frontline 17.

The age of coercion and an age of consent.

Owen Logan reviews George Monbiot's book 'The Age of Consent – A Manifesto for a New World Order'

In his most recent book, The Age of Consent – A Manifesto for a New World Order, George Monbiot tries to overcome the paradoxes within the ‘global justice movement’. Indeed, even this term is Monbiot’s preferred attempt to find a name for a movement in which ‘Marxists, anarchists, statists, liberals, libertarians greens, conservatives, revolutionaries, reactionaries, animists, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims’ coexist in dissent. Risking the alienation of some of these different interests Monbiot develops, and tries to resolve, the key arguments in a movement that prides itself on its diversity. Many of these debates have developed under the umbrella of the World Social Forum, a burgeoning gathering that gives voice to alternative economic policies.

It is important to grasp the historical and political context of Monbiot’s book before considering its content. Fifty-one of the world’s one hundred largest economies are now corporations and not nation states. The ability of national governments to determine their own economic policies has been eroded by trans-national capitalism, which carries with it the constant threat to disinvest and move elsewhere. International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank policies are formulated in ways that ensure the dominance of these centralised corporate interests. For example, within the IMF, the USA alone has the voting power to veto any policy initiative that might spring from a united front of the ‘poor’ countries represented in the organisation. Plainly, then, there isn’t much to be gained from being part of a majority in the IMF.

Many commentators argue that nation-states, generally, are in a much weaker position as a result of the past two decades of economic globalisation. However, different nations hold very different levels of internal investment in multi-national corporations. Ultimately, it is ordinary citizens who are in weaker position as the possibility of imposing taxes and regulating corporate activities recedes from the horizon of national politics. This leaves democracy looking increasingly lame. In many countries ideological contest and serious policy debate has been replaced by a theatre of political personalities competing on the basis of style rather than content. Broadly ineffective strategies like, partnership, volunteerism, community empowerment and cultural regeneration are mobilised rhetorically to persuade some to accept rising levels of poverty and inequality within nations. At an international level, the important policy makers and mainstream politicians who address themselves to social justice are seen to be merely fiddling at the edges of a system in which the income of the richest one percent of the world’s population has become equal to the income of the poorest fifty-seven percent. The expansion of the global justice movement is one of the consequences of the reduced impact in national politics and the centralisation of wealth and power.

In a system based upon accumulation beyond human need debt is a cornerstone of everything else. We should remember here that the most spectacularly indebted nation of all is the United States. Debt is not neutral and neither is it rational. Fractional reserve banking, at the heart of the system, effectively allows banking funds to be manufactured from nothing on the basis of projected interest repayments. The late Susan Strange, a widely respected political economist, pioneered the study of international finance and credit in her books Casino Capitalism and Mad Money. The war on Iraq has been critiqued as an attempt by the US to monetarise its huge deficit by gaining control over Iraq’s oil reserves. As anyone who takes advantage of too high a credit rating knows, debt is a dangerous game.

Confronting what many people feel is an impending crisis that will spring from wider struggles to exploit world resources, Monbiot offers a detailed set of institutional innovations which he regards as a revolutionizing agenda. An International Clearing Union would create a balanced, annually regulated system to prevent trade deficits and mounting debt. The originator of this model was J.M. Keynes and it was proposed by the British in 1945, then a debtor nation, but vetoed by the United States, Britain’s principal creditor after the war. The aim of the model was to prevent the vicious circle developing whereby a debtor nation becomes a weak export-based economy depleting its resources in the struggle to pay interest in foreign currency.

