Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Weird World: wacky Austrians build replica of town hall in snow and ice

Residents of an Austrian community have created a replica of their town hall out of snow and ice. Volunteers in Arlberg, Austria, carved out the almost full-size replica 2,000 metres above sea level on the side of a mountain. The 46ft high and 65ft long sculpture took dozens of volunteers under the leadership of sculptor Christoph Strolz hundreds of hours to make. Skiers in the region can visit the town hall, but instead of red tape only red wine is on offer, in a replica wine-cellar built underneath the town hall. There are also copious amounts of ice wine available as well, the sweet wine served cold and made from grapes only harvested after they are shrivelled to a sixth of their size by the first frost of winter. The town hall will remain on the mountain until the 5,000 cubic metres of snow and ice have melted.

US Diary: leftist says US needs more socialism -- well, he may be right, but he sure is some kind of idealist

The Left Needs More Socialism -- by Ronald Aronson

It's time to break a taboo and place the word "socialism" across the top of the page in a major American progressive magazine. Time for the left to stop repressing the side of ourselves that the right finds most objectionable. Until we thumb our noses at the Democratic pols who have been calling the shots and reassert the very ideas they say are unthinkable, we will keep stumbling around in the dark corners of American politics, wondering how we lost our souls--and how to find them again.

I can hear tongues clucking the conventional wisdom that the "S" word is the kiss of death for any American political initiative. Since the collapse of Communism, hasn't "socialism"--even the democratic kind--reeked of everything obsolete and discredited? Isn't it sheer absurdity to ask today's mainstream to pay attention to this nineteenth-century idea? Didn't Tony Blair reshape "New Labour" into a force capable of winning an unprecedented string of victories in Britain only by first defeating socialism and socialists in his party? And for a generation haven't we on the American left declared socialist ideology irrelevant time and again in the process of shaping our feminist, antiwar, progay, antiracist, multicultural, ecological and community-oriented identities?

People who espouse these and a dozen other arguments against the relevance of socialism today may regard it as quaint that Bolivia's new president, Evo Morales, leads the Movement Toward Socialism Party, or that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez intends to create a "new socialism of the twenty-first century." After all, socialist parties elsewhere, such as in France, Spain and Germany, or indeed Brazil's Workers Party and Chile's Socialist Party, have no intention of introducing anything like socialism in their countries. Still, the newest significant formation, indeed, today's equivalent of the nineteenth-century International Workingmen's Association, calls itself the World Social Forum. The name reminds those who believe "another world is possible" that it can come about only if it is global, only if it is guided by a loosely organized "forum" rather than a top-down party--and only if its character is social.

Among Americans it has long since become obvious that the left is doomed without a vision, a sense of direction and an effective call to arms. One of the reasons we are having such tough sledding nowadays is that we have been unable to develop our own compelling alternative to those created by the right and the center over the past generation and embodied in the politics of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. We need to point to a clearly different direction from the one in which the United States and the world are heading. We need to spell out a historical diagnosis and project, a strategy and tactics, and root these in widely shared ultimate values.

We would be further along on all of these fronts today had it not been for the immense success of the Anglo-American right in insisting, for nearly a generation now, that in Margaret Thatcher's words, "there is no alternative," that the conservative project of free markets, privatization and deregulation is simple obedience to necessity. When Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the "end of history" fourteen years ago, he ruled out picturing "to ourselves a world that is essentially different from the present one, and at the same time better." Capitalism's victory over Communism in the cold war silenced any and all alternatives, present and future, he said. And today, among apologists for global capitalism like Thomas Friedman, the ideological assault on alternatives has become even more insistent, the faith in the market almost total.

Successful ideological and political campaigns close up the space in which imagination might conceive of a world different from the status quo. Alternatives become "unthinkable." In contrast, for two generations, between 1917 and 1989, the prospect of social change and political action worldwide were nurtured by the competition between two different world-embracing economic systems. Ugly as it was in so many ways, the Soviet Union not only spurred imitators but stimulated and sometimes supported resistance movements and, more relevant to us, along with the presence of vigorous socialist movements and ideas it encouraged thinking and acting toward alternatives that would be neither capitalist nor Communist. The 1930s through the '70s saw important and still relevant efforts at social change led by anarchists (Spain), social democrats (Scandinavia), non-Stalinist Communists (Yugoslavia, Italy), coalitions of socialists and Communists (Chile), and coalitions of leftists and less ideological forces of national liberation (Nicaragua, South Africa). Until the end of the cold war, alternatives to capitalism and Communism seemed both thinkable and possible.

Today, when the bottom line is touted as the answer to every question, Americans are imprisoned in a mental world shaped by economic trends. Ironically, its ideologists have become pitchmen for a capitalist caricature of Marxism--promulgating a crude economic determinism in which the market rules every social, mental and geographic space. Since the fall of Communism, market-oriented ways of thinking, feeling and seeing have permeated our lives and our culture to a degree that Marx never dreamed of.

Yet the real Marxism, although no longer embodied in movements or governments, has never been truer or more relevant: Most of the world's main problems today are inseparable from the dynamics of the capitalist system itself. With corporate capitalism everywhere in command, the outlook is for increased poverty, more environmental degradation, ever more uneven distribution of resources and the undermining of traditional societies and ways of life, for a culture dominated by marketing, advertising and uneven global development.

But Americans need only glance around the world to see that there are alternatives. The vibrant World Social Forums are an example, under way since 2001 and now envisioning several annual meetings of an immense variety of groups, organizations and networks. Another is the continuing leftward movement of South American governments, now adding Bolivia to Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil. A third is the continuing European efforts to defend social welfare programs, as evidenced in the German Social Democrats' remarkable reversal of a slide into oblivion to tie the Christian Democratic Party in last September's election, and the unflagging popular support for Britain's National Health Service.

The reigning economic system will continue to generate opposition as long as it speaks of equality (which it must) yet continues to be unequal and undemocratic (which it must); as long as it incites dreams of a better life (which it must) but deforms social, cultural and political life according to its bottom line (which it must); as long as its rampant abuse of the environment and pillage of natural resources continue (also inevitable).

Living in a capitalist world, we can't get far thinking and talking about alternatives and new directions without acknowledging that many of our key values and starting points are drawn from a common historical source: the socialist tradition. We have not reached the end of history as long as the spirit of solidarity animates antisweatshop movements, as long as a root sense of fairness motivates our efforts for a living wage, as long as the belief in equality nourishes our demand for a national healthcare system, as long as we embrace the democratic social provisioning embodied in Social Security. The next left will have to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the socialist spirit. Socialism's values continue to nourish community life. Much of our world continues to be organized collectively, democratically and socially, operating according to need and not according to profitability--in schools and cooperatives; libraries and nonprofits; local, state and federal government programs. September 11 and Hurricane Katrina showed the undying need for extensive and intensive structures of community. The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism's values of privilege, unequal rewards and power.

In this post-Communist era when even "liberal" has become a dirty word, the effort to create a more humane society will not be revived without explicit demands long associated with socialism. Social movements for environmental protection, women's rights and racial equality sooner or later run up against the institutional constraints imposed by capitalism. Then they discover that they can't achieve their goals without becoming anticapitalist. What will individuals and groups demanding equality, democracy, respect for the environment and freedom from the market call themselves as they try to coalesce around increasingly global demands and on behalf of increasingly global alternatives? We need not be timid about naming this "socialism." What else is it? What a new progressive movement needs can be simply stated: more socialism.

There can be no future social movements without key socialist themes: the importance of economic class, the centrality of labor and workers in shaping the world, the idea that people must act to create their own destiny. Not to mention themes already suggested: the decisive role of the economy in determining the rest of our life, the fact that today it is above all driven by the pursuit of profit, the insistence on freeing people from its domination and the need to think and act politically in terms of the socioeconomic system rather than in terms of individual policies. Whatever language people use, socialist ideas, experience, models, aspirations and analyses will help form the heart and soul of the alternative-in-the-making, or there will be no alternative.

Equality is the most important among these. Socialists have conceived a society that provides for the needs of every individual, including adequate means to live a decent life and develop each person's capacities. Our society, in contrast, is ambivalent and ultimately incoherent about equality. We are all said to be equal politically and before the law, but socially and economically our individual worth varies enormously. This is built into the American system: Social and economic inequality, a hallmark of life under free enterprise, make a mockery of a proud hallmark of American democracy, civic equality. In its own terms our society should be taking steps at least to insure that we are equal to become unequal. In other words, fair competition requires an equal starting point. Yet today this is not a liberal but a radical demand. Unequal schools, the rising costs of higher education, the growing gap in living conditions between well-off and poor, the abolition of the estate tax encouraging a plutocracy--all heighten the system's unfairness. In fighting against our increasingly unequal society, liberals and progressives will need to draw upon socialist thought in developing clear and consistent ideas, critiques, programs and watchwords about equality.

Doing battle against the prevailing inequality means invoking the idea that we all belong to a community, as opposed to the illusion, voiced famously by Thatcher, that "there is no society, only individuals." The paradox of our time is that individualism is riding high even while our universal interconnectedness is intensifying in this increasingly interdependent global society. The more interdependent each person in the world becomes, and the more large corporations rule not only economic but social life, the less social awareness there seems to be. We are supposed to live our lives as if there were no community, while more and more, vital social functions become performed for private gain, as if each of us had become a Robinson Crusoe.

The fantasy universe of purely private individuals, for all its lip service to religious belief, is no longer able to inculcate the basic social morality and sense of responsibility any society needs to function. Twenty-five years of attacking government has drained much of the basic civic spirit and social responsibility we must have to transact our collective business with integrity. If nothing is higher than the individual, the only thing that matters is whether I alone succeed. In the Enron and other corporate fraud scandals, in the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, the chickens have been coming home to roost.

On the road to shaping an alternative, the left might respond with a time-honored socialist insight, namely that "I" only exists within a "we," and that unless we look out for everyone, no one is secure. To say this confidently means accepting that we stand for a clear alternative and embody decisively different values and traditions than those on the right. This means getting friendly again with socialism.

(Ronald Aronson is the author of The Dialectics of Disaster ,After Marxism and, most recently, Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It . He teaches at Wayne State University.)

US Diary: freaking out of over immigration -- Mexican immigration

1. Immigration 101 for Beginners and Non-Texans -- by Molly Ivins

In 1983, I was a judge at the Terlingua Chili Cookoff, and my memory of the events may not be perfect—for example, for years I’ve been claiming Jimmy Carter was president at the time, but that’s the kind of detail one often loses track of in Terlingua.

Anyway, it was ’83 or some year right around there when we held The Fence climbing contest. See, people talked about building The Fence back then, too. The Fence along the Mexican border. To keep Them out.

At the time, the proposal was quite specific—a 17-foot cyclone fence with bob wire at the top. So a test fence was built at Terlingua, and the First-Ever Terlingua Memorial Over, Under or Through Mexican Fence Climbing Contest took place. Prize: a case of Lone Star beer. Winning time: 30 seconds.

I tell this story to make the one single point about the border and immigration we know to be true: The Fence will not work. No fence will work. The Great darn Wall of China will not work. Do not build a fence. It will not work. They will come anyway. Over, under or through.

Some of you think a fence will work because Israel has one. Israel is a very small country. Anyone who says a fence can fix this problem is a demagogue and an ass.

Numero Two-o, should you actually want to stop Mexicans and OTMs (other than Mexicans) from coming to the United States, here is how to do it: Find an illegal worker at a large corporation. This is not difficult—brooms and mops are big tipoffs. Then put the CEO of that corporation in prison for two or more years for violating the law against hiring illegal workers.

Got it? You can also imprison the corporate official who actually hired the illegal and, just to make sure, put some Betty Sue Billups—housewife, preferably one with blond hair in a flip—in the joint for a two-year stretch for hiring a Mexican gardener. Thus Americans are reminded that the law says it is illegal to hire illegal workers and that anyone who hires one is responsible for verifying whether or not his or her papers are in order. If you get fooled and one slips by you, too bad, you go to jail anyway. When there are no jobs for illegal workers, they do not come. Got it?

Of course, this has been proposed before, because there is nothing new in the immigration debate. As the current issue of Texas Monthly reminds us, the old bracero program dating from World War II was actually amended in 1952 to pass the “Texas proviso,” shielding employers of illegal workers from criminal penalties. They got the exemption because Texas growers flat refused to pay the required bracero wage of 30 cents an hour. Instead of punishing Texas growers for breaking the law, Congress rewarded them.

