The DSP's Position on Prostitution

The Activist – Volume 10, Number 13, November 2000

[The general line of this resolution was adopted by the DSP National Committee on June 14, 1999. It has been edited by the Political Committee in the light of the discussion at the June 1999 DSP National Committee plenum.]


At the National Union of Students Fem X conference in September 1998 and the NOWSA conference in July 1999, the issue of prostitution became a focus of debate. That debate reflected a discussion occurring amongst feminist activists on all campuses around Australia, and one around which there is a growing body of feminist literature (see, for example, Prostitution, Power and Freedom by Julia OConnell Davidson, Polity Press, 1999).

The debate about what line feminists should take on prostitution is not new. However, it is occurring today within a feminist movement that, after two decades of neo-liberal attacks on womens liberation activism and ideas, is theoretically and organisationally very weak.

Reflecting the dominance of bourgeois ideas about womens oppression and liberation in the "movement" today, the debate about prostitution has been largely reduced to one between "radical feminism" and postmodernism. In particular, the strong influence of postmodernism on feminism generally, combined with the desire of many feminists to counter the conservative backlash by reasserting that women can be fully sexual beings, means that the discussion is in large part proceeding on the basis of assumptions and arguments which attempt to redefine the oppressive relations involved in prostitution as potentially or actually liberating.

Because a major sphere of our tendencys womens liberation work is on campuses, the DSP needs to intervene in this debate with a clear materialist analysis of prostitution. The purpose of this policy statement is to assist this intervention by presenting the partys perspective on the main issues being raised in the debate.

Our assessment of the neo-liberal backlash and its impact on feminist theory and activism, and our analysis of the origins and nature of womens oppression and how to build a movement to fight it, are presented in various reports and documents adopted in recent years. The purpose and content of this resolution is not to go over that ground again, but to address the specific issue of prostitution.

The resolution does not attempt to address other activities which are oppressive of women (women includes transgendered women) and based on the commodification of sexuality and womens bodies (many of which fall into the popularly understood category of "sex work"), for example, phone sex, pornography, topless bartending and modelling. Expanding our definition of prostitution to include all such oppressive relations would lead to the incorrect conclusion that the party takes (or should take) the same attitude to all of these other activities as it does to prostitution, or that it takes the same attitude to prostitution as it does to each of these other activities.

However, the fact that this resolution deals only with the partys attitude towards prostitution does not mean that it necessarily approaches these other activities differently. For example, just because we do not define topless bartending as prostitution does not mean that topless bartending is not oppressive and a product of societys objectification of womens bodies. Nor does it mean that the party would not actively discourage its members and other feminists from doing this work. It would, in so far as it judges that voluntarily doing this work would have an adverse impact on the womans ability to be an effective womens liberation and working-class movement leader and, in the case of our members, would hinder the partys ability to carry out its perspectives as effectively as possible.

In sum, there are a whole range of activities in this society that are premised on the commodification of womens bodies which the party discourages involvement of its members through political education, but does not consider prostitution per se.

In this resolution, we have consciously used the term prostitution, rather than "sex work". This has been done to promote members understanding of the partys analysis of this activity as not merely "work like any other work". It thereby challenges the main basis upon which many feminists are attempting to redefine prostitution as non-oppressive under certain circumstances (or at least no more oppressive than most of the work women do), and also points to the idealism inherent in the more general notion that you can change objective reality by changing what you call it.

The party constantly strives for greater, not less, clarity in its understanding of class society and how best to struggle to overthrow it and there is no need to amend this terminology in our programmatic documents; in fact to do so without also including extensive qualifications based on the analysis presented in this resolution would exacerbate the confusion and compromise the partys ability to develop Marxist cadre.

Nevertheless, the origins of the term sex work do lie in efforts to counter the bourgeois moral judgements of prostitutes as "bad" or "dirty" women, and the term was coined in the context of prostitutes efforts to organise for better conditions, decriminalisation,etc..

Because it is not possible to change either material reality or dominant ideas simply by changing the labels given to particular social practices, this strategy has not worked. On the contrary, it appears to be facilitating the acceptance of and recruitment to prostitution of a new generation of feminists. However, in so far as the new language has been adopted by most feminist activists with the intent of countering bourgeois morality in relation to women and sexuality, it does have a contradictory contentand party members need to approach it tactically. It makes no sense to always use the word prostitute rather than sex worker in party propaganda if that cuts the party off from getting a hearing for the real battle of ideas – that is, to convince all activists that the degradation attached to the word prostitute by bourgeois morality is not wrong (the activity is degrading of women), but is hypocritical and not motivated by a perspective of liberating women from that degradation.