Also central to Monbiot’s agenda is the creation of a World Parliament. Unless such an institution is created, goes the argument, the voices of the poor cannot outnumber the rich and will never subdue their policy organisations. Monbiot sees a direct mandate system as an essential component of a meaningful international democracy. To underline the malfunctions of the present system Monbiot quotes an African delegate to the World Trade Organisation; ‘…If I speak out too strongly, the US will phone my minister. They will twist the story and say that I am embarrassing the United States. My government will not even ask, “What did he say?” They will just send me a ticket tomorrow….I fear the bilateral pressure will get to me, so I don’t speak, for fear of upsetting the master. To me that threat is real. Because I am from a poor country, I can’t say what I want.’ As Monbiot points out, the World Trade Organisation is, in theory, the most democratic of global institutions. In practice however, it is deeply hindered by the manipulation of power through the organisation’s ‘Green Room’ system, which reflects the more explicitly unrepresentative nature of other institutions like the IMF and World Bank. It seems safe to assume that the sense of intimidation outlined by this African delegate is only magnified in other institutional settings. Alongside his arguments for direct elections to a World Parliament, Monbiot presents an alternative institutional framework, arguing for the interrelated functions of the Clearing Union and a Fair Trade Organisation operating alongside ‘a democratised United Nations General assembly, which captures the powers now vested in the self-serving Security Council’.

Monbiot’s case can be summed up fairly well by pointing out that everything has been globalised except for democracy. He regards democracy as ‘the least worst system’ and of course it may be argued that we don’t really have the capacity to fully judge the merits of democracy since the important decisions that affect us all are made by technocrats, bankers and political appointees. This global regime is set on preserving the centralization of wealth. IMF and World Bank policies clothe rising levels of inequality with the distant and impossible prospect of upward mobility. It is often said that were everyone in the world to achieve the environmentally and socially rapacious Western lifestyle, we would need the resources of seven planets. Yet, it is this increasingly privatised and unsustainable way of life that is conceptually propagated and economically enforced as a model for development.

Going to live on Mars should be the preserve of science fiction books, but following the recent landing of a Mars probe the American Sci-fi writer Raymond Bradbury spoke on the BBC in seriously hopeful tones about colonizing that planet to leave the problems of this one behind. What was disturbing about this was that the BBC interviewer listened respectfully to such hubris. The ancient Greek, Heraclitus wrote, ‘those who are awake have a world in common but every sleeper has a world of his own’. Unfortunately, in our world today it seems that more of our leaders, commentators and thinkers, for one reason or another, are joining the ranks of dreamers.

Several East Asian nations developed quickly, and established an enriched middle class in the process, by doing exactly what the IMF and the World Bank told them they must not do. Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia and other East Asian countries protected and promoted certain industries and made huge investments in education. Monbiot shows how these economies were destabilised in the 1980s by the IMF, working in tandem with the US treasury to force East Asian nations to remove restrictions on the movement of capital. While classic protectionism is at the heart of accelerated development, and historically has always been employed by Western nations, it is denied to the poorest countries today. Moreover the currency speculators who broke the Thai bhat were the real beneficiaries of IMF policies that have left East Asian nations struggling with debt. It seems that within the current system those methods of economic development which might assist a poor nation will also bring about the revenge of the already rich. Monbiot’s extended argument, presented in his chapter, The Levelling, is that protectionism and localisation cannot offer a real way forward given the conditions of the global economic framework. It might also be said that what openings do exist in the present system lead, at best, to a corporate rationale of government power. Currently, this might be personified by the Thaksin Shinawatra’s ‘blood soaked’ government in Thailand, or in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s alliance with fascism. For both leaders government is merely the logical destination of a corporate career. Monbiot argues that far reaching structural change is required if we are to identify an equitable system in which nations can function in the interests of all their people and the environment.

At several points Monbiot is successful in identifying and bridging theoretical slippages which have their roots in very different political positions within the global justice movement. Yet the key question that remains unanswered in Monbiot’s book is to what extent the social solidarity and internationalism of the 20th century (expressed, for example, in the Spanish Civil War) might be refounded in the 21st century. Globalisation has brought about an international division of labour which still needs to be theorised within an activist agenda. Monbiot addresses himself to a more general civil society, but a large portion of his audience may be doing rather well out the current system, or at least well enough not to worry too much about the direction in which we are all travelling. Reading a book about these issues is quite enough for many people who simply want to speak knowingly.

Monbiot carves out what is essentially a radicalised liberal agenda, or what he calls ‘a meta-physical mutation’. Leon Trotsky would have described such an agenda as ‘transitional demands’. Although Monbiot is no Marxist his general goals chime with Marxism. Sometimes his arguments overlap with the theoretical work of recent Marxist analysts like Istvan Meszaros who has been concerned to define the key tasks of socialism. Monbiot says that capitalism needs to be reformed in order to bring about a negative interest system where money is no longer the object of investment. People must instead invest in the value of natural wealth and thereby ‘perpetuate the planet’ and it may be said that changing the central role of money in this way represents an end of capitalism.

