The US left wing paper People's World has published an opinion piece by a spokesperson for the prostitution lobby called Mr Wright, that bemoans the fact that Only Fans is being closed as a pornography channel.
In defense of the People's World, it does say that the article represents the opinion of the author not the paper, but it is a telling indictment of the general strength of liberal ideology in the USA that such an explicitly liberal article is published in what was once a communist paper.
In the course of the article Mr Wright takes exception to some things that I wrote in a blog article a few years ago. He writes:
Socialist writer Paul Cockshott, in his essay Socialists Can Never Support Prostitution, makes the very mistake of comparing labor from our hands and brains to the labor of our sex organs. First and foremost, this reduces all sex work to some form of penetrative intercourse. Secondly, his conclusion from this is to say that sex organs create people and in post-slave societies we no longer treat people as things. This couldn't be further from the truth and is the de facto problem that all socialist movements are attempting to overcome.
Just to be clear, the passage in my article that he appears to be referring to says:
Liberals say sex is nothing special and that treating fucking differently from bus driving or cooking burgers is just puritan prejudice. Well, for a start, sex is special.
What does he mean that I make "the very mistake of comparing labor from our hands and brains to the labor of our sex organs"?
Does he object in principle to comparing them? If so why?
He purports to believe that both hands and sex organs 'labor', so if he is consistent then he must believe that both the action of the sex organs and those of hands and brains are abstract labour and thus comparable in quantitative terms.
So is my mistake in what I say about what hands and sex organs produce?
Does he deny that human sex organs produce human beings?
Does he deny that the labour of hand and brain can produce physical vendible commodities?
Both propositions are so obviously true as to brook no contradiction.
What then is his objection?
He says sex organs are not always used for penetrative intercourse. Wanking is widespread and hands are not just used for making things. We fidget, gesticulate and run our fingers through our hair. But in considering the claim that 'sex work' exists the question of what sex produces and what hands produce must, in logic, be addressed. The frequent unproductive use of both classes of organs is irrelevant.
My statement that post slave economies treat humans and non-human things distinctly is a simple statement of fact. The buying and selling of human bodies as commodities was perfectly permissible in the USA before its great Civil War. Sex farms existed for the purpose of breeding slaves, just as cattle ranches existed to breed cattle.
Both calves and the slave children were things that could be sold. That was the legal superstructure of the slave mode of production. But bourgeois law, the legal superstructure of capitalism, forbids this. People can not legally be sold as commodities. People can own property but not be property.
According to the founder of historical materialism Adam Smith the difference between productive and unproductive activities is whether an activity fixes itself in a vendible commodity that persists beyond the instant of the action.
The labour of a manufacturer1 adds generally to the value of the materials which he works upon, that of his own maintenance, and of his master's profit. The labour of a menial servant, on the contrary, adds to the value of nothing. Though the manufacturer has his wages advanced to him by his master, he in reality costs him no expense, the value of those wages being generally restored, together with a profit, in the improved value of the subject upon which his labour is bestowed. But the maintenance of a menial servant never is restored.
On this account, the genital activity of breeding slaves was indeed commercially productive. It fixed itself in a vendible commodity - slave children. But the so-called 'sex work' that Mr Wright advocates clearly falls into the same category as the activity of what Smith calls menial servants. Its "services generally perish in the very instant of their performance, and seldom leave any trace of value behind them" since the whole aim of commercial prostitution is to separate genital activity from procreation.
The one exception to this, is the growing practice of commercial surrogate motherhood. This is a modern day version of what the slave breeding farms did. It effectively turns babies into commodities. Because this contradicts basic premises of bourgeois law, the transactions have either to be disguised as adoptions performed abroad, or done in secret. At this point it shades over into the people smuggling that feeds the brothels. The commercial purveying of sexual intercourse, the commercialisation of pregnancy, hidden bonded labour by gangmasters, all these are parts of an underground servile economy alongside the legal capitalist economy. To the extent that these practices are allowed to grow, are not suppressed by the state, servile social relations and the specific patriarchal ideologies associated with servile relations re-infiltrate civil society.
A central component of these patriarchal ideologies is the notion that men with money have the right to dominate the bodies of those below their social class, particularly women below their social class. Whether a monied heterosexual man hires sexual services2 by the hour, or a still more wealthy homosexual one hires motherhood by the 9 months, the motivating assumptions are the same: women's bodies are a thing to be used.
US capitalism has, for almost half a century, been moving from a productive economy to an unproductive one. As the concentration of wealth and income become more extreme, so the subordination of mass of the population grows albeit prettified by liberals like Wright under guise of 'agency'.
For liberals, the freedom of the wealthy to rent the bodies of the poor for sexual purposes can not be questioned. Wealthy men's right to dominate is sacred. The bottom line of pimping companies like Only Fans, must be defended.
The social democrat, let alone socialist response is quite different. Social democracy says - no, these men are sex criminals. Prosecute them. Name them and shame them. If the offence is repeated, imprison them. If a firm profits
from it, lock the directors up.
Socialists should be propagandising to work up anger at the corruptors and exploiters. They should be organising vigilante groups to photograph and shame the sleazy bastards.
1 - By manufacturer he means a worker in a branch of manufacture. Manufacture from the Latin to make using hands.
2 - Latin servus = slave.
Paul Cockshott is an economist and computer scientist. His best known books on economics are Towards a New Socialism, and How The World Works. In computing he has worked on cellular automata machines, database machines, video encoding and 3D TV. In economics he works on Marxist value theory and the theory of socialist economy.