Disclaimer: This piece is a submission from a mass organizer and does not in any way reflect the determined line of the FTP movement or the People’s Voice News collective.
When we, as revolutionary communists, set about doing our work, we say we must deeply embed ourselves within the masses and take up their struggles as our own. We do not just say this as propaganda, or to ingratiate ourselves to the masses. We say this because we know if we are allowed to separate from the masses, our material pressures and incentives will diverge from those of the masses, and we will fall into adventurism or opportunism and our work will suffer. The material pressures and incentives which direct the activity of online content creators diverge sharply from the masses, and a reliance on bourgeois social media platforms as spaces for community and analysis has produced anti-social and anti-people trends within not just the revolutionary communist movement, but the broader so-called “leftist” community as a whole.
The pressures of real life political organizing do not always produce organizations capable of practicing the mass line, but these pressures will push organizations, which are unable to make thorough and considered analysis or align their work to this analysis, to liquidation. We have recently seen this within the North American Maoist movement. The problem being highlighted here is that the content creation space rewards idealism, toxicity and surface-level analysis. While we as revolutionary communists might look at the absurd drama from pseudo-leftist online communities like “debate-bro” YouTube with contempt and confusion, there is a contradiction coming out of our own online community which could cause the masses to look at us the same way. Certain online influencers have adopted the hyperbole and toxicity, the reactionary moralism and affinity for conspiratorial thinking, and the liberalism of the radical liberal milieu of sites like Twitter and Instagram. However, their adaptation to the algorithm of these platforms has led them to launder genuine Christo-fascist ideology and talking points inherited from the anti-communist group AF3IRM as Proletarian Feminism. They present these things in our online spaces with Revolutionary Communist language. These influencers have been very successful, a symptom of a movement which remains terminally online, and threaten to break our unity into camps based more on personality and brand loyalty than politics. The brand that these influencers are pushing is “Sex Work Abolition”, and we must not allow ourselves to become unwilling advertisements for this brand.
In this discussion, the following are my guiding principles as they were informed by the last three years of investigation that I have conducted on the subject:
Actionable Tasks for Building towards a United Working Class Regarding Sex Work, Generally:
1. Support sex workers’ self-determination and sex workers’ unions in their fight for labor rights.
2. Fight violence against all sex workers.
3. Campaign against the social stigmatization of sex work.
“The masses are the makers of history.”
By organizing themselves and working together, sex workers are already working towards creating real, lasting change that benefits their communities and advances their rights as workers. In the struggle for the rights and safety of sex workers, there is no substitute for community organizing and community defense. Before we explore community organizing in the context of sex work in America, I think it is important to define community defense. An operational definition of community defense, here, may include programs or measures that engage in:
- Establishing safe spaces for sex workers to congregate, exchange information, and share resources.
- Developing networks of mutual support, such as peer counseling or mentoring programs, to help sex workers connect with each other and build social capital.
- Creating public awareness campaigns to challenge negative stereotypes and stigmatization of sex work.
- Organizing direct actions, such as protests, to raise public awareness about harmful policies.
But the depth and breadth of current and potential organizing amongst sex workers, specifically when looking at it with the goal of community defense, deserves its own time and space in order to flush out useful frameworks for and operational definitions of sex workers’ community defenses.
Generally speaking, we understand that Community Defense is the practice of communities coming together to defend themselves against all forms of oppression and exploitation, whether it be from the state, the police, or reactionary groups. It is a collective action that seeks to build power within communities most impacted by these forces, and to create networks of support that can provide safety, resources, and political education. In the context of defending sex workers, community defense means standing up against the forces that seek to criminalize, stigmatize, and harm sex workers, including abolitionist groups that seek to erase the autonomy and agency of sex workers. It means organizing to provide resources and support to sex workers, creating safe spaces for them to organize and build power, and actively opposing any attempt to harm or silence them.
The “abolition” movement’s line on this self organized movement of sex workers is both tailist and commandist, in opposition to the Mass Line. This tension between commandist and tailist tendencies within sex work abolitionism lead to a contradiction, as the criminalization of sex work can have negative consequences for the safety, health, and rights of sex workers, while the absence of genuine support and collectively-led alternatives for those “exiting” sex work leave everyone vulnerable to further exploitation and abuse.
On the one hand, sex work abolitionists take a commandist approach by advocating for the criminalization of everything surrounding sex work and promoting a top-down approach to “ending the exploitation of sex workers.” This contradiction plays out in the dismissal of sex worker unions and advocacy groups as the “pimp lobby”, which undermines the agency and autonomy of sex workers and denies their right to self-determination and collective organizing.
