I have concerns about the views expressed by J.L. and the comments by Class Struggle in the November issue. I think pornography needs to be seen as systematic abuse rather than ‘freedom of speech’. I agree that we need to think very carefully about the issue, which is why I don’t support panic-driven opposition to all state interventions.
Pornography is a billion dollar industry that systematically promotes the sexualised subordination and commodification of women. Along with rape and battery, incest and prostitution it is part of a system of terror directed against women.
Pornographic films use real women and real women’s bodies. The women being filmed suffer real abuses. The language of assent that women are made to use in the films is part of the forced sex and humiliation they suffer.
Pornography prevents the freedom of speech of women. It silences our dissent and stops our self-determined sexual expression. It promotes the lie that women actually like to be hurt, raped and degraded.
"The women say the pimp’s words; which is worse then silence. The silence of the women not in the picture…hurt but silent, used but silent, is staggering in how deep and wide it goes." (Andrea Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone, p268)
Most women filmed in pornography are coerced: either by extreme economic vulnerability, or by a conditioning to powerlessness caused by previous rapes or childhood sexual abuse, or even by physical coercion (ie rape).The pornography is then used to encourage further rapes, sexual abuse and violence towards women and children.
Pornography is also used as training manuals for prostitutes. In turn, may prostitutes become rape victims, the rape sometimes being filmed to be used as further pornography (with the threat of blackmail if they were to report it.)
The billion-dollar industry of prostitution involves the international trafficking and slavery of women and girls. Linked to this, economically and culturally, is the mass of pornographic material being distributed on the internet. What does this say about the status of women in the world? What does this say about the attitudes of men who consume it.
Women, or men, who have campaigned against these abuses are not engaged in ‘bourgeois moral posturing’, any morethan those who have campaigned against abuses of workers in factories or against slavery itself. Indeed a woman in the sex industry is an extreme example of a worker with only her "skin to sell" as Marx has described all workers. That is, if she isn’t a slave. Marx has pointed out how in Capitalism the workers’ pain becomes the capitalists’ pleasure and wealth. Similarly, in pornography, the woman’s pain becomes the pimp’s wealth and the pornography consumer’s pleasure.
But it is not only those directly employed in the work who are hurt by pornography. All women are hurt and controlled by it.
Andrea Dworkin (ibid p 246) says that "stopping pornogaphers and pornography is not censorship… [because]…pornographers are more like the police in police states then they are like the writers in police states…Intervening in a system of terror where it is vulnerable to public scruting is not censorship; it is the system of terror that stops speech and creates abuse and despair."
Any small concessions we have gained from the state to limit pornography are human-workers-women’s-children’s rights which should be supported by Communists.
In addition I would like to see the socialist movement promote the idea by that any sexual and violent abuse of women and children by workers is a betrayal of the working class; just as scabbing or stealing off each other is seen to be.
The state’s abuse of anti-pornography laws to persecute minorities such as gays is a real concern, and needs to be opposed, but I’m not convinced that opposing all pornography laws is the answer.
One way to stop the abuse of anti-pornography laws is to promote a clear legal definition of pornography. Anrea Dworkin defines it as "The graphic sexually explicit subordination of women" plus at least one other factor from a list of specific abuses. (ibid p264). Erotic material that does not do this could not then be prosecuted.
Using this definition, I’m not sure that Madonna’s work would be pornographic. Whilst she does seem to exploit herself as a sexual object, she also comes across as a sexual subject, and I have never seen her looking sunbordinated.
I don’t think we have a moral panic about pornography. I think we have a kind of new-right liberalism where anything goes, and every human trait can be commodified.
Recently there has been an upswing in neo-nazi aattacks on immigrants and foreigners in Germany. This is directly related to the freedom of these groups to promote their views and activities on the internet (The Guardian Nov 30-Dec 6). On the other hand, the internet has made it possible for the left to communicate and organise internationally.
I appreciate the very real concerns of Class Struggle that if controls on access to pornography on the internet were put in place, the technology could be extended to censor the left.
But I don’t think we should unthinkingly promote a blanket policy of ‘freedom from state controls" including lifting the controls on pornography that we already have now, at the expense of the human rights of women and children.
Yours etc J.A.
Class Struggle responds,
Thanks for your letter and your comments on our last issue. We hope that we can answer your concerns.
Perhaps we can agree that our opposition to state controls on pornography does not mean we accept pornography. In fact we see pornography to be an extension of the oppressive relations in the bourgeois family and of private property which we want to abolish. This ‘bourgeois moralists’ will never do. They will keep alive the very causes of pornography.
It is the working class that can and must end pornography. That is why we’re against any form of state controls, internet, or street level. The state is dedicated to the defence of private property and the bourgeois family. This can be seen clearly from the fact that its ‘laws’ cannot and do not protect women, children and gay men from sexual abuse - whether individuals ‘consent’ or not.
Dworkin’s definition is just another attempt to draw a line between ‘acceptable’ abuse and ‘unacceptable’ abuse, which the state would then police. This sows illusions in the state being able to end the oppression of women. Her argument that censoring pornography is OK because the pornographers are the ‘police’ is really dangerous because it masks the power of the state police to repress working class resistance to sexual abuse and fascism (they are strongly related). Pornographers are not police they are scumbag capitalists.
This clears the way for communists to oppose state controls (including against fascists) and in doing so to makes it possible to organise the working class to ‘police’ sexual abuse (and fascists) ourselves. Meanwhile, so long as the bourgeois family and private property exist there will be ‘sexworkers’ who are driven to sell their ‘skins’ to survive. We must support their legal right to do so, and organise support against all sexual violence as well as all other forms of violence against members of our class. In doing so we build workers power, not the bosses’state power, and open the way to socialism.
From Class Struggle No 36 December-January 2001