Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Tea Gardens Workers Cheated Again

PPWU Press Release


Workers Have Been Cheated Once Again!

Reject the Black Agreement! Join hands in the struggle for Minimum Wages!

Progressive Plantation Workers Union(PPWU) expresses its utter disgust at the tripartite agreement on wages in the tea industry signed on 20.2.2015. After over one year of struggle and eight tripartite sittings, it was an anti-climax to find most unions, employers and the State Government once again signing an agreement to provide starvation wages to tea plantation workers.

The agreement yesterday has provided a raise of Rs.37.50 over three years to tea plantation workers in Terai and Doars and Rs.42.50 to workers in Darjeeling. Workers will therefore be paid a miserly amount of Rs. 112 .50 in the first year, Rs.122.50 in the second year and finally Rs. 132.50 in the third year.

By no logic can such an increase be justified. Firstly it comes nowhere near the repeatedly articulated demand by the workers for minimum wages. It is nowhere near their demand for a wage of Rs.322 per day calculated on the basis of well accepted minimum wage norms and Supreme Court orders. Nor does it even make tea plantation workers at par with wages in other sectors. The State Government declared minimum wage for the poorest sector, the agricultural sector, is Rs.206 at present and likely to increase further in the next three years with revisions twice a year to compensate for inflation. The gap between tea industry wages and wages in other sectors is therefore likely to widen further, leading to high absenteeism in the industry.

Wages as low as this are also likely to worsen conditions of poverty and malnutrition amongst tea plantation workers. We are thus likely to continue to get shameful reports of starvation deaths in an industry that is a huge export earner and has a flourishing and ever expanding domestic market.

The meagre wage increase is especially disappointing because there was a much trumpeted effort by all unions to present a united front in the last 6-9 months by the formation of the Joint Forum and by many united actions. This had enthused workers and they had also presented a united front to all employers in all gardens. In an industry that was fragmented by multiple unions, this was a move that was unprecedented and it led to hopes of a decent raise in wages. Here also, the unions have failed their rank and file and have signed an agreement that brings peanuts after all the struggle and efforts to highlight the demand for minimum wages that preceded this agreement. This leads one to wonder whether the major unions and players in this exercise were serious in their efforts at a movement or were just playing a game.

As a face saver, the agreement has also put down in writing that the agreement will remain in force till a State Government formed committee formed on 17.2.2015 puts forward its proposal on minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act 1948. However, no deadline has been given for this committee and it has been asked to submit its report “as early as possible”. The committee of 24 persons has eight Government representatives, eight employer representatives, and three members from ruling party controlled unions. From past experience in the tea sector, we could well say that that the report may not at all be submitted till 2017, if it is ever submitted.


The imposition of the agreement reveals that the government's initiatives towards implementing minimum wages in the industry are nothing more than mere tokenism. Instead of forcing this agreement on the workers, they could have stipulated the committee a deadline to submit its recommendations soon. A decent arrearage could have been worked out for the period till the workers receive minimum wages.


PPWU reiterates its rejection of the agreement. Our representatives have not signed the same and we affirm that we will continue our struggle for a just and fair wage in the tea sector. We appeal workers to reject this black agreement and join us in the struggle for a minimum wage in this sector. We also demand that the committee set by the government submit its recommendations within three months!




Bajinath Naik                                                             Kiran Kalindi

General Secretary                                                                 President

Syriza: “A grain of sand in the machinery”


Syriza: “A grain of sand in the machinery”

Thursday 12 February 2015, by Éric Toussaint

Eric Toussaint, analyses Syriza’s first days at the head of the Greek government for Le Courrier. He was interviewed by Benito Perez (of the daily Le Courrier, Geneva. [1]

Eric Toussaint is visibly exhausted at the end of a difficult week. But his mind is clear and his enthusiasm is intact: Syriza’s victory in the Greek legislative election has opened one of those parentheses within which History accelerates and is written as we watch. A political scientist who is experienced in economic matters, founder and spokesman of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM), Toussaint is a key observer of the battle now going on between Greece and its creditors—mainly the governments of Northern Europe. That is evident from the interest that was shown in his presentations Saturday, in Geneva, during a day of discussions on the economy organized by Le Courrier. A former adviser to the government of Ecuador and the president of Paraguay (Fernando Lugo), the Belgian native has also been approached by Syriza. Pending his possible involvement, Eric Toussaint is speaking out freely and observing the Greek experiment with a benevolent but critical eye.

What is your assessment of the first steps taken by the Syriza government in the economic area?

Eric Toussaint: The first measures they’ve taken have been to end a series of policies that were unjust, unpopular and damaging for the country. Very concretely, the government has granted free electricity to the 300,000 households that were without power; returned the legal minimum wage to its former level (751 euros), re-hired 3,500 employees who had been fired; dissolved the entity created by the Troika to manage privatisations; cancelled the sale of the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, etc. In short, the government has shown that it will fulfil the mandate entrusted to it by Greece’s people. We can only be pleased with that.

Is the make-up of the government, with the appointment of Yanis Varoufakis to the key post of Finance Minister, in line with that attitude?

Personally, I’m disappointed that all ten of the “super-ministers” are men, even if several women do hold important vice-ministerial positions. On the economic level, while Varoufakis is in the spotlight, the key man is [vice- Prime Minister] Yannis Dragasakis, who belongs to the more moderate wing of Syriza. The government is the result of a very delicate balancing act. For my part, I would like to point to the very important inclusion of Giorgos Katrougalos, who is in charge of administrative reform; he’s the one who just announced the re-hiring of the employees who had been fired. He is a jurist and is one of the originators in 2011, along with ourselves, of the Initiative for a citizen audit of Greece’s debt!

The appointment of Panos Kammenos to Defense and Syriza’s alliance with his right-wing AN.EL party, however, will make it more difficult to keep other campaign promises, including making the Church pay its share and reducing the size of the army, which is a sacred cow...

Yes. Those two concessions are cause for concern. For a year and a half, Alexis Tsipras has made a series of positive statements about the Church, on its role in binding up the social wounds caused by austerity. To the point where he’s forgotten to point out that the Church, which owns large amounts of real estate, needs to contribute more to the public finances.

As for the presence of Kammenos at Defense, that is of course a message to the army that Syriza won’t touch it. However Greece’s military budget, proportionally, is one of the largest in the European Union. And in fact Germany and France, who are the main suppliers to the Greek army, have made certain that the successive governments in Greece have limited their austerity efforts in that area. Having said that, Kammenos has been surrounded by a “safety rail” in the form of the vice-minister, Costas Ysichos, a Greek-Argentine and a former member of the Montoneros guerillas, who is on the left within Syriza.

I would also point out that despite the presence of a party with racist tendencies in its coalition, the government immediately announced that he will grant Greek citizenship to children of migrants who were born or grew up in the country. Of course, it should be voted by the Parliament. That’s important in the context of Greece, since the preceding government had played on xenophobia. That’s Syriza’s way of showing that the alliance with AN.EL is limited to economic issues and that it won’t make migrants pay the price.

On the central issue of the debt, some Syriza members argue for a moratorium on repayments, which would be indexed to growth.

If that’s the case, it means that the Greek position has already evolved, probably due the very strong and very negative reactions of various key personalities in the Eurozone, since the farthest any of them have gone is to suggest the possibility of rescheduling repayments… Suspension of payment and an audit of the debt are among the weapons Syriza has publicly discussed using, but only as a secondary strategy. The Syriza government’s primary strategy is to call for a negotiation and an international conference to discuss all the debts. It also includes putting the debate at the heart of the European institutions, rejecting the Troika (the Central Bank, the IMF, and the EU) as illegitimate.

So the battle lines seem to be drawn. Is that simply posturing in order to raise the stakes, or is any dialogue really impossible?

I tend to lean towards the latter. Syriza proposes two fundamental things: First, maintain budgetary balance—something few European governments can boast of doing—but redistribute the costs differently, lightening the burden on victims of the crisis while increasing it for those who have benefited from it. Second: Negotiate a reduction of the debt. However, for the European leaders, the debt is the instrument used to impose the very neoliberal structural adjustment measures that Syriza has decided to end. Therefore no compromise seems possible. Possibly, if Syriza had said, “We’ll continue following neoliberal model, but you lighten the debt,” the EU might have accepted. But in fact, Europe cannot allow Tsipras to keep his word. He’s probably been told, “Look at Hollande; that’s what he did in your position. So do like he and everyone else have done and get with the program.”…

The important thing that’s happened this week is that Syriza has already dropped a grain of sand into the machinery, and that’s decisive.

Syriza’s weapon: suspend repayments

What weapons do each camp have to use in this inevitable standoff?

The figures illustrate the challenge we face in 2015. Greece must repay 21 billion euros in several payments, with the main deadlines in March and July-August. The agreement between the former government and the Troika was that the Troika would lend Greece the money necessary for meeting the repayments provided that it continue the privatisations and the rest of the austerity plan.

In such a situation, Syriza’s weapon is simple: suspend payment. Then, as I see it, the Greek government should create an audit commission to determine which debts are legitimate and must be repaid. The audit can provide legal arguments to support a suspension of repayment, or possibly a repudiation of illegal debts—that is, debts that were contracted without respecting the internal order of the country or international treaties.

I found an EU regulatory provision adopted in 2013 that requires all countries under structural adjustment to audit their debt in order to explain why it has risen so high and to reveal any possible irregularities. [2]

How can a debt that was contracted voluntarily by a democratic government be illegitimate?

Mainly due to the fact that these loans were granted under unjust terms. Greece was forced to conduct policies that amounted to social counter-reform and which violated certain rights, along with a policy of austerity that has destroyed the economy and made repayment impossible. It can also be demonstrated that the government acted illegally for the benefit of private interests, which would make the transaction null and void. An audit of Greece’s debt is easy to conduct—80% of it is in the hands of the Troika and goes back no farther than 2010.

As you say, the majority of Greece’s debts have been in European public hands since then. Isn’t it unjust to make European taxpayers pay?

The legislatures of these countries agreed to the loans under deceitful pretexts. We were told, “Greece must be saved”; “Help the poor Greek retired people” when in reality the French, German, and Belgian governments had been appealed to by their banks, who were worried that Greece would no longer be able to repay their high-risk, very high-rate loans. Merkel’s and Sarkozy’s goal was to allow their banks to wriggle out without taking any damages, while taking the opportunity to impose anti-labour measures and privatisations. In reality, the goal was not to save the Greek retirees’ pensions, but to reduce them! Consequently, since the operation served to save the creditor banks, the governments should pay the cost of cancelling the debts via a tax on those institutions.

In reality, the amounts at stake are not that significant for the EU. The absence of reaction by the international stock exchanges proves that there is no systemic risk. The current impasse is more an ideological question. For the EU, the risk is of creating the precedent of a country remaining within the Union without applying the neoliberal policies. Scuttling Syriza would be a message sent to the Cypriot, Portuguese, Irish and Spanish voters— in particular the latter, who might be tempted to vote Podemos in a few months.

Concretely, suspending repayment of the debt would mean a halt to the European payments and the explosion of interest rates on the capital markets for Greece. Would the Greek government lack funds?

No. Nothing indicates that the budget would no longer be balanced, and that means that Greece does not need to borrow funds—which in any case would only be used for debt repayments. As for the share of financing Greece has obtained on the financial markets, it’s minimal. And anyway, the rates have already exploded in the past week, even though the suspension hasn’t take place.

What weapons can the EU use to strangle Greece?

The Greek banks are in very bad shape. These banks receive loans from the European Central Bank (ECB) to provide them with cash. I feel that the ECB could block these loans at the risk of seeing the Greek banking system collapse. Faced with that possibility, Greece will have to act quickly, expropriate the owners of the institutions, and turn them into public services. But that would require a radicalisation of Syriza’s program.

Can the Greek government hope for any real international support?

From social movements, yes! Over the past weeks, we’ve seen many movements get involved that had never before called for a vote for a political party! That support, in particular in the major EU countries, can be very significant. If major German trade unions like DGB and Verdi openly support Syriza and tell the SPD-CDU government “Keep your hands off Greece,” that could weigh in the balance. As for the governments, outside the EU, it’s also possible that certain ones would support Greece for opportunistic reasons—I’m thinking of Russia, for example. If Russia were to lend Greece a few billion at very low rates without attaching conditions, that could help. Of course, I would prefer that other governments do it. Ten years ago, Hugo Chávez would have surely taken the initiative. But today Venezuela doesn’t have the financial capacity.

“All that just to regulate capitalism a little?!”

Economists are intensely discussing one question: Is the break being recommended by Syriza possible or not without Greece’s exiting the euro? What is your opinion on that?

Well, we’ll see! Syriza has a very good saying: “No sacrifices for the euro,” because it just isn’t worth it. Syriza will only take the initiative of leaving the Eurozone if it is forced to, because a majority of Greeks are still attached to the single currency. And also, leaving the euro would only be advantageous if nationalisation of the banks and strict oversight of movements of capital were put in place, which explains why the less radical wing of Syriza is reticent. More generally, such a decision would exacerbate the conflict with Europe.

For the government, the advantage would be being able to contract debt with its national bank in a new national currency. Provided, of course, that the population would maintain its trust in this “new drachma.” We could also imagine a redistributive monetary reform, with differentiated exchange rates depending on the size of transactions, in order to provide an advantage to the poorer citizens. That has already been done—for example in Belgium, just after the Second World War—and is also a way of fighting inflation (see text box “Redistributive Monetary Reform”).

On the other hand, devaluating in order to make Greek exports more attractive would put the purchasing power of the Greek people at risk. And it would remain within the same mindset of competitiveness.

The Eurozone countries have no interest in expelling Greece.

No, except perhaps as a kind of political punishment. To teach them what it costs to revolt… But no legal mechanism exists for doing it!

In the current context, the measures the Syriza government is taking are courageous, but they still mostly amount to a return to an earlier situation that was not really very progressive. There has also been a call for a European New Deal. Ultimately, what is Syriza’s political project?