SWabolitionists argue that sex work is inherently oppressive and exploitative and that the only way to truly end this exploitation is to provide sex workers with alternative means of employment and support, and to challenge the societal and economic structures that drive people into sex work in the first place, but do they do this? And, who are their allies in practice? Namely, what is the history of sex work abolition in America, and who are Af3irm, Khara, and Esperanza’s affiliates?
We consider the sex work abolitionists approach to organizing sex workers to be tailist, because they necessarily dismiss existing unions, trying to de-radicalize their movements. SWabolitionists categorize “sex work” separately from other forms of labor and fail to recognize the larger forces at play in the exploitation of women. The exploitation of women in “sex work” is not an isolated phenomenon, but is rather informed by the same material conditions that inform all shapes of wage labor under capitalism. This includes the threat of sexual violence, which women in all forms of wage labor face, but is particularly pronounced for those in the sex trade, do the the stigma and lack of protection for these workers. The assertion that sex workers’ unions are merely ” Soros-funded pimps unions” has been proven false through the tireless organizing and activism of sex workers themselves, and, is the kind of reactionary rhetoric you get from tailist “organizers.”
“Stigma is directed at people in the sex trade no matter how they got there. Why is sex buying not equally stigmatized?” This is a direct quote from the Bodies Back Model and an excellent example of the inherent contradictions in the logic of a decriminalization model that involves policing. We, do see self-advocating sex workers groups being stigmatized by Sex Work abolitionists in a way that normalizes violence against sex workers, but, we will put another pin in this and revisit the violent role of social stigma when we are ready to visit the subject of social transformation as we understand it. Returning to the quote, we see that the argument is as follows: end social stigma toward people who sell sex for something of value by shaming the act of buying sexual services as exceptionally exploitative. This logic fragments the reality of a buyer-seller relationship, buying and selling sex happen in the same ‘act;’ in fact, it logically follows that stigmatizing all buying of sexual services beyond the conservative, patriarchal stigma that already exists necessarily brings stigma to the provider of these sexual services and the worker in pursuit of these acts.
Criminalization of sex buying is the criminalization of sex work, because you cannot separate the sex worker from the policing inherent to the criminalization of sex buying. The worker, the person, is inseparable from this process. Just as we cannot un-weave the direct thread connecting the historical role and the present role of local police, state police, federal police, and religious hate groups in the sex abolition movement. Herein, lies the problem with the ideological foundation of sex abolitionism; the contradiction is actually between Sex work abolition and prison abolition. The inherently carceral nature of sex work abolition is what creates these many, many logical contradictions, which serve to create confusion and ineffective decision-making in revolutionary organizing spaces. I think it is worth noting that what we are discussing is something that has done and is doing harm to our communities; so, for people perpetuating this cycle of violence to acknowledge this fact, they would have to take accountability for their actions; for this reason, I think there is strong incentive for swabolitionists to reframe what carceral feminism means in order to avoid sitting with this harm, correcting their line, and de-investing themselves from the police state within which they have found refuge.
It is crucial to support sex workers in their fight for their rights and to oppose dogmatic analysis within the radical women’s movement. As revolutionary Proletarian Feminists, we must recognize that sex workers are workers and deserve to be treated as such, with all the rights and protections afforded to any other worker. The radical women’s movement must align itself with the struggle of sex workers, rather than dismiss or threaten them. We, as organizers, can either lead the masses as they are making history, or be left behind.
“The working class must defend itself from the attacks of the oppressor class. This is the basic principle of community defense.” – George Jackson, “Blood in My Eye“
If you aren’t familiar with who Af3irm is, check out Purple Rose’s article “‘Transphobia Will Not Be Tolerated’: AF3IRM’s Hidden Tolerance for Transmisogyny” and to familiarize with the new faction which has split with Af3irm (but not broke with their line), refer to their own article “Our Split with Af3irm: shedding light on our issues to encourage our growth towards a real, revolutionary feminist movement.”
The people who have split from af3irm are radicalizing in a counter-revolutionary direction; the new radical faction forming under the consolidated leadership of Khara and Esperanza is simply a continuation of Af3irm’s work, not a break, which is why we have dubbed this radical element within the sex abolition movement REAF3IRM. It is important to engage in informed and nuanced discussions about the challenges and issues facing the sex work community. These harassment campaigns are an attempt by the ruling class to control the narrative and shape public opinion in their favor regarding the policies they are implementing, maintaining their hold on power and preserving their interests. Aligning yourself with this interest makes you and your militancy counter-revolutionary.