In 1986, the Reagan administration took a shot at immigration reform and reinstated penalties on employers. They weren’t enforced worth a darn, of course. In 2004, only three American companies were threatened with fines for hiring illegal workers. Doesn’t work if you don’t enforce it.

This brings us to the great Republican divide on the issue. Conservatives, in general, are anti-immigrant for the same reasons they have always been anti-immigrant—a proud tradition in our nation of immigrants going back to the days of the Founders, when Ben Franklin thought we were going to be overrun by Germans. But Business likes illegal workers. The Chamber of Commerce lobbies for them. It’s lobbying now for a new bracero program. What a bonanza for Bidness.

Old-fashioned anti-immigrant prejudice always brings out some old-fashioned racists. This time around, they have started claiming that Mexicans can’t assimilate. A sillier idea I’ve never heard. Why don’t they come to Texas and meet up with Lars Gonzales, Erin Rodriguez and Bubba at the bowling alley. They can drink some Lone Star, listen to some conjunto and chill.

Racists seem obsessed by the idea that illegal workers—the hardest-working, poorest people in America—are somehow getting away with something, sneaking goodies that should be for Americans. You can always avoid this problem by having no social services. This is the refreshing Texas model, and it works a treat.

Aren’t y’all grateful that we’re down here doing exactly nothing for the people of our state, legal or illegal? Think what a terrible message it would send if you swapped Texas with Vermont, and they all got healthcare. In Texas, we never worry about illegals taking advantage of social benefits provided by our taxpayers. Incredibly clever, no?

One nice thing about the benefit of long experience with la frontera is that we in Texas don’t have to run around getting all hysterical about immigrants. The border is porous. When you want cheap labor, you open it up; when you don’t, you shut it down. It works to our benefit—it always has.

(Molly Ivins is the former editor of the liberal monthly The Texas Observer. She is the bestselling author of several books including Who Let the Dogs In?)

2. The New Civil Rights Movement by Marjorie Cohn

In a wave of mass protest not seen since the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand justice for the undocumented. An unprecedented alliance between labor unions, immigrant support groups, churches, and Spanish-language radio and television has fueled the burgeoning civil rights movement.

The demonstrations were triggered by the confluence of a draconian House bill that would make felons out of undocumented immigrants and HBO's broadcast of Edward James Olmos's film, "Walkout." But the depth of discontent reflects a history of discrimination against those who are branded "illegal aliens."

Since September 11, 2001, immigrants have become the whipping boys for the "war on terror." Calls for enhanced militarization of the southern US border - including a 700-mile-long Sisyphean fence - reached a crescendo in the bill passed by the House of Representatives.

Under its terms, three million US-citizen children could be separated from their parents, who would be declared felons and be subject to immediate detention and deportation. Those who employ them, and churches and nonprofits that support them, could face fines or even prison.

Cardinal Roger Mahony called it a "blameful, vicious" bill, and vowed to continue serving the undocumented even if it were outlawed.

Immigrants comprise one-third of California's labor force. But claims that immigrants take jobs away from Americans are overblown. Last summer, California suffered from labor shortages in spite of the high percentage of undocumented workers who labor in the fields.

As a likely result of pressure from business dependent on cheap labor and the escalating protests around the country, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that strikes a more reasonable balance. It would legalize the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, and provide them with the opportunity to become citizens. They would have to remain employed, pass criminal background checks, learn English and civics, and pay fines and back taxes. A temporary worker program would allow about 400,000 foreign nationals to enter the United States each year; they too could be granted citizenship.

The current debate in the full Senate has focused on accusations and denials of "amnesty" and threats to national security. But the "immigration problem" is more complex than the sound bytes that proliferate. Seventy-eight percent of the 11 million undocumented immigrants are from Mexico or other Latin American countries.

According to Michael Lettieri, a Research Fellow with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, "The free trade accords that the Bush administration so tirelessly promotes do little to remedy such maladies, as both NAFTA and CAFTA-DR leave regional agricultural sectors profoundly vulnerable, as well as disadvantaged, in the face of robustly subsidized US agribusiness that enables Iowa to undersell Mexico when it comes to corn."

The US was instrumental in the passage of NAFTA, which protects the rights of employers and investors but not workers. As a result of NAFTA, wages in Mexico, Canada and the United States have fallen. US food exports have driven millions of poor Mexican peasants from their communities. They come north to find work.

Seventeen-year-old Carlos Moreno was among the thousands of students in Los Angeles who walked out of their high schools to protest the attack on immigrants. "I was born here," he said, "but I'm doing it for my parents, and for my family, and for all the Latinos, because I know what the struggle is."

Sergio, an undocumented tenth grader from San Diego High School, attended a rally in San Diego's historic Chicano Park. "My parents are proud of me," he said. "They told me that I should help every time I can."

A few years ago, San Diego filmmakers Issac and Judith Artenstein released "A Day Without a Mexican." In the film, all of the Mexicans in California disappeared one day. Gone were the cooks, gardeners, nannies, policemen, doctors, farm and construction workers, entertainers, athletes, as well as the largest growing market of consumers. The world's fifth largest economy was paralyzed.

Today we celebrate the birthday of César Chávez, one of the most influential labor leaders this country has ever known. In the 1970s, when undocumented workers crossed the border and went to work in California's fields for lower wages than employers had to pay union members, the United Farm Workers began to call the migra to have them deported. Eventually, César realized that a much better solution was to organize those immigrants into the union.

The answer is not to shut out those who work for less than minimum wage, without workers' compensation, occupational safety protections, and overtime pay. "It is a common-sense solution to bring an underground economy above ground," Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "with strong labor protections to improve working conditions for all."

(Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.)

Guess where's the 3rd biggest movie industry in the world? Nigeria

Welcome to Nollywood
Nigeria now has the world's third largest film industry after Hollywood and Bollywood. Most of the movies are dirt cheap, straight-to-video voodoo horror flicks - but millions of fans can't get enough of them. Jeevan Vasagar reports from Lagos

It is late afternoon, and the crew and cast of a film called American Dream are on location in an office block in suburban Lagos. An office here, borrowed for the day, is doubling as a flashy advertising agency, and on set the male lead is busy ironing his pink shirt on a desk, while the producer is shouting for the props man. The crew was meant to have wrapped these scenes up by midday and the director, Tony Abulu, is anxious. "We don't have much time," he says. "We've only got an hour and then we have to get out of here."

In a country where movies are made on shoestring budgets and cracked out in an average of 10 days, slips in the schedule can be disastrous.

In response to the producer's hollering, a man in flip-flops staggers into the room beneath a giant plant pot. Another member of the crew brings in a flat-screen computer. The scene is set and the cameras can roll.

Nigeria is home to one of the world's youngest film industries, but it's booming. In just 13 years it has gone from nothing to estimated earnings of US$200m (£114m) a year - making it the world's third biggest film industry after that of America and India. The films are made on the cheap, but they are big box office.

Except that there is no box office, of course. In Nollywood, as it has inevitably been dubbed, movies are shot on video and copied straight on to tapes or DVDs and then sold on from thousands of street stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops, not just in Nigeria but across the continent, as well to the African diaspora via markets in the west.

"They sell a lot of our films in Peckham and in Dalston market [in London]," says Paul Obazele, the veteran producer on American Dream, who has already turned out four movies this year, and plans a US cinema opening for this latest effort. "But Peckham is becoming too small for us. We have decided to take on the world."

There are signs that the world is taking an interest - the Hollywood actor Wesley Snipes came to check out investment opportunities last September. You might argue that Nollywood needs to do something about its hackneyed plots, hammy acting and appalling sound quality if it's to become a real rival to Hollywood. But for African audiences, Nollywood films have one unique selling point. If Hollywood's forte is jaw-dropping spectacle and Bollywood's is heart-warming musical slush, then Nollywood's special draw is a genre that might be described as the voodoo horror flick: films that revolve around witchcraft and demonic possession.

Most observers agree that it all began in 1992, with Living in Bondage, a cautionary tale about a man who gets sucked into a cult that demands the sacrifice of his wife in exchange for riches. The title refers to spiritual rather than sexual bondage. Since then, the genre has gone from strength to strength.

The movies can be read as fantasies; they allow the powerless to feel vicariously powerful. The stories tell of poor men getting rich, of errant husbands who find their penises shrinking, of love rivals who go blind or crazy and end up running naked and shrieking into the streets.

There is the occasional humorous twist. One classic features a controlling girlfriend who miniaturises her man and traps him inside a bottle. But the films always end with the practitioners of witchcraft being punished (although sometimes they are redeemed by finding Jesus) and the virtuous being rewarded. One of the reasons this is such a powerful draw is that in Nigeria, as elsewhere in Africa, Christianity lies like a veneer over much older beliefs. The occult movies give people a chance to thrill once again to the power of the old religion, but then celebrate the victory of the new faith as the credits roll.

"The average human being wants to see that which is hidden," says Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, producer of Living in Bondage. "But we didn't glamorise it. We made people sit down and think, and opened up their minds. After that film came out, a lot of people left these [witchcraft] cults."

The power of the genre is evident during a visit to one of Nigeria's improvised backstreet cinemas. The cinema is essentially a grimy concrete shelter with a billygoat tied up by the door. Inside, a dozen or so men and women are watching a Nollywood video on a small TV.

The crowd sway and click their fingers during musical interludes, and giggle and shove each other during comic passages. But they watch enthralled when a woman in the grip of an occult mania is exorcised by a man in a giant blue turban and flowing robe.

Back on the set of American Dream, the make-up artist, Benjamin Ejimnkeonye, finishes powdering the noses of two mountainous henchmen and passes around photos from voodoo thrillers he has worked on.

One of the pictures shows women made up as witches, their hair wild, white clay smeared on their faces and circles of red lipstick around their lips and eyes. "I like occultic films," says Ejimnkeonye, who goes by the trade-name Oben Imaginations. "When you watch an occultic film, you wonder, wow, is that really happening? That's when I like my job."

Not all Nollywood movies are about the occult, of course. Nigeria is a country of startling inequality; in Lagos, skinny fishermen in pirogues skim past the skyscrapers of Victoria Island, the palm-studded local equivalent of Manhattan, and slums sprawl under flyovers. But as is true of Bollywood, Nollywood likes to eschew the grit of everyday life for a more upbeat vision.

As well as occult movies, and gangster movies, another popular genre involves straightforwardly aspirational tales. American Dream is typical. it's the story of a driven advertising executive who falls in love with an American woman and then jeopardises his high-flying career with increasingly desperate attempts to get a visa for America.

In the movies, characters are always dashing from the gym to the boardroom in chauffeur-driven cars, or ordering champagne in chic restaurants. Budgets usually dictate that the champagne bottle isn't actually shown - film budgets typically range from £9,000 to £22,000, which means that star names only earn between £1,100 and £1,800 a film - but none the less, the movies generally manage to give an impression of glamour.

On the shoot, there are more delays. The cast and crew are waiting for one of the lead actors who is hours late. As some of the actors swig Guinness in the sweltering heat, I talk to Segun Arinze, a portly veteran actor who has a key role in the scene to be shot today. "Nigerian producers and directors want to put people in a certain kind of role," Arinze says. "Everybody knows me as the 'bad boy', always with the gun." He cocks his fingers into a pistol shape. "This is different because I get to play the father figure here, the dad.

"I see myself as a Method actor," he adds.

A short while later, however, with impeccable professionalism, Arinze is cheerfully swaggering through an entirely different role - as an underworld loan shark. With this last-minute switch, there has been no time to learn his lines, and barely minutes to get into character. Most of his dialogue is improvised.

Such fluidity is commonplace. With little time to rehearse, the actors frequently read from scripts left open on the floor during filming and most of the emphasis is placed on moving the plot forwards. Nollywood directors are sanguine about long passages of improvisation, and the dialogue that results is a clunky and sometimes bizarre mix of western movie cliches and Nigerian references. Take, for example, the following fragment of dialogue from a film about a chieftain's son who is forbidden by his family to marry his girlfriend:

He: My love for you cannot break, but the people and gods of my land want me to break it.

She [in floods of tears]: They want you to send me away.

He: Angel, don't cry. Let's try to find a solution to this problem.

[Moment later, after he has tried to bribe her to break off the relationship ... ]

She: You want to pay me in exchange for the love I have for you? Oh God, how did I get myself into this mess? Have you forgotten our promises and dreams?