Frankly, I’m asking myself the same question. But given the calendar, we’ll know in the next few months. Up to now, the option was to move back a bit towards a social state. We’re still far from having gone back to the earlier situation! Beyond Syriza, my concern is that the radical Left in Europe no longer seems to see an alternative form of power outside the framework of regulated capitalism. Admittedly, the balance of power is not good, and restoring social rights is already progress. But look at the sacrifices that have been made! Capitalism has shown so clearly where it’s leading us that there is the possibility of a real chance of an emancipatory or socialist project—call it whatever you want—if it puts an end to social injustice, and provided that the population participates directly in the political and economic choices made by the society. I would find it regrettable if all the suffering, all these efforts that have been made, lead to nothing more than a slightly regulated capitalism. Obviously, these transformations need to be brought about with the assent of the population, at a pace that is acceptable to the people. Syriza was elected to restore a degree of social justice, and not to conduct a program of emancipation. But for the population to follow along, you have to be able to present them with a project, an outlook. And that’s where there’s a real lack of reflection and concrete action.

Text box [3] : Redistributive monetary reform

A redistribution of wealth can also be accomplished via an appropriate monetary reform. Without going into detail here, this could be modelled on the monetary reform carried out after the Second World War by the Belgian government, or, in another part of the world and at another point in time, by the Nicaraguan authorities in 1985. It is aimed at taxing the revenues of those who have enriched themselves at the expense of others. The principle is simple: At the time of a currency change, automatic parity between the old and new currency (one former euro in exchange for one new drachma, for example) would be guaranteed only up to a certain ceiling.

Above that ceiling, the excess amounts must be placed in an escrow account and their origin justified and authenticated. In principle, any amount above the ceiling is exchanged at a less favourable rate (for example: two former euros in exchange for one new drachma); should the funds prove to be of criminal origin, they can be seized. Such a monetary reform would allow a share of the wealth to be distributed in a way that is more socially equitable. Another goal of such a reform is to reduce the supply of money in circulation so as to fight inflationary tendencies. In order for it to be effective, strict oversight over movements of capital and foreign exchange operations must be put in place.

Here is an example (of course the rate scales given here can be modified a great deal following a serious study of the distribution of cash savings among households and the adoption of strict criteria):

1€ would be exchanged for 1 new drachma up to 200,000 € 1€ = 0.7 new drachma between 200,000 and 250,000 € 1€ = 0.6 new drachma between 250,000 and 350,000 € 1€ = 0.5 new drachma between 350,000 and 500,000 € 1€ = 0.4 new drachma between 500,000 and 600,000 € 1€ = 0.2 new drachma above 600,000 € 1€ = 0.1 new drachma above one million euros

If a household has 200,000 € in cash, it receives 200,000 new drachmas If it has 250,000 €, it receives 200,000 + 35,000 = 235,000 new drachmas (n.d.) If it has 350,000 €, it receives 200,000 + 35,000 + 60,000 = 295,000 n.d. If it has 500,000 €, it receives 200,000 + 35,000 + 60,000 + 75,000 = 370,000 n.d. If it has 600,000 €, it receives 200,000 + 35,000 + 60,000 + 75,000 + 40,000 = 370,000 n.d. If it has one million €, it receives 415,000 + 80,000 = 495,000 new drachmas If it has two million €, it receives 415,000 + 80,000 + 100,000 = 595,000 n.d.

Translated by Snake Arbusto



[1] Source:http://www.lecourrier.ch/127...

[2] See: http://cadtm.org/What-if-SYRIZA-too...

[3] This text box written by Eric Toussaint was added subsequent to the interview published by the daily Le Courrier

From International Viewpoint


Press Release by the Ashanghit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (AKSSM)

“Shashak Bodleche, Shahsan Ek-E Acche : The Rulers Have Changed , The System Hasn’t”


 “Shashak bodleche, shahsan ek-e acche (the rulers have changed , the system hasn’t)”, said Shri Partha Chatterjee, Deputy Chief Minister of West Bnegal , when he received the delegation of the Ashanghit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (AKSSM) on 11th February 2015, agreeing with their frustration at the insensitivity of the TMC regime , that had ridden to power in a massive mandate and promises of Paribartan  or change.


Members of the AKSSM found themselves confronted by a huge police force of about 700 policemen just when they started their march to Nabanna to meet the Chief Minister on 11th afternoon.  Many of them were reminded eerily of the Singur, Haripur and Nandigram struggles, when similarly large police contingents had been used to subdue protestors by the Left Front regime.


Women police and women members of the AKSSM got into scuffles repeatedly when the procession of about 1500 people who had come from South 24 Parganas, Nadia, Kolkata and North 24 Parganas  tried to break through the barricade at a major crossing outside Raja Subodh Mullick Square. The police kept asking for time to contact the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary’s office.


The slogan shouting and singing crowd was joined after an hour by another 500 people who marched from Howrah station and then blocked Lenin Sarani , one of the most important roads in Kolkata. The procession from Howrah with people from Paschim Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia had with them a group of dancers and drummers from Bankura. The IPS officer, Shri Devender, leading the police contingent began using his public address system to threaten them with arrest and lathi charge, but found himself flummoxed when they began dancing on the road. After some negotiation he allowed them to join the other part of the procession.


An hour of slogan shouting , dancing and singing followed , with the procession declaring it intention of staying there overnight. A play was also performed by some members from South 24 Parganas and Bankura.The police found itself in an awkward situation, as the protestors began to make arrangements to cook their dinner and to stay on the road. With rush hour approaching it became imperative for them to clear the road. After an intervention with AKSSM members directly calling the administration, the Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister agreed to meet a delegation of 5 people.


The problems the delegation putt forward before Partha Chatterjee were on the non-implementation of the Minimum Wages Act, especially for biri workers and hosiery workers. Special concern was expressed at the hand in glove relation of Government with the tea industry owners, leading to the Labour Department’s reluctance to declare a minimum wage. Partha Babu took a note of areas where AKSSM reported delayed payment of NREGS wages. In addition, we objected to the trivialisation of the problems of unorganised sector workers by organising “melas” for them , without any serious implementation of social security measures. We also objected to social security cards being issued to non workers. The issue of sexual harassment at the work place of women workers and the absence of complaints committees was also brought to his attention. No selection of beneficiaries for the National Food Security Act has taken place despite two years of the Act being passed, we complained.  And, in the end we complained of police high handedness, which is when he remarked “Shashak bodleche, shahsan ek-e acche (the rulers have changed , the system hasn’t)”.


Partha babu forwarded the memorandum to the Chief Minister immediately and promised to organise a meeting with the concerned Ministers after 16thFebruary. We came away after informing him that we looked forward to his keeping his promise and to returning to the city with a longer and more defiant protest in three months if our demands were not met.






(Somnath Ghosh)                                                                       (Swapan Ganguly)       

    Convenor                                                                                       Convenor

Lessons of the Aam Aadmi Party Campaign for the Left

Lessons of the Aam Aadmi Party Campaign for the Left

Kunal Chattopadhyay

The Delhi elections are over. As we await the results, it is perhaps time for the left to do some serious reflection on the AAP campaign.  A number of Exit Polls suggest that the AAP is poised for victory, or at least that it will become the party with the highest number of seats, while the Congress is facing a near total wipe out.

The Exit Polls:

Poll conducted by                      AAP                   BJP                Congress                    Others       
ABP News-Nielson                       43                     26                      1                            0       
India Today- Cicero                   38-46                 19-27                  3-5                         0-2       
News 24- Today’s Chanakya         48                     22                      0                            0       
India TV-C Voter                      35-43                 25-33                  0-2                         0-2       
News Nation                            41-45                 23-27                  1-3                         0-1       
India News- Axis                         53                     17                     0-2                          0       
Datamineria                                31                    35                      4                             0    

The exit poll is not the final result, and there are clearly variations. But out of seven, only one put the BJP ahead of AAP. Five predict an absolute majority for AAP.  It is certain, that AAP has not only smashed the Congress, but has also made significant inroads into votes received by the BJP not only during the parliamentary elections, but also the last assembly elections. Last time round, BJP came first, with 31 seats, followed by AAP with 28, the Congress got 8, and the Akali Dal, the Janata Dal (United) and independents got 1 each.
Today’s Chanakya had also carried out a caste and community based exit poll. This threw up interesting figures. While only a small proportion of Muslims have voted for or admitted to have voted for the BJP, here the principal loser is the Congress.  While the exit poll gave 8% of the share of Muslim votes to the BJP, the Congress fared little better, with only 12%, while the AAP gets 71%. What is remarkable, however, is that the AAP has an absolute majority of Scheduled Caste votes (55%), and a lead in every other segment compared to the BJP – including Brahmins, Baniyas and Punjabis. It is in this context that we should look at certain of the actions of the AAP and of Kejriwal.
The AAP surge has also wiped out another party—the Bahujan Samaj Party, which had polled just under 3 per cent votes in 2008. In 2013, it fared very badly. And since then, AAP has consolidated the Dalit vote.

The Politics of AAP:

AAP emerged out of the anti corruption movement. Arvind Kejriwal felt that only a movement on the streets was inadequate, and wanted to contest elections. This was not supported by everyone, and the movement effectively split.  The Anna Hazare led movement had focused entirely on corruption. Moreover, there had been suspicions of links between what was being called Team Anna, and the BJP. It is worth remembering that while the congress was in the central Government, BJP provincial governments also had major questions about corruption and their role in such corruption. Like the media, which in the run up to the elections of 2014 highlighted Congress inspired corruption and played down the rest, Team Anna did something similar.  Mohan Bhagawat, the RSS leader, claimed that Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement was actually supported by the RSS. A few months later, when Team Anna launched a Voter Awareness programme, it dropped its secular mask altogether. Led by Kiran Bedi, they campaigned hand in hand with a number of Hindutva outfits, such as the Manav Utkarsha Sewa Sansthan, formed and led by Rakesh Kumar Premil and Ram Kumar Yadav, prominent Sanghis of Fatehpur subdivision of Barabanki district, where the campaign started[1].  
So Kejriwal’s call to the movement to float its own electoral wing did not go down too well with that section of the movement, including Hazare himself, who were collaborating with the Sangh Parivar.  Regardless of Kejriwal’s point of origin, this put him on a collision course.
The discourse of the Aam Aadmi Party was clearly not a socialist or working class discourse. This was often seized upon by the left, as for example in 2014, when CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat excoriated AAP for being in favour of neoliberalism. Writing in the party journal "People's Democracy", Karat quoted AAP ideologue Yogendra Yadav as saying that the new party wanted "an alternative not just to the Congress or the BJP but also the Left". Karat pointed out that AAP leader and former Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had told a CII meeting that the government should not do business and this should be left to the private sector. "This refrain of 'government has no business in business' and all should be left to the private sector is typical of the neo-liberal outlook which prevails around the world," the CPI-M leader said.
But in order to contest elections, on what they perceived as an Aam Aadmi discourse, they found it necessary to go beyond a one point campaign over corruptions. And it soon became evident that the AAP campaign was de facto to the left of the CPI and the CPI(M).  
At the same time, it is possible to argue that Kejriwal and the other AAP leaders were far more alive to the reality of caste in India and its implications, than were orthodox Communists from the undivided CPI and its principal heirs. This was symbolised by Kejriwal’s choice of the broom for his election symbol.
There are many who have ridiculed or criticised Narendra Modi for his Swachh Bharat campaign. But not all have understood the compulsions behind it. Where did he begin his campaign, and what were his aims? It is seldom remembered that Gandhi’s South Afrtica period had seen him campaign for community toilet cleaning, which he felt would break up many deeply held casteist values. For Modi, the former RSS Pracharak, this was killing two birds with one stone. He could take a “Gandhian” weapon, so that his major opponents would be disarmed. And he would pose his government, and especially himself, as a voice of the Dalits. How better to do it, while working overtime for a capitalist rightwing regime deeply steeped in Brahmanical politics, than to take this as a symbolic gesture? And it worked, to a considerable extent. He started his campaign from the Valmiki dominated slum. This was no accident, though local residents complain that it was a sham, as they were kept away by the police so that the VIP sweepings could be performed in peace.
But election analyses, for example in Haryana, have shown that the BJP trumped its opponents because it had received the biggest chunk of the Dalit votes, most of them being Valmikis. So the ploy was based on an assessment of what had been achieved. The limits of such gestures should however be kept firmly in mind. With a Brahmanical Hindutva force in the ascendant, token gestures are all that will happen. Meanwhile, real oppression of Dalits is set to get as new lease of life. As Sociologist Abhijit Kundu, on whose analysis the foregoing is based, reminds us, the very day Modi’s stunt in the Dalit area was shown globally, a young woman was burnt to death in Tamil Nadu for marrying a Dalit man [2].
And in Delhi, Modi came up against a major problem. The basis of the so-called Modi wave was a combination of on one hand massive bourgeois support, far surpassing anything the Congress had received in the 2014 elections, and on the other hand a balancing of the aspirations of the young, urban or urban-oriented and modernising voter (47% of India’s voters are below 35) with the agenda of Hindutva, the last being both Modi’s own firm conviction as well as the force that motivated the cadre base of the RSS-VHP. Within the framework of rightwing bourgeois politics, where the battle was between a Modi-led Sangh campaign and a Sonia-Rahul Gandhi duo led Congress campaign, the latter totally tied up in corruption issues highlighted by the media, and responsible for the economic devastations that had hit the poor, the battle was without a serious contest. But in Delhi, the AAP posed a different kind of challenge. In the first-past-the-post election system in India, we remember the votes our favourite party has obtained only when it has lost. Only the anti-BJP commentators took pains to stress that the BJP got a majority of seats with only 31% votes. In Delhi, the BJP swept, with 46.1% votes. But the AAP had also increased its votes to 32.9%.
And the AAP represented a similar combination in certain ways as the Modi-led BJP, but with two important differences. First, AAP also had youth, including urban middle class youth. The present writer had been in Delhi for a week during the 2013 assembly elections, and the AAP volunteers were everywhere. They were very often young, articulate, and aspired to clean politics (which at that moment tended to mean non-Congress politics) but without the communal hatred baggage projected by Modi.
And the AAP, as a result of the rupture between the Hazares and Kiran Bedis and Kejriwal and his supporters, was moving in a direction that involved looking at socio-economic issues from a less abstract way, without automatically assuming the complete domination of neoliberalism, pace Prakash Karat.