Esperanza has participated in disinformation campaigns against Purple Rose, Maya Moreno, and Kate Zen, and by relentlessly reproducing anti-semitic rhetoric, Esperanza is bad-jacketing sex workers’ unions as Soros-funded pimp lobbyists. She diligently propagandized on all of her platforms. At the same time, Khara has participated in disinformation campaigns against dissenting voices in their spaces, and all of these disinformation rallies are coordinated defenses amongst a general clique, rather than isolated events. Once contained within Af3irm and Af3irm allies, bad faith actors are now also consolidating around reaf3irm. Anyone who fabricates stories for political gain, deserves scrutiny. The first three signatores to the document “Our Split from Af3irm…” are in the top five of the most active individuals in the harrassment campaigns against sex workers and others who came to their defense.
It is time to unpin the conversation on social stigma and take a look at our social media consumption. For us the internet has become white noise, always in the background; it’s a given part of our lives. For the capitalists, it has been an invaluable tool for swiftly consolidating wealth. There is this quote from F.D. Signifier, in his discussion on The Breadtube Panopticon: “when youre in this space you just have to assume everything you do is being watched, and evaluated. The very nature of releasing content and being on social media means that you are purposefully putting yourself under surveillance. This creates this unnatural headspace…where we police ourselves without the state having to directly intervene to to exert control.” He continues: “breadtube isnt broken its working exactly as designed….T1J points out that breadtube, more than anything wasn’t intentionally created to be a leftist space;” their OG creators weren’t even aware of the clique of followers Youtube was “amassing” for them, not as revolutionaries, but as creatives. Breadtube is not a political movement; it’s not planned at all. Breadtube is primarily a creation of the algorithm; it is not beholden to the loyal fan base. It’s just how algorithms work: it mathematically calculates which variables of its website can be combined “to create a valuable and viable specialized market that had yet to be tapped into.” Further, this applies to the design behind all media algorithms; they are using our tendencies to optimize us as consumers. We understand how capitalists have forged the alt-right online, but do we understand how they are optimizing our movements to be capitalized upon? Praxis is being subverted for the culture industry. F. D. Signifier says “it has monopolized and galvanized the attention of those closest to supporting social action… and gotten us overly concentrated on stan culture, parasocial relationships, drama, and beef.” It is within this reactionary current that “organizers” and influencers have ripped Purple Rose and Maya Moreno out to sea for investigating organizations aligning under the sex work abolitionist flag. Below is a timeline highlighting this harassment campaign:
29 JULY 2019 Af3irm publishes article on their own website campaigning against DSA resolution #53
02 AUGUST 2019 Red Canary Song publishes “Rights, Not Rescue: A response to Affirm…”. This is a response to affirms anti-trafficking line and a propaganda piece for DSA Resolution #53 pushing DSAs new line on SW: https://medium.com/@Redcanarysong/in-support-of-dsa-res-53-decrim-platform-8eb4d164588
29 JUNE 2020 Purple Rose creates twitter specifically to engage with Af3irm.
02 JULY 2020 Purple Rose begins tweeting at affirm/HI/LA about carceral feminism and affirms transphobia problem
10 JULY 2020 af3irm hawai’i tweets that Purple Rose is a made up troll….
27 JULY 2020 Esperanza joins Affirm and publishes “A Socialist, Feminist, and Trans…” in response to Red Canary Song’s “Rights, Not Rescue…”
27 JULY 2020 Purple Rose starts a tweet thread trying to talk to Esperanza (a new member of Af3irmLa) about the trans-misogyny in af3irm and in the quotes Esperanza used in her article.
28 JULY 2020 Maya Moreno (of Red Canary Song) publishes, “Dear Bootlicker, Esperanza” in response to “A Socialist, Feminist, and Transgender Perspective…” where she recounts the transmisogny in Af3irms partnership with WeWork to fight a decriminalization bill in NYC: https://medium.com/@babecolate/dear-bootlicker-esperanza-fonseca-3db88a6a199e
28 JULY 2020 Nadine tweets that Maya Moreno’s article is “Fake News”
30 JULY 2020 Af3irm allegedly caused Purple Rose’s instagram to be reported for sexual content; Purple Rose’s instagram account is suspended.
10 AUGUST 2020 Purple Rose publishes “The Af3irm agenda. I am genuinely Concerned…”
14 AUGUST 2020 Kate Zen from Red Canary Song publishes “Dear Esperanza”: https://medium.com/@katezenjoy/dear-esperanza-5aa7db4d501a
18 AUGUST 2020 Esperanza Publishes “The Problem with STEFS, Dear Kate”
20 AUGUST 2020 Affirm Hawaii publishes, “What is Internalized Colonialism?” they named it The affirm agenda, but the actual title seems to appear as an image within the article. This is a response to purple roses “The Affirm Agenda,” meant to debunk her (and others).