The important difference between Monbiot’s arguments and Marxism lies in the question of power. If some Marxists can be justly accused of having a theoretically pre-determined sense of the working class and its ultimate role, Monbiot may be accused of an ailing sense of historical social agency. In other words where is the power and reflexive knowledge to turn ideas into concrete actions? Monbiot has little to say to workers and trade unionists whose located power has been negated by an increasingly dislocated capitalism but the organised withdrawal of labour remains a crucial weapon. African trade unions have met in Kenya to discuss their role in the global justice movement but the mishandling of the recent general strike in Nigeria suggests that much strategic thinking and democratic strengthening still needs to be undertaken from the grass roots. The first people to suffer in the current phase of globalisation were the industrial workers in the West whose livelihoods were ‘exported’ to more oppressed parts of the world where labour is a cheaper and even more disposable commodity. However, it is worth remembering how real solidarity first arose between working class groups who had previously been divided by their community identities. International socialists hope that national identities among workers, might be overcome in the same way that community identities were put to one side in the nineteenth century. In this way combined economic pressure might still be brought to bear on the system from workforces in different parts of the world.

Marx haunts all discussions of globalization, partly because he wrote about it long before it had been recognised as both an economic and cultural phenomenon. While Marx may have been naïve about a post-revolutionary reality, especially the ‘withering away of the state’, his predictions about globalization written inThe Communist Manifesto of 1848 are still fresh:

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production in every country.

The question for any agenda like the one Monbiot has proposed is how close might we be to the ‘sober’ realisation that Marx and Engels were thinking about in 1848. Humanity still refuses to accept its complete social and environmental interdependence. In terms of a historical trajectory on the other hand, the idea of a world culture, also envisaged by Marx, seems to be more and more apparent. Marxist historical theory (dialectical materialism) still appears credible yet its outcomes are far from certain. Monbiot rightly says that dialectical materialism has no synthesis – history has no end. For the left, this means that strategy and political tactics will have to be far more inventive in the twenty-first century if social justice and environmental issues are to be taken seriously in the here and now, and not postponed until history runs a theoretical course towards a socialist tomorrow.

Monbiot makes a common sense call for democratic planning in the face of the irrational forces of monopoly capitalism and draws on the work of different people who have offered insights into the dynamics of global finance policy. It needs to be noted how even people at the heart of the system, like James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, concede the depth of our common crisis. Interviewed in 2002, in the New Scientist magazine, Wofensohn proposed that we have a further twenty-five years before global social and environmental problems become too immense to solve. There are other voices coming from the field of critical economic analysis who would say that this as an optimistic time frame. Susan George, author of How the Other Half Dies, thinks we should be talking about fifteen years. Bernard Lietaer once a leading currency trader, now reformed as an academic in international finance, argues that a mounting social and political crisis affecting ‘the rich world’, as well as ‘the poor world’, means that we can be sure that things will not go on as they are. He notes the historian Arnold Toynbee’s conclusion that two common causes, the excessive concentration of wealth and inflexibility in the face of changing conditions, explain the collapse of twenty-one past civilisations. It is Lietaer who has been most concerned with the reform of the interest system into a negative interest demurrage system that would give money a socially and environmentally productive role but in his book, The Future of Money, he offers a range of future scenarios. These run from something that could be described as corporate led fascism though to a social-environmental realignment. He argues that the organisation of the money system is ‘the root of all possibilities’ and as an example he offers an empirical link between the outlawing of the German ‘Wara’ currency system in 1931, rising unemployment and the parliamentary success of the Nazis. Lietaer doesn’t pretend to know how, or what, future changes are going to come about only that a fundamental change is inevitable. Of course, the move to war as a method of global governance makes for a bleak and militaristic prognosis for a world which manages its resources so unfairly and irresponsibly. Joseph Stiglitz, formerly chief economist of the World Bank is a key figure for Monbiot. Stiglitz’s searching critique of the system he served is portrayed as a watershed in the global justice movement. The problem is that even people like Stiglitz are deprived of any disruptive agency. It is not a case of replacing bad technocrats, it is a question of navigating a pressing social and profoundly historical change.