Therefore, in the partys propaganda and movement interventions members should use whatever terminology will best advance the struggle to win other feminist activists to this overall goal.

1. For the decriminalisation of prostitution

Radical feminists at the Fem X conference argued a perspective on prostitution which has been advanced by many feminists since the birth of patriarchy theory in the 1960s. That is, that prostitution is a manifestation and consequence of the oppression of all women in "patriarchal" society, a social system which gives men power to control womens bodies for their own interests.

Prostitution, they argue, because it is a universal form of domination and disempowerment of women by men, not only renders all prostitutes – inevitably and always – victims of all men, but in fact renders all women victims because prostitution reflects and reinforces the unequal power in all sexual relations between women and men in patriarchal society. Being the most complete form of womens ownership and oppression by men, prostitution should therefore be criminalised; that is, all men who use prostitutes should be charged with a criminal offence.

This call on the capitalist state to "protect" all women by punishing men who purchase sex follows the same illogic that leads many radical feminists to advocate the censorship of pornography. Banning prostitution, it is argued, both reduces the opportunities for exploitation of the women directly involved and reduces the impact on all other women, whose sexual objectification is reinforced by the existence of prostitution.

As well, it is argued, punishment of the men who use prostitutes and/or profit from prostitution sends a moral message to society that the use and abuse of women as sexual objects is not acceptable.

The radical feminist approach to prostitution, while being motivated by feminist rather than misogynist ideas, mirrors and reinforces bourgeois morality about women and sex.

The argument that the law should be used to "protect" women from the supposedly innate, and socially sanctioned, aggressive and oppressive sexual desires of men (sexual relations between women are said to be non-oppressive because women are supposedly innately nurturing and egalitarian), is little different from the religious rights view of women as the "weaker" sex who are sexually passive and must not be dragged down from their pedestal of purity into the mire of sexual relations (other than within a heterosexual, monogamous marriage).

Both perspectives reduce women and their sexuality to the passive victims of biological (male) and social (godless) forces. Both are, therefore, in effect if not intent in the case of radical feminism, an attack on the idea which the womens liberation movement has struggled to generalise that women are independent, self-directed human beings who are capable of making informed choices and acting on them.

Both perspectives also accept and perpetuate the bourgeois idea that the capitalist state is a neutral arbiter of social relations which stands above gender oppression and can be used by the oppressed to protect themselves against the oppressors.

While the state is an important arena of struggle for the womens liberation movement – the struggle for reforms is the path to building the mass movement necessary to overthrow capitalism, the source of womens oppression – reforms won from the state are always partial and temporary and can be defended and extended only when the struggle is conducted within the perspective that the capitalist state exists to uphold capitalist social relations and must therefore be defeated, not used, by the oppressed at every stage in their struggle.

The party argues against the criminalisation of prostitution, and in support of the self-organisation of prostitutes to campaign for better health care and work safety.

Even if prostitutes themselves are not criminalised, criminalising the customers forces prostitution "underground", thereby impelling prostitutes into even more dangerous and oppressive situations — in relation to their customers, pimps and the state itself, which is up to its neck in the "protection" racket created by criminalisation.

While under a workers state, profiting from prostitution (as opposed to prostitution itself) would be illegal (as would all exploitation of labour), the idea that in capitalist society the pimps and brothel owners (rather than the prostitutes themselves) would be defined and treated as the criminals in prostitution is utopian. It is the prostitutes, the powerless in this relationship, who will bear the brunt of the enforcement of any anti-prostitution laws by a state which has no interest in protecting them, but does operate in the interests of the profiteers.

It is for these reasons that the DSP program states specifically that: "All laws victimising prostitutes should be repealed".

The partys opposition to criminalisation is not the same as support for prostitution, just as its opposition to the censorship of sexist pornography does not mean it supports sexist pornography. Rather, the party supports decriminalisation because it is a step along the path towards the repeal of all laws which penalise prostitutes in any way.

