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Workers Vanguard No. 1040

21 February 2014


No to Criminalization of Prostitution!

We reprint below an excerpted translation of an article from Spartakist No. 201 (January 2014), published by our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany, addressing a reactionary campaign against prostitution. While prostitution per se is not now a criminal offense in Germany, the new coalition government of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has announced plans to impose new restrictions, under the guise of cracking down on “sex trafficking.”

When reactionary bourgeois feminist Alice Schwarzer launched her latest book—a collection of articles with the sensationalist title Prostitution: A German Scandal; How Could We Turn into the Paradise of Traffickers in Women?—female sex workers, the German AIDS Service Organization and others in the audience responded with vociferous protests. At this event, which took place in Berlin on 14 November 2013, only Schwarzer’s supporters were on the podium, among them a police detective who called for reinstituting the registration of prostitutes! In the run-up to the event, Juanita Henning (chairperson of the Dona Carmen Association, an advocacy group for prostitutes’ rights) had already accurately stated that Schwarzer was advocating a “police law, pure and simple,” calling her a “German police feminist.” Finally, a speaker calling for more rights for women sex workers garnered such strong applause that the speakers had to vacate the podium.

Since issuing their “Appeal Against Prostitution” last fall, Schwarzer and her journal Emma have been waging a campaign for reinstituting the criminalization of prostitution. To that end, she equates prostitution with slavery, demanding “ostracism and, when necessary, legal penalties for their patrons as well.” The CDU/SPD “grand coalition” has already announced that it will “punish...prostitution stemming from poverty as well as forced prostitution more severely, with new statutory offences” (“Future Punishments for Patrons of Forced Prostitutes,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2 December 2013).

We Marxists unambiguously oppose these measures, since the criminalizing of johns would be a decisive step toward a renewed criminalization of prostitution—and of prostitutes. We say that taking money for or paying for sex is not a crime, on the part of either the prostitute or her clients! The assertion that the only clients affected would be those who knowingly purchase the services of someone who has been forced into prostitution is a pretext: not only is this virtually impossible to prove, it serves solely as an excuse for expanding state repression, increasing the number of raids on brothels, and terrorizing prostitutes, many of them immigrants, on the streets and elsewhere.

A similar law has been in effect in Britain for years. Our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain wrote: “In fact, immigrant women ‘rescued’ by police during ‘anti-trafficking’ raids are routinely deported.” (“Down With Labour’s Crackdown on Prostitution,” Workers Hammer No. 205, Winter 2008-09). In France, a law based on the 1999 “Swedish model” that makes the purchase of sex a criminal offense has just passed its first reading despite a number of protests going back some time.

Accompanying the government’s propaganda calling for a crackdown on prostitution is a racist invocation of supposed “gang criminality” which, it is claimed, has been inundating the country with “forced prostitutes,” particularly since the extension of the European Union (EU) to the East. This fearmongering is expected to grow even more after citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, with their large Roma [Gypsy] minorities living in desperate poverty, are granted the formal right to work here starting in January 2014.

In West Europe, the ongoing world economic crisis has generated a rapid growth in the number of attacks on the vulnerable Roma minority, who have been marginalized for centuries. Capitalist governments are using Roma as scapegoats, including through a media campaign retailing anti-Roma lies dating back to the Middle Ages, such as that Roma steal children and traffic in human beings. Alice Schwarzer is a vigorous proponent of this campaign, with articles in her book titled “A Trip to the Homeland of Forced Prostitution” (East Europe, centrally Romania and Bulgaria) and “A Trip to the Land of the Vampires,” with quotes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Her “Appeal” calls for protection from deportation only for “witnesses,” i.e., those who cooperate with the bourgeois state.

The International Communist League has always opposed the EU as an imperialist trade bloc in which Germany, France and Britain have the say-so. Other member countries, among them the former members of the [Stalinist-ruled] Eastern Bloc, supply cheap labor and serve as markets. The wretched situation of the Roma in these countries stems directly from capitalist counterrevolution in the former deformed workers states, which led to interethnic massacres and genocidal nationalism. The desire of Roma to emigrate is often nothing but a desperate attempt to escape racist persecution and the most extreme poverty. Gangs smuggling illegal immigrants can carry out their dirty business only because capitalist governments attempt to keep out foreign workers and operate murderously against refugees. We demand: Full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it here!