History can tell us that liberal manifestos tend to be realised not as good ideas, or common sense agendas, but as the result of illiberal struggles. In An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (a Marxist alternative to Monbiot’s book), Alex Callinicos makes such an observation. Callinicos points out that ‘the relatively humane capitalism (in the West at least) of the Keynesian era was the product of two world wars, the Russian Revolution and its Stalinist aftermath, the greatest economic slump in the history of capitalism, and fascism.’ The beginning of the Nigerian colonial collapse also came after the destructive mayhem of this period. The promised pay back to indigenous elites for their support during the First World War was un-delivered and local commerce was actually forced into a weaker position by mercantile combines. What had been a moment of imposed consensus during the industrialised war turned into a colonial rupture and a fundamental loss of credibility for the British. This finally played out into the administrative independence of the Nigerian ‘gatekeeper’ state - an already economically vandalised state with little internal coherency but one which, in theory, had the power to regulate foreign enterprise and capital. Unfortunately, the defining characteristic of a gatekeeper state is that its political class acts as ‘middle men’ facilitators of foreign capital, rather than regulators and developers.

Whether Nigerian independence, with its roots in war, represented progress or not, in Britain also it was only after the Second World War that a businessman could no longer vote twice in an election, once in his home constituency and once in the constituency of his business. Certain victories for socialism, like the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), also emerged through the extended period of total war in Europe. Nevertheless British socialists may defend the NHS as a genuine victory, not just an amelioration of the system, because the service provided substantive equality in health care. It benefited everyone in society. As the historian Paul Fussell has put it, faced with the threat of Stalinist communism, on one hand, and being at war with expansionist fascist powers, on the other, Britain needed to fill its ‘ideological vacuum’. In Britain this finally led to concessions to socialism and in Nigeria eventually to the irrefutable rise of an independence movement. Such inter-connecting perspectives only amount to a dialectical view in brief.

Although Monbiot says history has no end he, like so many others before him, presents us with utopian goals that hinge on a limited sense of social agency. Perhaps, to think optimistically for a moment, some of his arguments may yet be carried forward by an ‘angel of history’. The angel was the metaphor used by Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish theologian and a Marxist, to describe the latent process through which people struggle towards what appears beyond reach because they are aware of the wreckage behind them. The social devastation still in their midst propels them forward. What does all this mean for a country like Nigeria? Post-coloniality brings its own novel and complex dynamics so nobody should wait for someone else’s history to run its course here. The Scottish historian, Tom Nairn, has pointed to the futility of this. Nation States were created after a particular, English, then British model, but their cause, and the world itself was too much altered and cluttered by the imperialism of the model they tried to replicate.

Nigeria’s economic policy is defended by its Finance Minister, Dr Okonjo Iweala , as Nigeria’s own. Yet this comes from a woman who is fresh from her post in the World Bank and formulated the nation’s policies in collaboration with the IMF. Her salary is also paid in dollars to a US account. The London Financial Times suggests that the idea of Nigerian fiscal policy not being self determined, ‘would be to court high political risk’. Presumably this means that Nigeria’s protectionist measures, covering such sectors as the production of wheelbarrows, ball point pens and some food products might be regarded as internal political favours, and mere tokens of independence when strategic sectors are increasingly the preserves of multi-nationals and global monopolies. Moreover, there is absolutely no sign of a coherent strategy for Nigeria’s social development. Ken Saro Wiwa said that ‘Nigerian politics is a masquerade, the struggle is to disrobe it’. Whatever one thinks about Saro Wiwa’s ethnic politics his words still ring true.