Nigeria has perhaps the most distinguished literary tradition in Africa; Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri and Ken Saro-Wiwa are the best-known writers, but it is clear that Nigeria's home video industry has no pretensions to high art. What it's all about is money. Nollywood movies were originally financed by importers of blank video tapes as a way of promoting sales of their product - and commerce remains king.

About 30 new titles arrive weekly at Lagos's giant open-air markets, where canvas banners with gaudy portraits of movie stars flap above the mediaeval hubbub. A new movie costs the equivalent of £1.80 to buy, and only about 27p to rent from a video club.

For the most part, Nigerians are proud of their movie industry and other African nations are envious. "I think there's a lot of things that converge to make this possible in Nigeria," says Femi Odugbemi, president of the Independent Television Producers' Association. "By tradition, we're a storytelling people. We have more than 230 languages, different cultures, all unique in themselves."

Nigeria is an African giant - it is the continent's most populous nation, with 133 million people. But it's also a country that appears to be constantly on the verge of a breakdown.

It is a British colonial creation, knitting together a Christian south and Muslim north, scores of ethnic groups and struggling to deal with festering discontent in the oil-rich delta region. That makes the film censor's job a tricky one.

"Sometimes we have movies that caricature certain ethnic groups - which say that Igbos are only looking for money, or that people up north are not very educated," says Emeka Mba, director-general of the National Film and Video Censors Board. "Depending on the context, that can be passed, as long as the entire movie is not about that theme."

Lagos, the commercial capital, is a microcosm of Nigeria's volatile mix. It is a monster: already home to 15 million and growing so fast that by 2010 the UN estimates it will be home to as many as 24 million, making it the third biggest city in the world. There is a sense of natural theatre on the streets of the city; even asking for directions leads to raised voices and urgent hand signals.

"We have a very expressive culture, and that affects our acting," says Richard Mofe Damijo, a broad-shouldered actor with a greying goatee. A popular romantic lead, he is sometimes described as "the Denzel of Nollywood".

"If I was working for a British director, I would play a lot calmer and internalise more. Here, the ability of an actor to portray emotion with tears is a plus. If you can't cry at the drop of a hat you're seen as a bad actor." Award plaques are stacked on the floor of Mofe Damijo's office; he has collected dozens in the course of a 40-movie career - Nollywood may be largely ignored by western film festivals, but it shows no hesitation in patting itself on the back.

On the American Dream shoot, filming has transferred to a poor quarter of Lagos, where the streets are lined with stained concrete houses with tin roofs, and chickens peck at rubbish heaps. A crowd gathers as the female lead, played by Maryam Basir, an African-American actor and model, teeters across a narrow wooden footbridge wearing a zebra-print summer dress and stacked heels.

The male lead, Nigerian actor Karibi Fubara, is being filmed making a long-distance call to his girlfriend at a public booth, a wooden table where a handset offers a crackly connection.

When his allotted time runs out he tries to hang on to the phone, squeezing in a few extra seconds and ignoring the impatient queue behind. This is the cue for a female extra in a luminous green dress to seize the handset and berate him with a string of Hausa swearwords.

The woman's tirade mingles with the hoots of a watching crowd of small boys and the growl of passing motorbike taxis. Almost miraculously, the production seems to be somehow coming together.

"Nollywood is only 13 years old," says Ogunjiofor, producer of Living in Bondage, who is now making TV soap operas, as well as preaching as an evangelical pastor. "If it's a child, it's not yet an adolescent. Wait until we're an adult, and then those who criticise us will come back and learn from us."

Playboy still going strong after all these years of nudes

Life in the centerfold.

Hugh Hefner, the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy, always said that his ideal for the magazine’s famous Playmate of the Month, the woman in the centerfold photo, was “the girl next door with her clothes off.” In other words, he was trying to take his readers back to a time before their first sexual experience, a time when they still liked their stuffed bear and thought that a naked woman might be something like that. Taschen has just published “The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds” ($39.99), by Gretchen Edgren, a contributing editor to Playboy , and the book is a testament to Hefner’s fidelity to his vision. Six hundred and thirteen women are represented, but there is one basic model. On top is the face of Shirley Temple; below is the body of Jayne Mansfield. Playboy was launched in 1953, and this female image managed to draw, simultaneously, on two opposing trends that have since come to dominate American mass culture: on the one hand, our country’s idea of its Huck Finn innocence; on the other, the enthusiastic lewdness of our advertising and entertainment. We are now accustomed to seeing the two tendencies combined—witness Britney Spears—but when Hefner was a young man they still seemed like opposites. Hence the surprise and the popularity of Playboy . The magazine proposed that wanton sex, sex for sex’s sake, was wholesome, good for you: a novel idea in the nineteen-fifties.

When Hefner started out, he couldn’t afford to commission centerfold photos, nor did he know any women who would take their clothes off at his bidding. So he bought girlie pictures from a local calendar company, and he chose well. In his first issue, he ran a nude photograph that Marilyn Monroe, famous by 1953, had posed for in 1949, when she was not famous, and needed money. It made the first issue a hit. Within a year, Playboy was able to afford its own photography, at which point the calendar girls were swept aside in favor of the girls next door. Unlike their predecessors, these girls tend to have their nipples covered, and they are not brazenly posing but, oops, caught by the photographer as they are climbing out of the bath or getting dressed. Several have on regulation-issue white underpants, up to the waist; one wears Mary Janes.

A decade later, the innocence has become less innocent, more self-aware—in a word, sixties. Now we get racial equality. (The first African-American Playmate appeared in 1965.) We get the great outdoors: Playmates taking sunbaths, unpacking picnics, hoisting their innocent bottoms into hammocks. Above all, we get youth. In January of 1958, the magazine had published a centerfold of a sixteen-year-old girl, with the result that Hefner was hauled into court for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. (The case was dismissed. Miss January had written permission from her mother.) After that, he made a rule that Playboy would never again publish a photograph of an unclothed woman under eighteen, but in the following years he did everything in his power to make the centerfold models look like jailbait. Two of the sixties Playmates have pigtails, tied with bows. One is reading the funny papers. Most of them have chubby cheeks, and flash us sweet smiles. At the same time, many of these nice little girls are fantastically large-breasted. Strange to say, this top-loading often makes them appear more childlike. The breasts are smooth and round and pink; they look like balloons or beach balls. The girl seems delighted to have them, as if they had just been delivered by Santa Claus.

Now and then over the years, Hefner experimented with small- or smallish-breasted Playmates. In late 1960, he had a serious fit of restraint: Joni Mattis, Miss November of that year, is posed in such a way as to cover not just her chest but most of her bottom. According to “The Playmate Book,” this centerfold was the least popular that the magazine ever published. Mattis received exactly one letter, from a clergyman advising her to find another line of work. By contrast, DeDe Lind, Miss August 1967, who looks to be about thirteen, and who displays, together with a big yellow hair ribbon, a pair of knockers rivalling Mae West’s, got more fan letters than any Playmate before or after. Playboy learned a lesson from DeDe: breasts count. At the end of “The Playmate Book,” we are given the average measurements of the Playmates from the sixties to the present: a modest 35-23-35. I don’t believe this. Or, if it’s true, there’s more to photography than I understand. In response to the Playboy centerfolds, Esquire eliminated its own pinups, the celebrated George Petty and Alberto Vargas drawings. In the words of Clay Felker, an editor at Esquire at that time, “ Playboy out-titted us.” Hefner then had the field to himself. By the end of the sixties, one-fourth of all American college men were buying his magazine every month.

In the nineteen-seventies, because of competition from the new and raunchier Penthouse ,Playboy made the decision to show pubic hair, and with this upping of the sexual ante a certain coldness set in. Now the makeup becomes very heavy, causing the women, who already looked alike, to seem as if they were clones. (If the book’s text didn’t tell us that Miss June 1971 was Japanese-American, we would never guess it.) The setting also becomes sleeker. Hefner said from the beginning that he was not producing a girlie magazine; Playboy was a “life style” magazine, of which sex was only a part. He was put off by the men’s magazines of his youth, with their emphasis on riding the rapids and fighting bears. Why did virility have to be proved outdoors? Why couldn’t its kingdom be indoors? “We like our apartment,” he wrote in his editorial for the first issue of Playboy . “We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” Whatever one may think of DeDe Lind’s interest in Nietzsche—or Hefner’s, for that matter—this was the scenario he had in mind. He grew up in a comfortless Chicago family. His father was an accountant, his mother a Methodist disciplinarian. He has said that there was never any show of affection in his house. One suspects that there was likewise little evidence of jazz or hors d’oeuvres—pleasure for its own sake. This is what he set out to sell: an upscale hedonism, promoted by the magazine’s articles and ads as well as by its nudes.

In 1956, looking to raise the tone, Hefner hired Auguste Comte Spectorsky, an East Coast sophisticate, as his editorial director, and Spectorsky brought in fiction by Vladimir Nabokov, James Baldwin, and the like. But to the history of journalism, and probably to the readers, too, Playboy ’sfiction was far less important than its interviews, inaugurated in 1962. Among the subjects were Miles Davis, Peter Sellers, Bertrand Russell, Malcolm X, Billy Wilder, Richard Burton, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jimmy Hoffa, Albert Schweitzer, Nabokov, Jean Genet, Ingmar Bergman, Dick Gregory, Henry Miller, Cassius Clay, and George Wallace, and that’s just for the first three years. The questioning was long (seven to ten hours) and confrontational. Presumably for that reason—and maybe, too, because this was a skin magazine and what the hell—the subjects often said what they did not say elsewhere. As a result, their words are still being quoted.

In 1959, with the money rolling in, Hefner bought a palatial house in Chicago and spent four hundred thousand dollars, a fabulous sum in those days, on its renovation. The magazine repeatedly ran photo features on this seventy-room “Playboy Mansion”: the vast ballroom, presided over by two burnished suits of medieval armor; the indoor swimming pool with a glass side, so that from downstairs, on party nights (Friday and Sunday, without fail), you could watch the other guests skinny-dipping; and, most important, Hefner’s bedroom, with a round bed that could accommodate twelve. (He liked group sex.) The house also had a girls’ dormitory, and after 1960, when Hefner’s corporation opened the first of its Playboy clubs, in Chicago—there were eventually forty Playboy clubs, casinos, and resort hotels in the United States and abroad—many of the waitresses, the highly publicized Bunnies, lived there. Most of the women who were being photographed for the centerfold also stayed at the Mansion. Hefner says that during some years he was “involved” with maybe eleven out of twelve months’ worth of Playmates.

In the seventies, the Playmates tended to be photographed not outdoors but in a setting that bespoke the editor’s deluxe headquarters—wood-panelled rooms with Oriental carpets and brocade upholstery. It’s very clear that the woman in the photograph does not live there; she’s just staying the night. By this time, the centerfold was flanked by a lot of auxiliary material. There was a bio of the Playmate, its information no doubt heavily airbrushed. There was also a “Playmate Data Sheet,” where the woman, in a sort of Catholic-schoolgirl handwriting (which, curiously, was the same from month to month), listed her goals in life, her favorite movies, and so on. There were also side photos, in which, released from the master’s library, the Playmate is shown in more natural situations—taking a shower, walking on the beach—and finally she looks sexy. But in the centerfold she is stuck in the Ralph Lauren world of Hefner’s imagining, and she looks as though she were thinking about how much she’s going to be paid and whether, in consequence, she can get brocade like that for her couch.

In the nineteen-eighties and thereafter, the artificiality only increased, as did that of all American mass media. The most obvious change is in the body, which has now been to the gym. Before, you could often see the Playmates sucking in their stomachs. Now they don’t have to. The waist is nipped, the bottom tidy, and the breasts are a thing of wonder. The first mention of a “boob job” in “The Playmate Book” has to do with Miss April 1965, but, like hair coloring, breast enlargement underwent a change of meaning, and hence of design, in the seventies and eighties. At first, its purpose was to correct nature, and fool people into thinking that this was what nature made. But over time the augmented bosom became confessedly an artifice—a Ding an sich , and proud of it. By the eighties, the Playmates’ breasts are not just huge. Many are independent of the law of gravity; they point straight outward. One pair seems to point upward. Other features look equally doctored. The pubic hair becomes elegantly barbered—the women favor a Vandyke—or, in a few cases, is removed altogether. This was part of an increased explicitness. With the shrinking of the pubic hair, the labia majora become visible. From the seventies onward, the magazine now and then offered twin Playmates, even a set of triplets—all in the same bed, of course—and with them comes the first whiff of lesbianism. In Mirjam and Karin van Breeschooten’s centerfold, Mirjam is casually unlacing her twin’s teddy.

