basic level, is the very existence of prostitution is one extreme and intolerable expression of patriarchy, of the commodification of women (and their sexuality), and of male right? And shouldn't the decriminalization of prostitution (under both capitalism and socialism) and the destigmatization of prostitutes remain connected (in our minds and public revolutionary political work) with a struggle that will (of necessity) treat this as a social evil for women, and part of what degrades women as a whole in capitalist and semifeudal society.

    Finally, what about the issue of agency involved?

    There is sometimes an implication that a political approach to prostitution should (somehow) inherently to be derived from what the sex workers themselves think of prostitution and its future (or more particularly that a communist position should be subortinate to, and based upon what the sex workers themselves are currently thinking).

    My view is that social questions are <em>social</em> questions.

    In other words, what <em>society</em> thinks and then decides about countless matters is not dependent upon what the people currently and most immediately involved think.

    Certainly there is value in learning from the people involved. Certainly they participate in the social discussion (including as people with valuable direct knowledge and serious thinking). But on countless levels, the discussion of all the many social details of life and the future is not <em>simply</em> the domain (or decision) of those directly involved.

    <strong>Just a simple example:</strong> Society has to decide what to do about nuclear power plants. That is a social decision. It cannot be something decided simply by nuclear power workers themselves, or by nuclear power consumers, or by those responsible for administering nuclear grids, or by those small elite circles that have highly specialized knowledge of the industry and related questions. All of those people will inevitably participate significantly in the social debate over nuclear power (as interested parties and SMEs etc.) But the decisions about <em>whether</em> to have nuclear power, and (if so) under what conditions etc. is a <em>social</em> decision, not a sectoral decision. It is not a matter of self-determination for those already wrapped up in that industry.

    <strong>Similarly: </strong> an ongoing process of deciding the future of prostitution (on a global scale!) is a social decision (tied to many other social decisions about individual freedom, commodification of human beings and services, the status of women, how to handle gray economies, imperialist domination of poorer countries, the collapse of feudal life, female poverty, addiction and its treatment, debates over privacy etc. etc.)

    It is not a decision to be made simply by those currently in "the industry" -- i.e. by those who work as prostitutes, or those who exploit them as pimps, or those who "consume" the services of that industry.

    It is not even something to be decided only by women as a group (though obviously the sex trade is entwined with the struggle of women for liberation around the world).

    Prostitution is a <em>social</em> question, involving issues and impacts and decisions that are not the domain of any <em>single</em> group of people -- and one of the major issues of any revolutionary process is both to engage such questions deeply (throughout society), and also to develop radical new ideas about how decision-making is done (with the victory of revolution, but also during the changes of a continuous revolutionary process.)

    It has appeared to me that the argument that this is <em>about</em> the agency of sex workers, sometimes is used as an argument that in a rather non-revolutionary way considers the social question of selling women to be essentially a trade union matter for a section of people engaged in prostitution.

    In fact, if we want to discuss agency, the argument that this is mainly (or solely) a decision and concern for the people now involved in prostitution -- is a view of this social activity that denies its larger social impact, and that seems to deny the necessity of people broadly (the oppressed, women generally, and more) to exercise <em>power</em> over society (and within society), and to be involved in a generalized and ongoing struggle over what to transform and how.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    My biggest problem with a term like "sex worker" is tyhat it blurs the distinction (again) between pornography and prostitution. Prostitution is definitely something for which I'd expect to see a significant decline (though probably not a complete disappearance) in the context of any real socialist construction. Pornography is not the same, and there's no reason at all to think that it will begin to disappear under the virtuous proletarian distatorship.

    There are many women (and other types) who may enjoy playing "fast and loose" but still reserve the option of saying "No!" Prostitution takes that option away for most women who are engaged in it (with perhaps some special exceptions). A prostitute has to be prepared to say "Yes" to any drunken John who walks through the door. I would imagine that many women who are currently prostitutes would prefer to get out of such a situation, if a real valid option existed. Working in a toy factory on poverty wages may not be considered as a valid alternative. But if something better existed then I expect most would take it.