Concretely, the party supports campaigns for reform of anti-prostitution laws, in particular to remove them from the state and territory criminal codes. However, unlike the patriarchy theorists demands for law reform, our support for such campaigns is not an end in itself – Marxists do not see decriminalisation as the "final solution" to the oppression of prostitutes — but is aimed at developing the movement in a more revolutionary direction through engaging the oppressed in collective struggle against the state, thereby raising their confidence, expectations and skills in struggle.

2. Prostitution is oppressive

In making the case against the criminalisation of prostitution, however, many feminists are bending the stick too far in the opposite direction by putting an argument which reduces prostitution to "a job" much like any other job, which should not be approached by feminists any differently from other waged work/exploitation involving women. (It is in this context that "sex work" is advocated as a more accurate term than prostitution.)

This argument, often advanced by feminist activists who are engaged in prostitution to pay their way through university and/or save money while they are studying, reflects the profound influence of the neo-liberal promotion of individualism on feminism during the 1980s and 90s. Specifically, it is a product of postmodernisms influence on feminism, with its emphases on differences between women, subjective definitions of oppression and individual ("do it yourself") solutions to oppression.

Advocates of this perspective argue that prostitution is a real choice for women who are sexually "liberated" enough to "handle it" psychologically. Implicit in this argument is the notion that each womans feminism can be measured in terms of her personal "liberation" from the shackles of the bourgeois notion of romantic love: women who cannot "handle" commodified sexual relations are not "real" feminists.

The party does not take a position of approval or disapproval on any specific types of sexual relations or activities which are not a commodity exchange (that is, which do not involve the payment of money). As the party program states: "The party stands for complete non-interference of the state and society in sexual matters, so long as nobody is injured or coerced". What it advocates for society as a whole on this question applies equally within the party.

The partys position against prostitution is thus not an anti-sex one, or one based on bourgeois sexual morality. Rather, it is based on the fact that prostitution arose and is maintained, not as an expression of womens sexuality, but as a consequence of their economic dependence on men. That is, prostitution is not about sex, it is about economic power and womens lack of it vis-a-vis men.

Frederick Engels, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, described prostitution as the "shadow" of monogamous marriage. He stated:

With the rise of the inequality of property ... waged labour appears sporadically side by side with slave labour, and at the same time, as its necessary correlate, the professional prostitution of free women side by side with the forced surrender of female slaves. Thus the heritage which group marriage has bequeathed to civilisation is double edged ... contradictory: here monogamy, there hetaerism [multiple sexual relationships] with its most extreme form prostitution. Hetaerism is as much a social institution as any other; it continues the old sexual freedom—to the advantage of the men.

Further, Engels wrote:

Monogamy arose from the concentration of larger wealth in the hands of a single individual – a man – and from the need to bequeath this wealth to the children of that man and no other. For this purpose the monogamy of the woman was required, not that of the man, so this monogamy of the woman did not in any way interfere with open or concealed polygamy of the man... In the modern world monogamy and prostitution are indeed opposites, but inseparable opposites, poles of the same order of society.

The idea that being able to "handle" being a prostitute is a measure of a womans liberation from bourgeois sexual morality not only obfuscates the real nature of prostitution – which, rather than having anything to do with sexual liberation, reflects the other side of the sexist coin with regard to female sexuality – it also serves to silence those feminists who disagree that engaging in prostitution is a measure of ones personal liberation.

There is no doubt that some of the feminists engaged in prostitution do not feel oppressed by the work. Many even argue that it is an empowering experience, both economically in that it provides an hourly wage not generally available to women, and psychologically in that it is an activity within which women can alledgedly have power over men whose "innate weakness" is their sexual "need", which can only be met by the prostitute (the classic example of this supposed inversion of power in gender relations is the domatrix-customer relationship).

This subjective assessment is totally inadequate for an understanding of the objective nature and impact of prostitution on all prostitutes, and women in general. It is putting the cart before the horse to try to explain prostitution by generalising from some individuals personal experience of prostitution (those who do not feel oppressed by it), rather than beginning from the institutionalised nature of prostitution as a relation based on the unequal economic and social power of men and women in order to develop an analysis of its impact on individual women.