The Left and AAP:

Indeed, the Left has had a dismal record in connection with neoliberalism. While its advocates like Vijay Prasad are busy serving up warmed over Popular Frontism, that strategy has meant accepting neoliberalism. Between 1992 and 1998, the left first “tolerated” a minority Narasimha Rao government, which pushed through the first stages of globalisation’s agenda in India, and then took part in a United Front Government in which P. Chidambaram was the Finance Minister, and in which capacity he delivered what has repeatedly been called the “dream budget”, removing the 40% Income Tax slab, reducing corporate taxes, increasing FII investment limits and laying the grounds for the first round of disinvestment in Public Sector undertakings. The left voted for these measures. None of these prevented the predictable rise of the BJP, culminating in Vajpayee’s NDA government.  
Not recognising its folly, or better, not having any alternative, since waging serious class struggle was never an option, the left went on combining de facto genuflections to neoliberalism, above all wherever it was in government, like in West Bengal, with rhetorical anti-neoliberalism coupled with support for the Congress as the lesser evil in 2004, when after the elections it allowed the UPA government to be formed with its support, and went on supporting it through a deepening rightwing thrust[3]. The result of this, as well as the result of state level full throttled support to neoliberal capitalism in West Bengal, was the utter rout of the left in its decades-long bastion[4].
The AAP, with what can be called a petty bourgeois hegemony and orientation, nonetheless grasped that to win elections it had to have a wider agenda than just being against corruption. It was also able to understand that there was a need to distinguish itself from Hindutva. Indeed, Hazare and many of his supporters, like Bedi, had been Modi cheerleaders for a long time before Bedi took the final plunge. Comrades of Radical socialist along with other activists in the social movements in Gujarat had crossed swords with them over such issues[5].
This was done in two ways. First, from 2013 onwards, AAP had a social agenda. The promises like clean drinking water, opposition to inflated electricity bills, support for autorickshaw drivers, etc brought it real gains. And on getting into government, within the 49 days that he was there, Kejriwal took certain measures. These included an order of the audit of power distribution companies, a certain amount of free water for houses with metred water, the scrapping of FDI in retail, thereby blocking companies like Wal-Mart from moving on into Delhi; and an FIR against Mukesh Advani, one of India’s most powerful capitalists.
The AAP manifesto for 2015 went further. It called for state provision of equitable access to higher education, community involvement in school education, the expansion and strengthening of the public health system, filling up vacant posts for doctors (40000 and paramedics and nurses (15,000), etc.
It could be argued that pre-election promises are a dime a dozen. But if we look at promises made by others, the difference becomes clear. In its 34 years in West Bengal, the Left Front did not open a single new government hospital in Kolkata. Instead, it started privatizing parts of existing hospitals through the so-called PPP model[6].
Finally, the AAP put forward a definition of secularism not often followed by the left. While the Left has condemned the BJP (rightly) for using sadhus and religious figures of all kinds in its election campaigns, it has all too often roped in religious figures from the minorities for the same electoral purposes. For the same reason, much of the Indian left has been unable to take a categorical stance against minority fundamentalism, not realising that in south Asia, a minority on one side of the border becomes a majority on the other, and they feed each other. So when AAP declared that it did not desire the support for it declared by Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, for it wanted support from all Indians regardless of their religious orientation, it was breaking with a long tradition. And in doing so, it also cut the ground from beneath the BJP and its claims that its opponents were anti-Hindu, pro-Muslim, etc, without entering the field of communal politics.

The Lessons for the Left:

After what we have already discussed, the lessons for the left are not difficult to understand. The AAP is not a model for the left. There are no reasons to forget some of the other dimensions of the AAP. Because of its “post-ideological” pretensions, in fact it has at times taken very bad stances. One has only to remember the racist treatment of Africans when the AAP was in government. Moreover, at the all India level, this model simply cannot work, since the foundations of AAP were the anger of a very specific over governed population – the electorate of Delhi. For decades they had been forced to choose between the Jan Snagh/BJP, and the Congress. The rise of AAP was in the context of a city, the rise of repeated civil society movements (not only the anti-corruption movement, but also the anti-rape movement after 16 December 2012).
But the rise of AAP shows that social movements and political parties need new kinds of interconnections. A revolutionary Marxist politics does not mean a dogmatic repetition of the resolutions of fifty or thirty years back, under changed circumstances.  A new generation of working people have grown up in India. Remember, 47% of the voters are under 35. Around 18% are aged between 15 and 24. Since people get voting right at 18, this means there is now a substantial body of electorate which has no memory of the Soviet Union or its collapse, and which has seen the violence of neoliberal capitalism but does not see old style commandist (“Stalinist”) communism as an option either. There have emerged various kinds of movements, in different parts of India. And they are increasingly rejecting the assumption that THE PARTY knows best. They do not even see one party as the party. Nonetheless, Marxists do have real gains to bring to such movements. To do so, however, they need to be parts of the movements, rather than the people on outside who keep telling the movements that these are all irrelevant or secondary, and the real thing to do is to follow the decisions of the last party Congress.
On the other hand, a revolutionary Marxist intervention in social movements can only be correct if it starts by defending the fundamental interests of the toilers. Which is where the lessons of the AAP are so valuable. Even if in a purely empirical way (as we do not know what went on inside the AAP, let us assume, as a worst case scenario, that nobody consciously proposed leftwing policies, even though it is known that many leftists joined or campaigned for the AAP), the AAP decided to take up social issues that matter to the poor, without first looking over its shoulders to see whether the Congress would agree. The Left, to be a credible left, has to abandon entirely the tried and tested way to disaster, which is called united front, but which is really a front with the bourgeoisie. A real united front is a united front of working class parties, a front, under today’s changed scenario, of working class parties and mass organisations and social movements. The AAP interacted with local communities, built itself through the induction of grassroots activists. Through all that period various kinds of leftists made critical comments. Without disagreeing with all of them, our stress here is on what we need to learn from the AAP experience.
Finally, the AAP showed that defence of minorities need not mean alliance with or mutual patronage between, secular parties and minority community religious figures.  As the West Bengal elections come nearer, and as one sees the BJP whipping up Hindutva fanaticism on one hand and the TMC move equally in the direction of seeking to polarise the electorate by protecting Muslim communalism, there is bound to be (indeed there are already clear signs of) heart burn within the left, and by that one does not only mean the CPI(M), but also forces to the left of the CPI(M). Some of them too find it objectionable if Muslim communalists are in any way targeted.  While secularism in India has to clearly identify Hindu communalism as the primary threat, and while if it is a matter of actual defence of minorities attacked by Hindutva forces, as have happened not only in Gujarat, but in Madhya Pradesh, in Odisha and elsewhere, one may find oneself resisting the hooligans and armed killers side by side with members of minority communal organisations (as distinct from  persons of majority and minority origin fighting together), this does not mean we should not expose minority communalism for a dangerous and wrong politics; and it certainly does not mean orienting to minority communalism in the hope of a few short term recruits or a few votes. Let us note that the BJP brought in MPs from all over the country, Modi campaigned personally in a big way, and huge sums were spent in the last few days trumpeting the achievements of the Central Government.  In other words, while it is true that the ruling class wants Modi, will back Modi, it does not mean that the game is so completely over that struggles do not matter. What the AAPs surge, regardless of the exact result [7], shows is that for the left, the road ahead lies in overcoming sectarianism, fusing with mass struggles, taking up seriously basic issues affecting toilers, being militantly secular, and completely rejecting the bourgeois parties –not merely the Congress(I), but each and every one of them. As the CPI(M) congress nears and sections express dissent with the Buddhadev Bhattacharjee line, it is for them to recognise that that is not enough. A fuller rethinking is necessary if they want the left to be meaningfully left. Meanwhile, for the far left, if it really believes that the Sangh is a fascist force, then overcoming sectarianism and forging an alternative left instrument is essential.


1.  For further information, see BJP’s Team B  http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/bjp-s-team-b#.TzgSdcSRIRk.facebook
2.  http://www.anandabazar.com/editorial/%E0%A6%AF-%E0%A6%A6-%E0%A6%A7%E0%A6%95-%E0%A6%B7-%E0%A6%A4-%E0%A6%B0-%E0%A6%A6-%E0%A6%B2-%E0%A6%B2-%E0%A6%95-%E0%A6%A8-%E0%A6%A4-%E0%A6%AF-%E0%A6%A6-%E0%A6%A7%E0%A6%9F-%E0%A6%85%E0%A6%A8-%E0%A6%95-%E0%A6%AC%E0%A7%9C-1.111066
3.  On this, see Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, ‘The Left Front and the United progressive Alliance (2004), in http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/62-the-left-front-and-the-united-progressive-alliance-2004 and Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, ‘Elections and the Left in India’, http://isreview.org/issue/66/elections-and-left-india.
 4. This process was charted in the second of the two articles cited in the foregoing note, as well as in Soma Marik and Kunal Chattopadhyay, ‘The Defeat of the Left Front and the Search for Alternative Leftism’ in http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/614-the-defeat-of-the-left-front-and-the-search-for-alternative-leftism.
5.  ‘A Letter to Anna Hazare regarding his Reported endorsement of the Narendra Modi Government’, in http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/statement-radical-socialist/news/343-a-letter-to-anna-hazare-regarding-his-reported-endorsement-of-the-narendra-modi-government
 6. For this I am indebted to the unpublished Ph D thesis of Amrita Bagchi, ‘The Decline of Public Healthcare in Calcutta’, Jadavpur University.
7.  Including the fear of massive EVM tampering expressed by a section. See Nivedita Menon, ‘BJPs bravado on exit polls – do they know something about EVMs that we don’t?’, in http://kafila.org/

France What caused the killings?

Below, we reproduce an interview of Gilbert Achcar, well known Marxist activist and scholar who was written extensively on Islam, Muslim fundamentalism, and imperialist intervention in West Asia and North Africa. The interview was conducted by ISO leader Ahmed Shawki, and originally published by Socialist Worker. This throws further light on the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the conditions of Muslims in France. -- Administrator, Radical Socialist




What caused the killings?

Tuesday 3 February 2015, by Ahmed Shawki, Gilbert Achcar

In the aftermath of the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the wave of repression and Islamophobia that followed, Gilbert Achcar talked to Ahmed Shawki in late January about the questions the left in France and internationally need to answer to organize an anti-racist, anti-imperialist response.

What has been the reaction to the attack on Charlie Hebdo by French society in general, and the French state and ruling class in particular?

The reaction has been what anybody would expect. The initial reaction was one of massive shock—which is not that different from the initial reaction to 9/11 in the United States, though it’s obviously a big exaggeration to place both attacks on an equal footing as many did, particularly in France.

And, of course, the shock was immediately exploited by the French government in the same way that 9/11 was exploited by the Bush administration—in order to silence critics and get wide support in the name of "national unity." Suddenly, François Hollande’s popularity went up sharply, from a very low point. The same happened with George W. Bush, whose popularity was very low before 9/11 and got boosted beyond anything he could have dreamed of.

These were quite similar reactions from appalled and frightened societies—and, of course, the crimes were appalling indeed. In both cases, the ruling class took advantage of the shock in order to whip up nationalist sentiment and support for the state: The police forces have been hailed as great heroes in France for mobilizing several tens of thousands in hunting down three lunatic assassins. To be sure, the New York firefighters were much more deserving of the praise for their bravery.

There is nothing much original about all this. Instead, what is rather original is the way the discussion evolved later on.

As you know, the Charlie Hebdo attack and the anti-Semitic attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris were perpetrated by two young men of Algerian background and one from Malian background, the three of them French-born. Over the last few days, there has been a significant shift in the discussion about the attacks: it has become more mitigated, with increasing acknowledgement of the fact that there is something wrong in French society—in the way it treats people of immigrant origin.

This shift went to the point French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stating publicly two weeks after the attack that there is a "territorial, social, ethnic apartheid" in France with regard to people of immigrant origin. That’s an extremely strong characterization indeed—and as you might expect, it was massively criticized, even from within the cabinet over which Valls presides.

But it did represent a vindication of some sort for those who said from the start that those terrible attacks should lead people to think in the first place about the conditions that bring young people to such a level of resentment that they become willing to engage in suicidal attacks in order to kill. Not that any reason whatsoever could constitute an excuse for the murders that were perpetrated, but because it is indispensable to investigate the origin of such hatred and resentment instead of indulging in the inept explanation that "they hate us for our freedoms," as George W. Bush put it after 9/11.

This gets us to the core issue, which is what the French prime minister was referring to. The core issue is the condition of populations of immigrant origin inside France. One obvious and very telling indication of this is the fact that a majority of inmates in French prisons are people of Muslim background, although they constitute less than 10 percent of the population. And there is the related fact that the French society and state have never really settled accounts with their colonial legacy.

On this last issue, it’s striking that self-examination in the U.S. society about the Vietnam War has been much more radical and widespread—reflecting the huge mobilization that built up within the U.S. itself against that war—than whatever there has been in France about the war in Algeria, although the latter was no less brutal, if not more so, and came after well over one century of barbaric colonial occupation of that country.

France is a country where, believe it or not, the parliament voted in 2005—that is, only 10 years ago, not half a century ago!—for a law about the colonial legacy that saluted the men and women, especially the military, who took part in the colonial enterprise. And it required, among other things, that schools should teach "the positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa." That particular part of the law was repealed by presidential decree a year later after a huge outcry from migrant organizations, the left, historians and schoolteachers. But the very fact that such a law could be adopted by a parliamentary majority is just outrageous.