Forced prostitution, for instance through debt bondage, rape and brutal sexual attacks are real crimes! However, we oppose the state’s attempt to equate “sex slavery” and “forced prostitution” with prostitution itself and to portray any exchange of sex for money as potential slavery. Prostitution is very often degrading and exploitative, but criminalization simply forces prostitutes into a lumpen milieu where they have almost no access to social and medical services and where they are much more vulnerable to gang crime and violence from pimps. As Marxists, we warn that any and all intervention of the capitalist state directly increases the misery of all those involved and functions as a pretext for inciting the cops and the courts to attack immigrants, women and sexuality itself.

What Is Prostitution Anyway?

The status of a prostitute is related to the status of women generally, itself a measure of a society’s advancement. Thus the conditions faced by prostitutes vary greatly with time, place and class. As we wrote in “U.S./UN Crusade Against ‘Sex Trafficking’” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 58, Spring 2004):

“There is a world of difference between the luxury and easy living of a Hollywood madam like Heidi Fleiss (who got locked up all the same) and the AIDS-infected, drug-addicted streetwalker in an impoverished ghetto, with no options and no way out. Nonetheless, all prostitutes are subjected to the general social opprobrium of bourgeois moralism and hypocrisy, which sets them up for abuse, beatings, rape and theft.”

The main instrument for the oppression of women in a class society is the institution of the family, as Friedrich Engels explained in his brilliant work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884). In the old hunter-gatherer societies, men and women were equal and maternal descent determined lineage inasmuch as only the mother of the child was known. But with the development of a property-owning ruling class, it became necessary to have an unimpeachable criterion for the inheritance of property, one that could unambiguously establish the paternity of children. Hence there arose the monogamous family, in which marriage meant the subjection of women by men—in Engels’ words, “the world-historic defeat of the female sex.”

It is the institution of the family that introduces money into sexual relations. Whether it is the hiring of prostitutes by the hour or the “acquisition” of a wife, the family and the oppression of women are always based on private property; basically, only religious morality and capitalist laws distinguish the wife from the prostitute. The highly-regarded (non-Marxist) sex scientists William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson arrived at a similar conclusion: “Prostitution is difficult to define since humans have always used sex to obtain desirables such as food, money, valuables, promotions, and power” (Sex and Human Loving [Little, Brown, 1988]).

At the same time, people do not allow themselves to be constrained by reactionary religious conceptions of morality linked to the institution of the family. They disregard “correct” sexual behavior, torn between the compulsion of class society and their most intimate personal feelings and wishes. At Schwarzer’s presentation of her book, a paraplegic pointed out that visiting prostitutes was often the only course open to him for experiencing sexuality, whereupon Schwarzer set him right, telling him he really should seek out a partner!

This contempt for someone who is harassed and socially excluded in capitalist society goes hand in hand with her promotion of the happy nuclear family, in which man and wife should only have sex with each other (see the article in her book, “Help, My Husband Goes to Brothels”). People who may wish to experience “kinky” sex that they want to keep secret from their wife, husband or friends because it violates the prevailing “public morality” often turn to prostitutes. No, it is not prostitution that “brutalizes lust” or “destroys sexuality” (Schwarzer’s “Appeal” and her book). It is repressive, inhumane capitalist society.

We are against the criminalization of prostitution, but we regard prostitution as one component of the oppression of women, analogous to the institution of the family. In a classless society, communal child care and housework will replace the role of the family, and women will be able to participate fully in social life. Birth control and abortion on demand will be free, just like high-quality health care for all. Only in such a society will sex be genuinely free and based on mutual consent, without guardians of public morality and brutal cop repression. The only way to get there is the overthrow of the capitalist system through a workers revolution under the leadership of a Leninist-Trotskyist party, the expropriation of private ownership of the means of production and their transformation into the property of society as a whole. The liberation of prostitutes is inseparably linked to the liberation of women as a whole; prostitution will disappear only when the institution of the family is replaced. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!