Much of the costuming is standard erotic wear: lace and leather. The poses, too, are often traditional. Again and again, we see the full-frontal stance with the déhanchement —said to have been discovered by the sculptor Polyclitus in the fifth century B.C.—in which the body’s weight is shifted onto one leg, thus creating two different, beautiful curves at the two sides of the waist. But, not infrequently, the magazine—or Hefner, for he is said to have carefully controlled all the centerfold shots—gets bored with these time-honored arrangements and puts the women in poses that no one else ever dreamed of. Isn’t it hurting Miss December 1966’s bottom, you think, to have it propped on the edge of those piano keys? That stereo turntable that Miss January 2004 is splayed over: Is it a B. & O.? How much is the repairman going to charge? Strangest of all are the scenarios in which the women are presented to us. Miss December 1992 is our waitress at the diner. She wears a collar and cuffs, a sporty little hat, red pumps, and nothing else. The magazine, in other words, has ceased trying to imagine a situation in which a woman might conceivably be naked; it has just come up with any situation—the girl might be receiving the Nobel Prize—and then removed the clothes. How much irony is operating here? I don’t know. Maybe none. In the introduction to “The Playmate Book,” Hefner says that looking through these pages should be “not unlike visiting your high school reunion.”

The models don’t seem to have shared his view. In a 2002 article in The New York Review of Books , Janet Malcolm remarked on Irving Penn’s tendency to crop the heads of his nudes: “There does not seem to be any way that a naked person in front of a camera can fail to betray his or her sense of the . . . inherent silliness or pathos of the situation. Whether the object of the exercise is art photography or pornography, the model does not know what to do with her face.” If Penn’s subjects were stymied, so were the Playmates, but of course their heads weren’t cropped, and Hefner wanted them to look straight into the camera. The poor girls either smiled (“We’re going to have a good time”) or snarled (“Come and get me, big boy”). Both seem equally fake.

What did these women think of the job they were doing? For “The Playmate Book,” Gretchen Edgren and her staff put a lot of questions to the centerfold alumnae, and the women’s answers, though no doubt edited with care, tell us a lot—above all, that for many of the models the centerfold was simply a career move. “I didn’t come from money,” Kerri Kendall, Miss September 1990, points out, and many of her sister Playmates would probably say amen to that. When they were offered the centerfold, some were posing for calendars; others were waitressing at Hooters or working in hair salons. Several were single mothers. And though a few tell of having to change their names so as not to embarrass the folks back home, others report that their families urged them to seize this opportunity. Miss March 1968 got into Playboy because her grandmother wrote to the magazine, “My granddaughter is much better looking and much bustier than any of the girls you’ve been shooting.”

The fee for a centerfold shoot was five hundred dollars in the fifties. Today, it is twenty-five thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money. Miss December 1973 used her earnings to make the down payment on her parents’ house. But the fee was only a start. What these women wanted, and hoped the centerfold would get them, was a career in modelling or acting. Many went on to such work, though not at the high end. The blond bombshell Anna Nicole Smith, Miss May 1992, modelled for Guess jeans, but others are more likely to speak of swimsuit or lingerie ads, and, especially, of beer ads. As for the Playmates’ acting history, the statement on Miss October 1999’s page—“On screen, Jodi’s best known as Ramdar, the ‘Super Hot Giant Alien Chick’ from ‘Dude, Where’s My Car’ ”—more or less sums it up. But film jobs seem to have been gravy. Miss July 1973 reports having appeared, presumably as a hostess, on “every game show ever created by man.” Another says that she did “about a hundred rock videos.” The lucky ones got roles in soap operas or sitcoms. Miss January 1957 went on to be David Nelson’s wife on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” and in life.

Marriage, of course, was another thing the Playmates had in mind, and several of them landed rock musicians or professional athletes. Anna Nicole Smith bagged an eighty-nine-year-old oil billionaire, J. Howard Marshall, and after his death, the following year, became entangled in a long series of lawsuits with his family over the estate—a joy to the tabloids. The case finally went to the Supreme Court earlier this month. For her appearance, Smith wore a little black dress and a big silver cross. The court’s decision will be rendered by the end of June.

Not surprisingly, however, many of the Playmates, once they passed their twenties, fell back into regular life. One is a dental hygienist for dogs and cats, two are cops, one taught creative writing at the City University of New York. Several have become artists. Miss September 1998 is a “traditional Aztec dancer”; Judy Tyler, Miss January 1966, creates “Fronds by Judea—original art from palm trees.” Miss July 1999 is making “hip-hop action sports videos” with her boyfriend. “I want to be taken seriously,” she says, “because I intend to be a good producer one day.” Quite a few of the ex-Playmates, in keeping with the book’s insistent claim of normality, list their families as their sole and beloved project. At the same time, the text is very forthcoming about how many divorces these women have had, and how a number of them are no longer eager to have a man in the house. Several Playmates have found God. Debra Jo Fondren, the gorgeous Miss September 1977, who now does temporary secretarial work, reports that she finally stopped participating in Playboy promotions. There was “too much emphasis on sex,” she explains.

Today—or, actually, by the eighties—one wonders whether sex, as it is experienced by human beings, is still the point. The current centerfolds, buck naked though they may be, communicate almost no suggestion of anything. In Playboy pinups, one is not looking for the note of the divine that one finds in the Venuses of ancient statuary, let alone for the pathos of Rembrandt’s nudes. Nor should one ask for naturalness—a real-looking girl. That is a sentimental preference, and one that many great nudes (Ingres’s, Degas’s) can refute. But what is so bewildering about the later Playboy centerfolds is their utter texturelessness: their lack of any question, any traction, any grain of sand from which the sexual imagination could make a pearl. Kenneth Clark, in his classic book “The Nude” (1956), repeatedly compares a period’s nudes to its architecture. The Playmates of the past few decades look to me like the “cereal box” buildings that went up on Sixth Avenue in the sixties, those cold, shiny structures, with no niches, no insets—no doors, it seemed. Likewise, the current Playmates seem to have no point of entry. And wasn’t entry the idea?

Perhaps, despite the continuing girl-next-door protestations, the very remoteness of these women is their attraction. Clark, in his book, speaks of the “smoothed-out form and waxen surface” of the academic nudes of the nineteenth century. Hefner’s latter-day nudes have the same look: the skin like polished armor (and it is polished—a side photo of Miss June 1981 shows her getting her hip sprayed with Formula 409); the golden light; the velvet thickness of the paper. This is not so much sex, or a woman, as something more like a well-buffed Maserati.

It is clearly appealing. Playboy sells about three million copies a month in the United States. But three million is less than half of what the magazine’s circulation was in the early seventies. Hefner has repeatedly portrayed himself as a major force in the sexual revolution—he seems to think that he and Alfred Kinsey were its prime movers—but eventually the revolution left him behind. After “Debbie Does Dallas” or “1 Night in Paris”—indeed, after Internet pornography—who needs Miss December 2004, flashing her little heinie at us from aboard a yacht? One might answer that some people prefer their sexual materials soft-core. If so, they can turn to the new “lad” magazines, such as Maxim and FHM , which show the women clothed (if barely) and, at the same time, look more up-to-date than Playboy .

That, in the end, is the most striking thing about Playboy ’scenterfolds: how old-fashioned they seem. This whole “bachelor” world, with the brandy snifters and the attractive guest arriving for the night: did it ever exist? Yes, as a fantasy. Now, however, it is the property of homosexuals. (A more modern-looking avatar of the Playmates’ pneumatic breasts is Robert Mapplethorpe’s Mr. 10 _.) Today, if you try to present yourself as a suave middle-aged bachelor, people will assume you’re gay. But though times have changed, Hefner hasn’t. He has described Playboy as a projection of “the wonderful world I dig,” and he has gone on innocently digging it no matter what. In 1967, he moved the corporation’s offices into a thirty-seven-story skyscraper—which, to the grief of the city fathers, beamed the name Playboy, in bright lights, over Chicago’s skyline—but he almost never went to the office. He stayed in the Mansion, and sent his employees memos. When a face-to-face meeting was absolutely necessary, it was held at the Mansion. In Russell Miller’s thorough and unadmiring book “Bunny: The Real Story of Playboy” (1984), Robert Gutwillig, a vice-president of the corporation, says that the purpose of these gatherings, as far as Hefner was concerned, was just to let the editorial staff blow off steam, after which, he hoped, they’d go away and leave him alone for another few months. According to Art Paul, the magazine’s longtime art director, one of Hefner’s girlfriends would sometimes call in the middle of the meeting, and then the boss excused himself: “We’d sit there waiting for him while he got laid.” Frequently, however, what he wanted was just to get back to the Mansion’s game room. Hefner is addicted to games: pinball machines, electronic games, board games. He likes to do forty-hour Monopoly marathons, fuelled by Pepsi (of which, it has been said, he used to consume three dozen bottles a day) and Dexedrine. Often, the meetings cut short by these exigencies had to do with the competition, but Hefner, unlike his staff, doesn’t seem to have cared much about the competition. When Penthouse went “pink”—that is, began photographing what was between the labia majora— Playboy refused to do so. As for the insurgents on the other side, he hired the former executive editor of Maxim to make suggestions about pitching Playboy to younger readers, but this man lasted less than two years. Hefner liked the magazine the way it was.

Over the years, he has become a kind of Howard Hughes recluse, if less eccentric. In 1971, he bought a second mansion, in Los Angeles, and, indifferent to the fact that the magazine’s headquarters were half a continent away, he enclosed himself there more or less permanently. He wasn’t hiding, though; he welcomed camera crews. In the magazine, and in Playboy ’sbooks and on its Web site, we see him tooling around the manor, in his trademark silk pajamas, with a posse of blondes in tow. And he wants us to know that though he is seventy-nine, he is not just playing Monopoly with these women. In his most recent publishing venture, “Hef’s Little Black Book” (2004, coauthored with Bill Zehme), we are offered a chapter on “making love like the master.” He recommends Viagra: “There’s always a time when you’re looking for wood.” Another tip: “It is a good idea not to fall asleep while you’re actually having intercourse.”

How long can this story go on being told? Maybe for a long time, on the electronic media. By the mid-eighties, Hefner’s corporation had closed down its Playboy clubs and resort hotels, but it has since spawned an ambitious “entertainment” division, consisting of Internet programming, pay-per-view and subscription TV, radio, DVDs and home videos. This division now supplies sixty per cent of the corporation’s revenues. As for the magazine, the surprise is not that it has lost fifty per cent of its readers but that, outdated as it is, it has lost only that many, and that the faithful are not all in nursing homes. (According to a 2005 market study, the readers’ median age is thirty-three.) A good comparison, made recently in Time , is with Mad , which was launched a year before Playboy and was as much a product of the fifties as Hefner’s publication. Mad is still in print, but with one-tenth the circulation it had in the early seventies. Next to that, Hefner’s half a loaf looks pretty good. It looks even better when you consider that, while all print media are suffering in the face of electronic competition, no sector of old-style journalism has been more vulnerable than men’s magazines. Unlike, say, book reviews, sex lends itself to the screen, and, God knows, it has prospered there. (Sex sites, it has been estimated, account for forty per cent of all Internet traffic.) Penthouse only lately emerged from bankruptcy hearings. Meanwhile, Playboy is still the best-selling men’s magazine in the United States.

JESUS NATION SEX REBEL, mini-chapter 38


Joshua Grant’s house was in a gated community by the beach. Surrounded by a high wall. Entry boxes every fifty paces. A liveried guard took Adam’s invitation, photographed him and Eve, spent a minute at a keyboard, and then let them through. A line of cars waited behind them. Marble driveway. As they stepped on to a winding path leading past a rockery to the front steps, Adam noticed that the marble here was scuffed, to fit in with the rustic raggedyness of the rockery. Recycled marble. They reached the front steps. Smooth and polished marble again. But bordered with post-modern aluminum strips. Shiny marble texture of Grecian columns. Pillars of pugnacious slenderness. Bracing the rococo stucco of the structure. Ceiling painted in a Michelangelo fashion. So true-to-form that it was no doubt meant as a mock-heroic parody. Levels of intellectual sophistication here that interfered with formatted opinion.