Can you tell us more about the reaction to the prime minister’s statement about France’s "apartheid"? Because that’s a striking statement.

It is—very striking. Mind you, Valls is definitely not a radical or even a progressive. He’s from the right wing of the Socialist Party. He was minister of the interior before becoming prime minister, and was criticized on the left for entering into a competition with the far right—with Marine Le Pen—of trying to outdo each other on the issue of immigration. And now, suddenly, here he is with this strong statement.

Unsurprisingly, he was widely criticized, not only from the right-wing opposition, but also from within his own party, and even from some people on the left, all of them saying that he went over the top and should not have used the A-word.

His most sober critics pointed to the fact that there is no legal apartheid in France, unlike what you had until a few decades ago in South Africa or in the U.S. South half a century ago. But no one could seriously deny the reality of a "territorial, social and ethnic" segregation in France that is similar to what still prevails in the United States.

The condition of the populations of migrant origin in France is indeed closer to that of the Black people in the U.S. than to apartheid in the strict sense. These populations are concentrated in separate areas, on the periphery of cities, and live in extremely frustrating conditions. On top of that comes racism that is pervasive in various forms in French society, including discrimination in employment, in housing and so on.

On this last point, France is even worse than the United States—it won’t be any time soon that we shall see a person of African background elected president of France, other than in the wild fantasy of an infamous French Islamophobic novelist. It is actually—and unfortunately—much more likely that a far-right candidate would be elected to the French presidency. After all, in 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen managed to get to the second round of the presidential election, beating the Socialist Party candidate in the first round.

This brings up a related question about the French far right, which is quite powerful electorally, with Le Pen’s daughter Marine leading a "reformed" National Front. My understanding is that the National Front, which historically draws its inspiration from the far right—up to and including the fascist right—is now inviting representation among its leadership of gays, of other minorities, of Jews. But it is singling out the immigrant population, and in particular Muslims, as the "new enemy." Is that roughly the trajectory?

Generally speaking, the far right in Europe nowadays, except for a lunatic fringe, does not focus on anti-Semitism or even anti-gay bigotry. Actually, one of the major figures of the far right in Holland was an openly gay man, who used to justify his Islamophobia by referring to the alleged homophobia of migrants of Muslim background.

So this is no longer the platform of the European far right nowadays. The preferred target of their hate speech is Islam. Muslims are their scapegoats, much more so than Jews or any of the other victims of fascism and Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s—save the Roma, who are still the object of much racist hatred. Nowadays, it is Islam that is by far the main target of far-right hatred.

This Islamophobia is actually presented most often with the pretense that it isn’t about racism—that it’s a rejection of the religion alone, and not of Muslims themselves, so long as they aren’t practicing Muslims.

In other words, there are "bad Muslims" and "good Muslims," the latter being those who "drink alcohol and eat pork," i.e. those who are irreligious and adapt fully to Western Christian culture. The most welcome Muslims—here in the ethnic sense, of course—are the small minority who join the Islamophobic choir, seeking reward for their collaboration, like the colonial natives who worked for their colonial masters.

It is this anti-Islam approach that is at work in the demonstrations that have been organized in Germany by a movement that claims to be fighting against "the Islamization of the West." This kind of ideology is common to the far right all over Europe—though maybe less so for the UK Independence Party in Britain, which targets all immigrants, including those from European Union countries.

It’s been suggested that the French left is quite poor on the question of institutional racism within French society. Do you think that’s true?

Definitely, thw French left—and I mean what is usually called the "radical left," to the left of the Socialist Party, which I would not really call "left"—has a poor record on relating to people of immigrant origin. This is a major failure—though, of course, you can find similar situations in most imperialist countries.

The absence of a strong connection with these populations, and particularly with their youth, means that there is little challenge when the resentment that builds up for legitimate reasons among them goes in the wrong direction, leading in extreme cases to the murderous fanaticism that we have seen at play.

The historical record of the French Communist Party on anti-colonialism, especially in the case of Algeria, is far from clean overall. Within France, the fight against ethnic discrimination and the colonial legacy has not been central enough in the actions of the left, and this has led many young people who have been attracted to the left at some point to reject it and develop quite bitter feelings toward it.

This is usually connected to a tradition within the French left that one may call "radical secularism," or "secular fundamentalism."

You mean "laicité"?

"Laicité" means secularism. There is something beyond that, though—let’s call it an "anti-clerical" tradition, which has been very strong on the left historically in France. It can take the form of secularist arrogance toward religion and the believers overall.

As long as the targeted religion is the dominant one, this isn’t a major problem, although even then it can be politically counterproductive. As the young Marx aptly put it, the same religion that is the dominant classes’ ideological tool can also be the "sigh of the oppressed."

But this is much truer when the religion in question is the particular faith of an oppressed and exploited part of society, the religion of the downtrodden, such as—in the West—Judaism yesterday and Islam today. You cannot have the same attitude to Judaism in 1930s’ Europe as in today’s Israel, for instance—or the same attitude to Islam in Europe today as in Muslim-majority countries. Likewise, you cannot have the same attitude to Christianity in, say, today’s Egypt where Christians are an oppressed minority as in Christian-majority countries.

This is the problem with Charlie Hebdo. Some of the people involved in Charlie Hebdo were very much on the left. Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, the editor of the magazine, who was the principal target of the assassins, was, by any standard, someone on the left. He had close ties with the Communist Party and the general milieu of the left. His funerals were held to the tune of the "Internationale," and his eulogy by Luz, a surviving member of the Charlie Hebdo editorial staff, included a bitter criticism of the French right and far right, and of the Pope as well as of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In this respect, the comparison that some have made of Charlie Hebdo to a Nazi publication publishing anti-Semitic cartoons in Nazi Germany is completely absurd. Charlie Hebdo is definitely not a far-right publication—and present-day France definitely not a Nazi-like state.

Rather, Charlie Hebdo is a blatant illustration of the left-wing arrogant secularism that I mentioned, which is an attitude widely held on the left in good conscience—that is, in the firm belief that secularism and anti-clericalism are basic tenets of the left-wing tradition. They are seen as part of a left-wing identity, along with feminism and other emancipatory causes.

I know that one of the major debates on the French left in the last decade or so was about the question of the veil and the rights of Muslim women to wear the hijab in public. Can you discuss what the issues were in that debate?

This id another illustration of the same problem. It arose in 1989 over the issue of young girls coming to school wearing the headscarf, and being expelled for insisting on doing so, with the support of their families. This led to a 2004 law banning "ostentatious" religious symbols from being worn in public schools.

Part of the left—in fact, I would say the vast majority of the French left, including the Communist Party—supported this ban, in the name of "helping" young girls to fight an oppressive imposition of the headscarf on them by their families, and in the conviction that since the headscarf is a symbol of women’s oppression, banning it is a way of challenging this oppression, as well as of upholding the secular character of public schools.

The core problem with this arrogant secularism—this very Orientalist arrogance, one could say—is the belief that liberation can be "imposed" on the oppressed. The rationale is that in forcing you to remove your headscarf, I am "liberating" you, whether you approve of it or not. Needless to say, this happens to be an exact reproduction of the colonial mindset.

I think that for some people, this criticism of the French left for its arrogant secularism gets mixed up with a hesitation to make a left-wing analysis of political Islamism, particularly the reactionary variety behind the attack on Charlie Hebdo or the September 11 attacks in the U.S. You touched on that issue with your book The Clash of Barbarisms, didn’t you?

I wrote that book after 9/11 indeed. When you’re faced with an attack like 9/11, of course, the term "barbaric" will inevitably be used to describe it.

Now how should anti-imperialists react? There are two possible ways. One is to say, "No, it’s not barbaric." That’s ridiculous, because it obviously is. Why should one regard as barbaric the Islamophobic rampage perpetrated by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right fanatic, in 2012, but not the massacres of 9/11, or the Paris killings, for that matter? This would be an extreme case of "Orientalism in reverse," substituting the contempt of Islam with a very naive and uncritical stance toward everything that is done in Islam’s name.

What is politically wrong and dangerous is not the use of terms like "barbaric," "appalling" and the like, but that of the misplaced political category of "fascism." Many on the French left—the Communist Party, but also members of the far left, and most recently, the post-Maoist philosopher Alain Badiou—have labeled the Paris attacks as "fascistic" and described those perpetrating them as "fascists."

This is completely pointless in socio-political terms since fascism is an ultra-nationalistic mass movement whose main vocation is to salvage capitalism by crushing whatever threatens it, starting with the workers’ movement, and to promote aggressive imperialism. Applying this category to terrorist currents inspired by religious fundamentalism in countries that are dominated by imperialism is nonsense.

Such a use of the label "fascism" blurs everything that makes it a distinctive sociopolitical category. If one wishes to dilute a socio-political category this way, then phenomena such as Stalinism or, even more so, the Baathist dictatorships in pre-2003 Iraq or present-day Syria bear much more resemblance to historical fascism than al-Qaeda or the purported "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."

The misuse of the label was started by the neocons in the Bush administration and others who called al-Qaeda "Islamo-fascism," and it is quite unfortunate that people on the left fall into this trap. The obvious political goal of this misuse of the label—since "fascism" is seen as the ultimate evil, and Nazism itself being an avatar of fascism—is to justify every action against it, including imperialist wars.

I remember well a discussion in which I was invited to take part in Paris in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, which was organized by the Communist Party. One of the speakers, a prominent member of that party, explained that al-Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism constitute the new fascism, against which it is legitimate to support war by Western states, in the same way as it was legitimate for the USSR to ally with the U.S. and the UK against fascist powers in the Second World War. You can find a direct echo of the same rationale in the neocon description of the "war on terror" as being a "Third World War" against "Islamo-fascism."

To come back to the "barbaric" label, the other way of reacting to it, of course, is to say: Yes, these massacres are barbaric indeed, but they are in the first place a reaction to capitalist-imperialist barbarism, which is much worse. That’s the reaction many on the left had after 9/11. Noam Chomsky was probably the most prominent of those who explained that, as appalling as the 9/11 attacks were, they were dwarfed by the massacres committed by U.S. imperialism.

In my book on "the clash of barbarisms," I emphasized that the barbarism of the strong is the major culprit, and that it is the primary cause that leads to the emergence of a counter-barbarism on the opposite side. This "clash of barbarisms" is the true face of what has been, and still is, misleadingly described as a "clash of civilizations." As Rosa Luxemburg put it a century ago, the dynamics of the crisis of capitalism and imperialism leaves no option in the long run but "socialism or barbarism."

The attacks of September 11, 2001, those of Madrid 2004, London 2005 and Paris recently, were all claimed by al-Qaeda—an extremely reactionary organization. Along with likeminded organizations, they are the sworn enemies of anyone on the left in the countries where they are based. For example, a prominent member of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria boasts of having organized the assassination of two key leaders of the Tunisian left in 2013.

The young men who carried out the killings in Paris were wrapped up in terroristic organizations that stand on the extreme far right in Muslim-majority countries. Al-Qaeda is an outgrowth of Wahhabism, the most reactionary interpretation of Islam and the official ideology of the Saudi kingdom—and as everybody knows, the Saudi kingdom is the best friend of the United States in the Middle East, outside of Israel.

People on the left should not appear to be excusing or supporting in any way organizations like these. We must denounce them for what they are—but we must also stress, at the same time, that the main responsibility in their emergence lies with those who started the "clash of barbarisms" in the first place, and whose barbarism is murderous on an incomparably larger scale: the imperialist powers, and above all, the United States.

There’s actually a direct and obvious connection between the two. The United States, along with the Saudi kingdom, has been fostering for decades these militant Islamic fundamentalist currents in the fight against the left in Muslim-majority countries. These currents were, for a long time, associated with the United States—a historical collaboration that culminated in the 1980s war in Afghanistan, when they were backed by Washington, the Saudis and the Pakistani dictatorship, against the Soviet occupation.

What happened eventually is that, like in the Frankenstein story, some sections of these forces turned against the Saudi monarchy and against the United States. This is the story of al-Qaeda: its founders were allied with the United States and the Saudi kingdom during the fight against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, but they turned against both of them because of the direct deployment of U.S. troops in the Saudi kingdom in preparation for the first U.S. war against Iraq in 1991.

Thus, the Bush Sr. administration provoked al-Qaeda’s about-face against the U.S. with the first war on Iraq, and Bush Jr. carried it on with the invasion of Iraq. The latter was carried out on the pretext of huge lies, one of which was that it was needed in order to destroy al-Qaeda—although there was no connection whatsoever between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The result of the U.S. occupation of that country was actually a huge boost to al-Qaeda, allowing it to acquire a crucial territorial base in the Middle East, after having previously been restricted to Afghanistan.

What is today called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is but a further development of what used to be al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq—an organization that didn’t exist before the 2003 invasion, but came into being thanks to the occupation. It was defeated and marginalized from 2007 onward, but it then managed to re-emerge in Syria, taking advantage of the conditions created by the civil war in that country and the utmost brutality of the Syrian regime. And here it is, now striking again in the heart of the West. As ever: "They sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."

Socialist Worker

Selling Sexual Services: A Socialist Feminist Perspective

Sexual politics

Selling Sexual Services: A Socialist Feminist Perspective

4 February 2015

The current debate about sex work among feminists generates more heat than light. Accusations of bad faith fly back and forth across the two sides, research findings are mobilized to undercut the other side even when the research itself is limited by its methods and scope, different sex worker voices are authorized by each side as either genuine or manipulated, depending on whose position those voices seem to support.


Feminists who want to defend sex workers’ right to sell sexual services argue that it is not so different from much other highly gendered service work. I appreciate that this moves prostitution from the lurid and sensationalized to the daily grind of everyday labor. [1] However, in justifying this move, proponents tend to downplay the particularly risky and dangerous aspects of the work. And they ignore or reject the feminist argument that prostitution is an extreme expression of sexism. On the other hand, feminists who argue that selling sexual services is inherently harmful and should be eliminated downplay the resilience and survival skills of prostitutes who may not regard their jobs as uniquely difficult or dangerous or who take pride in their capacity to successfully negotiate these risks.