    Pornography, on the other hand, is something where one may very well see some increase in such activity under circumstances where everyone is well provided for "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need." Although it's impossible to know exactly what the true tastes in a future socialist utopia will be, there is just no compelling reason to think that this will naturally lead to a decline in pornographic activity.

  • Guest - Gary

    Mike writes:

    "Here is the main point I’m raising for discussion:

    “The term “sex workers” and its use (and particularly the occasional assumption that any other term is demeaning and non-progressive) is based on the assumption that the sale of women is itself NOT inherently demeaning to the women involved (and to women generally in the society). And it embodies the assumption that the central agreed approach of pregressive people is to destigmatize prostitution, accept it as meaningful work (“no different” socially from picking strawberries or truckdriving), and (based on that approach) seek to eliminate the obvious abuses without questioning the existence of the institution.”</blockquote>

    Thanks Mike for raising this question so pointedly.

    I’ve used the term “sex worker” here (with some hesitation) because I wanted to refer to the prostitute without demeaning her/him. I’ve also said I’m opposed in principle to money mediating sexual interactions (while on the other hand realizing it DOES mediate those interactions, including within marriage) and that I think sex-for-pay will eventually wither away.

    I do not see the person who derives primary income from sex as equivalent to the auto worker or steel worker or truck driver. But I do see her/him acting within a spectrum of “productive” activities.

    In a “digression” on “productive labour” in his Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63 Marx writes that even a criminal is productive:

    <blockquote>“A criminal produces crimes. If we take a closer look at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as “commodities”. This brings with it augmentation of national wealth, quite apart from the personal enjoyment which — as a competent witness, Professor Roscher, [tells] us— the manuscript of the compendium brings to its originator himself. The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc. ; and all these different lines of business, which form just as many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human mind, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the production of its instruments. The criminal produces an impression, partly moral and partly tragic, as the case may be, and in this way renders a “service” by arousing the moral and aesthetic feelings of the public. He produces not only compendia on Criminal Law, not only penal codes and along with them legislators in this field, but also art, belles-lettres, novels, and even tragedies, as not only Mullner’s Schuld and Schiller’s Räuber show, but Oedipus and Richard the Third. The criminal breaks the monotony and everyday security of bourgeois life. In this way he keeps it from stagnation, and gives rise to that uneasy tension and agility without which even the spur of competition would get blunted. Thus he gives a stimulus to the productive forces.”

    This is not entirely tongue-in-cheek. Marx is looking at the whole of human activity, objectively. We should look at prostitution in this spirit.

    I do not want to “assume” anything, including the idea that prostitution is inherently demeaning.

    To do so would close off discussion entirely. I want to observe that in the history of the world this phenomenon has taken many forms. These range from the religious (the temple-catamites of ancient Mesopotamia, myriad forms of temple-prostitutes in the ancient world that supposedly connected the purchaser with a world beyond) to the elite “courtesan” traditions such as the kisaeng of Korea or geisha of Japan (or their near-equivalents among male commercial sex-partners) and of course include people subject to the most abject forms of oppression.

    They include people who have a high degree of control over deciding to have sex with a certain partner (as was and is the case with Japanese geisha) and those who have no control at all. And they include people who feel shamed and disgusted by what they’re doing, and those who are frankly happy with it. To say they “can’t---REALLY---be happy with it” is to insert judgment where it isn’t due, and not based on social investigation.
    In posing the question of (as Mike puts it) the “assumption that the sale of women is itself NOT inherently demeaning to the women involved (and to women generally in the society)” should one not also ask simultaneously if the “sale of men” (as prostitutes) is not “inherently demeaning the men involved”?

    I would hope we come to the point where this question is automatically paired with the former. That is: the discussion of questions like pornography and prostitution that avoids the reality of homosexuality is bound to be of limited insight. It’s not all about male-female power relationships. It’s about sexuality in general.