Privatisation is the watchword of the current economic hegemony. However, there is no good reason why a country like Nigeria should not want to privatise things like hotels - one of the sectors now up for grabs. The reason so many sectors were in state hands in the first place goes back to earlier development models now on the scrap heap. The key issue is not actually privatisation, it is nationalisation. If Britain’s railways have revealed to all the disaster of asset stripping privatisation, the corollary is that nationalisation is a tactical question and failed tactics don’t amount to a failed idea. For example, as long as health services are at the mercy of multi-national pharmaceutical companies any project for progress in health provision will be hopelessly tied to the profit motive. As the case of Cuba shows, when a poor country takes full control of health, including the production of drugs (even a country which is the object of economic and political warfare from the United States), then substantive equality can be achieved and maintained in this vital sector. It is not only in ‘Western’ medicine that a country like Nigeria could make a meaningful intervention. When one thinks about the realm of traditional medicine a whole field of serious research and national development comes into view but of course this could only emerge through a radicalised politics in Nigeria. Underpinning the argument for such policy tactics is the funding crisis of the NHS in Britain, a crisis partly rooted in the Labour Party’s ill-defined nationalisation strategies in 1945. Today this means that the greatest part of Britain’s NHS budget goes straight into the coffers of pharmaceutical companies. Of course the Nigerian health system is far more impoverished than the British NHS. The Nigerian state does not even own a MRI scanner. This singular lack of equipment condemns countless injured Nigerians to needless and painfully slow deaths. Meanwhile, a minority of wealthy Nigerians fly out of the country if they require anything that might be described as up to date health care.

Monbiot does not consider specific tasks like the ones described here but they are implicit in the aims of his book. The general issue he raises is one of democratic self-determination. He rightly argues that that our abilities to achieve any autonomy from the rule of capital has been hugely curtailed by a global system of economic coercion. The system curtails the power of any government to act on behalf of the mass of ordinary people. The precise workings of the present system are rooted in the 1945 Bretton Woods economic settlement and for a country like Nigeria this may represent a far more effective means of hegemony than direct colonialism. Nevertheless, Monbiot argues that as the debt system becomes more obscenely oppressive, ‘something snaps’. Governments come under greater internal pressure to renege on debt repayments. Of course refusal to pay from below, or even debt cancellation from above, cannot be solutions to the systemic problem that forces resource rich and labour intensive economies into poverty. Monbiot points out instead that debt can be turned into a weapon. An internationally concerted threat to no longer pay would be the means to bring about the Keynsian balanced trade system that was rejected in the Bretton Woods settlement. A coalition of poor nations using debt as their own weapon would also be the basis from which global democratic institutions could be built.

While the details of this manifesto offer a theoretical strategy, or the ‘viable alternative’, which Monbiot says the poor world is waiting for, practice is always embedded in social realities. We can see in Nigeria not only extraordinary levels of inequality (the spread of private swimming pools beside the collapse of public water supplies or the model corporate estates which are as shielded from social reality as colonial cantonments), but we also see the pleasure taken from these material and social distinctions by a significant minority of the population. It is hard to envisage certain educated, and perhaps emotionally progressive, sections of society forgoing their private pleasures in favour of harsh politics and social solidarity. Were this to occur it certainly wouldn’t be a voluntary gesture but a response to increasing pressure from below. For the time being, Nigeria’s elites, along with the multi-national companies operating here, have shown themselves to be adept in the manipulation of rebellious energy at the grassroots of fragmentary post-colonial society. You don’t need to be an expert in political spin, or a Maradona style politician to succeed in a country that spends less than two percent of its national budget on education. Obviously this is something which should be another national priority for Nigeria. Beatrice Webb, the early Fabian British socialist commented that ‘democracy is not the multiplication of ignorant opinions’. By this definition Nigerian democracy, which has done nothing about the structural problems of education, makes nonsense of both itself and any organic sense of development.

Writing here for Glendora Review, it is worth thinking specifically about the cultural implications of globalisation and the issues rasied by Monbiot. In songs like ‘Coffin for Head of State’, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti gave popular accounts of the barbarism hidden behind the mask of a so-called civilization imposed from above. Given Fela’s privileged upbringing he might be called a class traitor. To a considerable extent he turned on his own kind. Listening to the music of his son, Femi, we can still hear the resonance of Afro beat music but hardly anything of the narrative complexity of his father’s lyrics. Sadly, Femi’s internationally successful music reduces social comment to the banal level of an NGO appeal. Everything that is obviously bad, like corruption, AIDS, political leadership, violence etc is decried but the workings of the system are left more or less untouched. Fela did little to bestow on his offspring the level of education that he himself had benefited from. Perhaps this partly accounts for the critical weaknesses of his son’s songwriting and his somewhat bland adaptation to foreign patronage. This is not the place to speculate on intimate causes, but it is worth noting how inequalities in education have a crucial impact on the ability to articulate resistance and make democracy meaningful in everyday life.