Over the past decade or so, the stakes in this debate have been substantially raised by efforts to legislate sex work in the name of feminist goals. On one side, are feminists who support the Nordic model in which the law criminalizes buyers but not sellers of sexual services and outlaws any “third parties” from profiting, and who approve the expansion of anti-sex trafficking laws. On the other side are feminists who call for decriminalization (and regulation) of sex work and who believe that anti-sex trafficking laws are overly broad, penalizing rather than protecting women who migrate to do sex work.

Once a political battle is joined, the pressures are enormous to over-simplify an issue in order to “win” the fight. I do not want to take a “removed” position as if I stand above the fray. Yet, I think it has not served feminism well that each side in this debate approaches a topic as multi-varied (especially as a global phenomenon), complex, and difficult to research (because of its clandestine nature) as prostitution with such unjustified certainty. I also think it is a mistake to pose the question of sex work in an either/or way, e.g., is sex work oppressive or empowering?

I find myself torn between very counter-posed descriptions of prostitution, all of which seem accurate. There is a huge range within the work of selling sexual services and wide differences in the experience of sex workers depending on the locations, organizations, and conditions within which the work is done. This is a class and race-stratified business as well. In the (relatively small) “middle class” sector of the U.S. industry, white women, 90% with some college education, make $500 an hour and more working independently as escorts. Women of color are over-represented in street work, doing clients in cars or motel rooms. Eastern European women migrate to work in massage parlors, brothels, and clubs in the west, Filipina women go to Japan, teenage girls from rural India are trafficked to Kolkata brothels. Migrant women who are not directly coerced rely on both legal and underground networks to travel and once at work experience varying degrees of exploitation and coercion, from overwork and wage theft to virtual enslavement. I try to take this variation into account, but in a limited fashion, given space constraints.

I have always been a “social constructionist” when it comes to understanding sexuality and so I am generally uncomfortable with universal statements about how women experience our bodies and sexual selves. Yet, I do wonder if, given the conditions under which most prostitutes work, including intense stigmatization, economic exploitation, as well as criminalization, selling sexual services does not pose serious risks to their physical and mental health—risks that are higher than much feminized service work (which is certainly not risk free).

As a socialist-feminist, I am opposed to the increasing intrusion of commodification into every area of human experience, including into sexual relations. Yet, I also understand the dangers for feminists of drawing on categorical dualisms–private vs. public, family vs. market, the natural vs. the manufactured—that have been fundamental to patriarchal constructions of femininity and to women’s oppression.

I am drawn to the feminist argument that there is something inherently sexist in men’s wish to and ability to purchase sexual gratification—whether the upscale date with an escort or the quick blow job in a parked car. However, I also struggle with how to take that critique into social policy or law without reproducing the stigmatization of people who sell sexual services.

In this essay, I try to sort through the various claims about the work of selling sexual services. Next, I examine the arguments and data with regard to different legal regimes, concluding that it is difficult, on the basis of existing evidence, to sort out their costs and benefits. Nonetheless, I conclude supporting decriminalization and regulation of the business, because I think that it offers greater possibilities for workers to self-organize. Even under conditions of criminalization, sex workers in countries as diverse as India and New Zealand have built impressive grass-roots based organizations. Decriminalization ought to make this easier.

However, decriminalization (or any legal regime) is extremely limited in what it can accomplish, since it does not touch the forces that create the demand for and the supply of labor in this industry. Contemporary prostitution is linked to global neo-liberal capitalism and the patriarchal social, cultural, and political arrangements imbricated within it. It is important, therefore, that feminists who care about prostitutes join the struggles of women across the globe fighting for land reform, for changes in family law, for labor rights, for an end to austerity, to raise their wages, to gain recognition for the value of their caring labor, to end their poverty.

 Is prostiution just like other service work?

 [2] The claim that prostitution is uniquely difficult and dangerous revolves around three ideas. First, that although much service work requires workers to use their body or their emotions or both to meet the needs of customers (or patients, or children, or elders), prostitution involves a level of bodily intrusion by the client that is unique and inherently harmful. Second, that workers experience high levels of violence, extensive damage to their health, and emotional trauma. Third, that precisely because it is such awful work, no one would voluntarily choose to do it. The corollary being that prostitutes are almost always coerced (or tricked or seduced) into the work and are held there by others. [3]

Gathering credible evidence to support or refute such claims is difficult as so much of the work is clandestine. Some, probably not insignificant numbers of prostitutes, work in slavery-like conditions and they are especially difficult to find or study. Prostitutes who are willing to be interviewed may be those who have the best conditions and are least afraid to talk with a researcher. “ Knowledgable” informants (e.g. police, social and health workers, NGO’s, sex workers) often have their own agendas and very partial information, leading to very different assessments on any issue about sex work [4] While I see no reason to deny that selling sexual services exposes workers to risks of physical violence, damage to their health and emotional distress well beyond the risks of most feminized service work, I think that the conditions under which it is done can either heighten or minimize these risks.

 Coercion or Choice?

All sides of this debate agree that direct coercion (by pimps, brothel owners, traffickers) is wrong and support outlawing it. [5] Differences revolve around the question of choice. Some prostitutes have no real alternatives due to drug addiction, their age, or extreme discrimination in the legitimate economy (e.g. transgender people). But for many, the benefits of prostitution outweigh the risks, given the very limited choices available to them in gendered capitalist labor markets. It is not primarily the dramatic coercion of seduction and imprisonment, but the dull compulsion of the market that drives women into this work—work that often pays more and has more flexible hours than other jobs available. (For more in depth analysis of the question of choice and work in capitalism, see Nancy Holmstrom’s essay here)

Those who argue that prostitution is work point out that we rarely question whether a woman really “chooses” to be a restaurant server or a nurses’ aide. Why so for prostitutes? I take this point. Yet, I would then ask, is giving a blow job really no different than serving a piece of pie? Or changing diapers in a nursing home? This is the question to which I now turn.

 Risks to Emotional Health

It is difficult, but necessary, to recognize our complicated and culturally shaped feelings about sexuality, intimacy, and bodies in this discussion. The meanings given to bodily boundaries and sexual exchanges vary within human cultures. In the social location of most of the protagonists in the feminist debate (and in many contemporary societies) our bodily boundaries are constructed as an inviolable locus of personhood. Further, body parts most closely associated with sexual arousal are central to the psychological sense of a private self. Many feminized service workers have intimate contact with other people’s bodies and with the “dirty” sides of life. Yet, their own bodily boundaries generally remain intact. Not so in prostitution. Here, “intimate” parts are used in the service of someone else’s pleasure, and not one’s own. This poses real psychological risks—of alienation from one’s own desire, of dissociation from one’s body, of dulling down of feeling, depression, and so forth.

Prostitutes use a range of strategies to protect themselves from these emotional risks. One is to redefine body parts and sexual activities as those which are “kept” for oneself and one’s intimate partners and those which are used for work—for example, not allowing kissing or a client to perform oral sex. In several studies, condoms were markers of the boundary between sex at work and sex for pleasure, when prostitutes insisted on condoms with clients but not with their intimate partners. [6]

In much of prostitution, a worker is required to do more than make her body available for use. Melissa Gira Grant argues that sex work is a performance. [7] But what gendered fantasies are being performed and what do women risk when performing them?

The skill of the act centers on the pretense of desire. I would extend Susan Bordo’s analysis of women in pornography to prostitution. “In pornography women are subjects, but subjects whose agency expresses itself only as a desire to please the projected male viewer…There is a mind inside the pornographic female body, but it communicates only a limited range of nonthreatening desires, and therefore it exists as a truncated self.” [8]

The core fantasy enacted in prostitution expresses the insistent masculine narcissism of culturally authorized sexual scripts. Men who purchase sexual services are generally similar to men who do not—they are not necessarily more lonely, less attractive, less sexually confident, unmarried, although some are. [9] In purchasing sexual services they are expressing broader patriarchal constructions of sexuality that authorize masculine entitlement to sexual pleasure/release from women and to women’s affirmation of their masculine potency. [10]

Outside of the most limited encounter, in prostitution the simulation of pleasure is central. Several studies of prostitution as work draw on Arlie Hochschild’s analysis of service work in The Managed Heart. Hochschild argues that acting in accordance with “feeling rules,” is a part of human relating. We may draw on a repertoire of past experiences of feeling in order to express emotions that we wish to feel. In this sense, we “manage” our emotions. [11]

But just as Marx argued that alienated labor is not about the doing in itself but the context of power relations within which one acts, Hochschild argues that once emotions become directed by an external power—by management—then the worker is in danger of becoming estranged from her self. This is not a matter of counter-posing some sort of “essential” or “authentic” self to the self that is produced in the course of work. It is rather to ask the question whether or not the demands of emotion management in certain jobs and certain work settings interfere with an individual’s capacity to manage her feelings in her own interests and for her own ends when she is not at work. [12]

Hochschild studied non-unionized flight attendants working for a southern-based airline. This, she says, allowed her to focus on a sector of the occupation where the demands for emotion management would be greatest. With the spread of feminism, speed-up in the industry, and unionization, the flight attendant role has changed. We don’t see “I’m Sara Fly me” ads for airlines any more. This sort of shift is simply not possible in prostitution.

Hochschild developed the concepts of “surface acting” and “deep acting” to distinguish between jobs that require lesser or greater degrees of emotional investment in the performance of emotional labor, with ”deep acting” producing more destructive forms of estrangement. As Elizabeth Bernstein argues, in the post-industrial arena of prostitution in global cities, the demands for “deep acting” are expanded when prostitutes compete to offer “bounded authenticity”—the sale of authentic emotional and physical connection. [13] Maintaining a clinical attitude and an emotional distance in the course of producing the “girlfriend experience” may be more rather than less emotionally draining.

Finally, we have to consider the negative consequences of doing highly stigmatized work that is so psychologically demanding. Even beyond the anxieties produced by criminality, social stigma throws its shadow over prostitutes’ working lives.

In any case, gauging the risks to prostitutes’ emotional health is difficult. It does seem that women engaged in street prostitution have worse mental health than women of their same age and background who are not prostitutes. It is difficult to sort out the multiple reasons for this difference. Some research indicates that factors in their lives, often associated with their entry into sex work (e.g., drug use, childhood trauma of various kinds, early age of entry into prostitution), rather than the work itself explains the difference. [14]

The evidence for indoor prostitution is mixed. (“Indoor” covers a range of locations, such as saunas and massage parlors, “call out” workers like escorts, women who work on their own or with others out of an apartment, and work in brothels which may be legal or illegal). A study in the Netherlands comparing workers in legalized indoor venues to women health care workers, mainly nurses, and to people undergoing treatment for occupational “burnout” found that on two out of three measures, the nurses and prostitutes scored similarly and much lower than the treatment group. Prostitutes measured higher than nurses on one measure, “depersonalization” with regard to clients, which has been associated with burnout among nurses. Higher scores on “depersonalization” might be a healthy adjustment rather than a sign of burnout. [15]

From Hochschild’s perspective, this distancing may be a form of surface acting that protects against the more pervasive loss of a sense of self. Yet, “there was no evidence of a relation between cynicism and positive health, such as high self-esteem and personal competence and low stress symptomatology.” The researcher concluded that depersonalization of clients may be a coping mechanism with the negative consequence of emotional exhaustion. [16] A small study of women done in New Zealand prior to decriminalization found that sex workers were not more likely to experience lower self-esteem or impaired social relationships than women in general. [17]

On the other hand, one oft-cited cross-country study (Melissa Farley et. al.) uncovered extremely high levels of PTSD, as measured by a brief questionnaire. Although most of the study participants were street workers, in Mexico levels of PTSD were similarly high for both brothel and street workers. [18] In his defense of the Swedish law, Max Waltman references two studies, one based on interviews with mental health professionals treating former prostitutes and another of 46 former prostitutes in Korea (who were indoor workers) that also indicate high levels of PTSD among former prostitutes. [19]

 Risks of Physical/Sexual Violence

Street workers, at least in Europe and North America, are in a different position from “indoor” workers. Many studies show that street prostitutes are more likely than indoor workers to experience violence from clients. Church et al found that in their sample of prostitutes in three British cities 50% of street workers and 26% of indoor workers had experienced client violence during the last six months. In terms of their entire working lives, 47% of street prostitutes and 14% of indoor workers had been slapped, punched or kicked, 28% of street workers and 17% of indoor workers had experienced attempted vaginal rape, and 22% of street workers and 2% of indoor workers had been vaginally raped. [20] Since street workers are a minority (10-20 %), their experience cannot be used to characterize prostitution as a whole. Still, considering the levels of violence experienced by “indoor” workers, it is difficult to identify a feminized service occupation where 17% of workers experienced attempted rape as part of their job. (Whether or not a high level of violence is a necessary part of prostitution is heavily debated. I discuss this in the last section of the article.)

 Health Risks-Physical Health

After the AIDS epidemic, international bodies and national states have stepped up interventions to encourage condom use and it does seem that condom use in many, but by no means all, countries has substantially reduced the rate of infection among women selling sex. [21] Still, the ability to use a condom depends on the woman’s negotiating power. [22] Since men are willing to pay a substantial bonus for sex without a condom, as research reported in The Economist showed, if women need the money, they may very well feel that they have little choice but to comply. [23] Some prostitutes have access to regular healthcare and can treat STIs and other health problems that are common in their work so that they do not become serious threats to their health. Worldwide, however, women of the working classes lack access to healthcare, and, given prostitutes’ greater exposure to infection and other ailments, this lack particularly decreases their physical well-being.