They entered. Man in livery taking their coats. Showing them through the door to a big entertainment area. A living room opening on a patio with a pool lit from inside. Many well-dressed men and women. More than well-dressed: sumptuously dressed, as if at a Monte Carlo casino. Women with makeup. Eve was shocked. Female Beloveds never wore makeup. Only V-dolls did. In fact, makeup was how you could tell a V-doll; red lipstick was mandatory for them. Here the women all had that V-doll look, except they didn’t, because they didn’t look poor.

Eve had not known that Blesseds could wear makeup, because she, a mere Beloved, never mixed with Blesseds. The only time she had met Blesseds was when she appeared on Rachel’s behalf in front of her Patriot Board. The privileged Females at this party went even further than makeup: they all had something special and expensive in their hair. Jewelry. Tiaras.

Here it was, the big gap between the Blesseds and the Beloveds. Here was power, the power she aspired to, concrete and palpable. Here was the new ruling class, dressed up in their elite refinery. Here there might be actual Men of the Gospel present. Here was a part of Jesusland that she had heard of, but never seen. Here was the concrete outcome of the Reformation.

This was what it looked like, face-to-face, close-up, this Reformation that had started so deceptively slowly, under the Great Communicator Reagan, now seen as the earliest precursor of the Reformation. It found more momentum during the years of Bush the Rock, under whose leadership the Church began to invade the State, and many new faith-based programs were funded that seeded the take-over of the State by the Church. For example, programs that encouraged abstention from sex in order to deal with pregnancy before marriage.

But the great change, of which these people were the instigators and now the beneficiaries, had come very recently, with the Great Attack, which spawned the Reformation itself.

Just think back a year, Eve recalled, and you would not recognize the country today. They used to say there are no atheists in a foxhole. Well, now the whole country was in a foxhole. After the monstrous shock and the total horror of the Great Attack, everyone got religion big time, and this religion was of a specific kind and a special intensity – loud, demonstrative, and ultra-conservative. Everyone started to pray. Suddenly praying was more popular than fast food. If Muslims could pray five times a day, so could Christians.

In this revivalist atmosphere, countless demonstrations had taken place all over the country, culminating in the great Family Values March, when more than ten million people flooded the outskirts of the Wound of Washington in a march to heal the wound that united everyone, from Jews for Jesus to Southern Baptists to the American Legion to the National Rifle Association.







These were some of the slogans of the Reformation. Sex, like drinking, became illegal before the age of twenty-one. Any youngster caught at it was publicly flogged and sent to prison until he or she was twenty-one. Under-age sex had been more or less stamped out, because there were always teenagers willing to inform on their friends.

Those who weren’t swept up in the tide of the Reformation left the country: a brain drain of scientists, academics and liberals to Canada and Europe. Good riddance, the Men of the Gospel said. The nation was purifying itself of secular humanists, lesbians, feminists, atheists, pagans and hedonists.

If there were any moderate Christians left, they kept their beliefs to themselves, because it got positively dangerous to have any other kind of belief than a literal belief in the Bible, especially after the establishment of the thousands of Patriot Boards. A Non-Sanctioned Notion could get you and your family into serious trouble.

The Great Attack was the singular and defining event that scared the entire population out of its wits, that drove the prevailing ethos to the far right, that catapulted the land into the sweeping tide of the Reformation, when the country reinvented itself and ushered in the Reformed Constitution of Jesusland, and the formerly bifurcated politics -- the bother of a partisan, bickering two-party system -- congealed into a single expression: the Hallelujah Party. Thus was born the United States under God: the USUG, a united, mighty hammer, and a universally feared empire. Its strongholds dotted the globe. Permanent garrisons of Special Forces -- Crusaders for Christ – stood ready to be deployed in a matter of hours to stamp out the slightest insurgence anywhere in its far domains.

Things had gotten so scary that the president, for example, was now always airborne in a flotilla of high-flying jets. The White House was the White Jet, fueled in mid-air, never landing until the next president was elected and sworn in at a secret airstrip, where the new president took to the air, and only returned to earth when his term was over.

Puritan values were paramount. Any other values were regarded as dangerous and undermining, and therefore Non-Sanctioned and open to prosecution. The Family Values Act and the various Patriot Acts legislated compliance from everyone, and the Bureau of Behavior Design and Management enforced all behavior protocols, which governed everything from dating to work to school to church to family life.

And here she was, at a party where she was bound to meet some important members of the powerful elite that ruled the new America.

Bookplanet: There are people who are writers. Then there are guys who write for money.

The Man Who Can't Miss
James Patterson writes four best sellers a year. How does he do it? With a lot of help from friends

Literature is not a democracy. In the book world, being popular does not necessarily make you great. But if it were, and if it did, then the man sitting across the table from me in a canary-yellow mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., would be president-for-life of the literary universe, and Philip Roth would be a comptroller in North Dakota.

The man in the mansion is James Patterson. He is the author of 34 books, the last 18 of which have gone to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. All told he's sold about 100 million copies; last year they earned him something on the order of $40 million. At 58, Patterson puts out four or five books annually: mysteries, thrillers, romance novels, fantasy--he takes all comers. He's already got one out in 2006, The 5th Horseman, and it's only March. Patterson is the world's greatest best-seller factory, and depending on how you look at it, he's either a damn good writer or the Beast of the coming literary apocalypse.

When the apocalypse arrives, at least he'll be comfortable. Patterson spends most of the year in Palm Beach, three blocks from a world-class golf course. His backyard is the Intracoastal Waterway. Sitting in his airy, wood-paneled office, surrounded by about a dozen neat stacks of paper representing works in progress, he's amiable, chatty and deeply unpretentious--he refers to his writing as "scribbling." But it's at least a bit of a con--he's read practically everything, and he gets a sly kick out of reminding you of that. He references both Ibsen and Crichton, Joan Didion and Jean Genet. Before I arrived, just as a courtesy, he read my book.

Patterson grew up in a small town in upstate New York. He always wanted to be a writer, but he didn't find it necessary to starve along the way: he had a highly successful career in advertising, including a six-year run as chairman of J. Walter Thompson in North America. But he never gave up on his dream. In 1977 his first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, won an Edgar Award, the Oscar of the mystery world, although it wasn't a big commercial success. His evolution into James Patterson, The Man Who Only Writes Best Sellers, had yet to to be fulfilled.

First came the creation of the Patterson style, which dispenses with any flowery bits or extraneous details. A typical Patterson novel might have 150 chapters, but each one is just two or three pages long. His paragraphs are short too, often just one or two sentences. It's an approach that emphasizes action over style and pace over everything. "It was a little bit of an accident," he says. "I was writing a book called Midnight Club, and I'd done about 100 pages, and I was planning to really flesh them out. And I read the 100 pages, and I said, There's something interesting here. And that's where I went to just leaving a lot of stuff out."

One of the things that's fascinating about Patterson is his total lack of interest in received wisdom; another is his complete confidence in his own judgment. With 1992's Along Came a Spider, the first novel in his Alex Cross series, Patterson knew he'd written a best seller--so he took control of the way it was designed and marketed. When his publisher told him it wasn't interested in running a TV campaign, he called in a few favors at J. Walter Thompson and shot the ad with his own money. He wasn't jazzed about Spider's cover, so he redesigned it. "They'd done a cover that had a kid's sneaker on it, with a little blood on it, and I went, I don't know, it didn't do anything for me. I want the reaction to be, 'I want this!'" He blew up the title into huge letters that practically shouted across the bookstore that this book was going to give thriller readers exactly what they were looking for. Spider became Patterson's first best seller. He still designs all his own covers. Harvard Business School now teaches a case study on his marketing techniques.

But Patterson still wasn't done. He wanted to re-engineer his own creative process. He's never had a problem with writer's block, but there were just too many ideas piling up in his head. So when he and journalist Peter de Jonge came up with an idea for a golf novel, Miracle on the 17th Green, he thought, Why not just write it together? "Peter's a much better stylist than I am, and I'm a much better storyteller than he is. It's another way to do things. Why not?"

Since then Patterson has co-written eight of his novels. He'll whip up a detailed outline, then ship it off to his collaborator for a first draft. "I may talk to them on a couple-week basis," he says. "And then at a certain point I'll just take it over and write as many as seven drafts. There were a couple of them that really were a mess," he adds ruefully. "At least twice it's been, 'I wish that I just started this thing myself.'" It's rare for big-name authors to use co-writers, and rarer still for them to do it openly, but readers don't seem to mind. "When he first published a book with a co-author on the cover, we watched the performance of that book very nervously," says Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch, who edits Patterson. "But the sales were great, because his name was there, and it read like a James Patterson novel."

One collaborator, Andrew Gross, used to run the sports-equipment company Head, but his dream was to write novels, and he couldn't get any traction with publishers. One day he got a call: Patterson had seen his manuscript and wanted to have breakfast. "Basically what he said was, I've got a lot of stories to tell, and nobody has the resources to tell 'em all, and would I like to talk about a project with him?" That was the beginning of a seven-year partnership, a highly educational one for Gross--he jokes that it's the equivalent of getting an M.F.A. and M.B.A. at the same time. Gross now has a three-book deal of his own.

Patterson probably outsells Toni Morrison 10 books to 1, but his success comes at a price. He will never get respect from the literati. Most reviewers ignore him. In a culture that values high style over storytelling, pretty prose over popularity and pulse-pounding plots, he's at the extreme wrong end of the spectrum, and he knows it. And, yes, it irks him a little. "That's probably my biggest frustration," he admits. "There's something going on here that's significant, and it's not easy to do. If it was easy to do, a lot of people would do it."

It isn't easy, nor is it easy to put down, but it isn't quite art either. The fact is, Patterson is an affront to every Romantic myth of the artist we have. He's not tortured. He's not poor. He doesn't work alone, and he's way too unsentimental about his work. Of The 5th Horseman, he shrugs, saying, "I don't think it's terribly worth reading, honestly. I think it's fine for that kind of series." But maybe it's time to let go of a few Romantic myths. There's something to be said for good plotting, and for living in mansions instead of garrets, and for not taking yourself too seriously. Literature may not be a democracy, but it doesn't have to be bad business.

Deep Thoughts: a billion-strong global proletariat lives in slums in the 3rd World's post-industrial mega-cities


Sometime in the next year, a woman will give birth in the Lagos slum of Ajegunle, a young man will flee his village in west Java for the bright lights of Jakarta, or a farmer will move his impoverished family into one of Lima’s innumerable pueblos jovenes. The exact event is unimportant and it will pass entirely unnoticed. Nonetheless it will constitute a watershed in human history. For the first time the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural. Indeed, given the imprecisions of Third World censuses, this epochal transition may already have occurred.

