The Point
Last updated: 27 June 2022. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Recent Articles

In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

Investigating the Value Form

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

Say Yes to "No"

Anne Edmonds takes a look at Pablo Larrain’s “No”, the third in a trilogy of films that examines the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.


Pablo Larrain, director of "No", remembers as a twelve year old waving a "Yes" flag on the day of Chile's plebiscite on Pinochet's future - his politics have changed since then: "No" is the last of a trilogy on the dictatorship - "Post Mortem 2010 ( which I've not yet seen) deals with the US backed  military coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende; "Tony Manero" 2008 is a dark film about the Pinochet junta in power; "No" deals with the 1988 plebiscite which turns out to be the beginning of the end for Pinochet.


So long - the musical legacy of Margaret Thatcher

Now that the dings have been donged, we’ve said so long, and the dirt’s been tramped down, The Point’s Graeme McIver assesses the cultural legacy left by Margaret Thatcher and takes a look at some of the music and songs she inspired. Get in touch pop pickers, and let us know what your own favourite anti-Thatcher songs Top Ten might look like.


Her handiwork wreaked havoc on the Mersey
Brought hunger onto Teeside and the Tyne
There was ten per cent employment in the
Bogside Five per cent in Ballymurphy and Ardoyne
From these wastelands she created
Young men coaxed into regiments to train
To maim, to kill, live out her murderous fantasies
And carry out her orders on Goose Green”

Christy Moore

Back in 2006 during the filming of his concert at the Dublin venue The Point, Irish folk singer songwriter Christy Moore introduced a song, “Ordinary Man” by Grimsby born musician Peter Hames. The song outlines the struggles of an ordinary man who loses his job, family and home during the recession of the 1980’s. Before starting the song Moore commented,

“I’ll say one thing about Thatcher… there was some great songs written during  her reign.”

The death of Margaret Thatcher on April 8th has brought interest in these songs and those who have performed them back to the fore.

On the Sunday following her death, a social media campaign to get the song, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the film, The Wizard of Oz to number one almost succeeded when it reached number two in the download charts. The song was number one in Scotland and even entered the charts in Ireland.


An Independence Poem




That man who supports independence
Him in that parliament; him on the telly – aye, him
Papers say he’s the only one to share the dream, don’t they
He’s only one man mind you.

But see that mother who supports independence
Lives down the road from me – aye, her
Wakes up, rubs her eyes, brews the tea
Comes by with her shopping and all that
Has three kids, penniless as she is
Wants them to go to university she says
She’s only one mother mind you.

And see that guy who supports independence
Spoke to him on the bus to work – aye, him
Works a shift, dreams, gets by
Says he’s all green; windfarms, nae trident and that
Wants a government closer to home
So’s he can keep up a wage
He’s only one guy mind you.

And see that migrant who supports independence
Came from India with his family – aye, him
Lives in the old tenements
True Scotsman to the bone
Says India did it years ago: What’s taking you so long?
Self-governance, the human struggle and all that
He’s only one migrant mind you.

And see that teacher who supports independence
Works in that school round the corner – aye, her
Holds class, reads books, tells stories
The power of imagination! she tells them
And they listen to her and dream
Says it’s a new chapter, a new start and all that
She’s only one teacher mind you.

But see what the papers call a one-man band
All posturing, politics and that
Sounds more like an orchestra out on the streets
Waking restless dreamers to a call.

Andrew Barr

The Culture: Iain Banks' Greatest Creation?



The premature death of Iain Banks just over nine years ago shocked and saddened the progressive and literary world. Cultural Scotland lost, all too soon, one of its finest intellects and talents - a genuinely decent man, a socialist, and a prominent supporter of Scottish Independence.

In theScottish independence supporting newspaper,The National, commentator and activist Pat Kane wrote:

"with the work of the late Iain M. Banks, we also have a big-concept science-fictional universe to match anything, anywhere.