    Our species is divided into males and females. Women are generally oppressed and have been for several millennia. So of course in discussing sexual topics we should ask how the things we talk about relate to that fundamental dichotomy, that basic “contradiction” posed by biology. But when someone says “pornography is anti-woman propaganda” the gay man, or someone sensitive to the feelings of gay men, will say, well, what about gay porn? And how does the depiction of male-male activity of any sort contribute to female oppression? Is the depiction of a gay sex sequence an invitation to men to abuse women? Or is it just what it is---a depiction of (quite possibly) mutually pleasant interaction?

    To rephrase Mike’s question then, with the topic of same-sex activity in mind: Should be assume that the sale of men (meaning: the exchange of money between a male selling sex and a male purchasing it) is NOT inherently demeaning to the men involved?

    If it is demeaning, is it demeaning to both the man fucking and the man being fucked? What would be the specific logic behind a critique of (gay) male prostitution? Is it demeaning to want to be anally fucked and get paid for it? To want to perform the active role and be willing to pay for it? And is the demeaning qualitatively different from the routine debasements we encounter in capitalist society whenever we’re pulled over by cops or called into bosses’ offices or subjected to the idiocy of prime time TV?

    What I’m arguing (again) is that discussions of sexuality NOT necessarily center around the question of “how does this impact women.” Not because the liberation of women can or should ever be placed on the back seat, but because the sexual liberation of people requires the constantly reiterated understanding that conventional heterosexuality is just one section in a spectrum. To talk about prostitution as though it only involves an exchange between males and females, “degrading” or not degrading, is to miss the point that commercial sex can take many forms, some of them having little to do with women or male/female relations at all.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    To reveal what a “square” I am, until I was following this thread, I can’t remember ever hearing the term “sex workers” before. (Like the old song, “Too Neat to be a Beatnik, Too Round to be a Square.”)

    But like I said beforehand, please let’s not romanticize or glamorize prostitution, or someone having to prostitute themselves in lots of ways.

    Again I agree with Mike’s latest comments so won’t restate them, except to say, as another example—it is assumed that anyone who ascribes to the politics on Kasama would support a strike and the demands by some workers for a living wage, collective bargaining, etc., even though that struggle (or in the “day to day struggle”), no matter how justified, in and of itself, is not the cornerstone of what is going to put an end to their exploitation as wage slaves.

    And likewise, it seems to me, that some of the “remedies” proposed around prostitution, with the majority desperately being forced into prostitution (like teenage runaways, being poverty-stricken, etc.), are simply Band Aids (in the name of “solidarity”) to a much graver, engrained and more deep-seated outlook, attitude and treatment of women (and some men) in general.

    So I’m gonna go out on a bit of a limb here. We all have a lot of work to do, maybe most especially with a transformation in the ideological sphere. And even though so many of the contributors or participants on Kasama (myself included) have an overall revolutionary outlook, there seems to be some things within the existing (or past) system (with all that encompasses), we’ve become more or less comfortable with or cling to. (Not unlike a lot of people’s thinking in general.)

    To call for a radical/revolutionary rupture in all social relations is huge, yet is fundamental. Breaking with old ideas is more than difficult. But this call is not based on nothing, or just in someone’s head, even if it is difficult to wrap one’s head around some of those ruptures. Instead, it is interrelated with the economics, politics and ideological structures, or imposed public opinion (on a worldwide scale) and much of it needs to be changed (or overthrown) if there is going to be a true emancipation of humankind.

    One point to decriminalizing prostitution, is in so far as prostitutes having access to medical care and regular exams to ward off STDs, etc., especially since they are so vulnerable. But…

    … is the “role model” of say the Netherlands, with the legalization of prostitution (where women in Amsterdam famously sit and are displayed in a window, selling their wares—and themselves, while men pick and choose) the kind of example and gauntlet we more middle-aged or old farts (like moi) want to pass onto the younger generation? Or should the overall view of women be much more in keeping with revolutionizing and liberating all of society?