21 AUGUST 2020 Purple Rose posts more tweet threads, tagging Affirm, and fact-checking them: https://twitter.com/PurpleRose0666/status/1296991932103655426
21 AUGUST 2020 Jollene, A3irm’s co-founder, begins to refer to Purple Rose as a batterer and threatens to doxx her, labelling all other ‘dogpiling’ as ‘VAW-apologists’. link to one example where they frame this as Purple Rose refusing to go through a transformativejustice process: https://twitter.com/jollenelevid/status/1297005397664870402
21 AUGUST 2020 Esperanza tweets that Purple Rose’s article is a part of the pimp-lobby’s Soros-funded disinformation campaign
2 SEPTEMBER 2020 Jollene of Af3irmLA, labels Purple Rose a batterer, partially doxxes her
Batterer is a term applied to anyone who upholds the sex trade. The implication is in militantly defending sex workers from batterers, we must militantly oppose Purple Rose. This is a veiled threat of physical violence meant to intimidate Purple Rose (and others). : https://twitter.com/jollenelevid/status/1301369289929236485
12 SEPTEMBER 2020 Af3irm Hawaii publishes “The Nordic Model Needs to be Toppled” also known as the Bodies Back Model (Propoganda retaining key issues with the Nordic Model).
12 DECEMBER 2020 Purple Rose publishes “A Timeline of Af3irm’s Carceral Discourse…”
21 DECEMBER 2020 Purple Rose publishes “Follow the Money…” a response to Af3irms follow-the-money-rhetoric and an investigation into their claims that they receive no funding and are not a 501c3.
7 FEBRUARY 2021 Purple Rose publishes “Af3irm’s Hidden Tolerance of Transmisogyny” : https://purplerose0666.medium.com/transphobia-will-not-be-tolerated-af3irms-hidden-tolerance-for-transmisogyny-7104b46dd9ca
Monica Jones. Remember that name. Monica Jones should not have have her name invoke the thought of the wretched Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, and Roe-Sepowitz does not get to escape what she did to Monica Jones. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz is the (public) mastermind behind Project Rose. A sex work exit/diversion program that was funded through ASU-STIR (Arizona State University’s School of Social Work’s Sex Trafficking Intervention Research). Purple Rose thoroughly covers Project Rose; here are some highlights: Roe-Sepowitz was a faculty member at Monica Jones’ university. Monica debated Roe-Sepowitz and challenged key aspects of Project Rose, including the rescue narrative. The following day, Monica was arrested in a raid, ‘diverted’ into an exit program, and forced into Project Rose’s psychoeducation classes (aka DIGNITY); the day of her arrest she saw Roe-Sepowitz at the church hosting DIGNITY. Roe-Sepowitz refused to acknowledge Monica Jones. ASU-STIR receives an astonishing amount of federal funding for their projects; funding for this and other interesting organizations is, also, covered extensively in Purple Rose’s reporting on Twitter and Medium. Khara responded to these reports by claiming to know nothing about Project Rose *other than* that the program seemed like a good-ole-college-try; she goes so far as to say that, she doesn’t really know anything about it, but, she does know that Monica Jones would have been arrested anyway, and, in her opinion, the diversion program was actually good for her.
Project Rose was shut down after a long fight from Monica Jones, supported by SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project). Presumably learning from the opposition Project Rose received, Roe-Sepowitz moved on to her next project, with Khara Jabola-Carolus: funding the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women’s (HSCSW) “research” on sex trafficking in Hawaii. While conducting this research Khara formed the Af3irmHawaii chapter, which, of course, she also assumed leadership of.
In the tweet linked above, Khara has expertly explained in a few words that the feds have inserted themselves in the Hawaiian community with a hotline (which, spoilers, is an ICE tip-line). The report she is promoting, to support the efficacy of the hotline, is the release of HSCSW’s “research” on online sex buying. The article she shares explicitly states that the research includes useful tips for police. At a stump speech for her partner’s congressional campaign Khara tells the people all about the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women. Side Note: while her partner, Kaniela Ing, did end up losing the congressional race; he was later found to have misappropriated more than 60% of the campaign funds collected across his various legislative races. Kaniela failed to disclose $116,474 of campaign contributions and expenditures over the course of five years, funds which were sometimes used for personal expenses including rent on his houses in Maui and Oahu and paying the balance off on Khara’s credit card. Curious. Anyway, at one of these campaign speeches, Khara described HSCSW and her role as its director as: a government agency where she gets to be “the feminist police.”
