Workers Hammer No. 206

Spring 2009


On “crimes without victims”


Dear SLB,

Good article on Labour’s crackdown on prostitution [“Down with Labour's crackdown on prostitution!” (Workers Hammer no 205, Winter 2008-2009)]. Very interesting. But.…“we Marxists regard [prostitution] as a ‘crime without a victim’, like drug use, gambling, pornography, homosexual sex and ‘statutory rape’”??

Somehow describing those activities as any sort of “crime” doesn’t seem right. What about pleasure? They don’t feel like crimes while you’re doing them.

Ann W
Washington, DC

WH replies:

We welcome Ann’s thoughtful letter. The sentence she quotes from our article reads in full: “We are for the decriminalisation of prostitution which we Marxists regard as a ‘crime without a victim’, like drug use, gambling, pornography, homosexual sex and ‘statutory rape’ — activities that are generally illegal or heavily regulated under capitalist law.” The term “crimes without victims” is commonly used by those, including ourselves, who oppose criminalisation of activities which injure no one but are deemed crimes by the capitalist state and punished accordingly. Legal penalties and vicious prejudice towards homosexuality, for one example, in many countries of the world can mean not only prosecution and imprisonment but also violent attacks and murder.

Our use of quotation marks enclosing the term “crimes without victims” is meant to indicate that, as Ann says, these are not crimes at all in the eyes of Marxists (or indeed anyone not in the grip of religion and bourgeois morality). We oppose state intervention in people’s private lives, as well as moral crusades and witch hunts such as the Labour government’s crackdown on prostitution, which are aimed at reinforcing bourgeois morality and bolstering the state’s repressive powers.

And “what about pleasure” indeed? Ultimately, to remove the material basis for the moral straightjacket will take socialist revolutions establishing proletarian rule internationally. Then, as to private pursuits, as long as there’s effective mutual consent between participants, one can say in the words of Billie Holiday: “I never hurt nobody but myself and that’s nobody’s business but my own.”