Evan Richards argues that the contemporary promotion of pornography is the natural consequence of capitalist alienation
“The revolution demands concentration, increase of forces. From the masses, from individuals. It cannot tolerate orgiastic conditions, such as are normal for the decadent heroes and heroines of D’Annunzio. Dissoluteness in sexual life is bourgeois, is a phenomenon of decay. The proletariat is a rising class. It doesn’t need intoxication as a narcotic or a stimulus. Intoxication as little by sexual exaggeration as by alcohol. It must not and shall not forget, forget the shame, the filth, the savagery of capitalism. It receives the strongest urge to fight from a class situation, from the communist ideal. It needs clarity, clarity and again clarity. And so I repeat, no weakening, no waste, no destruction of forces. Self-control, self-discipline is not slavery, not even in love.” — The Emancipation of Women: From the Writings of V.I. Lenin
We live in an alienating culture; this is reinforced by pornography, the “pentagon of misogyny” in the words of Andrea Dworkin. The impact of pornography is vast and involves a rise in deviant attitudes to sexuality and sexual practices (Seigfried-Spellar and Rogers, 2013). As one study states, “high exposure to pornography videos apparently [results] in lower responsivity and an increased need for more extreme, specialized or “kinky” material to become aroused” (Park et al., 2016).
Violence against women and girls is increasingly normalised, and eroticised, under the banner of kink and BDSM. The word ‘dissoluteness’ from Lenin is apt. It speaks to the boundary violator, the predator who under the guise of “freedom” and “choice” seeks to control and dominate.
The sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s is a clear example of this phenomena. Contrary to popular scholarship, the sexual revolution brought with it an intensification of the patriarchy’s grip. Instead of overtly oppressing and constructing contrived boundaries and misogynist hierarchies as the traditionalist patriarchs did, the pornographers, fetishists and champions of the sexual revolution gained sexual gratification from violating boundaries.
Instead of restricting sex, they promoted it. However, it was the promotion of prostitution, pornography, kinks, fetishes, sadomasochism and even surrogacy; it was not intimacy, mutuality, or equality (which is shamed as ‘vanilla’) that these sexual liberals are interested in, but the eroticisation of dominance and subordination.
Fundamentally, the sexual revolution caused an increase in the eroticisation of power differences. These two characters of patriarchal oppression, Apollo, who represents the conservative, and Dionysus, who represents sexual liberal, are two sides of the same coin. This can be seen in almost every form of oppression – for example, imperialism.
On the one hand, we have the conservative and the nationalist, who enforce strict borders and promote chauvinistic tendencies among the public. This is of course restrictive and rightfully opposed by Communists. On the other hand, however, you have the anarchist, who preaches “no states, no borders” (a well-meaning and romantic statement, no doubt), which sadly is not something nations whose borders are being violated and resources being pillaged by imperialists can afford to cater to. The establishment of boundaries and respect for sovereignty are the necessary elements for genuine autonomy. As Engels said, “freedom is the appreciation of necessity” (Engels, 1877).
For instance, those responding to the colonisation of Palestine by Zionist forces with a “no state solution”, expose just how harmful this Dionysian twist is. As Leila Khaled said in response to such infantile reactions, “what astonished us most about this group was that they were opposed to nationalism, a doctrine we hold dearly as a colonised and dissipated people. Some believed in violence for ‘the hell of it’ and in students as revolutionary agents of history. But the majority were inclined towards guerrilla theatre as a means of ‘making revolution.’”
This phenomenon is continuously contrasted against the harsh, masculinist, Apollonian conservative. Norman O. Brown writes that Dionysus was the “mad god who breaks down boundaries”. He says, “while the super-masculine Apollo overtly oppresses/destroys with his contrived boundaries/hierarchies/rules/roles, the feminine Dionysus blurs the senses, seduces, confuses his victims—drugging them into complicity, offering them his “heart” as a love potion that poisons.”
In a patriarchal capitalist world that violates boundaries at every turn, the Dionysian threat and its fraudulent claims to “freedom”, “choice” and “agency”, ignoring societal pressures at every turn, are far more dangerous than the threat of the masculinist Apollonian. At the very least we can more easily identify the traditionalist as a threat; the feminine Dionysian threat, however, requires far more scrutiny.