The earth has urbanized even faster than originally predicted by the Club of Rome in its notoriously Malthusian 1972 report, Limits of Growth . In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population over one million; today there are 400, and by 2015, there will be at least 550. [1] Cities, indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global population explosion since 1950 and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each week. [2] The present urban population (3.2 billion) is larger than the total population of the world in 1960. The global countryside, meanwhile, has reached its maximum population (3.2 billion) and will begin to shrink after 2020. As a result, cities will account for all future world population growth, which is expected to peak at about 10 billion in 2050. [3]


Where are the heroes, the colonisers, the victims of the Metropolis?
Brecht, Diary entry, 1921

Ninety-five per cent of this final buildout of humanity will occur in the urban areas of developing countries, whose population will double to nearly 4 billion over the next generation. [4] (Indeed, the combined urban population of China, India and Brazil already roughly equals that of Europe plus North America.) The most celebrated result will be the burgeoning of new megacities with populations in excess of 8 million, and, even more spectacularly, hypercities with more than 20 million inhabitants (the estimated urban population of the world at the time of the French Revolution). [5] In 1995 only Tokyo had incontestably reached that threshold. By 2025, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review , Asia alone could have ten or eleven conurbations that large, including Jakarta (24.9 million), Dhaka (25 million) and Karachi (26.5 million). Shanghai, whose growth was frozen for decades by Maoist policies of deliberate under-urbanization, could have as many as 27 million residents in its huge estuarial metro-region. [6] Mumbai (Bombay) meanwhile is projected to attain a population of 33 million, although no one knows whether such gigantic concentrations of poverty are biologically or ecologically sustainable. [7]

But if megacities are the brightest stars in the urban firmament, three-quarters of the burden of population growth will be borne by faintly visible second-tier cities and smaller urban areas: places where, as un researchers emphasize, ‘there is little or no planning to accommodate these people or provide them with services.’ [8] In China (officially 43 per cent urban in 1997), the number of official cities has soared from 193 to 640 since 1978. But the great metropolises, despite extraordinary growth, have actually declined in relative share of urban population. It is, rather, the small cities and recently ‘citized’ towns that have absorbed the majority of the rural labour-power made redundant by post-1979 market reforms. [9] In Africa, likewise, the supernova-like growth of a few giant cities like Lagos (from 300,000 in 1950 to 10 million today) has been matched by the transformation of several dozen small towns and oases like Ouagadougou, Nouakchott, Douala, Antananarivo and Bamako into cities larger than San Francisco or Manchester. In Latin America, where primary cities long monopolized growth, secondary cities like Tijuana, Curitiba, Temuco, Salvador and Belém are now booming, ‘with the fastest growth of all occurring in cities with between 100,000 and 500,000 inhabitants.’ [10]

Moreover, as Gregory Guldin has urged, urbanization must be conceptualized as structural transformation along, and intensified interaction between, every point of an urban–rural continuum. In his case-study of southern China, the countryside is urbanizing in situ as well as generating epochal migrations. ‘Villages become more like market and xiang towns, and county towns and small cities become more like large cities.’ The result in China and much of Southeast Asia is a hermaphroditic landscape, a partially urbanized countryside that Guldin and others argue may be ‘a significant new path of human settlement and development . . . a form neither rural nor urban but a blending of the two wherein a dense web of transactions ties large urban cores to their surrounding regions.’ [11] In Indonesia, where a similar process of rural/urban hybridization is far advanced in Jabotabek (the greater Jakarta region), researchers call these novel land-use patterns desokotas and debate whether they are transitional landscapes or a dramatic new species of urbanism. [12]

Urbanists also speculate about the processes weaving together Third World cities into extraordinary new networks, corridors and hierarchies. For example, the Pearl River (Hong Kong–Guangzhou) and the Yangtze River (Shanghai) deltas, along with the Beijing–Tianjin corridor, are rapidly developing into urban-industrial megalopolises comparable to Tokyo–Osaka, the lower Rhine, or New York–Philadelphia. But this may only be the first stage in the emergence of an even larger structure: ‘a continuous urban corridor stretching from Japan/North Korea to West Java.’ [13] Shanghai, almost certainly, will then join Tokyo, New York and London as one of the ‘world cities’ controlling the global web of capital and information flows. The price of this new urban order will be increasing inequality within and between cities of different sizes and specializations. Guldin, for example, cites intriguing Chinese discussions over whether the ancient income-and-development chasm between city and countryside is now being replaced by an equally fundamental gap between small cities and the coastal giants. [14]


I saw innumerable hosts, foredoomed to darkness, dirt, pestilence, obscenity, misery and early death.
Dickens, ‘A December Vision’, 1850

The dynamics of Third World urbanization both recapitulate and confound the precedents of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Europe and North America. In China the greatest industrial revolution in history is the Archimedean lever shifting a population the size of Europe’s from rural villages to smog-choked sky-climbing cities. As a result, ‘China [will] cease to be the predominantly rural country it has been for millennia.’ [15] Indeed, the great oculus of the Shanghai World Financial Centre may soon look out upon a vast urban world little imagined by Mao or, for that matter, Le Corbusier. But in most of the developing world, city growth lacks China’s powerful manufacturing-export engine as well as its vast inflow of foreign capital (currently equal to half of total foreign investment in the developing world).

Urbanization elsewhere, as a result, has been radically decoupled from industrialization, even from development per se . Some would argue that this is an expression of an inexorable trend: the inherent tendency of silicon capitalism to delink the growth of production from that of employment. But in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Asia, urbanization-without-growth is more obviously the legacy of a global political conjuncture—the debt crisis of the late 1970s and subsequent imf -led restructuring of Third World economies in the 1980s—than an iron law of advancing technology. Third World urbanization, moreover, continued its breakneck pace (3.8 per cent per annum from 1960–93) through the locust years of the 1980s and early 1990s in spite of falling real wages, soaring prices and skyrocketing urban unemployment. [16]

This ‘perverse’ urban boom contradicted orthodox economic models which predicted that the negative feedback of urban recession should slow or even reverse migration from the countryside. The African case was particularly paradoxical. How could cities in Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Gabon and elsewhere—whose economies were contracting by 2 to 5 per cent per year—still sustain population growth of 5 to 8 per cent per annum? [17] Part of the secret, of course, was that imf - (and now wto -) enforced policies of agricultural deregulation and ‘de-peasantization’ were accelerating the exodus of surplus rural labour to urban slums even as cities ceased to be job machines. Urban population growth in spite of stagnant or negative urban economic growth is the extreme face of what some researchers have labelled ‘over-urbanization’. [18] It is just one of the several unexpected tracks down which a neoliberal world order has shunted millennial urbanization.

Classical social theory from Marx to Weber, of course, believed that the great cities of the future would follow in the industrializing footsteps of Manchester, Berlin and Chicago. Indeed, Los Angeles, São Paulo, Pusan and, today, Ciudad Juárez, Bangalore and Guangzhou, have roughly approximated this classical trajectory. But most cities of the South are more like Victorian Dublin which, as Emmet Larkin has emphasized, was unique amongst ‘all the slumdoms produced in the western world in the nineteenth century . . . [because] its slums were not a product of the industrial revolution. Dublin, in fact, suffered more from the problems of de-industrialization than industrialization between 1800 and 1850.’ [19]

Likewise Kinshasa, Khartoum, Dar es Salaam, Dhaka and Lima grow prodigiously despite ruined import-substitution industries, shrunken public sectors and downwardly mobile middle classes. The global forces ‘pushing’ people from the countryside—mechanization in Java and India, food imports in Mexico, Haiti and Kenya, civil war and drought throughout Africa, and everywhere the consolidation of small into large holdings and the competition of industrial-scale agribusiness—seem to sustain urbanization even when the ‘pull’ of the city is drastically weakened by debt and depression. [20] At the same time, rapid urban growth in the context of structural adjustment, currency devaluation and state retrenchment has been an inevitable recipe for the mass production of slums. [21] Much of the urban world, as a result, is rushing backwards to the age of Dickens.

The astonishing prevalence of slums is the chief theme of the historic and sombre report published last October by the United Nations’ Human Settlements Programme ( un -Habitat). [22] The Challenge of the Slums (henceforth: Slums ) is the first truly global audit of urban poverty. It adroitly integrates diverse urban case-studies from Abidjan to Sydney with global household data that for the first time includes China and the ex-Soviet Bloc. (The un authors acknowledge a particular debt to Branko Milanovic, the World Bank economist who has pioneered the use of micro-surveys as a powerful lens to study growing global inequality. In one of his papers, Milanovic explains: ‘for the first time in human history, researchers have reasonably accurate data on the distribution of income or welfare [expenditures or consumption] amongst more than 90 per cent of the world population.’) [23]

Slums is also unusual in its intellectual honesty. One of the researchers associated with the report told me that ‘the “Washington Consensus” types (World Bank, imf , etc.) have always insisted on defining the problem of global slums not as a result of globalization and inequality but rather as a result of “bad governance”.’ The new report, however, breaks with traditional un circumspection and self-censorship to squarely indict neoliberalism, especially the imf ’s structural adjustment programmes. [24] ‘The primary direction of both national and international interventions during the last twenty years has actually increased urban poverty and slums, increased exclusion and inequality, and weakened urban elites in their efforts to use cities as engines of growth.’ [25]

Slums , to be sure, neglects (or saves for later un -Habitat reports) some of the most important land-use issues arising from super-urbanization and informal settlement, including sprawl, environmental degradation, and urban hazards. It also fails to shed much light on the processes expelling labour from the countryside or to incorporate a large and rapidly growing literature on the gender dimensions of urban poverty and informal employment. But these cavils aside, Slums remains an invaluable exposé that amplifies urgent research findings with the institutional authority of the United Nations. If the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change represent an unprecedented scientific consensus on the dangers of global warming, then Slums sounds an equally authoritative warning about the global catastrophe of urban poverty. (A third report someday may explore the ominous terrain of their interaction.) [26] And, for the purposes of this review, it provides an excellent framework for reconnoitering contemporary debates on urbanization, the informal economy, human solidarity and historical agency.


The mountain of trash seemed to stretch very far, then gradually without perceptible demarcation or boundary it became something else. But what? A jumbled and pathless collection of structures. Cardboard cartons, plywood and rotting boards, the rusting and glassless shells of cars, had been thrown together to form habitation.
Michael Thelwell, The Harder They Come, 1980

The first published definition of ‘slum’ reportedly occurs in Vaux’s 1812 Vocabulary of the Flash Language , where it is synonymous with ‘racket’ or ‘criminal trade’. [27] By the cholera years of the 1830s and 1840s, however, the poor were living in slums rather than practising them. A generation later, slums had been identified in America and India, and were generally recognized as an international phenomenon. The ‘classic slum’ was a notoriously parochial and picturesquely local place, but reformers generally agreed with Charles Booth that all slums were characterized by an amalgam of dilapidated housing, overcrowding, poverty and vice. For nineteenth-century Liberals, of course, the moral dimension was decisive and the slum was first and above all envisioned as a place where a social ‘residuum’ rots in immoral and often riotous splendour. Slums ’ authors discard Victorian calumnies, but otherwise preserve the classical definition: overcrowding, poor or informal housing, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, and insecurity of tenure. [28]

This multi-dimensional definition is actually a very conservative gauge of what qualifies as a slum: many readers will be surprised by the un ’s counter-experiential finding that only 19.6 per cent of urban Mexicans live in slums. Yet, even with this restrictive definition, Slums estimates that there were at least 921 million slum-dwellers in 2001: nearly equal to the population of the world when the young Engels first ventured onto the mean streets of Manchester. Indeed, neoliberal capitalism has multiplied Dickens’s notorious slum of Tom-All-Alone in Bleak House by exponential powers. Residents of slums constitute a staggering 78.2 per cent of the urban population of the least developed countries and fully a third of the global urban population. [29] Extrapolating from the age structures of most Third World cities, at least half of the slum population is under the age of 20. [30]

The world’s highest percentages of slum-dwellers are in Ethiopia (an astonishing 99.4 per cent of the urban population), Chad (also 99.4 per cent), Afghanistan (98.5 percent) and Nepal (92 per cent). [31] The poorest urban populations, however, are probably in Maputo and Kinshasa where (according to other sources) two-thirds of residents earn less than the cost of their minimum required daily nutrition. [32] In Delhi, planners complain bitterly about ‘slums within slums’ as squatters take over the small open spaces of the peripheral resettlement colonies into which the old urban poor were brutally removed in the mid-1970s. [33] In Cairo and Phnom Penh, recent urban arrivals squat or rent space on rooftops: creating slum cities in the air.

Slum populations are often deliberately and sometimes massively undercounted. In the late 1980s, for example, Bangkok had an ‘official’ poverty rate of only 5 per cent, yet surveys found nearly a quarter of the population (1.16 million) living in slums and squatter camps. [34] The un , likewise, recently discovered that it was unintentionally undercounting urban poverty in Africa by large margins. Slum-dwellers in Angola, for example, are probably twice as numerous as it originally believed. Likewise it underestimated the number of poor urbanites in Liberia: not surprising, since Monrovia tripled its population in a single year (1989–90) as panic-stricken country people fled from a brutal civil war. [35]

There may be more than quarter of a million slums on earth. The five great metropolises of South Asia (Karachi, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Dhaka) alone contain about 15,000 distinct slum communities with a total population of more than 20 million. An even larger slum population crowds the urbanizing littoral of West Africa, while other huge conurbations of poverty sprawl across Anatolia and the Ethiopian highlands; hug the base of the Andes and the Himalayas; explode outward from the skyscraper cores of Mexico, Jo-burg, Manila and São Paulo; and, of course, line the banks of the rivers Amazon, Niger, Congo, Nile, Tigris, Ganges, Irrawaddy and Mekong. The building blocks of this slum planet, paradoxically, are both utterly interchangeable and spontaneously unique: including the bustees of Kolkata, the chawls and zopadpattis of Mumbai, the katchi abadis of Karachi, the kampungs of Jakarta, the iskwaters of Manila, the shammasas of Khartoum, the umjondolos of Durban, the intra-murios of Rabat, the bidonvilles of Abidjan, the baladis of Cairo, the gecekondus of Ankara, the conventillos of Quito, the favelas of Brazil, the villas miseria of Buenos Aires and the colonias populares of Mexico City. They are the gritty antipodes to the generic fantasy-scapes and residential themeparks—Philip K. Dick’s bourgeois ‘Offworlds’—in which the global middle classes increasingly prefer to cloister themselves.