Oppression is an objective social relation in which one group of people is systematically denied access to economic, cultural and/or political opportunities that are available to another group, regardless of whether or not they perceive this as an unequal relation. The vast majority of workers today, for example, undoubtedly do not feel oppressed by the capitalist class. However, this does not mean that they are not oppressed by capital, i.e., are systematically denied economic and cultural opportunities and benefits that are available only to the owners of capital.

The idea that the oppressive character in prostitution is lessened or eradicated by being able to work for "feminist" employers who will allow the women they employ to decide which sexual services they will provide is an attempt to define out of existence the exploitation involved in prostitution.

Regardless of their gender and regardless of their personal ideas, an employer is an exploiter of their employees labour. To suggest that brothel owners who happen to be women and who say they are feminists have a more equalrelation to their employees than other employers is thoroughly idealist and obfuscates the objectively contrary interests involved.

Likewise, servicing only women clients does not render the prostitution relationship non-oppressive. While the individual power relation between a woman prostitute and her lesbian customer is not directly determined by gender oppression, the fact that that individual relation is founded on social relations which oppress women and objectify their sexuality means that lesbian prostitution is no less oppressive than heterosexual prostitution.

It is also argued that the legalisation of prostitution in many states makes it safer than previously, at least when it is engaged in in legal venues. The existence of many more prostitutes collectives today is said to also provide greater protection.

While it can be argued that the self-organisation of prostitutes has made some progress in reducing the degree of exploitation of some prostitutes, such gains do not ameliorate the oppression that underwrites prostitution. This is why, while the party does support prostitutes self-organisation to decriminalise this activity and improve conditions for prostitutes, it does so with the aim, not of making prostitution a more palatable or rewarding "choice" for women, but of raising the self-confidence, political understanding and organisational skills of the women involved in prostitution such that they become activists in the revolutionary movement that will eradicate womens oppression altogether.

The argument that the legalisation of prostitution has increased womens options is also largely fallacy. Any progress towards the decriminalisation of prostitution is a step forward for women as the victims in prostitution. However, the legalisation of brothels in some areas has not liberated sexuality in those areas, or anywhere else, nor has it de-stigmatised prostitution, or disconnected it from organised crime.

While some prostitutes may be less exposed to physical danger from customers when brothels are legal, and while being located with other workers in a legal brothel can enable more opportunities for the prostitutes self-organisation, legalisation of prostitution is a double-edged sword.

First, it forces prostitutes into working for brothel owners. Not only does this enforce the payment of a proportion of their earnings to a boss, the threat of being forced back onto the streets for not agreeing to all working conditions in the brothel makes the women very vulnerable, physically and economically. (The advent of legal brothels in some states resulted in a boom in "condom-free" brothels in which prostitutes were compelled to provide unsafe sexual services if they wanted the "protection" of being legal.)

Secondly, those women who refuse or are unable to work for a brothel and continue working illegally on the streets are more vulnerable than ever – to the state, street pimps and customers.

Rather than legally sanctioning the control and regulation of prostitution by capitalists, all laws which penalise any prostitutes should be abolished.

3. Defining prostitution

It is incorrect to counter the radical feminists calls to criminalise prostitution by asserting that prostitution is just like any other work women do, or at least an equally valid work choice for women as any other job, a large proportion of which involve some degree of objectification of womens bodies and sexuality. It is not.

There is a specific content to prostitution which makes it inherently and inescapably oppressive of women – both the women directly involved and women in general. This specific content, which makes it unlike any other "job", forms the basis for the partys attitude towards it; that is, it does not assign or encourage its members to commence or continue prostituting themselves. On the contrary, the party actively discourages members from engaging in prostitution.

Prostitution is any activity the essence of which is the sale-purchase of womens bodies for the sexual gratification of another (the words sexual gratification do not assume that penetrative sex is involved). There are two elements in this definition which are central to understanding the nature of prostitution.

The first is the reference to the essential content of the activity; that is, why it exists. Unless prostitution is defined in these terms, its inherently oppressive nature can be obscured by other peripheral activities that are often attached to prostitution, such as the massage given before the sexual gratification, for example. Such peripheral activities are used by some feminists to rationalise away the oppression involved in prostitution by arguing, to use this example, that the activity is just "another form of massage and not inherently oppressive".

However, the fact that the massage is peripheral to and does not ameliorate the oppression involved in the prostitution is clear in so far that if only the massage was for sale, the clientele would be entirely different since customers at massage parlours are primarily purchasing the women masseurs for sexual gratification, not for a health service.