 Banks’s The Culture is as conflict-strewn and crisis-torn as any film-maker would need. But the tensions occur in a galaxy where humans (and their AI companions) are way beyond the struggle for scarce resources; have to make decisions about what pleasures to pursue (rather than what pains to avoid); and commit themselves to exploring the wonders of the universe.

GIVEN that it’s Iain M Banks, there are always pratfalls, perverse outcomes, and blackly humorous moments. But if the shiny, jump-suited optimism of Tomorrowland can’t deliver a hit for the studio system, would the louche, super-intelligent hedonists of The Player of Games or Consider Phlebas deliver any better result? I’ll leave that to the producers and moguls (while hoping dearly that someone could make it happen)."

Since then, there was brief excitement when Bezos's Amazon (Bezos, like Elon Musk, is a self declared fan) appeared to do a deal to make a major streaming production with the Banks' estate. That project was put on 'hold'however, with the Banks estate saying 'now is not the time'. Denis Kelly, of 'Utopia' fame, who had been brought into to write a treatment, was disappointed, but notably referred to the Culture in all it's communist/anarcho utopian splendour as 'a beckoning' 

By way of our own tribute to Iain, and first published in a slightly different form on left webpage, The Point, here's an updated version of Steve Arnott’s analysis of Iain Banks' Culture novels, originally written shortly after Iain's death, in which he argues that the Culture is ‘Banks’ greatest character, surely his highest intellectual creation, and perhaps the most significant new idea of our time.’





Ten years ago, I finished Iain Bank’s science fiction novel The Hydrogen Sonata. It was the latest in his series of novels set in a past, present and future that involve the now internationally recognised Culture. As has been the case with every one of this unparalleled series of books the power of the storytelling and imagination left me pondering for a good few days afterwards about where Iain Banks would take the Culture next.

I did not suspect then, and it feels hard to believe even now, that within a few short weeks it would become clear - tragically clear - that I read not only Iain Banks’ latest Culture novel, but that I had just read what would probably be his last.

Culture novels are, of course, just part of Iain Bank’s massive literary output, and he has written many memorable and distinctive novels often described as ‘mainstream’ – The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road, Complicity, Whit and Dead Air, for instance, will be titles familiar to many reading this. I want to concentrate on the Culture novels, however. Partly because they are that part of his work with which I am most deeply familiar, but mainly because I want to argue that the Culture is his greatest single creation, and those novels his best literary work.

My original spur to write this article (in its first and less sad form) came when I read Iain Banks’ Culture novel Surface Detail the year before.  Feeling I’d just read something exhilarating, deep and satisfyingly unique, and contradictorily wanting more of the same, I took the opportunity of systematically re-reading all of the Banks Culture novels - some for the fourth or fifth time. Having made mutterings since the inception of The Point online magazine about writing something on the Banks Culture universe, the inexhaustibility of these radical novels finally convinced me it was long past time to put fingertips to keyboard pad, and share my thoughts on the Culture with other readers of The Point.

Not the least motivation for me doing so is that many on the left in Scotland seemed mainly or wholly ignorant of these titanic, richly layered literary and philosophical works, even though they are authored by one of Scotland’s leading popular writers. Thus they are unable to participate in a meaningful discourse about the important - and genuinely revolutionary - ideas and concepts they embody and contain. If you have never read any of Iain Banks’ Culture novels previously I hope this short essay can act as a bit of a primer and goad, and lead you to those books. If, like me, you’re already a fan, then I hope it might spark the beginnings of a deeper discussion on the left and the wider SF community about the Culture.

What are the Culture novels? And what is the Culture? (I’ll stop using italics at this point).

Most readers of books are aware that Iain Banks publishes his non-genre novels under that name, and uses the middle initial M. when publishing his science fiction output.  The Culture novels and novella represent the greater part of that science fiction output and are, in order of publication, Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, The State of the Art, Excession, Inversions, Look to Windward, Matter, Surface Detail and The Hydrogen Sonata .