Whereas the classic slum was a decaying inner city, the new slums are more typically located on the edge of urban spatial explosions. The horizontal growth of cities like Mexico, Lagos or Jakarta, of course, has been extraordinary, and ‘slum sprawl’ is as much of a problem in the developing world as suburban sprawl in the rich countries. The developed area of Lagos, for instance, doubled in a single decade, between 1985 and 1994. [36] The Governor of Lagos State told reporters last year that ‘about two thirds of the state’s total land mass of 3,577 square kilometres could be classified as shanties or slums’. [37] Indeed, writes a un correspondent,

much of the city is a mystery . . . unlit highways run past canyons of smouldering garbage before giving way to dirt streets weaving through 200 slums, their sewers running with raw waste . . . No one even knows for sure the size of the population—officially it is 6 million, but most experts estimate it at 10 million—let alone the number of murders each year [or] the rate of hiv infection. [38]

Lagos, moreover, is simply the biggest node in the shanty-town corridor of 70 million people that stretches from Abidjan to Ibadan: probably the biggest continuous footprint of urban poverty on earth. [39]

Slum ecology, of course, revolves around the supply of settlement space. Winter King, in a recent study published in the Harvard Law Review , claims that 85 per cent of the urban residents of the developing world ‘occupy property illegally’. [40] Indeterminacy of land titles and/or lax state ownership, in the last instance, are the cracks through which a vast humanity has poured into the cities. The modes of slum settlement vary across a huge spectrum, from highly disciplined land invasions in Mexico City and Lima to intricately organized (but often illegal) rental markets on the outskirts of Beijing, Karachi and Nairobi. Even in cities like Karachi, where the urban periphery is formally owned by the government, ‘vast profits from land speculation . . . continue to accrue to the private sector at the expense of low-income households’. [41] Indeed national and local political machines usually acquiesce in informal settlement (and illegal private speculation) as long as they can control the political complexion of the slums and extract a regular flow of bribes or rents. Without formal land titles or home ownership, slum-dwellers are forced into quasi-feudal dependencies upon local officials and party bigshots. Disloyalty can mean eviction or even the razing of an entire district.

The provision of lifeline infrastructures, meanwhile, lags far behind the pace of urbanization, and peri-urban slum areas often have no formal utilities or sanitation provision whatsoever. [42] Poor areas of Latin American cities in general have better utilities than South Asia which, in turn, usually have minimum urban services, like water and electricity, that many African slums lack. As in early Victorian London, the contamination of water by human and animal waste remains the cause of the chronic diarrhoeal diseases that kill at least two million urban babies and small children each year. [43] An estimated 57 per cent of urban Africans lack access to basic sanitation and in cities like Nairobi the poor must rely on ‘flying toilets’ (defecation into a plastic bag). [44] In Mumbai, meanwhile, the sanitation problem is defined by ratios of one toilet seat per 500 inhabitants in the poorer districts. Only 11 per cent of poor neighbourhoods in Manila and 18 per cent in Dhaka have formal means to dispose of sewage. [45] Quite apart from the incidence of the hiv /aids plague, the un considers that two out of five African slum-dwellers live in a poverty that is literally ‘life-threatening’. [46]

The urban poor, meanwhile, are everywhere forced to settle on hazardous and otherwise unbuildable terrains—over-steep hillslopes, river banks and floodplains. Likewise they squat in the deadly shadows of refineries, chemical factories, toxic dumps, or in the margins of railroads and highways. Poverty, as a result, has ‘constructed’ an urban disaster problem of unprecedented frequency and scope, as typified by chronic flooding in Manila, Dhaka and Rio, pipeline conflagrations in Mexico City and Cubatão (Brazil), the Bhopal catastrophe in India, a munitions plant explosion in Lagos, and deadly mudslides in Caracas, La Paz and Tegucigalpa. [47] The disenfranchised communities of the urban poor, in addition, are vulnerable to sudden outbursts of state violence like the infamous 1990 bulldozing of the Maroko beach slum in Lagos (‘an eyesore for the neighbouring community of Victoria Island, a fortress for the rich’) or the 1995 demolition in freezing weather of the huge squatter town of Zhejiangcun on the edge of Beijing. [48]

But slums, however deadly and insecure, have a brilliant future. The countryside will for a short period still contain the majority of the world’s poor, but that doubtful title will pass to urban slums by 2035. [49] At least half of the coming Third World urban population explosion will be credited to the account of informal communities. Two billion slum dwellers by 2030 or 2040 is a monstrous, almost incomprehensible prospect, but urban poverty overlaps and exceeds the slums per se . Indeed, Slums underlines that in some cities the majority of the poor actually live outside the slum stricto sensu .[50] un ‘Urban Observatory’ researchers warn, moreover, that by 2020 ‘urban poverty in the world could reach 45 to 50 per cent of the total population living in cities’. [51]


After their mysterious laughter, they quickly changed the topic to other things. How were people back home surviving sap ?
Fidelis Balogun, Adjusted Lives , 1995

The evolution of the new urban poverty has been a non-linear historical process. The slow accretion of shanty towns to the shell of the city is punctuated by storms of poverty and sudden explosions of slum-building. In his collection of stories, Adjusted Lives , the Nigerian writer Fidelis Balogun describes the coming of the imf -mandated Structural Adjustment Programme ( sap ) in the mid-1980s as the equivalent of a great natural catastrophe, destroying forever the old soul of Lagos and ‘re-enslaving’ urban Nigerians.

The weird logic of this economic programme seemed to be that to restore life to the dying economy, every juice had first to be sap ped out of the underprivileged majority of the citizens. The middle class rapidly disappeared, and the garbage heaps of the increasingly rich few became the food table of the multiplied population of abjectly poor. The brain drain to the oil-rich Arab countries and to the Western world became a flood. [52]

Balogun’s complaint about ‘privatizing in full steam and getting more hungry by the day’, or his enumeration of sap ’s malevolent consequences, would be instantly familiar to survivors, not only of the other 30 African sap s, but also to hundreds of millions of Asians and Latin Americans. The 1980s, when the imf and World Bank used the leverage of debt to restructure the economies of most of the Third World, are the years when slums became an implacable future, not just for poor rural migrants, but also for millions of traditional urbanites, displaced or immiserated by the violence of ‘adjustment’.

As Slums emphasizes, sap s were ‘deliberately anti-urban in nature’ and designed to reverse any ‘urban bias’ that previously existed in welfare policies, fiscal structure or government investment. [53] Everywhere the imf —acting as bailiff for the big banks and backed by the Reagan and Bush administrations—offered poor countries the same poisoned chalice of devaluation, privatization, removal of import controls and food subsidies, enforced cost-recovery in health and education, and ruthless downsizing of the public sector. (An infamous 1985 telegram from Treasury Secretary George Shultz to overseas usaid officials commanded: ‘in most cases, public sector firms should be privatized’.) [54] At the same time, sap s devastated rural smallholders by eliminating subsidies and pushing them out, ‘sink or swim’, into global commodity markets dominated by First World agribusiness. [55]

As Ha-Joon Chang points out, sap s hypocritically ‘kicked away the ladder’ (i.e., protectionist tariffs and subsidies) that the oecd nations historically employed in their own climb from agriculture to urban high-value goods and services. [56] Slums makes the same point when it argues that the ‘main single cause of increases in poverty and inequality during the 1980s and 1990s was the retreat of the state’. In addition to the direct sap -enforced reductions in public-sector spending and ownership, the un authors stress the more subtle diminution of state capacity that has resulted from ‘subsidiarity’: the devolution of powers to lower echelons of government and, especially, ngo s, linked directly to major international aid agencies.

The whole, apparently decentralized structure is foreign to the notion of national representative government that has served the developed world well, while it is very amenable to the operations of a global hegemony. The dominant international perspective [i.e., Washington’s] becomes the de facto paradigm for development, so that the whole world rapidly becomes unified in the broad direction of what is supported by donors and international organizations. [57]

Urban Africa and Latin America were the hardest hit by the artificial depression engineered by the imf and the White House. Indeed, in many countries, the economic impact of sap s during the 1980s, in tandem with protracted drought, rising oil prices, soaring interest rates and falling commodity prices, was more severe and long-lasting than the Great Depression.

The balance-sheet of structural adjustment in Africa, reviewed by Carole Rakodi, includes capital flight, collapse of manufactures, marginal or negative increase in export incomes, drastic cutbacks in urban public services, soaring prices and a steep decline in real wages. [58] In Kinshasa (‘an aberration or rather a sign of things to come?’) assainissement wiped out the civil servant middle class and produced an ‘unbelieveable decline in real wages’ that, in turn, sponsored a nightmarish rise in crime and predatory gangs. [59] In Dar es Salaam, public service expenditure per person fell 10 per cent per year during the 1980s: a virtual demolition of the local state. [60] In Khartoum, liberalization and structural adjustment, according to local researchers, manufactured 1.1 million ‘new poor’: ‘mostly drawn from the salaried groups or public sector employees’. [61] In Abidjan, one of the few tropical African cities with an important manufacturing sector and modern urban services, submission to the sap regime punctually led to deindustrialization, the collapse of construction, and a rapid deterioration in public transit and sanitation. [62] In Balogun’s Nigeria extreme poverty, increasingly urbanized in Lagos, Ibadan and other cities, metastatized from 28 per cent in 1980 to 66 per cent in 1996. ‘ gnp per capita, at about $260 today,’ the World Bank reports, ‘is below the level at independence 40 years ago and below the $370 level attained in 1985.’ [63]

In Latin America, sap s (often implemented by military dictatorships) destabilized rural economies while savaging urban employment and housing. In 1970, Guevarist ‘foco’ theories of rural insurgency still conformed to a continental reality where the poverty of the countryside (75 million poor) overshadowed that of the cities (44 million poor). By the end of the 1980s, however, the vast majority of the poor (115 million in 1990) were living in urban colonias and villas miseria rather than farms or villages (80 million). [64]

Urban inequality, meanwhile, exploded. In Santiago, the Pinochet dictatorship bulldozed shanty towns and evicted formerly radical squatters: forcing poor families to become allegados , doubled or even tripled-up in the same rented dwelling. In Buenos Aires, the richest decile’s share of income increased from 10 times that of the poorest in 1984 to 23 times in 1989. [65] In Lima, where the value of the minimum wage fell by 83 per cent during the imf recession, the percentage of households living below the poverty threshold increased from 17 percent in 1985 to 44 per cent in 1990. [66] In Rio de Janeiro, inequality as measured in classical Gini coefficients soared from 0.58 in 1981 to 0.67 in 1989. [67] Indeed, throughout Latin America, the 1980s deepened the canyons and elevated the peaks of the world’s most extreme social topography. (According to a 2003 World Bank report, Gini coefficients are 10 points higher in Latin America than Asia; 17.5 points higher than the oecd , and 20.4 points higher than Eastern Europe.) [68]

Throughout the Third World, the economic shocks of the 1980s forced individuals to regroup around the pooled resources of households and, especially, the survival skills and desperate ingenuity of women. In China and the industrializing cities of Southeast Asia, millions of young women indentured themselves to assembly lines and factory squalor. In Africa and most of Latin America (Mexico’s northern border cities excepted), this option did not exist. Instead, deindustrialization and the decimation of male formal-sector jobs compelled women to improvise new livelihoods as piece workers, liquor sellers, street vendors, cleaners, washers, ragpickers, nannies and prostitutes. In Latin America, where urban women’s labour-force participation had always been lower than in other continents, the surge of women into tertiary informal activities during the 1980s was especially dramatic. [69] In Africa, where the icons of the informal sector are women running shebeens or hawking produce, Christian Rogerson reminds us that most informal women are not actually self-employed or economically independent, but work for someone else. [70] (These ubiquitous and vicious networks of micro-exploitation, of the poor exploiting the very poor, are usually glossed over in accounts of the informal sector.)