In a song like ‘Beasts of no nation’ Fela could convey a broad critical knowledge that his son has so far not achieved through his own music. In the absence of proper universal education, the loss of Fela’s type of popular critique is a wound in the Nigerian cultural scene. Trying to heal that wound is a question of binding knowledge to a distinctive sense of audience. Cultural globalisation is a double-edged sword; it offers an expanded sense of audience though an almost totally anonymous type of marketplace proliferation. Through such proliferation, as Marx observed, ‘ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away’. But the space left behind becomes the site of a new contest for cultural and political significance. Any hopeful creative activists for social progress need considerable cultural and intellectual skills to do battle on this ground and they require a well-defined sense of who constitutes their primary audience. They also have to prevent themselves from giving in to artistic over specialisation, to careerism, or to nostalgic notions of cultural identity, and yet, at the same time not lose a grassroots authenticity of communication. For talented and politicised individuals cultural expression is a way of showing ordinary people the deeper meaning of their sense of resistance or the widest significance of their open struggles. Obviously this is no small task. Yet, Ousmane Sembene, the Senegalese filmmaker, calls for an even more complete political engagement which he regards as an essential part of his practice. Sembene says the challenge of the future is ‘to remain African’. Truncated, this statement may sound like a simplistic standpoint. However, if one considers the way living African cultures have not only been politically neutralized but also commodified in the global marketplace then the complex task of Sembene’s cultural politics begins to emerge. He has never opted out of ordinary politics and has continually called to account the structures, institutions and investors in Senegal’s cultural arena. Perhaps most importantly, it is through Sembene’s sense of total activism that he refuses to allow his work to become a political ornament.

Culture and politics are never separate although many artists and bureaucrats would like them to appear that way. No one lives a life free from political and economic implications and nobody can work in a neutral haven because all arenas for culture emerge through some kind of social and political framework. These frameworks will, of course, use and privilege certain forms of cultural expression over others. This is true of the richest international institutions or organisations as it is of the poorest local cultural centre, museum or college. Because a cultural worker like Ousmane Sembene accepts the fact that we inhabit a political reality he guards against his cultural practice becoming a mere adjunct of its somewhat hidden, or once removed, political structures. If one does not guard against this appropriation then art, and cultural work generally, are easily turned into bad forms of propaganda - they become the ornament of a tangible but undeclared politics. Perhaps such a hidden form of ideology is more part of our lives now as a global power (one that is only superficially liberalising) shapes our existence and reaches into our daily experiences. But we should always remember that such a deceptive force works through our different national and local situations. Swapping self-determination and national self-respect in return for economic pauperism and cultural vacuity is a trade that begins at home.

If there is an optimistic conclusion that can be drawn at a time when political and historical theories offer no guarantees, then it should be that politics is an arena that always needs to be creatively rearticulated. If it is not, democratic participation stagnates, as has occurred in many Western nations, and democracy itself is more easily used as an excuse for imperialism and oppression. There is a well-worn motto on the left; pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. In this way we may also remind ourselves that you might fool some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time. There are many books about what the global technocrats are doing (of course they are mostly unavailable in Nigeria) but all their detailed observations are not too difficult to translate into everyday knowledge. The way the system works is like a global ‘419’ advance fee fraud. Like the locally produced scams this one thrives on the opportunistic greed of respondents. Too many of the respondents to the IMF and World Bank fraud are in power and are the leaders of nations.