All of Banks’ science fiction is of a mind numbingly consistent quality – these are wide screen, intelligent space operas, thrillers that are both comic and tragic in turn, redolent with dizzying philosophical and scientific ideas painted on a universal canvas, splendidly baroque, grotesquely violent, but always with intimate, human, recognisable stories at their core. The Algebraist, for instance, would be a good example of a great Iain Banks science fiction novel that isn’t necessarily a Culture novel. But here I want to talk exclusively about the Culture, Banks’ greatest character, surely his highest intellectual creation, and perhaps the most significant new idea of our time.'

The Culture is the communist/anarchist/socialist/libertarian (delete/add according to taste) civilisation that is both background and protagonist in the loose and diverse group of Culture novels; a galaxy spanning, highly technological meta-civilisation that is both pan-human and pan-species, in which artificial intelligences (in many ways superior) are the civic equals of their biological counterparts, and in which men and women routinely meddle with their genes and enhance and change their body shape and sex. The Culture is a ‘Player’ in galactic terms; one of a small group of galactic civilisations who have evolved way beyond middling stellar empires or republics to where they are either approaching the possibility of Sublimation (throwing off all remaining material shackles and effectively becoming ‘something else’), or are busy (when not having plain good old-fashioned hedonistic fun) trying to do good in galactic terms by their own moral lights.

The Culture is in the latter category. Most folk will remember ‘Star Trek’ and its off-shoots, and the famous ‘Prime Directive’ which forbade the Captains’ Kirk or Picard of the Federation to interfere in developing cultures. Both the Culture and the Federation are egalitarian societies that have abolished disease, poverty, war and money, but whereas the Star Trek Federation worldview is informed by 60’s, 70’s and 80’s progressive liberalism and cultural relativism, I would argue the Culture is an utterly bolshevik creation, informed by historical materialism, social critiques of capitalism and oppression, and a deep view of all things in the universe as being fundamentally transient and processal in nature. 

Although it agonises about it and tries to do it using minimal possible force, the Culture is an interferer par excellence in emerging and developing cultures on planets and habitats throughout the galaxy. Through the sometimes clandestine, sometimes open agency of its ‘contact’ and ‘special circumstances’ sections, it actively seeks to shorten the time civilisations will spend in a state of primitive barbarism, whether feudal, capitalist, or in state or religious tyrannies, (and sometimes mixtures of all of these), and help them progress to more enlightened and egalitarian states of being.

It is in the interstices of this pan-stellar revolutionary/evolutionary narrative, the doubts and moral shadings of the enterprise, its rewards and contaminations, that Banks finds his characters and his stories.

Cleverly in many of the novels, because we ourselves as readers are 'outsiders' to the Culture, we encounter the Culture through the eyes of outsiders to it. We were first introduced to the Culture through the eyes of one of its enemies; the Changer Horza Bora Gobuchul, a mercenary working for the religiously fanatic Idirans at war with the Culture, whose story is told in the now widely recognised classic of the SF canon, Consider Phlebas.

When I first read that book back in the late eighties I was blown away by the spectacle and scale, the dark violence and inexorable sense of doom. In the era of Star Wars, Aliens and Blade Runner I absorbed it as a wide screen space opera that would surely out do all others if ever made into a film.

All of Banks’ science fiction work has that hugely visual, imaginative cinematic quality – not just in the sense of making the page disappear before your eyes and immersing you utterly in his story, but in the literary sense of showing not telling his deeper themes. And deeper themes there are in all of his work.  Though there is no lack of talky philosophical discourse between Banks’ protagonists, it is principally through the plot and development of the characters themselves, the tragic/redemptive weave of their pasts, presents and futures that we find a truly humane richness and a reflection of our own lives. Reading and re-reading Consider Phlebas I became aware that this wasn’t just the ultimate science fiction action movie in print but a more mythic and multi-layered tale. In following Horza’s journey through war, death, the hope of new life and irredeemable loss, we see his prejudices against the Culture and machine intelligence gradually undermined, until he realises he’s been fighting on the wrong side all along.