Urban poverty was also massively feminized in the ex-Comecon countries after capitalist ‘liberation’ in 1989. In the early 1990s extreme poverty in the former ‘transitional countries’ (as the un calls them) soared from 14 million to 168 million: a mass pauperization almost without precedent in history. [71] If, on a global balance-sheet, this economic catastrophe was partially offset by the much-praised success of China in raising incomes in its coastal cities, China’s market ‘miracle’ was purchased by ‘an enormous increase in wage inequality among urban workers . . . during the period 1988 to 1999.’ Women and minorities were especially disadvantaged. [72]

In theory, of course, the 1990s should have righted the wrongs of the 1980s and allowed Third World cities to regain lost ground and bridge the chasms of inequality created by sap s. The pain of adjustment should have been followed by the analgesic of globalization. Indeed the 1990s, as Slums wryly notes, were the first decade in which global urban development took place within almost utopian parameters of neo-classical market freedom.

During the 1990s, trade continued to expand at an almost unprecedented rate, no-go areas opened up and military expenditures decreased. . . . All the basic inputs to production became cheaper, as interest rates fell rapidly along with the price of basic commodities. Capital flows were increasingly unfettered by national controls and could move rapidly to the most productive areas. Under what were almost perfect economic conditions according to the dominant neoliberal economic doctrine, one might have imagined that the decade would have been one of unrivalled prosperity and social justice. [73]

In the event, however, urban poverty continued its relentless accumulation and ‘the gap between poor and rich countries increased, just as it had done for the previous 20 years and, in most countries, income inequality increased or, at best, stabilized.’ Global inequality, as measured by World Bank economists, reached an incredible Gini coefficient level of 0.67 by the end of the century. This was mathematically equivalent to a situation where the poorest two-thirds of the world receive zero income; and the top third, everything. [74]


We shove our way about next to City, holding on to it by its thousand survival cracks . . .
Patrick Chamoiseau, Texaco (1997)

The brutal tectonics of neoliberal globalization since 1978 are analogous to the catastrophic processes that shaped a ‘third world’ in the first place, during the era of late Victorian imperialism (1870–1900). In the latter case, the forcible incorporation into the world market of the great subsistence peasantries of Asia and Africa entailed the famine deaths of millions and the uprooting of tens of millions more from traditional tenures. The end result, in Latin America as well, was rural ‘semi-proletarianization’: the creation of a huge global class of immiserated semi-peasants and farm labourers lacking existential security of subsistence. [75] (As a result, the twentieth century became an age, not of urban revolutions as classical Marxism had imagined, but of epochal rural uprisings and peasant-based wars of national liberation.) Structural adjustment, it would appear, has recently worked an equally fundamental reshaping of human futures. As the authors of Slums conclude: ‘instead of being a focus for growth and prosperity, the cities have become a dumping ground for a surplus population working in unskilled, unprotected and low-wage informal service industries and trade.’ ‘The rise of [this] informal sector,’ they declare bluntly, ‘is . . . a direct result of liberalization.’ [76]

Indeed, the global informal working class (overlapping but non-identical with the slum population) is almost one billion strong: making it the fastest growing, and most unprecedented, social class on earth. Since anthropologist Keith Hart, working in Accra, first broached the concept of an ‘informal sector’ in 1973, a huge literature (mostly failing to distinguish micro-accumulation from sub-subsistence) has wrestled with the formidable theoretical and empirical problems involved in studying the survival strategies of the urban poor. [77] There is a base consensus, however, that the 1980s’ crisis inverted the relative structural positions of the formal and informal sectors: promoting informal survivalism as the new primary mode of livelihood in a majority of Third World cities.

Alejandro Portes and Kelly Hoffman have recently evaluated the overall impact of sap s and liberalization upon Latin American urban class structures since the 1970s. Congruent with un conclusions, they find that both state employees and the formal proletariat have declined in every country of the region since the 1970s. In contrast, the informal sector of the economy, along with general social inequality, has dramatically expanded. Unlike some researchers, they make a crucial distinction between an informal petty bourgeoisie (‘the sum of owners of microenterprises, employing less than five workers, plus own-account professionals and technicians’) and the informal proletariat (‘the sum of own-account workers minus professionals and technicians, domestic servants, and paid and unpaid workers in microenterprises’). They demonstrate that this former stratum, the ‘microentrepreneurs’ so beloved in North American business schools, are often displaced public-sector professionals or laid-off skilled workers. Since the 1980s, they have grown from about 5 to 10 per cent of the economically active urban population: a trend reflecting ‘the forced entrepreneurialism foisted on former salaried employees by the decline of formal sector employment.’ [78]

Overall, according to Slums , informal workers are about two-fifths of the economically active population of the developing world. [79] According to researchers at the Inter-American Development Bank, the informal economy currently employs 57 per cent of the Latin American workforce and supplies four out of five new ‘jobs’. [80] Other sources claim that more than half of urban Indonesians and 65 per cent of residents of Dhaka subsist in the informal sector. [81] Slums likewise cites research finding that informal economic activity accounts for 33 to 40 per cent of urban employment in Asia, 60 to 75 per cent in Central America and 60 per cent in Africa. [82] Indeed, in sub-Saharan cities ‘formal job’ creation has virtually ceased to exist. An ilo study of Zimbabwe’s urban labour markets under ‘stagflationary’ structural adjustment in the early 1990s found that the formal sector was creating only 10,000 jobs per year in face of an urban workforce increasing by more than 300,000 per annum. [83] Slums similarly estimates that fully 90 per cent of urban Africa’s new jobs over the next decade will somehow come from the informal sector. [84]

The pundits of bootstrap capitalism, like the irrepressible Hernando de Soto, may see this enormous population of marginalized labourers, redundant civil servants and ex-peasants as actually a frenzied beehive of ambitious entrepreneurs yearning for formal property rights and unregulated competitive space, but it makes more obvious sense to consider most informal workers as the ‘active’ unemployed, who have no choice but to subsist by some means or starve. [85] The world’s estimated 100 million street kids are not likely—apologies to Señor de Soto—to start issuing ipo s or selling chewing-gum futures. [86] Nor will most of China’s 70 million ‘floating workers’, living furtively on the urban periphery, eventually capitalize themselves as small subcontractors or integrate into the formal urban working class. And the informal working class—everywhere subject to micro- and macro-exploitation—is almost universally deprived of protection by labour laws and standards.

Moreover, as Alain Dubresson argues in the case of Abidjan, ‘the dynamism of crafts and small-scale trade depends largely on demand from the wage sector’. He warns against the ‘illusion’ cultivated by the ilo and World Bank that ‘the informal sector can efficiently replace the formal sector and promote an accumulation process sufficient for a city with more than 2.5 million inhabitants’. [87] His warning is echoed by Christian Rogerson who, distinguishing (à la Portes and Hoffman) ‘survivalist’ from ‘growth’ micro-enterprises, writes of the former: ‘generally speaking, the incomes generated from these enterprises, the majority of which tend to be run by women, usually fall short of even a minimum living standard and involve little capital investment, virtually no skills training, and only constrained opportunities for expansion into a viable business’. With even formal-sector urban wages in Africa so low that economists can’t figure out how workers survive (the so-called ‘wage puzzle’), the informal tertiary sector has become an arena of extreme Darwinian competition amongst the poor. Rogerson cites the examples of Zimbabwe and South Africa where female-controlled informal niches like shebeens and spazas are now drastically overcrowded and plagued by collapsing profitability. [88]

The real macroeconomic trend of informal labour, in other words, is the reproduction of absolute poverty. But if the informal proletariat is not the pettiest of petty bourgeoisies, neither is it a ‘labour reserve army’ or a ‘lumpen proletariat’ in any obsolete nineteenth-century sense. Part of it, to be sure, is a stealth workforce for the formal economy and numerous studies have exposed how the subcontracting networks of WalMart and other mega-companies extend deep into the misery of the colonias and chawls . But at the end of the day, a majority of urban slum-dwellers are truly and radically homeless in the contemporary international economy.

Slums, of course, originate in the global countryside where, as Deborah Bryceson reminds us, unequal competition with large-scale agro-industry is tearing traditional rural society ‘apart at the seams’. [89] As rural areas lose their ‘storage capacity’, slums take their place, and urban ‘involution’ replaces rural involution as a sink for surplus labour which can only keep pace with subsistence by ever more heroic feats of self-exploitation and the further competitive subdivision of already densely filled survival niches. [90] ‘Modernization’, ‘Development’ and, now, the unfettered ‘Market’ have had their day. The labour-power of a billion people has been expelled from the world system, and who can imagine any plausible scenario, under neoliberal auspices, that would reintegrate them as productive workers or mass consumers?


[The Lord says:] The time will come when the poor man will say that he has nothing to eat and work will be shut down . . . That is going to cause the poor man to go to these places and break in to get food. This will cause the rich man to come out with his gun to make war with the labouring man. . . . blood will be in the streets like an outpouring rain from heaven.
A prophecy from the 1906 ‘Azusa Street Awakening’

The late capitalist triage of humanity, then, has already taken place. The global growth of a vast informal proletariat, moreover, is a wholly original structural development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or modernization pundits. Slums indeed challenges social theory to grasp the novelty of a true global residuum lacking the strategic economic power of socialized labor, but massively concentrated in a shanty-town world encircling the fortified enclaves of the urban rich.

Tendencies toward urban involution, of course, existed during the nineteenth century. The European industrial revolutions were incapable of absorbing the entire supply of displaced rural labour, especially after continental agriculture was exposed to the devastating competition of the North American prairies from the 1870s. But mass immigration to the settler societies of the Americas and Oceania, as well as Siberia, provided a dynamic safety-valve that prevented the rise of mega-Dublins as well as the spread of the kind of underclass anarchism that had taken root in the most immiserated parts of Southern Europe. Today surplus labour, by contrast, faces unprecedented barriers—a literal ‘great wall’ of high-tech border enforcement—blocking large-scale migration to the rich countries. Likewise, controversial population resettlement programmes in ‘frontier’ regions like Amazonia, Tibet, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya produce environmental devastation and ethnic conflict without substantially reducing urban poverty in Brazil, China and Indonesia.

Thus only the slum remains as a fully franchised solution to the problem of warehousing the twenty-first century’s surplus humanity. But aren’t the great slums, as a terrified Victorian bourgeoisie once imagined, volcanoes waiting to erupt? Or does ruthless Darwinian competition, as increasing numbers of poor people compete for the same informal scraps, ensure self-consuming communal violence as yet the highest form of urban involution? To what extent does an informal proletariat possess that most potent of Marxist talismans: ‘historical agency’? Can disincorporated labour be reincorporated in a global emancipatory project? Or is the sociology of protest in the immiserated megacity a regression to the pre-industrial urban mob, episodically explosive during consumption crises, but otherwise easily managed by clientelism, populist spectacle and appeals to ethnic unity? Or is some new, unexpected historical subject, à la Hardt and Negri, slouching toward the supercity?

In truth, the current literature on poverty and urban protest offers few answers to such large-scale questions. Some researchers, for example, would question whether the ethnically diverse slum poor or economically heterogeneous informal workers even constitute a meaningful ‘class in itself’, much less a potentially activist ‘class for itself’. Surely, the informal proletariat bears ‘radical chains’ in the Marxist sense of having little or no vested interest in the preservation of the existing mode of production. But because uprooted rural migrants and informal workers have been largely dispossessed of fungible labour-power, or reduced to domestic service in the houses of the rich, they have little access to the culture of collective labour or large-scale class struggle. Their social stage, necessarily, must be the slum street or marketplace, not the factory or international assembly line.

Struggles of informal workers, as John Walton emphasizes in a recent review of research on social movements in poor cities, have tended, above all, to be episodic and discontinuous. They are also usually focused on immediate consumption issues: land invasions in search of affordable housing and riots against rising food or utility prices. In the past, at least, ‘urban problems in developing societies have been more typically mediated by patron–client relations than by popular activism.’ [91] Since the debt crisis of the 1980s, neopopulist leaders in Latin America have had dramatic success in exploiting the desperate desire of the urban poor for more stable, predictable structures of daily life. Although Walton doesn’t make the point explicitly, the urban informal sector has been ideologically promiscuous in its endorsement of populist saviours: in Peru rallying to Fujimori, but in Venezuela embracing Chávez. [92] In Africa and South Asia, on the other hand, urban clientelism too often equates with the dominance of ethno-religious bigots and their nightmare ambitions of ethnic cleansing. Notorious examples include the anti-Muslim militias of the Oodua People’s Congress in Lagos and the semi-fascist Shiv Sena movement in Bombay. [93]

Will such ