Left unchecked, capitalism will ruin human relationships forever
Volume 4 Issue 3: Kristen R Ghodsee is Professor of Russian & East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism. Here she explains why we should ban capitalism from the bedroom.
Can you explain why people living under socialism have better relationships and sex lives?
Well, I think it’s important not to generalise – places like Romania were awful when it came to sexuality, as was Albania. And the Soviet Union was very prudish and conservative, especially during the Stalinist era. But reading 18th and 19th century socialist theory from places like Poland, Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria, you find a lot of people saying that one of the great things about socialism is that it leads to human romantic relationships being decoupled from financial considerations. And that our personal relationships will be much richer, more honest and more authentic if we take emotions, romance and sexuality outside the sphere of the market. So I really do think that it’s built into the very fabric of early socialist theory.
Even in the 1960s in the Soviet Union – when a survey was done on the subject – it’s very clear that women were not choosing partners based on economic considerations or social status. Compare that to a survey carried out in 2017 in the United States. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 71 per cent of women and 72 per cent of men thought that for a man to be a good partner, he also had to be a good financial provider. Think about that for a second – about the burden that places on men, and about how that completely changes who we might choose for a partner, as well as why we choose them.
So how do you think our modern economic system – and free-market capitalism in particular – impacts on our relationships?
Well, as long as women have the responsibility for “care work” – including child-rearing and looking after elderly relatives – then women are always going to be seen as the less reliable workers, and so they’re going to be paid less. If women are paid less, then, within heterosexual relationships at least, when the couple decide to have children, it will likely be the woman who stays at home, because she has the lower income. It just makes sense. This is what economists called statistical discrimination, and it’s a vicious cycle that can only be fixed by government intervention of some form.
The other thing is, if you think of dating apps, what they want is your eyeballs on the app. They want you to keep swiping, because while you’re doing that, the app is collecting your data, and that’s how it makes money. The worst thing for that app is that you meet someone you really love, because then you have no interest in swiping any more. So the apps are built to be compulsive because it helps their business model to keep us lonely and isolated and continually on the lookout.
What has been increasingly happening, in the past 20 to 30 years, is that the market has been trying to find ways to monetise romance and friendship. And I think this is very dangerous. If every single romantic interaction we have is moderated through a for-profit application on your phone, then we’ve allowed capitalism to penetrate the most intimate parts of our lives.
We need to think carefully about how our attention, affections and emotions are increasingly being commodified by the market. I think a lot of young people have lost the ability to go down to the pub and have a conversation with a stranger. I think a lot of people report feeling isolated and unhappy. Even though we’re so hyper-connected, both in the UK and the US we have loneliness epidemics. The apps downgrade the quality of our interactions because we understand relationships, and ourselves, solely in relation to our, and their, economic value.
Because we’ve become used to having these apps, we’re at a point where we need them to legitimise our interactions with others – we don’t like the idea of just approaching someone because it no longer feels OK to do so without an app.
And in the United States – and probably in the UK, too – there’s also this whole issue of “networking”. Everyone’s networking all the time. You go to a party and people are constantly scanning the room to see who the most important and economically useful people are. So even just having a relaxed drink becomes a vehicle for someone’s financial gain. Dating apps play into that. They make everyone feel like their time is so valuable and that finding a partner should be done with the utmost speed. You don’t want to just go and chat someone up in a bar when they might not go home with you. It feels like a waste of your time. These things have a very real impact on our relationships.
How far could the commodification of love and relationships go?
Well, there’s a Black Mirror scenario here, where every social interaction we have is mediated through some kind of for-profit organisation or application. That seems like a terrible extreme to me. And from that you can spin all sorts of crazy dystopian scenarios or stories.
What a free market economic system will do, if left unchecked, is try to create a market in places where there wasn’t one before. And in general, lonely people will spend money to buy things they don’t need to alleviate that loneliness – which is where we end up in a scenario where people are buying companion dolls and robots. I think, at the moment, people are suspicious of them, but who knows where it could go in the future.
It’s scary. We have an in-built desire to connect with other people. And the fact that we now have corporations who see that desire as potentially a place to generate profit is a huge problem in my eyes.
So what is the best way to have socialist sex?
It’s so simple – just do it outside of the market. Reject the apps, talk to people. Jump in bed and spend an afternoon or all weekend with a partner. Don’t worry about your job or about the fact that you’re not being “productive” or that you’re not on social media liking everyone’s posts. I think some of the most pleasant moments of our lives are when we’re hanging out with our friends, or sleeping in at the weekend, or having great sex with our partners. And none of that requires any kind of commercial transaction. It’s completely free.
We have forgotten, collectively as a society, how valuable these social relationships are, even though they don’t necessarily have exchange value in the marketplace. Every minute that you avoid participating in capitalism is a win. And that’s where sex can get socialist.
How to have socialist sex according to sexy young socialists
We hit the streets to find out how the nation’s socialists like to get freaky.
Nikki*, 24, Glasgow
Socialist credentials: “I’m currently living in a commune… All right, it’s a shared house.”
“I think being gay is a good way to have more socialist sex. That would be my advice to heteros who want to have it the socialist way: be more gay.”
Liam*, 19, London
Socialist credentials: “I’m a member of Momentum.”
“Meeting people the normal way, rather than through apps, is one way to make your sex life more socialist. Although, I guess if you pay to go into a venue with the express purpose of pulling, that’s a bit capitalist, isn’t it? So I’d say try to meet sexual partners on a walk in the countryside… Maybe dogging is the most socialist sex act there is?”
Helena*, 26, Birmingham
Socialist credentials: “I like trade unions.”
“The most socialist sex I’ve ever had was when this guy gave me head for ages and then I gave him head for ages, then we both ended up cumming at the same time. It was just a lovely, special moment, where we were, like, emotionally high-fiving. I didn’t see him after that, unfortunately, because he moved to Australia.”
Stephen*, 31, Sheffield
Socialist credentials: “I campaigned for Labour.”
“My partner and I switch; sometimes he tops and sometimes I do. The truth is, we’re both tops, but we love each other and want to make sure the other person is having a good time. I think that’s the most beautifully socialist sentiment there is in the bedroom.”
Hardeep*, 29, London
Socialist credentials: “I actually like Jeremy Corbyn.”
“I think sharing sex toys is socialist. Socialism is about sharing, so share your sex toys. But wipe them down first.”
*Names have been changed to protect the sexy.