Banks followed up this stunner of a novel with another immediate classic. The Player of Games introduces us to Culture society and the machinations of its dirty tricks section Special Circumstances from within. Jernau Gurgeh is one of the great Game players of Culture wide renown, with a life devoted to the study and winning of games picked up from planetary and stellar civilisations throughout the galaxy. Living a comfortable life of academic luxury on a Culture Orbital (a circular ribbon of diamond hard material 3 million kilometres in diameter, 10 million kilometres in circumference and a few thousand kilometres across its inner surface – few Culture citizens live on anything as primitive as a planet), Gurgeh is inveigled by Special Circumstances to travelling to the Empire of Azad, a cruel feudal/capitalist stellar empire, to play the game of Azad, a game on which the whole society is modelled and run and which determines the station of every one of its subjects.

Think Graham Green meets Blade Runner, together with devastating social critique and an apocalyptic set piece climax, all compressed into a realtively shortish novel, a breathless, beautifully written narrative best read in a single evening.

Here’s the thing; all of Banks’ Culture novels are different – different characters, different stories, different storytelling techniques. Both the Culture oeuvre and the Culture universe are too vast to encompass in a short essay. Someday someone should write a book. But to give a flavour the classically written two viewpoint, two plot narrative of Inversions is a much easier read for the relative newcomer than the multi-narrative, high tech Excession, and though both are fantastic novels that deeply reward the attentive reader, the reader will benefit from having already introduced herself to the Culture through the earlier novels. Look to Windward is a deceptively simple, yet tricksy tale, an exquisitely observed tragi-comedy of manners and a taut thriller of mutliple deceptions; Matter a return to epic scale and high adventure, and questions of class society in the raw.

Yet there are also common themes which seem almost instinctively knitted into all of the Culture stories, and which are worth drawing attention to.


‘Perspective, she thought, woozily, slowly, as she died; what a wonderful thing.’


                                                                      Last line, Chapter One, Surface Detail


                                                                                                            Iain M. Banks



Perspective. The Culture is physically vast beyond our capacity for imagination. It is the pinnacle of what we might imagine a future socialist society to be, super technological, superabundant, pan-human, morally enlightened, profoundly egalitarian and long since moved from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. It has existed for thousands of years and will continue to exist for thousands of years, but it is only one of a number of galactic meta civilisations, and it too will fade away, collapse or transform itself into something different. All things come into being and pass away.

Our Earth, our world, is part of the Culture universe, but only incidentally, in the passing as it were, as one of the multitude of barbarian primitive planets observed but not yet contacted. The events of Consider Phlebas occur ‘far, far away’ at the time of the Crusades. The Culture’s Contact section comes across us in AD 1977, in the novella The State of the Art, but decides not to intervene in our mixed up primitive society, and instead treat us as a kind of control experiment, clandestinely observed, to see whether we make it out of barbarism by ourselves, or destroy the planet by ourselves. The struggle for progress is universal but we are one speck of dust in a galaxy teeming with life and conflict.


 I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to keep them safe from us and let them devour themselves; I wanted maximum interference; I wanted to hit the place with a program Lev Davidovich would have been proud of. I wanted the junta generals to fill their pants when they realised the future is – in Earth terms – a bright, bright red.’


                                                                     Diziet Sma, The State of the Art


                                                                                               Iain M. Banks


Politics, and the price of doing good. Left politics runs through all the Culture novels like an invariable, but infinitely applicable, mathematical constant, and not in the bad ‘you’ll have three bowls of cold socialist realist porridge a day, young man”, kind of way. Rather, Banks allows the politics to be a kind of emergent phenomenon, something that is created from the narrative, the moral questions and exigencies of character and plot, the observation of societies and the multifarious nature of the sentient conscious beings that populate the Culture universe.