Distinguishing between the peripheral and essential activities involved in various forms of prostitution also clarifies the difference between prostitution and the numerous other waged activities in which class societys commodification of womens bodies and sexuality is used to "enhance" the basic job description, rather than being the essence of it.

So, for example, the specifically gender oppressive content of topless bartending can be eradicated through a successful struggle for the women employees right to wear the same work clothes as male bartenders without the essential activity – serving drinks for wages – also disappearing. Rather than the sexual objectification of the women employees being the essential content of their job, it is an "add on" which the employer expects will bring greater profits by attracting a greater share of drinkers than his/her competitors.

This is not the case with prostitution, which ceases to exist altogether if the gender oppression involved is eradicated from the activity. The second core content of this definition of prostitution is that the purchaser has direct access (even if demarcated in various ways) to the prostitutes body. That is, prostitution is not merely voyeurism (as in peep shows), play-acting (as in phone sex) or an image (as in pornography), even though these activities are generally oppressive of women.

All activities which involve the commercial use of womens bodies for others sexual titillation or gratification are founded in and perpetuate the oppression of women. However, the range of activities this "sex industry" encompasses is enormous, as is the range of relationships individuals can have to it, so it would be extremely problematic – theoretically and in practice – for the party to take a position of active discouragement of feminists and socialists participation in them all. For example, the party would not actively discourage an unemployed comrade from taking a job in a video store or bookshop that happens to sell pornography, or with a cleaning company that has contracts to clean brothels.

While the party recognises and campaigns against the many and varied ways in which women are rendered as sexual objects by the oppressive gender relations in class society, prostitution lies at the extreme end of the "sex industry" continuum and warrants the party taking a precise position on it. This is because a central and specific aspect of the oppression involved in prostitution is the physical invasion, the obliteration of self and the loss of ownership of their own bodies that prostitutes experience in the course of receiving money for sexually gratifying another.

If we do not take account of the centrality to prostitution of the customers ownership, for whatever period of time, of the woman herself, separated from her emotions, ideas and desires – that is, the objectification of the woman that is involved in prostitution – then prostitution is reduced to simply a "service", no more demeaning of a womans humanity than any other service women routinely perform for men as waged work. This "service" perspective denies the reality that each time a woman is forced (or chooses) to prostitute herself she engages in the practice of being treated as a thing, as a mere instrument for someone elses sexual gratification, this must change the way she sees herself, and the way others see and relate to her.

In this context, pornography and prostitution must be differentiated. While pornography may be filmed prostitution, pornography itself is not prostitution in that the purchaser of the pornography is not purchasing the woman herself but an image of her. The object in this commodity exchange is the video, magazine,etc.., not the woman performing (or simulating) sexual acts for the camera. Neither is the film-maker or magazine producer purchasing a womans body for their own sexual gratification; they are purchasing the right to make images of her body which can be sold for a profit.

The need to combat the idea that buying an image or the printed word for the purpose of sexual gratification is as oppressive as buying the woman herself for this purpose is not new; party members had the same debate with the pro-censorship feminists in the 1970s and 80s. While the overwhelming majority of pornography reflects and reinforces sexist ideas about women, and while most women who perform for the production of pornographic products are engaging in prostitution, this is not always and necessarily the case. Thus, image and reality must not be conflated by arguing that pornography is prostitution.

Unlike in prostitution, in other waged work, no matter how demeaning, exploitative or dangerous, the worker retains ownership of the source of their labour – their bodies. (The only other relation which is similar to prostitution in this regard is paid surrogacy.)

Even when the exploitation involved in prostitution is eradicated through the formation of cooperatives (in which the women keep all of their earnings), the oppression involved is not. Because prostitution is premised on womens sexual objectification under capitalism, it involves a relationship of power (in which the male customer has the power), irrespective of the specific labour relations involved.

The only way to eradicate the oppression involved in prostitution is to eradicate prostitution itself.

4. Womens economic dependence on men

The existence of prostitution is underpinned by womens economic dependence on men, a dependency which is institutionalised in the family system. The party program state:

The family is not simply a group of adults voluntarily living in a common household, along with children. It is the primary socio-economic unit of class society, based on a legal and binding marriage contract that enables the transmission of private property and the perpetuation of class divisions from one generation to the next. It is the basic mechanism through which the exploiter classes abrogate social responsibility for the economic well-being of those whose labour they exploit ...

