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International Women's Day Prostitution is central to women’s oppression – so why do many on the left defend it?

THAIN PARNELL is puzzled by prostitution advocates claiming to be Marxist who refuse to pay any heed to Marx’s actual position on the issue

PROSTITUTION is one of the oldest capitalist institutions on the planet, so why do many on the left today vigorously defend it?

For decades, most leftists recognised that prostitution was central to women’s oppression, yet over the past decade, there has been an abrupt about-face.  

Now many on the the left advocate loudly for full legalisation of the sex trade. Phrases like “sex workers’ rights” obscure the fact that those who profit from the sale and abuse of women, girls, boys, and men, are the ones protected.   

Meanwhile, even powerful human rights organisations such as Amnesty International appear to have adopted a pro-prostitution agenda.

Most puzzling of all is the startling trend of prostitution advocates claiming to be Marxist, who refuse to pay any heed to Marx’s actual position on prostitution.

“It is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, ie, of prostitution both public and private.”

Over a century ago, Marx understood that without abolishing the industry of prostitution, women’s full liberation could never be fully realised.

Every single successful communist takeover has included a removal of legal sanctions for prostitution in its governmental reforms.  

Yet today, even as capitalist industry is vigorously (and rightly) denounced on the left, prostitution is being rebranded as an “empowering” career for women.  

Those of us whose politics are still grounded in class analysis find ourselves swiftly labelled bigots when we point out the exploitative nature of the trade.

How can the modern left square this embarrassing dichotomy? Why do so many of our fellow comrades seem united in the view that all corporate profiteering is harmful except when it comes to the capitalist sex industry?

Support for the prostitution industry conflicts with the ability to manifest any effective class-based resistance against the white supremacist, patriarchal capitalist hegemony.

The sex trade enables violent pimps, abusive johns, and profiteering capitalists, and disproportionately hurts poor women, women of colour, and Third World women. 

To make matters worse, the prostitution industry is inextricably intertwined with the trafficking trade which profits off the desperate conditions women and girls living in poverty find themselves in.  

Many of the girls and women advertised for sale in Britain and other Western countries have been trafficked in by people smugglers and held hostage by violent pimps and brothel owners.

The modern-day sex trade is nothing but slavery repackaged in new, supposedly progressive clothes.

It is a racist endeavour designed to exploit maximum profit from the poorest and most vulnerable, typically, destitute women and girls from countries with economies ravaged by years of Western colonialism. Many of these women have no other means by which to support themselves. 

As leftists we should not be cementing their oppression by enabling pimps and traffickers to profit further, but instead should be adopting measures which would help these women leave the sex trade far behind, such as the Nordic model.

In Brazil, Westerners trawl urban districts looking to exploit underaged minors coerced into prostitution, while on the streets of Liverpool, working-class women impacted by Tory austerity are forced to turn tricks for £4 a time to feed themselves and their families.  

In Germany, where the full decriminalisation model has been implemented, punter violence has spiked and women are confronted with explicit posters advertising mega-brothels, whenever they leave their homes.

The racism of the sex trade has long been documented — punters commonly refer to ethnic minority women in the most unsavoury terms. 

A quick search on any major “punter” forum will find ethnic minority and immigrant women “reviewed” using explicitly racist language, that refers to their immigrant status or skin colour via demeaning, dehumanising tropes.

How can we claim to stand in solidarity with our sisters of colour when we support the degradation of their personhood by this, most racist of industries?

Support on the left for the exploitative sex trade must stop if we are to claim we stand in solidarity with the oppressed, which rightly should include the class of prostituted women.  

We surely cannot claim to oppose capitalist industry with one hand, while feeding it with the other by embracing an abusive trade which profits from human misery and poverty?


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