 Feminist interventions

Contemporary prostitution is intimately tied to the profound economic inequalities of neo-liberal global capitalism, the expansion of the hospitality and tourist industries, the drive toward gentrification in global cities, austerity regimes, state responses to indebtedness through encouraging both sex tourism and female migration for remittances, etc. It is also tied to patriarchal constructions of masculine sexuality and the large and petty patriarchal powers that shape women’s experiences as daughters, mothers, wives and workers.

These structural/political contexts limit what any particular social programs or legal regime can accomplish with regard to prostitution. Perhaps the most effective intervention would be to revolutionize the global capitalist economy by, for example, raising wages in general and women’s wages in particular and to provide affordable housing, affordable childcare, and other services that support solo parents, especially because so many prostitutes have children. While we fight to make these changes, we are nonetheless called upon to identify interventions that will maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of this business for the workers within it.

I focus here on two arenas for action: 1)providing social services and other programs in a non-judgmental way so that sex workers who want to leave have the opportunity to do so; 2)legal regulation.

 Social Programs

Farley et. al, surveying 854 prostitutes in 9 countries, found that 89% want to quit. It is difficult to know what this means, however. Prostitutes in many countries make multiples of what they would earn in the other jobs available to them (jobs which by the way often expose them to sexual predation by employers and managers). [24] It seems quite plausible that many want to leave but would not unless for a job that paid at least somewhat equivalently and where conditions were better than those in the other jobs now available to them. Anti-trafficking programs that teach former prostitutes to use sewing machines, for instance, often fail to keep women from returning to selling sexual services. Some sex workers in the global south, like some in the global north, have no wish to leave their jobs. [25]

All feminists might agree that regardless of the numbers of people who want to leave, there should be expansive, effective services which support prostitutes in a non-judgmental fashion, build their trust, and meet their needs. Worldwide, HIV/AIDS prevention has led to “harm reduction” approaches to prostitution such as increasing condom use. As Farley argues, harm reduction needs to be expanded to include services that help people leave the industry.

Critics of anti-trafficking and rescue programs argue that it is not only counterproductive but incompatible with feminist values for social programs to narrowly focus on exit. As feminists, we should be aware of the relations of power between “provider” and “client” that, historically and today, course through many governmental and non-governmental projects addressed to the women of the working classes. [26] Services should be provided whether prostitutes wish to stay or to go.

Best practices for helping prostitutes to exit include: recognize that exiting is not a one-time decision or event, provide housing (emergency accommodation, half-way houses, and long-term stabilized housing), alcohol and drug services, childcare, career counseling and job training (although many prostitutes mention that the higher wages and flexible hours of their current work make it difficult to leave for the other jobs available). [27]

 Legal Interventions

Legal regulation is incredibly complex. [28] Although debate about the rationality and effectiveness of laws is not limited to prostitution, claims about different legal regimes with regard to their impact on people selling sexual services are especially difficult to evaluate. Studies of clandestine activity are limited by who can be accessed and what they are willing to talk about. I disagree with those who argue that only “survivors” are free from constraint and are uniquely qualified to comment on the effects of different laws. [29] On the other hand, given that enslavement and coercion are a part of this business, it has to be recognized that prostitutes who participate in research represent an unknown proportion all workers. [30]

With regard to selling sexual services, there are roughly three models of legal regimes (with a fair amount of variation among them): criminalization, legalization, decriminalization. [31] While I am going to talk a bit about the evidence on legalization, I focus on two counter-posed legal regimes, both of which are attempting to drive legal reform with feminist values: Sweden’s legal regime, often termed the Nordic model, which criminalizes all aspects of prostitution except the selling of sexual services by an individual and New Zealand’s laws which have decriminalized all aspects of the business but have also, unlike most legalization regimes (e.g. Germany), instituted a system of regulation and enforcement that aims toward improving prostitutes’ conditions of work.


The purpose of legalization is generally to protect social order (e.g. reduce the criminal element, get sex off the street) rather than sex workers. Legalization can have perverse consequences. Legalization for some sex work, e.g. only in licensed brothels, or for some sex workers, e.g., only those with documents to work, can produce even worse conditions for others, e.g. those in unlicensed brothels, on the street, or immigrants.

As one illustrative example, in Queensland, Australia, the size of licensed brothels is limited, they cannot offer escort services (outcalls) or serve alcohol. Advertising is restricted and controlled. As of 2010, only 25 brothels had been licensed in Queensland, a state with a population of four and a half million and a thriving tourist industry. Researchers estimated that only 10% of the business took place in licensed brothels and 75% in the outcall services sector. Individuals may legally do outcall, but they may not work with another sex worker or employ a receptionist. They may employ a licensed security guard and (since 2009) can maximize their safety by making phone contact with another person before and after a job. Landlords can be prosecuted as “third parties to prostitution” when two or more workers are operating from the same premises. This discourages collective arrangements among prostitutes through which they might share their earnings rather than being exploited by a boss.

Because there are so few legal brothels, many prostitutes work in illegal brothels where they are more vulnerable. Legalized brothel managers do not have to provide particularly good working conditions because the supply of workers is so large. [32] It is not clear whether prostitutes as a whole are better or worse off in this kind of legalized regime.

One of the arguments for legalization is that if prostitution becomes a job like any other, prostitutes will have access to the same range of benefits (e.g., health insurance and pensions at least in the EU!.) as other employees.

However, most brothel workers are treated not as employees but as “contractors” who “rent” rooms from the brothel and pay fees for various services the brothel provides. They are therefore excluded from the benefits of regular employment status.

It should come as no surprise to those of us who have tracked the rise in “irregular” and “precarious” employment throughout the global north, that this is often a fiction and their work is highly controlled and regulated by owners/managers little differently from normal employees. [33]

It may well be that legalization of brothels improves the possibilities for workers to organize. But it may also be the case that giving brothel owners a legal monopoly undercuts the potential for collective power. Many feminists think it is particularly abhorrent for brothel owners (or pimps) to earn a living from women who sell sexual services. Whether or not it is possible effectively to outlaw this form of exploitation is the question raised by the Nordic model.

 Criminalizing the Client, the Pimp, and the Brothel Keeper

The Nordic model has some attraction to feminists because it criminalizes the buyer but not the seller of sexual services. Passed in 1999, the Swedish law also criminalizes organized sex work of any kind (in brothels, saunas, escort services, etc.) by making it illegal for anyone except the prostitute herself to profit from her labor. The law is intended to shrink the demand for sexual services, to encourage prostitutes to exit the work, to empower prostitutes in relation to clients (for example, to report violence or theft by clients to the police), and to limit sex-trafficking.

There is no space here to enter into the hotly debated details of the effect of this law. [34] Overall, it is fair to say that the jury is out on whether or not the market for sexual services has shrunk substantially as a result. Street prostitution has decreased; however, the government’s own report could not say for certain that the law had reduced the total numbers of women in prostitution, because they did not know how much of the business had moved indoors, facilitated by the internet. There were no reliable studies of “indoor” workers previous to the law and thus it was not possible to judge. Various estimates were put forth. However, the report could only conclude that: “Altogether, this means that we can feel somewhat secure in the conclusion that prostitution as a whole has at least not increased in Sweden since 1999.” [35]

Another often cited proof of the effectiveness of the law are two surveys, one in 1996 and one in 2008 that showed that since the passage of the law the number of men who said they bought sex had decreased by “close to one-half” (from 13.6% to 8%). [36] Whether this reflects an actual decrease or reflects men not wanting to admit that they engaged in criminal activity or increasing shame produced by the law is unknown. Supporters of the law argue that societal support for gender equality is incompatible with the state authorizing men to purchase sexual services. It may be that the law has increased negative social attitudes toward men who pay for sex. [37]

But on the downside, opponents of the law argue that whatever its benefits in changing social attitudes or shrinking the market, it has heightened the risks faced by prostitutes. In general, police target street workers, because policing indoor sex work is time consuming and expensive.(Another main reason is that street prostitution is more visible.) This is still the case in Sweden. [38] Although street workers cannot be arrested themselves, the police presence makes their jobs more difficult.

Opponents of the law argue that it has pushed clients to demand more secrecy, doing business in more secluded areas, giving prostitutes have less time to size a client up, making them even more vulnerable than previously. There is some evidence but no systematic research in Sweden to support this claim. [39]

However, a study in Vancouver, B.C. that interviewed street based workers both before and after the Vancouver police shifted enforcement toward arresting clients instead of prostitutes found that targeting clients did not improve levels of violence experienced. Further, prostitutes reported that the new policy impeded their ability to negotiate with clients and elevated their risks for client condom refusal. [40]

Opponents of the law also argue that since clients are afraid to contract in public, this has opened the door to an increased role for “middlemen,” including pimps. On this point, I am aware of no reliable evidence showing either that the law has increased pimping or decreased it. [41]

Proponents of the law argue that it will increase reporting to the police about robbery, sexual and physical assault by clients, since the prostitute can no longer be arrested. There is no evidence that the law has increased reporting to the police in any government reports on the effect of the law available in English. [42] This would not be surprising. Prostitutes are reluctant to report instances of violence or theft, for a range of reasons, such as their own illegal drug use, fear of retaliation by clients, wish to preserve their anonymity because they are not “out” to their friends and family, skepticism about the legal process given that cases are difficult to prove and so the trouble of reporting is outweighed by the unlikelihood of redress.

Opponents of the law argue that criminalizing third parties does not diminish the exploitation of prostitutes and increases their vulnerability to harm. Recognizing that brothels are not necessarily the best work environments, they argue that forcing prostitutes to work underground makes them even more vulnerable. And, they argue, that if the law discourages pimping, it also prevents prostitutes from making arrangements with third parties for their own protection. For example, the law criminalizes a third party from earning income by being paid to provide security. Landlords who tolerate a woman working out of her apartment or several women working out of a house the landlord owns is liable to arrest as a “third party.” Prostitutes have been evicted by landlords for this reason. Any adult who lives in a dwelling with a prostitute and shares her income is liable for prosecution.

I think this is a knotty issue. It seems absurd to allow women to provide sexual services but then penalize the landlord who rents them an apartment. [43] And it does seem to be the case that, as with pimping, it is not always easy to sort out the actual relationship of power between a prostitute and the “third parties” involved. [44] On the other hand, defenders of the law argue there is no evidence that actual boyfriends or husbands have been arrested—except when they are actively engaged in the prostitute’s work—that is, acting as a pimp. [45] Even were this to occur, I think it important to distinguish between the law and its enforcement. Enforcement problems are not a definitive argument against a particular law. For example, the policy of mandatory arrest when police are called out on a domestic violence incident has proven to be counterproductive. [46]
This implies doing something about enforcement policies, but ought not lead us to conclude that the law criminalizing domestic violence is in itself negative for women.

The question remains, though, whether the criminalization of most aspects of selling sexual services is positive or negative for women who do the work. This concern lay behind New Zealand’s legal reform.


New Zealand has gone furthest toward decriminalization, passing the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003. In the NZ system, brothels must be licensed, it is illegal for brothel keepers to force workers to take on clients they do not wish to, owners are required to encourage and support condom use (oral, anal or virginal sex without a prophylactic is illegal), they must make their premises available for inspection, they may not hire anyone under 18. It is illegal to induce or compel any person to sell sexual services so pimping is a criminal act. However, it is legal to be a “third party” that is, to live off the “avails” of prostitution [47] The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, which was very active in the years long negotiations that led to passage of the law, argued against high barriers for licensing, because they feared creating a dual system such as that in Queensland.

More important, they argued, successfully, that the law should promote businesses owned and operated by prostitutes. Up to four people can work together from a residence or rented space without having to apply for an “operators license.” (If more than four people are working together, one of them has to apply for the license.) They can advertise under the same limitations as managed brothels. They can hire whomever they wish to help, without restrictions (e.g. they do not have to be “licensed” security professionals as in Queensland). The law also allows prostitutes to immediately collect social benefits, even if they quit work voluntarily. [48]

Opponents of decriminalization argue that it increases prostitution. One study of the reform’s effect on the size of the market for sexual services in Christchurch is fairly credible. A methodologically sound study was done prior to and then three years following the passage of the PRA. The study found, at least for this locality—the second largest urban area in New Zealand—a small increase of 17 people (from 375 to 392) selling sexual services. [49]

It has also been argued that legalization and decriminalization increase trafficking. The one often-cited study purporting to show that legalization increases trafficking, however, has many flaws. [50] The data measuring trafficking flows in different countries was drawn from a UN study, the authors of which cautioned that it was highly unreliable, since the definitions of trafficking across countries and the credibility of their sources of information in different countries varied wildly. Moreover, this was a study that measured all trafficking not just sex trafficking, so its application to sex trafficking is illegitimate. [51] In New Zealand, following the reform, there were no cases of trafficking prosecuted by the New Zealand immigration service (which monitors “indoor” workers). The reform law review committee concludes that the “prohibition on non-residents working in the sex industry, coupled with New Zealand’s geographical isolation and robust legal system provides protection against New Zealand being targeted as a destination for human traffickers.”. [52]

One of the goals of the PRA was to improve the working conditions of prostitutes. The reform does seem to have opened up opportunities for prostitutes to work for themselves. Again, referring to the Christchurch study, in 1999, 62% of prostitutes were in the managed sector while 10% were independent. In 2006, managed workers declined to 51%, while independent workers increased to 23%. [53]

In addition to shrinking the “managed” sector of the business, the PRA aimed to improve the working conditions of managed workers. According to one study, brothel operators who had treated workers well before legalization continued to do so, but those with prior unfair management practices had continued. As with many occupational health and safety laws, enforcement is difficult and depends less on regulations than on the capacity of the workers themselves to challenge bosses. [54] Still, just because we understand the limits of health and safety rules, does not seem to me a definitive argument against having them. If worker bargaining power is critical here, then it would stand to reason that criminalization is problematic because it even further decreases workers’ bargaining power and opportunities for redress.