The family system imposes a social division of labour based on the subjugation of women and their economic dependence on an individual man, their father or husband. Upon this material foundation, an all pervasive sexist ideology is fostered by the exploiter class.

In brief, by making women primarily responsible for unpaid domestic labour and child-rearing, the division of labour institutionalised in the family system limits their educational and employment opportunities, thereby relegating them to less secure paid work and lower wages. At the same time, the familys rendering of women as the sexual and reproductive property of men (through marriage) is buttressed by an ideology which legitimises the objectification of womens bodies.

While the development of the working class majority, which having no property or special rights to pass on to the next generation has no objective interest in the bourgeois family system, has meant that marriage has become a "love-sex" relationship in which there is an element of choice for both people (thus, marriage is not prostitution in so far as the separation of womens personality, ideas and desires from her body does not occur to anywhere the same degree in marriage as in prostitution), the persistent objectification of womens bodies that accompanies the pro-family ideology is manifest in the persistence of the idea that women should not have the unqualified right to control their reproductive capacity and the idea that womens principle role in the realm of sexuality is to gratify men.

The combination of womens economic vulnerability and their sexual objectification are the foundations upon which prostitution thrives. That this form of oppression is gender specific is evident in the fact that almost all prostitutes are women and almost all customers are men. Only a tiny proportion of prostitution is lesbian prostitution and the small proportion of prostitutes who are men more often service male than female customers.

Millions of women, especially in the Third World, have no other option than to sell their bodies (or body parts in the organ trade) to obtain an income sufficient to support themselves and their children.

It has been the recognition of this material basis for prostitution that has impelled all socialist revolutions to attempt to develop educational and socially useful work opportunities for women as the key to eradicating prostitution.

In the imperialist countries, dire poverty (temporary or permanent) or addiction to expensive illegal drugs also drives women into prostitution. The concentration of poverty among racially or nationally oppressed groups and others with lower educational levels and higher unemployed rates accounts for the higher proportion of women from these backgrounds engaging in prostitution.

While there are some well-educated women from relatively privileged social backgrounds who engage in prostitution rather than doing some other available work this does not change the fact that the very existence of prostitution is premised and thrives on womens economic dependence upon men. As such, their personal choice does not alter the objective oppression involved. And it certainly does not challenge, let alone undermine, the material conditions that give rise to, or the sexist ideas that justify, the objectification of womens sexuality.

Further, the arguments being advanced by some feminists that their decision to engage in prostitution is a positive one because it provides them with more money and greater economic freedom than other forms of paid work, or because it allows them more time to study, engage in political activity or pursue other personal goals, and/or because they feel less exploited prostituting themselves than working for McDonalds, for example, are based on an idealist and individualistic outlook which contradicts the feminist perspective of striving to fully understand and fight collectively against womens oppression.

While it may temporarily solve an individual womans financial problems, engaging in prostitution in no way removes womens economic dependence on men – neither on the individual customers nor on men as a whole. In so far as prostitution is an individual solution to a social problem (the problem of poverty, both absolute poverty and womens poverty relative to men) it contributes nothing to achieving economic equality and independence for women.

Socialists and feminists aim to counter individualism and strengthen the collective struggle against womens oppression by convincing people that seeking individual solutions is no solution. This includes convincing activists that making "personal" choices to pursue careers or higher wages regardless of the impact of these jobs on their ability to contribute to the struggle against oppression is to capitulate to bourgeois ideology.

Socialists and feminists fight for economic independence for all women and to raise the understanding of working-class people, women in particular, about the origin, nature and manifestations of womens oppression, and how to overcome it.

The assertion that prostitution is a better choice of work for women than other options also undermines the feminist movements struggle to raise womens expectation that they not be treated as sex objects. It thereby undermines efforts to bolster womens self-confidence and preparedness to reject their oppression in all its forms and to actively involve them in organising against that oppression.

5. Party members and prostitution

The partys active discouragement of members from engaging in prostitution is not a question of party discipline (as it is for some jobs, which would bring the party into disrepute or compromise party security, such as being a police officer or illegal drug dealer). Women who engage in prostitution may join the party, and members who begin engaging in prostitution would not be expelled for doing so.