As in his so-called ‘mainstream’ novels, it is very clear that Banks is an original, non-dogmatic thinker who has imbibed in his education much left wing discourse, and sipped of the notion of revolution and social progress as a moral categorical imperative.  The clear theme that runs throughout the Culture novels is the price to be paid when persons, singularly or collectively, attempt to do good, or to maintain good in the face of reaction. That price may be physical destruction or emotional disintegration, it may be moral compromise or the shattering of cosy cherished beliefs, but there is always a price to be paid. Leading characters die, or become disillusioned, or are used for higher purposes. This is not Doctor Who. The universe is not saved every week by waving a sonic screwdriver and ‘reversing the polarity’.  There is real death, real failure, real suffering. The redemptive aspect comes from doing what is right for wider social progress on an interstellar scale.

Human nature in ‘Utopia’. Banks’ Culture has often been referred to be critics as a utopia, including by me, but without reading the books this could lead to a mistaken impression. Literary utopias mostly tend to be blank slate/human putty endgames from Revelations to Thomas More and onwards. They assume that human nature is flawed either because of some form of original sin or because society is flawed. The Utopia cleanses humanity of these flaws and either allows their ‘true’ humanity to shine through or makes them into the New Man. Dystopias are the cynical (or realistic?) response where attempts to make the New Man fail with disastrous, frightening, totalitarian consequences.

In that sense, the Culture is neither Utopia or Dystopia because human nature in Banks’ vision is not a blank slate or human putty to be perfected or damned. Or more correctly ‘person’ nature - whether that person is human basic, human enhanced, machine or alien – arises from its evolutionary and contingent history and the very nature of sentience and social being itself. The lives of persons can be enormously enriched by a better society, but they do not become wholly New.

The protagonists of the Culture remain recognisable. They have fears and flaws, loves and hatreds, pettinesses and jealousies, egotistic personal drives and altruistic self-sacrifice. This is a mirror that holds up human nature as a complex constant. The new civilisation is about creating a better place for the great Bell curve of sentient beings to live their diverse lives in, not about creating a trillion Stakhanovite Aristotles in some endpoint socialist paradise. 

When Iain Banks appeared on The Book Show a year or two back he appeared to argue that artificial divisions between literary, mainstream novels and the genre novel can be misleading. He made the point that the literary novel itself is a genre novel with its own sets of rules and suppositions. It might be argued that Banks himself has been hamstrung by the artificial division he himself (or his publisher) has created between the science fiction writer Iain M. Banks and the mainstream novel writer Iain Banks.

Or, just perhaps, Banks has been enjoying a near three decade long private joke at the assumptions and labellings of the critics. His ‘mainstream’ work is very fine, of that there is no doubt. The Wasp Factory, Espedair Street, The Crow Road and Whit are all excellent reads. But for all of the reasons outlined above I am arguing that Bank’s greatest contribution to literature are his Culture novels, and that perhaps that will only be finally seen and understood in the fullness of time.


‘…it all boils down to ownership and possession, taking and having.’


                                                                     The Cuture drone Flere-Imsaho summing up


                                                                     the feudal-capitalist society of Azad,


                                                                     from The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks


Further, I would argue that the left, in the main, has ignored the Culture as a potential source and reference point for discourse and that Banks, in his Culture novels, whether instinctively, or consciously, or a bit of both, has made a major theoretical contribution to socialist and progressive thought. He has sketched for us, like a fine architect or landscape artist, a superabundant, egalitarian and free society and shown that the human condition is retained – with all of joys, absurdities and beautiful flaws. The idea of fiction as a potential source of theoretical discourse may be new, even alien to many readers, but in this particular case I believe it to be true.

But an essay on a whole body of work can give only a flavour – and a flavour through the perceptions of one person at that. The proof of the pudding is in the reading.