  1. The Age of Consent, A Manifesto for a New World Order, George Monbiot, published by Flamingo, London, 2003
  2. Susan Strange's Mad Money , published by Manchester University Press, 1998 is a rewritten and updated version of Casino Capitalism, published by, Blackwells, 1986. Strange was sometimes criticised on the grounds that her work lacked a proper theoretical frame. She countered this criticism, arguing that the theoretical roots of her work centred on the extended role of international finance in relation to nation states and the implications of this on 'political economy'. For example, she critiqued the division of national of international studies and argued that international finance should be more exposed in theorising international relations, thereby expanding the sphere of political study.
  3. At the Regional Conference on the Challenge of Globalization in Africa, African trade unions convened in Nairobi at the end of May 2002 to discuss the role of trade unions in the global justice movement. They discussed topics such as capacity building and programs of action and this event can be considered as a hopeful sign. However, the mishandling of the 2004 General Strike in Nigeria, called off when George W. Bush visited the country, would suggest that Nigerian union leaders are poorly representing their rank and file and the wider population who identified with the strike. Without democratic capacity building in unions Nigerian workers are likely to be ill-served. In The People's England, published by Routledge, London, 1981, Alan Ereira describes how 'the spirit of solidarity' came to replace 'the spirit of community' among English miners in the 19th century. The social cohesion of 'community' was not a straightforward or benign influence and was often the cause of violent rivalries. These differences were overcome when workers united in the face of a capitalism that transcended their own communities. This history problematises the current fascination for community empowerment, which is a mainstay of centre-left politics. Within the centre-left frame notions of community, and even solidarity, are used as top-down formulas through which it is hoped ordinary people will become adapted to capitalism instead of challenging its functions. See also E.P. Thompson's The Making of The English Working Class, first published by Penguin in 1963.
  4. The Future of Money, Creating New Wealth, Work and a Wiser World, Bernard Lietaer, published by Century, London, 2001
  5. An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto, Alex Callinicos, published by Polity, Cambridge, 2003
  6. See, Nigeria in the First World War, Akinjide Osuntokun, published by Longman, London, 1979.
  7. I have used the word vandalised as a shorthand way to describe the 'economic chaos', identified by Akinjide Osuntokun as an outcome of the First World War. However, the word vandalised is also appropriate because of the deep scars left on Nigerian society by the history of slavery. The American documentary film Bowling for Columbine tries to interpret the lasting effects of slavery on the United States. The effects of slavery on a nation like Nigeria also merit a contemporary critical appraisal. For example, one might examine the way the middle-man system that defines the 'gatekeeper state' actually precedes the coming into being of this type of state.
  8. See Wartime: Understanding and Behaviour in the Second World War, Paul Fussell, published by Oxford University Press, 1989
  9. Arguably, Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in 1940 after a failed attempt to escape Nazi rule in Europe, is one of the most relevant Marxist thinkers to our own times. On many critical issues Benjamin offered deeply thoughtful applications of Marxist theory that often anticipated later debates. For example, he argued that socialism could not be achieved unless nature commanded respect. Benjamin argued that without such an environmental linkage socialism is forced to adopt the same logic of accumulation as capitalism and therefore cannot emancipate the working class. Most of Benjamin's writing concerned culture and in one of his most important essays, The Author as Producer, he extended Brecht's call for functional transformation (Umfunktionierung) in the cultural field. In this essay, Benjamin criticises leftist cultural expression, which he saw as unconsciously upholding the workings and values of capitalism through the ease in which it made itself available to appropriation. In many ways Ousmane Sembene's broad sense of cultural and political engagement, outlined in this article, is rooted in this critical frame. Benjamin and Brecht's cultural politics have influenced left-wing debates on cultural policy and have an important place in the discourse on cultural democracy.
  10. See Tom Nairn, The Break-up of Britain, New Left Books, London, 1977
  11. It may be added here that Femi Kuti has been known to ironically celebrate the limits of his education. At a performance in one of Abuja's luxury hotels Femi amused his elite audience by pointing out how they had paid a high ticket price to come to hear a man who hardly went to school.
  12. For example, critical art historians point to the institutionally constructed notion of the artist as a freely expressive and autonomous individual. A valuable essay on this is Griselda Pollock's 'Art, Art School, Culture' in The Block Reader, published by Routledge, London, 1996. Artistic autonomy is regarded in these writings as an ideological fabrication that obscures the politics of culture and often works to incapacitate artists' ideas of social engagement.

Owen Logan is a photographer and cultural worker. He is a research fellow with the 'Oil Lives' oral history project based at Aberdeen University in Scotland.