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October 2003 • Vol 3, No. 9 •

Book Review

A Manifesto Without Real Teeth

By Bruce Burleson

The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order

By George Monbiot

Flamingo, Hammersmith London, UK

It has been quite awhile since such a bold attempt has been made to pen new ideas about how to change the world. Guardian columnist George Monbiot takes a leap in this direction in writing his latest book, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order.

In The Age of Consent, Monbiot argues for a four-fold strategy aimed at restructuring the world economy on a far more equitable basis. The first strategy he discusses is the creation of a World Parliament, independent of world governments and whose members are elected directly by all the peoples of the world. Monbiot argues that such an effort could gain such widespread support across the planet that world governments eventually will have to comply with its decisions.

The second strategy is a democratically-reformed United Nations. Monbiot quite correctly calls the existing U.N. Security Council tyrannical, since a handful of superpower members hold veto power. He argues for the powers currently vested in the Security Council to be redistributed to the General Assembly.

The third strategy is the creation of an International Clearing Union. The ICU will replace the hopelessly corrupted International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The ICU works by reorganizing world financing on a level playing field: reserve funds are used to pay off international debt and to compensate for trade deficits.

Finally, Monbiot argues for a Fair Trade Organization to replace the currently hopeless World Trade Organization. The FTO will prevent the rich world from exploiting the poor world by regulating how companies do business on an international scale.

Monbiot admits that the above-mentioned propositions will be quite difficult to implement, given the nature of the world’s current power structure. One strategy he suggests is to bring world capitalism to its knees by means of a coordinated default on IMF and World Bank loans. The prosperity of the rich world’s economies, he argues, will have to be sacrificed in order for the poor world to be fairly and properly developed.

While Monbiot’s strategy for world change is thought-provoking, his book lacks a cohesive strategy for dealing with the one single obstacle to his four tactical proposals—the imperialist power of the United States and its allies. What, for example, would prevent imperialism from using its gigantic military might to crush governments which default on IMF and World Bank debts? Given that there is lack of unity among governments of oppressed nations, how would Monbiot convince the entire Third World to default on its debt?

Monbiot correctly argues for a larger and more influential global justice movement. While that is an absolutely necessary step toward global change, it is not enough. The greatest weakness in Monbiot’s strategy is his omission of the strategic importance of the world’s working class. While globalization, world trade and finance, and world power remain focused on aggrandizing the richest of the world’s capitalists, the existence of those structures depends largely upon the ongoing creation of wealth by the labor of working people.

History has shown that it is only when working people organize independently on their own behalf that any real change happens. The lessons of the Russian and Cuban revolutions, and the present struggles in Argentina and Venezuela, show us that at the end of the day, power rests ultimately in the hands of the working masses. Workers are the teeth, which will chew apart capitalism. Monbiot’s analysis lacks such an effective set of teeth.

Unfortunately, Monbiot launches a scathing, but rather pathetic, attack on Marxism in general and the ideas contained in the Communist Manifesto in particular. As other liberal writers have done, Monbiot attempts to discredit modern Marxism by blaming it for the Stalinist dictatorship. He fails to recognize that, in fact, Marxist theory and practice was vindicated in the triumph of the Russian Revolution and the ongoing success of Cuban socialism. He equates modern Marxism with Stalinism, the perversion of the ideas of Marx by the counterrevolutionary group that took power in the Soviet Union by killing off the Bolshevik leadership and un-doing—through every means, including mass murder—most of the great workers’ victories of the Russian Revolution.

Marxism is about the self-emancipation of the working class. The working class is the vast majority of humanity. Therefore it behooves Monbiot not to so flippantly dismiss Marxism.

In the final analysis, I credit Monbiot for originality and for a thoroughly thought-provoking treatise on world change. However, his book places a lot of carts before the proverbial horse. Before a World Parliament, International Clearing Union, or Fair Trade Organization can be effectively created, imperialism will have to be destroyed. The destruction of imperialism will ultimately be the act of working people, whose power rests in their ability to go on strike and bring capitalism to a screeching halt.





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