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Raymond Lotta on Why “Sex Work” Is Oppression, Not “Agency”

An Important, Wild, and Heartfelt Program at Revolution Books

On March 1, Raymond Lotta spoke at Revolution Books on “The Industrialization of Sexual Exploitation and Global Capitalism… OR Why 'Sex Work' Is NOT 'Agency' But Degradation and Nightmare… And Why We Need Revolution.” A diverse crowd of some 40 people attended—including basic and professional people from Harlem, some students and social justice activists, a woman who was among the first to become a NYC bus driver, a former prostitute, and others.

At a moment when the subjugation and the oppression of women are intensifying worldwide, the program sparked much needed discussion and debate. It put the challenge before people of making revolution to end this horror of sexual exploitation and all the horrors of this system. The program was controversial, but those who came were also hungry to dig into the questions. And, so, people were wrestling with big ideas and speaking from their hearts. 

Some Themes of Lotta's Talk

Raymond drew from his 2021 research paper The “Industrialization” of Sexual Exploitation, Imperialist Globalization, and the Descent Into Hell, and more recent work. He brought to life the global reality of why and how the commercial sexual exploitation of women (and of young girls and boys) has reached massive proportions. He laid bare the scope of this “industrialization of prostitution”: large scale, organized and concentrated through legal and criminal enterprise, and totally entwined with the workings of the world imperialist system. And he got into how this brutal oppression has become normalized and rationalized as “just another kind of work,” “individual choice,” “female empowerment.” 

China young women sex workers serve the tourism industry


Women at a brothel in Macao, China—a big center for “sex tourism,” promoted as the “Las Vegas of the East.”   

Using examples from everyday life, Raymond brought out how the choices before people in society actually flow from the nature of the system. Why, he asked, does the narrow range of choices before young Black and Brown men include joining gangs, dealing drugs, or joining the genocidal military? Why does a poor woman needing to feed her family and pay rent, or even a middle-class graduate student needing to maximize income and study time... why do they have the “choice” to go into prostitution? The economic-social system creates those choices. And, in turn, individual choices have social consequences—like the choice to perform pornography for pay, with its real (toxic) effect on the socialization of boys and men.

Raymond also pointed to and illustrated some of the key driving forces behind this “industrialization of sexual exploitation,” particularly the massive global migrations of hundreds of millions of peasants in the Global South from rural areas to cities, and people fleeing war, poverty, and climate change. He also spoke about the role of the U.S. imperialist military, especially the prostitution put in place during the war in Vietnam that helped lay the groundwork for “sex tourism” in east Asia.

Nigerian woman trafficked to Burkina Faso goldmine stares at village of tents


A Nigerian woman trafficked to Burkina Faso and forced into prostitution in the gold mining town of Secaco walks through a tent encampment where she and others like her live and are forced to have sex with up to 30 men per night.    Photo: AP/Sam Mednick

The presentation went further, wrestling with how we don’t have to live this way... that we can do far better than deluding ourselves into wanting to “own our oppression.” In short, the socialist revolution charted by the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian opens up whole new liberating possibilities.

Raymond painted a vivid picture: “women, men, trans people will not be economically forced to seek out prostitution to feed children and pay rent. The family, and the primary responsibility within the family of women as caregivers, will radically change. There will be new living and working arrangements that break down social isolation and fragmentation... traditional gender roles will be interrogated, challenged, and transformed. Art and culture will be spawning grounds of new thinking and attitudes.” He talked about how there will be standards and criteria, furthering the emancipation of women and overcoming all oppressive divisions among people, but that there will also be great experimentation and broad debate, and continuing struggle to transform society. People can watch the video HERE.

Big Debate Breaks Open, People Dig into Their Hearts

No sooner had Raymond finished his talk than debate broke out. A former prostitute, who also made pornography, spoke in strong disagreement. Her “evidence” was her own experience as someone who enjoyed being a prostitute for over 20 years and had made 20 pornographic films (which she also found fulfilling).

Jim Fouratt, a veteran of the gay liberation movement, and current-day radical activist and thinker, took this on from the audience. He explained how individual experience is not the same as the larger social phenomenon of commercial sexual exploitation. He insisted on coming to grips with the exploitative character of prostitution and also gave powerful, searing examples of this. This was an important issue of method: the limited role of individual experience in understanding things more deeply, the actual essence of a social phenomenon.

Another big issue was whether people can actually change—in particular whether men can change or if this is something that will take forever (in effect, actually impossible). Many who either posed the question or spoke to it also gave raw and personal testimony about what it means to be a woman in the world today.

Can prostitution and pornography ever really be ended? After Raymond spoke to how people really can change—and in profound ways quickly, when a radically different system is in effect—a young woman spoke to “male right” and the “demand” for pornography and "sex work." She talked about how the culture and ideas around this are “manufactured.” She shared the experience of how she and her boyfriend separately, and then together, wrestled with the degradation, the desensitizing leading to objectification within porn—and how the “release from that way of thinking can be relatively quick,” including how she and her boyfriend gave up the consumption of pornography.

One young Black man said at the end that he “was wrestling with his conscience over enjoyment and where that meets degradation… the biggest takeaway… was to zoom out from the more privileged examples of sex work and looking at it from a global standpoint.” The woman who was one of the first female NYC bus drivers spoke about how pornography on the job—the display of degrading pictures—was used as a means of harassing her, as someone who was part of breaking the all-male employment bar. A medical worker, who was also a stripper, wondered just how welcoming Revolution Books would be to “sex workers,” or as a “safe place.” The former prostitute jumped in and said she had come to the program expecting to be attacked, but had experienced a very different atmosphere.

A Revolution Books staff member read from the revolutionary Points of Attention, the principles that people in the movement for revolution live by, propagate, and are fighting to bring into being through an actual revolution. Revolution Books welcomes everyone who wants to understand and change the world. It's not a place of retreat from the world but a place to engage it—and to learn about, become part of, and contribute to the revolution to change everything. And Raymond clarified just what we mean by revolution: tens of millions guided by visionary, scientific leadership, rising up to overthrow this system and forge a whole new society and world.

6 Points of Attention



The March 1 program was an expression of the kind of ethos and culture that Revolution Books has to be evermore alive with: honest engagement, and principled debate and struggle; a place where reality and the struggle to apply science to understand the deeper patterns of reality, and the urgent need and basis to make revolution, are setting the terms. Where people are struggling to get to the truth and challenging each other. This was definitely an evening to learn from and build on, an example of what Bob Avakian has described as “largeness of mind and generosity of spirit.”

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