The Natasha trade: a note on the political economy of prostitution

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Tue Sep 30 09:27:32 MDT 2003

In Amsterdam, I met a Russian prostitute once whose name was really Natasha.
When she told me, I said "No kidding", and she showed me her identification
to prove it. She wasn't trafficked though, it was more an individual
entrepreneurial activity. In Amsterdam she could make a net income of maybe
a hundred or several hundred euro's a day, if you were reasonably skilled at
john-spotting, and because the rouble at that time was pretty low, this
represented a fortune to her. It was pretty easy Keynesian economics, if you
knew how to do it. I met a Polish guy who operated on the same principle. If
the name of the bourgeois game was "getting something for nothing", okay,
then we are going to deal with this in another way, that was the thinking.
It is a revolt at the level of exchange though, not the level of production.

Generally, when neo-conservatives talk about prostitution, they have in mind
women who need to be protected. But this involves a massive sexist,
class-biased distortion of the real situation, and doesn't differentiate
between many different sorts of activity, and the motivation for that
activity, and who exactly engages in it.

Prostitution ought to be analysed both from the supply side and the demand
side, without gender bias, since both women and men, boys and girls, engage
in it, and this includes transvestites and transsexuals. Sex becomes work,
and people trade in it, that is the basis of it, on the basis that some
people want to sell it, others want to buy it and have the money to do so,
and yet others want to mediate in the process as a pimp or Madam or social
policy maker. This occurs both formally as a professional activity and
informally on a casual basis. For example, if the demand on your sexual
organs is very great, then you start to charge money, and indeed that is
exactly how a middle-class friend of mine from New Zealand explained it to
me. Then you can ask, why do some people sell sex, and why do some people
want to buy it, but there are millions of reasons, just like, for example,
if I ask "why do people want to buy a bottle of Coke ?".

You may all laugh at me for talking about the concept of "porosity of
exploitation" but if you examine how millions of people are forced, for one
reason or another, into a position where they have nothing to sell anymore
but sex, then you wouldn't be laughing anymore. Prostitution is, according
to my analysis, the future for many people on the earth under capitalism,
other things remaining equal, because the more sexuality becomes integrated
into the accumulation process, and the more people must rely on individual
resources which they do not really have (for example, through debt) the more
those people who "fall out of the boat" in this sense are forced into
prostitution. And in this way, capitalism begins to sort out what love
really is, in a negative, reified way. Which is what capitalism does: it
creates hell on earth for masses of people, but simultaneously develops the
productive forces to such an extent, that we can at least see what heaven on
earth would look like.

Rather than engaging in moral ostentation, my point of view is that the
topic provides a powerful critique of capitalism and an argument for
socialism. And I don't think socialists should ignore it, for example by
excluding many prostitutes from the proletariat, ignoring that they are
capable of engaging in a contest of strength, and capable of exposing the
hypocrisies of the moneyed classes. In fact, the Dutch Socialist Party has
published articles on it in a dispassionate way.

If you think it through, prostitution is a conduit for Capital to
re-establish real slavery. Many authors have observed, that the effect of
the operation of free markets is to increase social inequality, because the
strong outcompete the weak. The more money you have, the more money you can
make, simple as that. This means, that the expansion of the unregulated
market will, other things being equal, ultimately sort out who is strong and
who is weak in such a comprehensive way, that it condemns a significant
fraction of humanity permanently to the social scrapheap, relying on
stronger people who are momentarily weaker than they are for an income.

Point is, this social inequality is directly reflected also within human
beings as well, who may be superstrong on one side of themselves, and weak
as babies in some other respect, and this has important implications for the
character structure of the individual. But if psychologists simply focus on
individual characters, they miss the problem by a mile, because they ignore
the total social situation which generates those characters in the first

My boss in the Statistics Department, an Australian woman of Jewish-Catholic
background who said to me candidly she didn't like Dutch men, told me in a
most patronising way, that I needed some more "character". What a total
bitch ! In reality, my character has never changed, and it did not need
changing, it needed correct expression in people with real character, not
the whoredom and gadgets which the bourgeois class dangled in front of my
eyes as the epitome of the good life. I deliberately opted for Marx and his
school at university, and not for the school of Christ, whose progressive
ideas more or less died out and were mystified after the Essenes. Marx
worked with Engels, who was a factory owner, but who thought the same way
about the topic.

The bourgeoisie prattles about "intellectual property rights" while it
steals other people's ideas and commits great crimes, but the effect of this
is, that many of the exploited will turn to prostitution as buyers and
sellers, not just out of necessity, but as an issue of personal freedom -
because they feel that they are no longer able to establish their own
sexual/social relations in a free way, and that their lives have been
screwed up by the perceptions of other people about their sexuality and
talents, obtained in immoral ways, for example through spying on people in
their private lives, or obtaining personal information about them without
consent, to force them into acceptance of a certain way of life under the
banner of "love". The bourgeoisie insists theoretically on a private/public
distinction as a basis for civil conduct, but in practice constantly
violates the very same principle. Therefore this whole question needs to be
grasped dialectically, and not in a stupid, moralistic way, especially since
you can love people literally to death.

To conclude, I would like to cite the much maligned and exploited Ernest
Mandel on this topic: "Slave owners who are prepared to kill thousands of
slaves, because they were disobedient or in revolt (or even as a deterrent
against disobedience or revolts) are not so dumb to believe, that they could
survive without slave labour. They act in this way, because they are
convinced, that through this murder, hundreds of thousands of other slaves
will continue to perform their work, while this would not be the case, or
less so, if the disobedience or revolts would escalate and spread." (from
"Marx, Engels and the problem of the double moral standard in class

When I wrote my story about "The Amazing Grace of Elliot Abrams", this
refers to the fact that the ultimate reward of the slave-drivers to the
slaves, and their idea of the liberation of the slaves, is that the slaves
become slave drivers. You can think about that tonight when you drive home
in your car, and reflect on the morality of the working class.


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