Go spacewards, young barbarians, and find new worlds.

Oh, and one final, not-quite-throwaway, teasing thought.

What if, in the vastness of our galaxy, something like the Culture actually existed?

Or could be brought into being?



Steve Arnott


Read more about Iain Banks at



Spirit of 45 - Film Review

John Wight takes a look at film maker Ken Loach’s documentary about the postwar Labour Government of 1945.





Adrian Cruden reviews the hit TV series and looks at some of the issues it raises


"I see a desert planet and ten thousand million starving souls."

There is little in the way of Thomas More's imaginary sixteenth century "good-place-land" ("eu-ou-topos") in the recently broadcast Channel 4 serial Utopia, whose first series completed its run on 19 February. Written by Dennis Kelly and directed by the trio of Marc Munden, Wayne Che Yip and Alex Garcia Lopez, the six episodes quickly summoned up a dystopian combination of eugenics, electronic state surveillance, and corporate capitalism underpinned by an elitist philosophy redolent of Plato's philosopher-king Republic.


Do You Hear The People Sing?

- A Review of Les Misérables


The Point sent a rather reluctant Graeme McIver beyond the barricades to review the phenomenon that is Les Misérables as it moves from the theatre onto our cinema screens. Read on and prepared to be dazzled by talk of revolution, deism, and Russell Crowe’s dodgy singing.

Les Mis, the film so good Graeme went to see it twice… 


Raised from the Ground




Anne Edmonds reviews a novel by the Portuguese socialist writer, Jose Saramago


It wasn't until Jose Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998 that his novels were translated into English. Born in a village of landless peasants in  northwest Portugal in 1922, he avoided real agrarian poverty as his parents moved to Lisbon when he was two; but his family were always poor - he was at grammar school for two years but had to leave as  academic education was too costly. He trained as a mechanic at technical school where compulsory literature and French classes inspired him to self educate via Lisbon's libraries. After years as a mechanic and foundry worker, he briefly edited a Lisbon newspaper during the Carnation Revolution of 1974 which ended the long dictatorship of Salazar and his successor, Caetano. But a counter-revolutionary coup a few months later meant he lost his job - he had joined the Communist party in 1969, remaining a member until his death - amongst the flowers on his coffin were tributes from Fidel and Raoul Castro.


Hammer House of Horror

Monsters of the Market, David McNally’s Deutscher Prize winning book, is reviewed by Bruce Wallace

This year’s winner of the Issac Deutscher award is David McNally for his book Monsters of the Market: Zombies Vampires and Global Capitalism. The award is for the book ‘which exemplifies the best and most innovative new writing in or about the Marxist tradition’. 

There have been some excellent winners in the past,  G. de Ste Croix’s The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World in 1982 and Francis Wheen’s tidy wee biography of Karl Marx in 1999. There have also been some real howlers. So how does Monsters fare?

McNally tells us he seeks ‘to track the several genres of monster stories to tell us about key symbolic registers in which the experience of capitalist commodification is felt, experienced and resisted’.

In three sprawling chapters McNally addresses:

Dissecting the Labouring Body: Frankenstein, Political Anatomy and the Rise of Capitalism;

Marx’s Monsters : Vampire-Capital and the Nightmare-World of Late Capitalism; and

African Vampires in the Age of Globalisation.

This genre approach entails a rereading of Marx’s Capital seen here mainly as a ‘mystery-narrative that seeks out the hidden spaces in which bodies are injured and maimed by capital.’

In alliance with the ‘fantastic’ it equips ‘critical theory’ with ‘dialectical optics’ allowing for ‘the reading of capitalist occult practices in the same way psychoanalysis interprets dreams’. ‘Decoding subversive knowledge’ promises  ‘radical insights and transformative energies’ whereby ‘shock effects illuminate the ‘monstrous dislocations at the heart of commodified existence’.