Khara’s SWabolition work has directly lead to increased activity of police, including ICE, in Hawaii; as recently as March 2020, AffirmHawaii under her leadership and with her support ran a online and in-person harrassment campaign against a massage parlor and a parallel campaign supporting her personal followers and the chapters followers to report anonymous tips to an ICE tip-line, which lead to the arrest of an immigrant for violating U.S. immigration law. Who keeps us safe, again?
Reaf3irm supports Khara’s Bodies Back Model for dismantling the sex work industry. The #BodiesBack model is their “foundation and starting point” for “abolishing the sex trade.”The Bodies Back Model states that, “prison and police abolition are urgently necessary but…” not as urgent and necessary as police and state “intervention” being done alongside the decriminalization of sex work. Did you catch that? In Khara’s model, police intervention in the sex worker community takes supremacy over prison abolition, because eradicating the sex worker’s community is the objective of the AF3IRM/REAF3IRM brand. “Our Split with Af3irm…” doesn’t address the obvious state collaboration and fed influence in their ideological cornerstone.
Both Af3irm and Reaf3irm have aligned themselves with the state and the prison industrial complex; they have shown a willingness to send vulnerable women to ICE concentration camps…so far, they have limited themselves to veiled threats of violence and juvenile online harassment campaigns. But this new faction promises to be more militant, more radical, and less publicly aligned with the police state. When they say they want to take to the streets to fight sex workers they perceive as ‘the pimp lobby;’ when they say they want to politically educate sex workers they perceive as “backward elements” in the sex trade; when they refuse to denounce snitch work, I believe them.
The sex work abolition network is not just posturing, they are positioning themselves to be a violent scourge on organized labor. To sex worker communities under attack, community defense means defending ourselves against these reactionary organizations and anti-people trends. To prioritize anything other than the safety of sex workers, leaves our whole community vulnerable to abuse from the state and state collaborators.
Fight the Stigma: All Wage Labor is a Form of Prostitution
“Why don’t you live for the people, why don’t you struggle for the people, why don’t you die for the people?”
Proletarian feminism recognizes the exploitation of women in the capitalist system and sees the struggle for women’s liberation as intrinsically tied to the struggle for a socialist revolution. All wage labor is, in essence, a form of prostitution and the categorization of “sex work” as a separate category from other forms of labor is idealistic. There is no special blend of capitalist exploitation and misogyny when it comes to Sex Work. We understand that wage labor is a kind of slavery; we understand that under capitalism, the vast majority of workers are forced to sell their labor power to an employer in order to survive. In this sense, all wage labor is a form of prostitution, as workers are essentially selling their bodies and their time to an employer. This exploitation is compounded for women, who often face additional barriers to accessing decent income and face greater levels of wage discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, but this exploitation is not exceptional.
These sex worker unions are a powerful force for change. They can enact a wide range of employment standards and conditions, including adequate working hours, fair wages, social protection, and they help to maintain the right to form, join, and ultimately expand trade unions. The exploitation of women under capitalism is not limited to the sex trade, but is a systemic problem that affects all forms of wage labor. Sex workers unions are fighting for the rights of sex workers, for better working conditions, for access to healthcare and education, and for an end to the violence and discrimination that they face on a daily basis. But they cannot do it alone. They need our solidarity. We need to stand with Sex Workers Unions and join them in this struggle for the rights and respect of all those who are oppressed and marginalized in our community. To truly fight for women’s liberation, we must resist patriarchal violence, dedicate ourselves to the application of the mass line, including sex workers, and work to build a socialist revolution that will abolish wage labor and the capitalist system that perpetuates it.
”They can do anything they want to to us. You have to say: I am a revolutionary. I am the proletariat. I am the people. I am not the pig. You have got to make the distinction.” – Fred Hampton
One thought on “Supporting Sex Workers’ Right to Organize: A Proletarian Feminist Perspective”
I agree that the alignment with police is a huge problem, the willingness to throw sex workers under the bus in the name of “rescue” following Lenin’s chauvinist line that communists shouldn’t organize with “prostitutes as prostitutes”, is abhorrent. The rejection of decrim is inherently an acceptance of the police state and the criminalization of people who are daily exposed to the violent ravages of cisheteo-patriarchy & white supremacist Euro-imperialism.
This analysis and rejection of affirm/Reaffirm does seem to miss a critical point though, that as long patriarchal-capitalism and white Supremacy exist, sex work is a site where all the forms of capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal abuse and violence come to roost. And the abolition of the sex trade industry should absolutely be a goal of communists, part and parcel of the abolition of the state, the police, the prisons, and the structure of patriarchal-capitalist class power