However, in the same framework that the party discourages any activity which seriously adversely affects members political self-confidence and ability to develop as cadre or the partys capacity to achieve its goals, members engaged in prostitution are encouraged to find other work which is politically worthwhile – both for the party and for that members own development as a revolutionary activist and leader in the working-class movement.

This applies also to male members engaged in prostitution since the oppressive social relations which underpin the relationship between an individual male prostitute and his male client are not altered or challenged by the fact that they are both men. The political contradiction for a male party member, who as a socialist is struggling for the liberation of women, would remain.

While the party does not always and everywhere have the resources to direct all members employment, it nevertheless aspires to assign all members to jobs that are as politically useful as possible. By this we mean jobs with the best available opportunities to carry out party and movement building work on the job.

To that end the party encourages individual members to obtain particular skills, experience and qualifications to facilitate their employment in targeted sectors and regions, to leave politically useless or demoralising jobs to work in politically more useful areas, and to carry out political work on the job under the direction of the party.

In seeking to direct members to take on politically useful employment, the party takes into account individuals need to survive economically and to maintain their health and safety at work. However, the criteria for party decisions about what forms of work members are encouraged to engage in are political, including all factors which affect the partys capacity to achieve its goals. These criteria do not include individual members career aspirations, personal job satisfaction (beyond that obtained from being politically effective on the job and so long as the comrade is not experiencing extreme personal stress on the job), or desire for personal financial comfort.

Because the party aims to strengthen its members political leadership of their fellow workers or students it does not encourage members to separate themselves from the conditions and experiences of their fellow workers and students. A members decision to engage in prostitution in order to "escape" the poverty and/or working life that most students and working-class people experience undermines that members ability to lead students and workers in struggle against those conditions, both organisationally and by example.

The partys critique of the pursuit of individual "solutions" applies generally: it discourages party members and the activists they work with from seeking any individual solution to social problems which will undermine their ability to contribute to the struggle against the source of those problems. So, for example, if a regular allowance paid by a student activists parents came with strings attached which limited that students capacity to be politically active, the party would encourage her/him to find an alternative source of income.

The politically relevant consideration here is not the amount of money an activist receives from any particular source, but the consequences earning it has for their ability to be as fully and effectively politically active as possible.

There are no exceptions to this attitude. The partys active discouragement of party members and feminist activists from engaging in prostitution is premised on them having made a decision to resist their own oppression and that of their class/gender. Because resisting oppression involves behaving to the best of your ability in accordance with the interests of your class/gender, and striving to the best of your ability to strengthen your own and others feminist consciousness and activism, the idealist argument raised by some feminists that, just as long as you are fully cognisant of the oppression involved and can thereby "shield" yourself from its effects, then it cant hurt to prostitute yourself "just for six months", or even "just once" to pay a bill or debt, completely misses the point.

As Marxists, we do not view human beings as automatons. There are always choices for self-conscious beings, albeit more limited for some than others. Many of the choices individuals make have political consequences; that is, they impact on the balance of forces in class society. Since a central aspect of oppression is the psychological enslavement and denigration it involves, an oppressed persons choice to stop resisting their denigration, even for a short period, is a victory for the oppressor.

6. Proletarian-socialist morality

Actively discouraging party members from engaging in prostitution is thus not based on the bourgeois morality which, in order to reinforce the sexual double standard and buttress the family, decrees that prostitutes are "bad" women who have abrogated their right to be treated as complete human beings. The party does not blame the victims of oppression, but identifies and struggles against the beneficiaries of oppression and their ideas, and seeks to involve as many of the oppressed themselves in that struggle.

The partys discouragement of its members from prostituting themselves flows from our proletarian-socialist morality.

In class society, morality – views about what is and is not acceptable conduct by individuals in society – reflects and serves class interests. In capitalist society, the official morality is bourgeois morality which, while being presented as god-given, timeless and immutable, serves to protect and extend the power and privileges of the capitalist class, including to oppress women. It is a key weapon in the bourgeoisies ideological arsenal against the working class and oppressed.

Reflecting the contrary class interests it serves, proletarian-socialist morality teaches workers to suit their conduct to the interests of their class, to overcome the divisiveness of individualism and competition and replace them with cooperation and collectivity, thereby strengthening the struggle against oppression.