Health warning!  ‘Critical theory’ is the product of the notorious ‘Frankfurt School’ which donned the mantle of ‘Western’ or ‘Humanistic Marxism’ on fleeing the Nazis in the 1930’s. Adherents included Max Horkheimer, Theodore Adorno and Herbert Marcuse et al.

Monsters  is littered with references from this pessimistic, disillusioned and demoralised current of radical middle class thought.

Bitterly hostile to the ideas of genuine Marxism they infested western universities in the 1960’s and 1970’s banefully influencing the student movement. Writing off the working class they argued no real objective economic basis existed for socialism and that struggle for social change lay on the cultural or psychological level.

The literature of this school excelled in its scatter-brained, whacko, impenetrable gibberish. McNally draws on these ‘traditions’.

We begin with gore. Specifically the gallows and the surgeon’s dissection table in 17th century Europe and 18th century England. I’m disappointed because there really isn’t that much gore but there is another bugbear.

He argues that anatomy and dissection were means of oppression and a ‘symbolic register’ of ruling class power over the dispossessed. This expressed, in symbolic form, the rise of early capitalist social relations where the very bodies of the working class were turned into commodities. Maybe, but he makes the classic slip of using interpretation of historical and cultural examples to support his argument.

This is the key fault of his, very 1970’s, Freudian dream interpretation shock effects ‘method’. 

For example he ‘analyses’ a superb 1632 painting by Rembrandt of the public dissection of Mr Kindt, a thief, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholaes Tulp and writes:

‘Tulp grasps a tool (a forceps) with which he manipulates the flexorum digitorum muscles of Kindt’s left hand.  Indeed, Tulp can be seen pulling on these muscles, causing the corpse’s fingers to curl in imitation of his own. We have here, I want to suggest, a portrayal of the paradigmatic relationship between capital and wage-labour.’

You have got to be kidding me?! In the painting the skinless fingers, with the exception of a lifeless pinky, are just about as straight as a die! A viewer could just as easily suggest that Dr Tulp is demonstrating how the tendons of the arm work the digits.

So McNally, I want to suggest, is havering a load of hokum. Speculative interpretations like this, with wildly exaggerated claims that turn out to be very silly indeed, always raise an eyebrow amongst serious historians. I even found myself giggling at some of McNally’s absurd attempts to demonstrate his allegedly profound insights.

For instance in examining a 1751 woodcut of the dissection of a murderer, The Reward for Cruelty by the English artist Hogarth, there is a cauldron in which skulls and bones are being boiled clean. McNally claims:

‘Here is our clearest indication that a ritual of social magic is being enacted, a reminder that public anatomy is intended not only to punish and terrorise, but also to exorcise ruling-class anxieties ’

Here is the clearest indication of a professor of political ‘science’ with rather lurid deductive powers and too much time on his hands.

On Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein he says ‘the reader is given enormous interpretative range’ allowing for ‘multiple analytical frames-feminist, psychoanalytical, post-colonial, Marxist.’ In other words Frankenstein can mean literally anything to anybody. This must be the case for Capital?

Moving onto Marx we are told that in Capital ‘Gothic imagery, overtly dramatic construction. rather than stylistic ornamentations, these features are, I insist, essential aspects of Marx’s text, integral means for the expression of his core theoretical arguments.’

Marx did indeed use his formidable knowledge of literature to get his message across. He alludes to mythology and the supernatural supra-sensible. This includes vampires, werewolves and spectres by way of analogy in order to express the essence of capitalism as a monstrous parasitic social relation and not as a natural form of social production.

Yet this aspect of Marx has been written about for decades, including in a 1977 winner of the same prize, Marx and World Literature by S.S. Pawker. So McNally’s pretentions to originality are a bit self-indulgent.

Having reread Capital in preparation for ‘Monsters’, surely McNally grasps the ‘core theoretical arguments’ right? There is nothing ‘original’ he says in observing that Marx saw in commodities a contradictory unity of use- value and exchange-value.

