A spectre is haunting Twitter — the spectre of liberal bros with hammer and sickle avatars.
Communism: You may know it primarily as that thing Bernie Sanders supporters tell you they aren’t. Or, if you’re lucky, you know it as the ideology advocating for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a worker-led society based on production in terms of human need. What you probably don’t know it as is an ideology that defends wage labor, exploitation, and commodification — yet it’s become depressingly common for communists online and off to do just that by supporting prostitution.
Yes, men who claim to be warriors against the domination of one class by another are celebrating an industry in which one class…well, dominates another. Andrea Dworkin was right as always when she said, “Only when women’s bodies are being sold for profit do leftists claim to cherish the free market.”
Now, before I begin on just why this newfound love for sexual capitalism is hateful nonsense, let me say: I don’t expect everyone reading this to be a communist. I’m not even an orthodox communist myself, although I have a strong admiration and support for the revolutionary movements it’s spawned throughout the last century.
But I do expect most people reading this to have even a basic sense of history, logic, and ethics — which is all you need to realize how stupid the idea of pro-prostitution Marxism is.
Let’s start with history. It can’t be denied that every single major communist government saw prostitution as a counterrevolutionary system. One of Castro’s first acts in power was to deport or arrest the foreign pimps and johns that preyed on poor Cuban women in Havana. Mao established reeducation and job training centers for formerly prostituted women and banned pimping.
Enver Hoxha, one of the greatest advocates for women’s equality in communist history, went to great lengths to abolish prostitution among the Albanian army, at great risk to his own power. Hell, Marx himself stated multiple times that prostitution was an expression of the worker’s oppression by capitalism, and Lenin saw it as equally uncommunist.
Now, this by itself doesn’t prove anything. Marxism is an immortal science, constantly subject to reanalysis and reformulation (but not revision). It’s absolutely possible that Marx, Mao, Hoxha, Castro, and Lenin were all wrong about prostitution. But considering that these men have all been, at various times, responsible for some pretty serious atrocities, I have to ask: Why is it that male Marxists can examine the decisions made by communist leaders and come to see their support for women’s liberation as the only position worth criticizing?
I’ve encountered men who actively defend Stalin’s Great Terror but condemn Mao for his “whorephobia.” Men who can’t muster a harsh word for Pol Pot but are quick to call out Castro for his sex-negativity. You don’t have to buy into the horror stories of Western propaganda to see a crisis of priorities here.
But if there’s one thing more audaciously anti-communist than the historical revisionism of pro-prostitution Marxists, it’s their mangling of Marxist theory to justify the sale of women’s bodies.
The ones I’ve spoken to — online and off — are quick to trot out the same (false) liberal slogans: The Nordic Model doesn’t work, legalization reduces trafficking, prostituted women can form unions, et cetera. They might throw in a buzzword like “autonomy” or “consent,” as if Marxism even allowed for those notions to be coherent inside capitalism, imperialism, and settler colonialism.
But a special new twist from the pro-prostitution communists is the claim that prostitution decriminalization is “sex workers seizing the means of production.” That’s right, folks! Marx’s dream of a worker-run society is best realized by a poor woman advertising herself to middle-class white dudes on Backpage. The revolution is here!
The misogyny in a claim like theirs is almost hard to fathom. To claim that prostitution of any kind is seizing the means of production would imply that a woman’s hands, mouth, and genitals are themselves means of production capable of being seized. Strip away the communist-speak, and that boils down to a simple set of claims: The female body is a machine for producing sex. Men engage that machine by placing money or resources into it. The sex that results is a product to be consumed.
Tell me, what is the difference between this supposedly progressive, radical Marxist vision and any other cut-rate men’s rights activist? The view of any human being as a means of production is fundamentally anti-communist. If anything, it’s the pure distillation of a capitalist logic that seeks to treat humans as resources.
The fact that so-called Marxists are aligning with conservative anti-feminists in viewing sex as a resource produced by female bodies for male consumption speaks to the dismal state of a truly revolutionary socialism.
Practically, these so-called communists (they’re really sexual capitalists) are always shy about exactly how prostitution would function in a communist society. And they should be, because any honest answer is horrifying.
Some quick background: Socialist nations have centrally planned economies structured to address the needs of the people. While the idea of jobs being handed out mechanically by a shadowy bureau without care for interest or passion is a myth, all countries following Marxist-Leninist structure did control the structure and function of the job market. Schools were often designed to sort students early based on their differing skills, and quotas for engineering students, doctors, carpenters, architects, and others were set at the national level by planning committees.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course — but what does that mean for the existence of prostitution in these societies? Do pro-prostitution Marxists support a planning committee deciding the number of “sex workers” alongside the number of agricultural workers or construction workers? How would the state gauge exactly how many women need to be available for workers to fuck? Would schools begin tracking female children into prostitution as a career early on if they showed no aptitude for other occupations?
If there was a shortage of women in prostitution, could the state reassign others to fill the vacancies? Could women refuse to fuck men and still maintain their status and security inside the worker’s republic? These aren’t “gotcha” questions. They’re not what-ifs. They’re the nuts and bolts of what pro-prostitution communists are arguing for. And if you can’t answer these simple questions without sounding like the manager of an elaborate sex-trafficking organization, ask yourself why.
Marxist support for prostitution betrays the entire core of the communist project — to create a society in which no one lives by the exploitation of another. It ignores the rich history of communist resistance to women’s exploitation; it mangles the ideology of Marx to justify a level of objectification even most capitalists can’t match; and it fails to provide an even basic explanation for how this utopic worker’s sex industry could even function in the absence of rape and trafficking.
Why Marxists have adopted an position equal parts woman-hating, incoherent, and absurd is hard to explain beyond good ol’ fashioned misogyny. After all, even if prostitution was just a job like any other, the enthusiastic endorsement it receives from the Left would be unwarranted. But its central role in maintaining the power relationship between men and women moves that endorsement from gratuitous to actively oppressive.
There’s just no way to conceive of sex as work without reducing women’s bodies to a sex-producing machine to be operated by men, and we certainly don’t need Marxists championing a vision that celebrates the commodification of our relationships and treats human bodies as means to an end. We already have it. It’s called capitalism.