In relation to the sexual revolution, this is important to understand. It is pivotal in combating the growing threats of sadomasochism in the alienating society. Sadism, the pleasure of inflicting pain, and masochism, the pleasure of receiving pain, both in an erotic context, are to be combatted and healed from at the very least – not indulged.
To those Communists who are only Communists from the waist up, there is nothing worse than to promote the bourgeois hedonism of fetishes, kinks and sadomasochist practices, and to market them as “liberating”. The unscrupulous and treacherous claim that bondage is freedom, degradation is happiness, brutality is affection, slavery is freedom, and contempt is caring has no place in a movement that identifies with the real, natural, material world and a movement that fights for genuine liberation, upon a materialist class basis.
The Marxist Anuradha Ghandy correctly points out that despite a shift away from the traditional patriarchs of the Church and reactionary conservatives, the alternative is far worse, as it “only further alienates human beings from each other”.
Andrea Dworkin writes about how the old politics of heterosexuality will be replaced by the ‘brothel model’, where women are ‘farmed’ for children and domestic labour and reduced to a vending machine of biological parts in service of male supremacy. With the rise of surrogacy and the use of women as rented wombs, this dystopian nightmare is already a reality for many women, particularly from the Global South.
Dworkin’s concept of the mechanical denotes a recognition that machinery and humanity are incompatible. In the context of greater development in biotechnology, particularly through the pandemic with the rise of ‘sex robots’ and corporate profiteering, this is an important fact to remember in order to stay human in the necrophilic death spiral of monopoly capitalism.
To embrace this “intoxication” is to indulge in the most harmful forms of liberal individualism, where the personal is not regarded as political. The fact is that being psychologically conditioned to enjoy one’s own degradation is a tragedy. No human being is born deserving to be used, to be manipulated, abused, or mistreated.
The phenomena of those who claim they enjoy abuse, and that they want it, should not change anyone’s position on it. As Kwame Ture said, “the slave will work twice as hard trying to put out the fire on the master’s house”.
It is also often that the worker who internalises the values of capitalism will defend it stronger than the capitalist himself. This myth, that women deep down want to be hurt – even more, that she likes to be hurt – is what feeds into rape culture: “What did you do to provoke him?”, the battered wife is asked. “Did you like it?”, the police officer asks the rape victim. “Admit that something in you wanted it”, the psychiatrist urges. “It was the energy you gave out”, says the guru.
These lies ultimately play into “The Lie” (the title of Dworkin’s speech) that “women want it”. As with class, and racial oppression, being rewarded by the oppressors for doing exactly what is expected is not empowering; it is conforming.
In the words of bell hooks, “When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist” (hooks, 1999).
Sadomasochism is a product of an alienating world, and it celebrates women who are battered, bruised, beaten (Bonnar, 2020; Moore and Khan, 2019; Taylor, 2020; We Can’t Consent to This, 2021). What is the cause of this?
The main factor would be pornography. Through technological advances such as the internet and smartphones, pornography is more accessible than ever before. Both the quantity of pornography and ease of access have increased. It floods every inch of capitalist society; studies show that around 35% of all internet downloads in the US are pornographic (Webroot, 2021) and over half of the adult population (66%) in the UK watch porn, the figure which is made up of “50% of men in the UK and 16% of women” (BBC, 2021).
Research has revealed that 1 in 8 video titles on the largest mainstream pornography sites in the UK have described activities that constitute sexual violence (Vera-Grey et al., 2021). Pornography teaches children how to have sadistic, alienated, controlling, demeaning and violent sex. Sexual violence is being eroticised and taught to be the norm when engaging in intimacy.
Living in a culture where the majority of men watch porn does not only affect the views and behaviour towards women, but also affects judges, police and juries in how they view sexual assault (Your Brain on Porn, 2021; Fight The New Drug). A growing trend in domestic violence and even murder has been defended with justifications of “violent sex” being a norm within the relationship, or simply, that she wanted it (Bowcott, 2019).
Porn has fuelled a 400% rise in child-on-child assaults in the UK (Fight The New Drug, 2019) and has led directly to adolescent dating violence and sexual aggression (Rostad et al., 2019). It encourages deviant, reactionary, and harmful sexualities, as those who intentionally sought pornography at a younger age were significantly more likely to be users of pornography exhibiting the sexual abuse of animals and children (Seigfried-Spellar and Rogers, 2013).