 Violence and Reporting

Prostitutes surveyed felt that since the law, they were more able to refuse clients and had refused clients more often. On the other hand, as opponents of decriminalization have pointed out, while prostitutes said they felt they could report violence, mostly they did not report and when they did report were reluctant to follow through on complaints. The same factors discouraging following through on reports of violence in other countries appear to be operative here as well. [55] It may be that over time, education of enforcement officers and changes in enforcement practices will open up more space for reporting and following through. On the other hand, the social stigma of prostitution is a major barrier to reporting. Prostitutes fear loss of anonymity and exposure to friends and family. Perhaps over time, decriminalization will decrease stigma; but there are good reasons to expect it will not.

The New Zealand regime expresses feminist values. It accepts the current reality that there is a large demand for commodified sexual services and focuses on minimizing the risks of a potentially risky business. But what most attracts me to the New Zealand model is that it encourages the self-organization of prostitutes both as workers and as political subjects. While collective action can perhaps improve working conditions in the managed sector, I would also hope to see increasing government and NGO support (perhaps a co-op incubator program?) for collectively operated workplaces.

 Other interventions

Prahba Kotiswaran concludes her review of sex work in India with the observation that the most effective interventions on behalf of workers have come from membership-based organizations run by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a sixty-thousand member sex workers’ organization based in Kolkata. The DMSC

“provides access to credit and savings schemes, educational facilities for sex workers and their children, primary health, and an avenue for cultural expression, while fostering an active political culture of protest against abusive customers, landlords, and brothel keepers. ….despite a highly abusive anti-sex work criminal law, an organization of sex workers has taken root …to achieve the very results of labor laws that the DMSC is so keen to have applied formally to the sex industry.” [56]

She goes on to say that self-regulation, although it has problems such as reproducing conservative stereotypes of “good’ and “bad” women, ought to be considered as an alternative to the police and courts.

“Sex workers in Kolkata interviewed preferred to have disputes resolved locally or by the DMSC-run self-regulatory boards rather than by state courts. THE DMSC organizes protest marches against physically abusive brothel- keepers and community sex workers are known to chase away violent customers or accost those who may have stolen from a sex worker or cheated her. The police often arrive too late to be of any use.” [57]

Laws are important. But as the above makes clear, perhaps even more important would be for feminists to pour the equivalent of time, money, and passion into the self-organization of prostitutes that now is devoted to pushing for and arguing about various legal regimes.

The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective is another model for self-organization. Like the DMSC, the NZPC originated as a response to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. The founding members of the organization came together out of anger and frustration at their social stigmatization, police harassment, unfair and arbitrary management practice in their workplaces which they had no legal right to redress, and the marginalization of sex workers in policy making. They also wanted to organize themselves to prevent the spread of HIV in the sex industry. In 1988, the group received funding from the New Zealand Minister of Health and opened a drop-in center in Wellington. The NZPC engages in advocacy as well as providing services, including advice and help on exiting (as well as entering) the industry. It was central to the movement toward legal reform and has remained very much involved in the implementation and evaluation of the reforms. The widespread and deep connections of the NZPC in the industry have been instrumental in facilitating researchers’ access and contributed to the quality of the information that has been gathered. (This is not to say that these studies are without some bias.)

Both DMSC and NZPC are inspiring projects worth careful study to see how they might be developed in other countries. Surely the huge differences between New Zealand and India indicate that in many places the self-organization of prostitutes is not impossible (although I do recognize many of the daunting difficulties). As with other women’s issues, the self-organization of prostitutes (not the organization of advocates for prostitutes) is the key.

In New Zealand, the NZPC was, and is, a fairly dominant voice representing sex workers. In other countries, there are competing feminist organizations representing prostitutes with different approaches to what should be done. I recognize there are downsides of any legal regime. I also take Kotiswaran’s point that sex markets differ and legal approaches that might work in one area may not be best in another. Still, I favor the New Zealand legal regime (which allows involvement of “third parties” but criminalizes coercion). I am especially interested to see what further interventions in policy might help to shift the balance even further away from “managed” to “self-managed” organization of the industry.

Whatever assessment any one of us makes on this topic, it is fundamental that feminists embrace the tremendous complexity of the issue before us, finding common ground where we can, and respecting the validity of the multiple perspectives that animate our dialogue. Most importantly, we need to bend our collective energies toward revolutionizing the global capitalist economy and challenging patriarchal powers, however and wherever we can.


[1Even language is contested in this debate. I do not use the term “prostituted women/persons” because it extinguishes the agency of people doing prostitution. On the other hand, I do not want to use the term sex workers instead of prostitutes, because that term elides the particularity of selling sexual services as a form of work. (On this point, see Nancy Holmstrom, this issue). At least some people who sell sexual services continue to use prostitute to describe themselves as workers, reclaiming the word in the same way that Melissa Gira Grant wants to reclaim the name whore.

[2This essay focuses on women selling sexual services. It is impossible to do justice to the particular experiences of men and transgender people in this work within space limitations of this article.

[3Melissa Farley, “Prostitution, Liberalism, and Slavery.” Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, v. 12, no. 3, 2013.

[4For an illustrative example, see Swedish Government National Board of Health and Welfare, Prostitution in Sweden 2007 (November, 2008) www.socialstyrelsen.se, november 2008.

[5However, there is fierce debate about the anti-sex trafficking movement, whether laws specifically addressed to sex-trafficking rather than to trafficking in general are necessary, how laws should be written (e.g. what should constitute evidence of coercion), and practices of enforcement. Compare, for example, the Swedish Institute Report, Targeting the Sex Buyer: stopping prostitution and trafficking where it all begins (2010) https://eng.si.se/areas-of-operatio... and Laura Maria Augustin, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (London: Zed Books, 2007). For reasons of space I don’t address these questions.

[6Women working out of their own homes distinguished between work and personal areas, for example not using their own bed for sex work. Gillian M. Abel, “Different stage, different performance: The protective strategy of role play on emotional health in sex work,” Social Science & Medicine 72 (2011), 1177-1184; Teela Sanders, ‘It’s Just Acting’: Sex Workers’ Strategies for Capitalizing on Sexuality,” Gender, Work and Organization, V.12 no. 4 (July 2005), pp. 319-342.

[7Playing the Whore (London: Verso, 2014),p.. 90

[8Laurie Shrage, “Feminist Perspectives on Sex Markets”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/...

[9Sven-Axel Månsson,Men’s Practices in Prostitution and Their Implications for Social Work; Martin A. Monto, “Prostitutes’ Customers: Motives and Misconceptions,” in Ronald Weitzer, ed, Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry, (Hoboken, N.J.: Taylor and Francis, 2009). For a review of the range of ideas on this question, see Nikolas Westerhoff, “Why Do Men Buy Sex,” Scientific American Mind. June 2009 Special Issue, Vol. 20 Issue 3, p70-75. Surveys in India found that 45.5-64% of customers were married, the majority living with their spouses. Prahba Kotiswaran, Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: Sex Work and the Law in India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), p. 241

[10There is much more to be said on this than can be dealt with here. Research based on internet exchanges and interviews with prostitutes’ about the services they provide, indicates that in great part the demand is for oral and vaginal sex. However, there are “niche” markets for other sexual practices. Culturally authorized racial fantasies also come into play. Additionally, the nature of fantasies enacted when men purchase services from other men may be different. See, for example, Juline Koken, David S. Bimbi, and Jeffrey T. Parsons, “Male and Female Escorts: A Comparative Analysis,” in Weitzer, ed., pp. 205-232.

[11Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) Chapter 3.

[12Hochschild, 181-184

[13Elizabeth Bernstein, Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 103-104; Janet Lever and Deanne Dolick, “Call Girls and Street Prostitutes: Selling Sex and Intimacy,” in Weitzer, ed., pp. 187-203.

[14Ine Vanwesenbeeck, “Burnout Among Female Indoor Sex Workers,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 34, No. 6, December 2005, pp. 627–639, esp. p. 627-628. See also, Teela Sanders, “A continuum of risk? The management of health, physical and emotional risks by female sex workers,” Sociology of Health & Illness Vol. 26 No. 5 2004, pp. 557–574. There is some evidence that street prostitutes are more likely than indoor prostitutes to use drugs to psych themselves up for their work. Lever and Dolick, p. 196.

[15Vanwesenbeeckk, pp. 635-636

[16Vanwesenbeeck, pp. 638.

[17Gillian Abel and Lisa Fitzgerald, “Risk and Risk Management in Sex Work post-Prostitution Reform Act: a public health perspective,” in Gilian Abel, Lisa Fitzgerald, Catherine Healy with Aline Taylor, eds., Taking the Crime Out of Sex Work: New Zealand Sex Workers’ Fight for Decriminalization (Bristol: The Policy Press, 2010), pp. 217-238, p. 231

[18Melissa Farley et.al. “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” Journal of trauma practice 2 (3/4), 2003 pp. 33-74. The validity of these results has been challenged on both the inadequacy of measuring PTSD on the basis of a 10 question survey and the over-representation of street prostitutes in the respondents. John Lowman, “Crown Expert-Witness Testimony in Bedford v. Canada: Evidence-Based Argument of Victim-Paradigm Hyperbole?”, in Emilv van der Meulen, Elya M. Durisin, and Victoria Love, eds. Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada (Vancouver-Toronto: UBC Press, 2013), pp. 230-250, esp. pp, 234-235.

[19Max Waltman, “Sweden’s prohibition of purchase of sex: The law’s reasons, impact, and potential,”Women’s Studies International Forum 34 (2011) 449–474. A study of 201 sex workers (including exotic dancers as well as prostitutes) in Victoria, B.C. found 50% reported past or current depression as compared to 6% of females and 3% of males in the general population. Cecilia Benoit and Alison Millar, Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers, Report funded by BC Health Research Foundation, Capital Health District, BC Centre of Excellence on Women’s Health (October 2001), p. 68.

[20Stephanie Church, Marion Henderson, Marina Barnard, Graham Hart, “Violence by clients towards female prostitutes in different work settings: questionnaire survey,” The BMJ Volume v. 322 no. 3 March 2001, pp. 524-525. A survey of over 700 prostitutes in New Zealand five years following the decriminalization of prostitution found that in the last 12 months, 13% of street workers and 7-10% of indoor workers had been physically assaulted; 39% of street workers and 9-16% of indoor workers had been threatened with physical violence. New Zealand Ministry of Justice, Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003, Wellington, New Zealand, May 2008, p. 56.

[21AVERT, Sex Workers and HIV/AIDS, http://www.avert.org/sex-workers-an...

[22In a few countries where prostitution is semi-legalized or decriminalized, failure to use a condom is a punishable offence. Abel and Fitzgerald, found that prostitutes did use the law to negotiate safe sex with clients., pp. 219-221 , esp. pp. 219-221.

[23“More Bang for Your Buck; Prostitution and the Internet,” The Economist August 9, 2014. In New Zealand, where it is illegal to have sex without a condom, 12% of street workers and 4-5% of indoor workers had unprotected vaginal sex in the last 12 months while 20% of street workers and 16% of indoor prostitutes working independently said that they had done unprotected blow jobs. On economic incentives for unprotected sex, see also Kotiswaran, p. 202

[24Kotiswaran, p. 216. Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 Ministry of Justice, Wellington, New Zealand, May 2008, pp. 66-69.

[25For example, Christine B.N. Chin, Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: Women and Migration in a Global City (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 98

[26Steven Bittle, “Still Punishing to ‘Protect’: Youth Prostitution Law and Policy Reform,” Emilv van der Meulen et. al., pp. 279-296.

[27Pat Mayhew and Elaine Mossman, Exiting Prostitution: Models of Best Practice. Crime and Justice Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, October 2007

[28As Kotiswaran makes clear, sex markets differ not only between countries but within them. While general principles might be articulated, the strategies for putting these principles into legal regulations will vary depending on local conditions. See, Chapter Six.

[29there can be validity problems when interviewing persons in prostitution, as opposed to interviewing survivors who left the industry. The latter are not under influence of third parties or otherwise dependent on continuing in prostitution, and are thus less likely to provide responses biased in favor of the sex industry. “, Max Waltman, “Assessing Evidence, Arguments, and Inequality in Bedford v. Canada,”
Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, Vol. 37, (2014), pp. 459-544 (2014).

[30For one discussion of sampling problems, see, Elaine Mossman, “Brothel Operators’ and support agencies’ experiences of decriminalization,” Abel et. al., pp. 121-122.

[31Elaine Mossman, International Approaches to Decriminalising or Legalising Prostitution, New Zealand Ministry of Justice October 2007

[32Barbara Sullivan, “When (Some) Prostitution is Illegal,” Journal of Law and Society, v. 37, no. 1 (March 2010), pp 85-104. See also Barbara G. Brents and Kathryn Hausbeck, “Violence and Legalized Brothel Prostitution in Nevada: Examining Safety, Risk, and Prostitution Policy,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 20 No. 3, March 2005, pp. 270-295

[33Report by the Federal Government on the Impact of the Act Regulating the Legal Situation of Prostitutes (Prostitution Act) Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Berlin (2007), p. 17. Such arrangements are also typical in Nevada (Brents & Hausbeck, op. cit.), the Netherlands (Vanwesenbeeck op. cit.), and India (Kotiswaran op. cit.) . The report also pointed out that new restrictions placed on social welfare and unemployment programs had reduced the opportunity for prostitutes to leave the business. Pp. 37-38.

[34Compare Max Waltman, op. cit., 2011 to Ann Jordan, The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients:A Failed Experiment in Social Engineering, Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor. Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Issue Paper # 4 (2012).