Schwarzer, a bourgeois feminist living well under capitalism, postulates that men are the enemy (naturally not the cops, who are of one mind with her). In 1971, she orchestrated a front-page story in the illustrated magazine Stern in which women rose up against the laws governing abortion, proclaiming: “We’ve had an abortion!” This was a good thing. But since then, Schwarzer has become much better known for reactionary witchhunts against Muslims and against International Women’s Day, because of its Communist origin. She even opposes the liberalizing law on prostitution passed in 2002 by the SPD/Green government, which halfheartedly attempted to eliminate the medieval concept of an “offense against public morality.” Since then, prostitutes have been able for the first time to sue for their wages, to be covered by health insurance and to have the right to social benefits.

But by no means did this law signify total decriminalization. To the contrary, says the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services (within which, Hydra, an advisory service for prostitutes, works). The association has launched an “Appeal FOR Prostitution” that states: “The law has changed nothing as to the right of the police to enter places of prostitution at any time. Since then the number of raids has increased” ( After 2002, the service workers trade union ver.di set up a “working group” for prostitution within its department of “special services.” But drafting templates for labor contracts and the like is not enough. Ver.di is also one of the largest women’s organizations in this country, with German and immigrant workers often working hand in hand. This integrated trade union must oppose the government’s campaign and mobilize its social power at the head of immigrants and all the oppressed to fight for full citizenship rights for all.

“Leftist” Guardians of Morality

That the current witchhunt against prostitution was kicked off by Schwarzer, whose “Appeal” was signed by the women’s organization of the Christian Democratic parties along with many members of the SPD, is not astonishing. But there are also “leftist” guardians of morality. The Taaffeite Socialist Alternative Voran (SAV), buried in the Left Party, published in its (November 2013) an article titled “A Socialist Perspective on the Sex Industry and Prostitution” by Laura Fitzgerald, a member of its Irish fraternal organization. The article states, “It’s very important that no prostitute is criminalised in any way in the eyes of the law.” But the SAV is for a law that overturns or at least modifies the 2002 law, writing in the same article: “Socialists should, however, totally oppose the full legalisation of prostitution.” Following a bit of lip service about the brutality of the police as enforcers of the interests of the state comes their solution: “It’s essential that all Gardai [cops] are compelled to attend regular training on how to deal sympathetically with victims and survivors of sexual violence.”

This is a real scandal and a mockery of the victims of daily police violence, particularly immigrants! The SAV and its international organization, the Committee for a Workers’ International, have long been known for their efforts to “reform” the police and create “better working conditions” for cops (see, for example, the 1994 Spartacist pamphlet “Militant Labour’s Touching Faith in the Capitalist State”). Their deepgoing social-democratic reformism also means that fundamentally they are in agreement with the bourgeois norms and “family values” imposed by the police, armed men of the bourgeois state. We have often called the SAV out on this, for example when one of our woman comrades intervened at its “Socialism Days 2004.” As we reported in “SAV: No Sex, No Fun, No Spartakist!” (Spartakist No. 158, Spring 2005):

“She attacked the SAV’s prudish moralism, counterposing to it our Marxist position of being against state intervention into consensual sexual and other personal relations. This also includes so-called pedophiles who are made the victims of state persecution for sex with minors based on genuine consensual agreement. That is, for sex with genuine mutual agreement as opposed to sex by force or under pressure to do something one doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to do. The SAV cadres flipped out over this.”

There exists a widespread social uneasiness over yet more police laws. Even the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote in a 19 November 2013 article, “Do Sex Workers Go About Their Work Gladly?”: “Are there people who regard prostitution as a normal job? Yes, there are. Aren’t they hurt by it nonetheless, doesn’t this cause lasting damage? Sitting at a cash register, working as a cleaning woman, selling unnecessary garbage to people, as with [the cosmetics chain] Douglas or the like, keeping this inhumane capitalist wheel of filth running—is this not also mentally very damaging? Does anyone really do this voluntarily?”

We Marxists call prostitution a “crime without victims,” like doing drugs, gambling, pornography and sexual relations with minors—activities that under capitalist law are generally banned or strictly regulated. In many countries, “age of majority” laws dictate living without sex, especially homosexual sex. We are against any meddling by the government in one’s private sexual life. We say that mutual consent and the agreement of all concerned should be the deciding factor in all sexual acts. But we also recognize that genuinely free relations between people are impossible under this class system. Only in a classless society will “moral” and economic compulsion cease to exist in sexual relationships, or as Engels so aptly put it: “there is no other motive left except mutual inclination.”


Workers Vanguard No. 1040

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