    Marx talked about the new society being born with the birthmarks of the old. Prostitution is thought to be “the oldest ‘profession’ in the world.” But the oppression, exploitation and degradation, of (mainly) women, on so many levels I’ve lost count, is older still.

  • Guest - Gary

    I'm puzzled about why my last comment, after over 6 hours, is still "awaiting moderation."

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    For the record, the term <i><b>sex worker</i></b> was introduced by sex workers rights activists about 15 years ago. Since 2005 the movement has used the red umbrella as their symbol.

    Since they work in the industry and we don't, we really should defer to their terminology.

    Also, I think it's pretty damned clear that they don't want our pity and they don't want us to "rescue" them (save that for Nick Kristof and the morality brigade) however, just like utility workers or bus drivers, they are our fellow workers and they want and deserve our solidarity.

  • <blockquote><b>[moderator note:</b>

    Gary writes:
    <blockquote>"I’m puzzled about why my last comment, after over 6 hours, is still “awaiting moderation.”</blockquote>

    Comments sometimes get caught in the site's spam filter, especially when they are heavy in links or if they contain certain triggers words (like viagra).

    It sometimes takes a while to free the comments from the spam filter because our moderators are not moderating around the clock (people have jobs, meetings, etc.)

    Gary's comment <a href="/" rel="nofollow">appeared here</a> when released.</blockquote>

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "women in amsterdam famously sit and are displayed in a window"

    Is this something which they are compelled to do for monetary reasons, or something which they elected to when other options were available? In any future socialist society where the amount of necessay labor has been greatly reduced and people have a lot of free time on their hands, this sounds like something which a definite percentage of women might enjoy doing. Not all, of course, but more than might be expected by either the Christian Coalition or the Revolutionary Communist Party.

    The most one can definitely say is that no woman (or any of the others for that matter) should ever be put in a position where this is the only, or even just the best, way of paying bills. A socialist society should be able to provide adequate employment so that a resort to prostitution is unnecessary. But some women may actually enjoy being displayed in a window.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    I’ve got the feeling that when Gary wrote this original article, he might not have expected many of the comments to go the way they have, even though his original post touched on various aspects of sexuality, as well as “morality: desires, experiments, permissions, limits.”

    But to address G. Butler, as respectfully as possible, who seems to rabidly reiterate that “sex workers” neither want “pity” or to be rescued—frankly I don’t think the majority of the millions of oppressed and exploited are looking for pity or being rescued by some condescending savior. And that’s not what revolutionary politics is or should be about anyway.

    IMO, overall, and even with the particulars, what this post can’t help but address is not that dissimilar to most of the questions many people, and certainly revolutionary-minded people, are dealing with and struggling over, in many forms.

    I.e., the devouring, whether piecemeal or en masse, of the people by the insatiable maw of capital, imperialism, semi-feudalism, its ideology which includes patriarchy—and equally if not more important, what the hell to do about it so that the people are truly empowered and liberated in <i> all spheres. </i> This includes what’s new and arising.

    I believe if that is our basic orientation, “solidarity” should be seen as only one aspect of all that’s on the collective (but not the “collection”) plate.

  • Guest - Gregory A. Butler

    Miles Ahead - We really don't need the scare quotes around the phrase <b><i>sex worker</i></b>.

    The term was developed by sex workers themselves 15 years ago, when they began forming unions and other types of worker organizations in their industry. It's come to be generally accepted by worker activists in that occupation so we should respect their autonomy and use the same terminology they use to refer to themselves.

    One thing I've learned as a labor activist is, if you want to organize workers <i>you have to find out <b>what issues they think are important</b> and that's what you organize around</i>

    In general (and you can see this in the many links I've contributed to this discussion) sex workers want an end to police harassment and decriminalization.

    I defer to them, rather than to hypocritical bourgeois <i>"morality"</i> that condemns selling sex for cash when it's in the form of prostitution (but glorifies it when it's called <i>marriage</i>).

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

0 Character restriction
Your text should be more than 10 characters
Your comments are subjected to administrator's moderation.