Wrong!  As Marx pointed out commodities have use-value and VALUE. Exchange-value only manifests itself in relation to the process of exchange when one commodity is compared to another, it never has this form when ‘looked at in isolation’ (Marx Capital Vol I p177).

Blundering over the concept of ‘intrinsic value’ perhaps indicates a re-rereading of the whole of Capital, as a scientific work, is necessary instead of scouring the text of volume one in search of Nosferatu? If McNally fails to properly understand value how on earth are his musings on the fetishism of commodities and abstract labour to be taken seriously?

Fetishism and social vampirism are basic indispensable concepts for understanding Capital. McNally stretches these concepts a very very long way to engage in vacuous polemics against dead postmodernists. On the other hand he claims his ‘critical theory of value’, whatever that is, is capable of illuminating the ‘hidden recesses of capitalist social life.’

Modern capitalism is portrayed as vampire capital sucking the very life out of zombie labour and financialisation is equated with alchemy. Occasionally the author shape-shifts into a very ordinary writer on finance capital then morphs back into an explorer of ‘occult practices’. This includes a case study on the collapse of Enron that happened eleven years ago, all mildly interesting but very dated.

In Sub-Saharan Africa shock effects reach their apogee. After giving a good account of how imperialism is looting the continent he focuses on (you guessed it) witchcraft, voodoo and more zombies all spiced up with a dash of finance capital and cannibalism. It’s as if the organised African working class were a ghost. Strange, as McNally’s critical theory is supposed to be able to see the unseen? Can it be possible that he is a zombie?

As for resisting this capitalist regime of monstrosity one would expect a concluding clarion call for a mass zombie uprising? Not at all, and ‘moments of resistance’ take such forms as feminist poets being inspired on reading Capital or the protest zombie jazz of Thelonious Monk, excruciatingly analysed in relation to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit  The words ‘socialism’, ‘revolution’ and ‘strike’ don’t even appear in the index. Workers are all zombies anyway, even if organised in zombie unions.

Until the working class wake up and cease to be zombies argues McNally ‘monstrous utopia lives on in stories, dreams, music, art and moments of resistance that prefigure the grotesque movements through which the collective labourer throws off its zombified state in favour of something new, frightening and beautiful.’

For pessimistic neo-‘Marxist’ Freudian critical scribblers like McNally the socialist revolution is a ‘grotesque movement’ which is ‘frightening’. Lots of comfortable professional academics get the willies when class conscious workers decide to rise up out of the shadows against capitalism.

Luv a duck! This is an absolute howler. If you are thinking about reading this horror story don’t forget to order a set of dialectical optics but be afraid, yes very afraid, of the price!

David McNally  Monsters of the Market: Zombies Vampires and Global Capitalism Haymarket Books


Bruce Wallace is Tayside activist and lifelong member of the CWI (Committee for a Worker's International)    

John Cooper Clarke

I’m not the one who will

have his life turned into legend.   

It won’t be me…


It will be John Cooper Clarke

Tony Wilson


                   John Cooper Clarke – The Arches, Glasgow 13/10/12 pic by G McIver


John Cooper Clarke – the best hair in the world


The rumble of overhead trains rolling in and out of Central Station mixes with the ubiquitous thud of techno from the club next door. The punters, all standing, all expectant, stare towards the stage waiting for the arrival of the headline act. The crowd’s demographic ranges from the trendy young things to those on the edge of antiquity and all stops in between.  To all intents and purposes this has the look, the feel and the smell of a music gig. Yet tonight Glasgow’s Arches, self proclaimed “leading European cultural venue” will not be rocking to the sound of guitars or bass but to the earthy northern drawl of one of Britain’s most enigmatic and mythical cultural figures. Performance poet, wit and raconteur extraordinaire - John Cooper Clarke.


External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left


The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

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