[35Selected extracts of the Swedish government report SOU 2010:49: The Ban against the Purchase of Sexual Services. An evaluation 1999-2008, (usually referred to as The Skarhed Report ) p. 28. The Swedish Board of Health and Welfare Report (op. cit) is much more circumspect than the Skarhed report in drawing conclusions about the law’s effect, given the very different and sometimes conflicting assessments they received from different informants such as the police, social workers, academics, and sex workers. A study to measure the effects of Norway’s law reform (following the Swedish model) in 2009 had similar difficulties since in Norway, also, there were not credible measures of the numbers in prostitution prior to the law or afterwards. The researchers’ “best guess” based on their informants’ observations was that street prostitution had declined substantially and that the indoor market was 10-20% lower. Acknowledging that the recession had decreased demand, the report nonetheless argued that the law had also contributed some unknown share toward driving down the prices charged. They commented that indoor workers had to work harder to make the same level of income as previously. Evaluation of Norwegian legislation criminalising the buying of sexual services (summary). For a critique of this research, Anette Brunovskis and May-Len Skilbrei,“The Evaluation of the Sex Purchase Act Brings Us no Closer to a Conclusion”(August, 2014), Fafo Institute. http://fafo.no/prostitution/

[36Skarhed Report, p. 23.

[37Niklas Jakobsson and Andreas Kotsadam, What explains attitudes toward prostitution? Working Papers in Economics No. 349, Goteborg University, April 2009.

[38Bernstein, pp. 151-153

[39Board of Health and Welfare Report, pp. 47-48. The Skarhed report simply denies this claim without acknowledging evidence supporting it.

[40A Krüsi, K Pacey, L Bird, C Taylor, J Chettiar, S Allan, D Bennett,J S Montaner, T Kerr, K Shannon, “Criminalisation of clients: reproducing vulnerabilities for violence and poor health among street-based sex workers in Canada—a qualitative study,” BMJ Open, 2014, no. 4.

[41Some informants consulted for the National Board of Health and Welfare Report, made this claim. Pp. 47-48

[42Some informants thought that the law had actually made it even less likely for prostitutes to report theft or violence. Susanne Dodillet and Petra Östergren, “The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects” Conference paper presented at the International Workshop: Decriminalizing Prostitution and Beyond: Practical Experiences and Challenges. The Hague, March 3 and 4, 2011 pp. 21-22.

[43This is also true in the United Kingdom where both selling and buying are legal but soliciting, advertising, renting a room to a prostitute for the purposes is illegal.

[44For one example, Bernstein, p. 90, also Kara Gillies, ”A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Canadian Anti-Pimping Law and How It Harms Sex Workers,” van der Meulen et. al., pp. 269-278.

[45“Being and Being Bought: An interview with Kajsa Ekis Ekman,” Meghan Murphey, Feminist Current (January 2014). http://feministcurrent.com/8514/being-and-being-bought-an-interview-with-kajsa-ekis-ekman/

[46In the US, beginning in the 1980’s, activists in the movement against battering demanded that police departments no longer allow officers discretion when responding to incidents of domestic violence. Arrest would, they argued, deter men from repeating the behavior. By 2005, almost half of all states had established mandatory arrest policies. Mounting evidence demonstrated that mandatory arrest had the opposite effect, increasing later incidents of abuse. In addition, police officers often arrested both parties and socially marginalized women (women of color, undocumented immigrants, lesbians, sex workers, etc) were particularly targeted for arrest.
Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, INCITE Women of Color Against Violence (South End Press, 2006), esp. Chapters 17 and 25. Web resource: http://www.incite-national.org/page...

[47This provision has the opposite problem of the Nordic model. There, innocent people may be penalized; here, exploiters may escape punishment.

[48New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective website http://www.nzpc.org.nz/index.php?pa... The NZPC is “uncomfortable” with the provision of the PRA that excludes immigrants from doing sex work, creating an illegal sector that is deeply hidden and undoubtedly very exploitative. Abel et. al, p. 262-3.

[49Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee, p. 35.

[50Seo-Young Cho, Axel Dreher and Eric Neumayer, “Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking?”World Development, 41, 2012, pp. 67-82.

[51Ronald Weitzer, “New Directions in Research on Human Trafficking The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science v. 653 no. 6 (May, 2014), pp. 6-24.

[52Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee , p. 167. Fears about increased sex-trafficking did shape the law reform, leading to the provision that criminalizes non-residents who sell sexual services.

[53Gillian M. Abel, Lisa J. Fitzgerald, Cheryl Brunton, “The Impact of Decriminalization on the Number of Sex Workers in New Zealand,” Journal of Social Policy,” v. 38 iss. 3 (July 209), pp. 515-531, p. 523.

[54Several studies of the legalized managed sector find that security is enhanced by formal and informal controls such as the proximity of other workers, alarms, and security cameras. See, e.g., Sullivan, Brents & Hausbeck, Abel et. al.)

[55Abel and Fitzgerald, pp. 227-229.

[56Kotiswaran, p. 248

* http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/

* This essay was developed in close collaboration with Nancy Holmstrom; we originally intended to write jointly but ended up with separate articles. Jan Haaken offered key insights on which I have drawn heavily. Thanks also to Meena Dhanda, Bill Resnick, and Liz Rappaport for their valuable feedback.

* Johanna Brenner is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Portland State University. She also served as director of the University’s Women’s Studies Program. Among other periodicals, she has written for New Left Review and Monthly Review. Her books include Women and the Politics of Class (Monthly Review Press, 2000) and Rethinking the Political: Women, Resistance, and the State (University Chicago Press, 1995).

Charlie Hebdo – And now what? The events, their impact and the issues at play

The  article Cynicism of colour-blind equal opportunity racism has generated some debates among our readers. Below, we are reproducing an article reflecting the views of some critics. The authors are leaders of the Fourth International active in the NPA, France. The article is being reproduced from International Viewpoint. -- Administrator, Radical Socialist


Charlie Hebdo – And now what? The events, their impact and the issues at play.

Friday 23 January 2015, by François Sabado, Pierre Rousset

“So you no longer want to hear about classes and their struggles? You’ll get the plebs and disjointed multitudes. You no longer want peoples? You’ll get packs and tribes. You no longer want parties? You’ll get the despotism of public opinion!”

Daniel Bensaïd, Éloge de la politique profane (In praise of lay politics)

While it is too early to ascertain all the consequences of the events of recent days, we should nonetheless take stock of what has happened. We have experienced something historic. First and foremost because of the strength and size of the demonstrations that took place on the weekend of January 10th and January 11th. Never before have more than five million people simultaneously taken to the streets across the country.

Whatever the confusion in the minds of participants, their reaction and behaviour showed that the demonstrations were a tremendous expression of fraternal feeling. Participants chatted amongst themselves and helped one another move along amidst the crush of the masses of people who had gathered. Some scenes on the short-lived afternoons of the 10th and 11th brought back memories of the demonstrations of 1995 or even 1968, with solidarity as the dominant theme.

With almost five million people in attendance, workers accounted for a large share of the ranks of marchers, with many young people as well. The demonstrations had a popular character and took place in city centres, but also in many suburban areas as well. While not specifically “social and trade-union movement” or “social struggle” in nature, they showed that society as such was mobilized. While such an assessment is open to debate, it appears the gatherings brought together “the people of the Left”. Within this fraternal outpouring against barbarism and terror and for democratic freedoms and free expression, we should also note the presence of placards and symbols against all forms of racism –anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim racism. In a similar vein, the repeated chants of “We are all Charlie” should not be misinterpreted. In taking up this slogan, the millions of people in attendance were not expressing their support for the magazine’s editorial line. A large majority of those chanting “We are all Charlie” were more or less familiar with the magazine but didn’t actually read it.

“We are all Charlie” burst out as a cry of human solidarity against the murders. It captured a range of opinions. The idea of a “working-class Charlie” was even put forward – in order to link solidarity with the murdered journalists with the need to mobilize in defense of social rights. The formulation is open to debate, but the idea is a correct one in that it seeks to inject social and democratic content into the anger and sadness.

This is the groundswell from French society that has been expressed since January 7th and anti-capitalists should be part of it, engaging in dialogue with the millions of people who have been involved. These were not reactionary demonstrations. The dominant themes were not support for cross-party national unity or the law-and-order and anti-democratic measures announced by the government. Society went into action, spontaneously, and with a great deal of confusion, but in a progressive direction all the same. This is the starting point for our thinking and it’s in this framework that we must assess the problems that now confront us.

Problem number one: cross-party national unity. We were right to decry initiatives aimed at creating cross-party national unity, whether with (leader of the right-wing UMP and former president) Nicolas Sarkozy or (leader of the far-Right FN) Marine Le Pen. It was even more justified to denounce the “international satraps” who joined French President François Hollande in his operation in favour of French imperialism and the various imperialist coalitions. It is a huge scandal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gabonese President Ali Bongo, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other freedom-killers were invited to the march. No joint appeals should be issued with Hollande, the Socialists or the UMP; no marching together with them at the head of the demonstration; no common organization for such initiatives; and no “presidential” roundtables to cap it all off. From this angle, it should be noted that (former Left Front presidential candidate and leader of the Left Party) Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Left Front (Front de Gauche) initially provided cover for the Hollande operation, but backed away on the afternoon of the 10th when the whole matter was becoming altogether too compromising. As for us, we were right to voice these criticisms, but we should have given more sustained priority to solidarity with the millions of demonstrators. After all, people were not fooled. They took to the streets, but not to support political operations and manœuvres. What they take away from the marches will not be the presence of a cordoned-off handful of blood-stained world leaders, but rather the involvement of millions of ordinary women and men.

Problem number two: the mobilization of Arab-Muslim youth. Tens of thousands of Franco-Algerian, Franco-Moroccan and Franco-Tunisian people were present in the marches, with a large number of flags from the countries of the Maghreb, among others. But the majority of them were not. Charlie Hebdo’s editorial “line” kept a number of them away, as did the feeling that the authorities have a double standard when it comes to punishing hate speech (with the anti-Semitic Black comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala sentenced and racist author and commentator Éric Zemmour not). The low level of mobilization in Marseille is an indicator of the uneven character of the marches. There is a real danger of a major split within working-class opinion, and one of our priority tasks has to be to fight to ward off this threatened split. The first way to do this is by fighting against austerity policies and their impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged living in suburban areas. We also have to fight for equal rights, most notably for foreigners’ right to vote in elections. Revolutionaries have to lead the fight against Islamophobia, and all racist acts must be denounced. We have to defend the right of Muslims to practise their religion, and we have to defend mosques when they are attacked. The workers and democratic movement must stand by their side. This starts with tangible demonstrations of solidarity, through support to children in the schools, for example. The Arab-Muslim population must be defended against any type of aggression when it is attacked simply for being Arab or Muslim.

This anti-racism also applies to the fight against anti-Semitism. More than ever, and however difficult it may be, we have to stress the difference between the Zionist policies of the state of Israel and the Jewish population. We must defend the Jewish population against any type of aggression, when it is attacked simply for being Jewish.

Third problem: the government’s attempt to use the events to beef up its “anti-terror” legal arsenal with draconian laws along the lines of the Patriot Act pushed through by the U.S. government after 9-11. The stakes here are very high. Terrorism can’t be defeated with attacks on fundamental freedoms. Working-class and democratic organizations must come out firmly against any government measures of this sort. This means refusing to participate directly or indirectly in the upcoming meetings on the “security pact” put forward by the Socialists.

Fourth problem: avoiding a “clash of barbarisms”, between imperialist barbarism and that of organizations like the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda. Imperialist barbarism and its dictatorial supporters in situ oppress millions of people daily around the world. This is the fertile ground on which fundamentalist and terrorist organizations prosper. They feed off of international interventions – such as the ones led by the USA and other Western powers in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Iraq; or alongside regional powers such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Often, the growth of these fundamentalist organizations was initially funded and encouraged by Washington or by states such as Pakistan. Now, however, they are pursuing their own policy and their own strategy of confrontation.

We must never forget one basic truth: the terrorist violence of these fundamentalist movements is directed first and foremost against people in Muslim countries. They attack all freedoms and all fundamental rights. They play a major counter-revolutionary role – against the progressive aspirations of the “Arab springtime”, for example. They mete out levels of terror reminiscent of fascist movements in the 1930s. They are enemies of humankind. Our comrades in Pakistan characterize some of them as religious fascisms, a label which is certainly open to debate. But these forces must be fought, at a time when they are carrying out an increasing number of barbaric acts from Paris to northern Nigeria. We must fight them in each of our countries, but also through international solidarity – by fighting against imperialist wars; by supporting progressive movements resisting the fundamentalist offensive against Kobanî, against Aleppo and in Pakistan; and by defending victims of their intolerance wherever they may be.

Fifth problem: our weakness and the overall weakening of the working-class movement in its historic bastions, especially in Europe. Capitalist globalization has plunged our societies into an endless downward spiral of social crises. Casual forms of work are spreading and taking on extreme forms. Neither the “left of the Left” nor the trade unions are in a position to provide a radical response to the radical attacks of globalized capital. In such conditions, fundamentalism (of all religions) and the new far-Right (xenophobic and racist) is laying claim to the ideological ground of radicalism. We need a broad international anti-fascist and anti-fundamentalist resistance front, but also an activist Left capable of providing a radical alternative to capitalism. To achieve this, such a Left has to be rooted among those sectors hit hardest by job insecurity. This is not the case today, and this is one of our Achilles’ heels.

On top of all these problems, there are specific things about the political situation in France that have to be kept in mind. Will President Hollande – in Bonapartist fashion — manage to use this crisis to raise himself more or less above the fray of party politics and his own Socialist Party to come out on top in the 2017 presidential elections? In keeping with his cross-party national-unity operation, will he manage to pursue his austerity agenda, thereby worsening the socio-economic condition of millions of working people? Will he manage to contain the Right and far-Right, who have been marginalized by the events of recent days?

The dynamic of social mobilization that we have seen over the past few days also points to another possibility. The indignation and democratic aspirations on display could take on a social character – through struggles and mobilizations for the right to dignity, against social injustice, against all forms of oppression, and for equal rights. These battles can be waged together to overcome the division that gives so much strength to those who rule over us.

Anti-capitalists must do everything in their power to deepen the democratic resurgence that we have just witnessed.

Article written for Viento Sur (Spanish State). Translated by ESSF.