UK research also shows that nearly half of teenage girls are currently coerced into unwanted sexual acts (Saul, 2015). Pornography promotes child abuse (Grant, 2020); the pornographers thus are the perpetrators of these crimes and they should be criminalised for the incitement of rape and murder of women and children.
Pornography is a social disease that the rising class of the proletariat must aim to eradicate. Given how large of an effect pornography has under the ruling social order, it is no surprise to see it as a sole driving motivator behind many of our technological advances today.
Most virulently, this is visible in the emerging field of virtual reality (VR) pornography games (Joho, 2021). If we allow VR pornography to exist, to become mainstream, it is difficult to even imagine how horrific this will be for women and children. Undoubtedly there will be childlike characters, and of course they will claim, as they do with sex robots, that this is all to prevent, rather than encourage, sexual violence.
We urgently need to confront the porn industry and the impact it is having on society, especially children, and we need to act quickly, because VR porn games are on the horizon (Karpinski, 2021). Currently, the porn industry is the only sector turning a profit with VR.
Studies show that 40% of people would have sex with a robot (Matyszczyk, 2021). There is a reason we are all being groomed to dissociate from reality and to objectify others (Bailey-Millado, 2021). It’s a necessary component for the functions of capitalism to continue by keeping us beaten, broken, alienated and defeated. We are living in an era of mass dissociation.
Martine Rothblatt, the name which should evoke the same anger and resentment as Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, is one of the highest paid CEOs in the US. Rothblatt is involved in biotechnology, pharmaceutical drugs, satellites, and law, and also runs a cult-like religion called “Terasem” which claims that “god is technological” (Terasem Faith, 2021).
Terasem recently shared a delightful book called ‘The Day You Discard Your Body’ by Marshall Brain. Chapter 12 of this book was tagged with the line, “the lure of porn”. Brain states, “If porn is this popular today using such a primitive set of tools, you can imagine how popular porn will be when it is completely interactive and done at Vertebrane resolution… Would you like to do it with three naked vixens on a deserted Caribbean beach? You will be able to do that with Vertebrane porn. All three of them will understand your personal preferences and they will be ready to give you exactly what you are looking for. Would you like to try it underwater or in the weightlessness of space? No problem. Would you like to do it over and over again for 36 hours straight with a wide variety of partners? That is certainly your prerogative.”
Such ideas, which are even marketed as progressive with the invitations of unlimited freedom – evident in the use of the phrase “your prerogative” – spell out a rather depressing hollow “world”, if you could even call it a ‘world’.
To be so dissociated from reality that one would “discard” their body to live in a virtual reality porn world, is a death sentence. The tool used to kill us is pornography. If we think porn is bad now, Virtual Reality will take it to the next level.
A case in point, men become even more bonded to their porn through VR. Conclusions from a recent study state that “fifty healthy male participants watched two pornographic films on consecutive days in the laboratory, randomly one in VR and one traditional two-dimensional (2D) film. In the VR condition, participants felt more desired, more flirted with, more looked into the eyes. They were also more likely to feel connected with the actors and more likely to feel the urge to interact with them. Interestingly, saliva levels of oxytocin were related to the perceived eye-contact with the virtual persons indicating a role for the social neuropeptide in the perception of increased intimacy and interaction in VR” (Dekker et al., 2020).
To get a sense of how nightmarish these findings are, remember that oxytocin “is also associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. It is sometimes referred to as the love hormone, because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm” (MacGill, 2017).
The focus here is on the strong link between pornography and phallocratic technology. Take the title of the book, ‘The Day You Discard Your Body’. As materialists, we do not accept the Cartesian mind-body dualism where the mind dominates and can even “discard” the body.
Indeed, our nature is constantly in motion; the entirety of history is but continuous transformation of human nature, but without delving into the social and biological aspects of evolution, we must understand that without a body one is not alive. You are not a disembodied soul inside your body, and you will not go to heaven or hell after you die.
As Mao Zedong said, “without death, life would be unbearable”. This is why we must fight the capitalist phenomenon of decay.
Evan Richards, is a member of the YCL’s Yorkshire district
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