As a revolutionary socialist party, the DSP does make moral judgements about peoples conduct, judgements based not on bourgeois morality but on its political analysis of society. Is their conduct consistent with the objective interests of the working class? Does it strengthen or weaken the struggle of our class against oppression?

Combating the official morality of the capitalist class means rejecting all variations of it, including the individualist and idealist notion that people can (or should try to) conduct themselves above and beyond any morality other than some "personal" ethic they feel comfortable with. This idea lies behind the argument – a favourite among postmodernist feminists – that individuals have some abstract "right" to conduct their lives "free" from the judgement of others. It is bourgeois not only in that it does not challenge the social relations within which oppression is maintained and perpetuated in capitalist society, but worse, it operates to obscure the fact that in capitalist society, because bourgeois morality is often codified in law and enforced by the state, there cannot be a "neutral" or "personal" morality which exists above class relations. There is a class content and impact in all individuals activity.

In so far as prostitution in no way serves the interests of the working class as a whole, or working-class women in particular, proletarian-socialist morality dictates that it is undesirable.

The idea that prostitution should be considered an equally acceptable choice of work for feminists can lead to the argument that it is equally acceptable for men, including party members and others who support womens liberation, to buy sexual "services" from women (includingparty members and other feminists) whom they presume have chosen to engage in prostitution.

For any man who supports the struggle for womens liberation, buying the "services" of a prostitute – directly and consciously engaging in the oppression of women – is a political contradiction, at odds with the partys program and strategic line of march. Therefore, just as the party educates members to discourage them from prostituting themselves, it also seeks through political persuasion to discourage them from purchasing the services of prostitutes.

Condoning prostitution as a politically acceptable work choice for feminist and socialist women, and therefore an acceptable means for feminist and socialist men to seek sexual gratification, seriously undermines the tasks of educating working-class men about womens oppression and its role in class society and developing their active support for the struggle for womens liberation. It thereby weakens both the womens liberation and socialist movements.

Prostitution, being based on womens economic dependency and psychological denigration in class society,

does not serve the interests of women as a whole. It is founded on male privilege and womens oppression, across class lines.

While the immediate interests of individual men, as members of the privileged sex, are served by prostitution, because the oppression of women (including through prostitution) divides and weakens working-class struggle against bourgeois rule, Marxists strive to educate working-class men to join the struggle against prostitution as part and parcel of responding to all forms of oppression.

Finally, for those feminist and/or socialist activists who choose to engage in prostitution, fundamental contradictions are created which undermine their ability to be as effective as possible in building the socialist and/or womens liberation movements.

Within our party, this contradiction is particularly stark because the party aims to develop the best – the most conscious and most consistent – leaders of the anti-capitalist struggle. Our members leadership in the womens liberation movement, their efforts to propagandise and campaign against womens oppression, of which the objectification of womens sexuality is a major part, will not be taken as seriously by those we are attempting to convince if the leader is herself seen to be voluntarily selling her body. Attempting to avoid exposure of this contradiction by concealing, to some degree or another, the fact that they engage in prostitution, simply entrenches the members victimisation by capitalisms sexual double standard.

Social practice determines consciousness and, despite postmodernist feminists efforts to convince women that they can define their own reality, including escaping their oppression as women by refusing to acknowledge or "feel" it, no matter how well feminists and socialists believe they are "handling it" psychologically, voluntarily engaging in prostitution will eventually reduce that womans self-esteem. Regularly being treated as a sex object does erode a womans self-perception a human being who has the right to respect for their personal feelings and wants at all times.

Of course, all women in capitalist society are constantly exposed to ideas and practices which denigrate them and objectify their sexuality. These assaults on womens self-esteem are far from confined to prostitutes. However, the degree of impact of these images and treatment on individual womens sense of self-worth is significantly influenced by whether or not they accept or resist their treatment as sex objects.

Feminists who choose to subject themselves regularly to treatment as a sex object have chosen not to resist their own degradation, at least during "working" hours. It is this willingness not to resist their oppression, as much as what actually happens to them on the job, which will undermine their self-esteem.

This erosion of womens sense of self-worth has rightly been condemned by feminists. Where it impacts on a member of a revolutionary party, a leader in the struggle against oppression, the cost to the working class is that much greater. For a socialist to not resist oppression to the best of their ability is morally unacceptable.

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