--- Appendix D ---

Love vs. prostitution

Excerpts from Daniel's part 6
( with comments by Ben )
( Daniel, July 2003 • Ben, March 2004 )

Daniel: I retain a certain view of the world as consisting ultimately of autonomous individuals who have the right to retain that autonomy and combine in associations of their own choosing--and I think Marx did too [...] If we are to believe that there is a possible state of affairs called "freedom", which is a state in which no being is forced to do anything that it does not want or need to do; then in my view, it must be possible for two beings to come into a relation which facilitates the exchange of different energies, such that the freedom of both beings is maintained throughout, and at the conclusion of, the exchange.

Ben comments: OK so far ...

If the form of this relation--the ‘agreement’, or contract, to which both parties adhere in order to carry out the exchange--is not skewed from the beginning in favour of one of its parties, then I have to believe that an exchange of equivalents is indeed possible and real. That is what I believe Marx argued--that the exchange of equivalents is not an oxymoron, but something that is not possible under the conditions of commodity production: the production of goods for sale (currency exchange) on a market. The problem with markets is not that they involve exchange per se, but that they involve a particular type of exchange which relies for its existence on an infamous "third" item, that is just as autonomous and exchangeable as the first two, and by means of which the value of the former two items is defined, confirmed and agreed. That third item is currency.

Ben comments:

Actually no. This is completely and 100% wrong

(1) The problem with markets is that they involve exchange. That is what markets are. That is what commodity production is. The development of the money-commodity (ie: of Daniel's "third" item) is the inevitable result of any system in which people exchange one thing for another.

In many prisons, for example, the role of "currency" is played by cigarettes--which are well suited for facilitating exchange (ie: they are usable by themselves, are more-or-less uniform in quality and are divisible into arbitarily small amounts--or at least down to a single cigarette).

(2) The exchange of equivalents is never really possible because no two things can ever be completely equal (and if they were completely equal--then why exchange them?)

(3) But the big inequality (ie: that grows into the class struggle) emerges when labor power is the commodity that is being exchanged.

commodity exchange implicitly involves the ‘assymetric’ exchange of energies. The two entities are not really engaging in an equal exchange at all, because that infamous "third item" in fact represents the monitoring presence of a third party which--all things being equal--always takes the side of the party with the greatest amount of property.

Ben comments:

Daniel misunderstands the problem. The market is self-organizing. Exchange rates and prices are the result of a large number of actions of independent, autonomous individuals who are in competition with one another.

There is no need for any external force or external authority for exchange rates to unfold in the way that they do. If a buyer is not willing to give you an acceptable quantity of apples in exchange for your potatoes--you don't give him your potatoes for his apples.

The need for an enforcement machine that takes the side of those with property only emerges as the social cleavage between the rich and the poor grows ...

Barter on the contrary relies on no such third item or adjudicator to circulate products through a social body; it is rather an exchange between two freely consenting beings, the terms of which are defined relative to each particular instance of an exchange.

Ben comments: Daniel's description of barter is correct. What he misses is that buying and selling for money is the simple, natural, logical and inevitable result of barter.

The money-commodity did not require any external authority to invent it or create it.

In the example above: no head convict in a prison needs to send out the word that cigarettes are the official prison currency.

Rather--this development is spontaneous: it is self-organizing -- the result of a large number of actions taking place in parallel -- without any need for a central directing authority. Man evolved without help from god--and money evolved without the need for direction from any external authority.

In this context, it seems to me that there is nothing necessarily wrong with the idea of a contract as such. If an equal exchange of energies is to take place, in which the freedom of both parties is maintained throughout, then both the exchanging parties must come to an agreement which is consciously known and equally acceptable to both.

Ben comments: People make agreements all the time. The problem comes up when labor power is exchanged--because labor power is unique: it creates more value than it will be exchanged for.

This unique property of labor power means that exchanges involving labor power, by their nature, are never equal. But this is not the result of an external authority. It is the result of individual interactions that may or may not be considered voluntary. The agreement to exchange labor power may be acceptable to both parties--but it may still be the result of duress: starvation is not pleasant.

And Daniel's description of a post-bourgeois society that relies on barter (without a circuit of capital) strikes me as a society in which there would be a great amount of hunger and suffering with countless desperate people willing to exchange their labor power for a scrap of bread.

If we are serious about an alternative to bourgeois rule--if we really believe that the working class can do a better job of running society than the bourgeoisie--then we need to do better than this--we need to have a realistic understanding of the laws of commodity production--so that we can describe how the working class can run society better than the bourgeoisie in a way that is (1) realistic and (2) does not involve mass starvation.

Working class people are very intelligent. If we want them to take up the cause of liberation from bourgeois rule as their own--then we must understand what they do--that bourgeois rule is better than mass starvation.

Sexual intercourse for example, if it is to happen in such a way that the freedom and enjoyment of both parties is preserved throughout the experience, must rely on an agreement that amounts to more than a simple "right of consent", which dissolves into abstraction and nothingness after both parties have said "yes". If either party does not retain the right to terminate the exchange as it is taking place, then it cannot be a free exchange of equivalent energies; one party would instead have to ‘dominate’ the other, in order to enforce the terms of the "contract": terms that were actually defined in the first place not by two freely consenting beings, but rather by a pre-existing third party which had already negated this freedom from the beginning of the engagement.

Ben comments:

I think that most people understand that sex that is the result of mutual affection and attraction is different, in a fundamental way, than prositution.

What makes prostitution different than sex motivated by love or affection and mutual attraction? The difference is that the sex involved in prostitution is a commodity -- it is sex exchanged for something else--whether that something else is money--or simply some kind of favor.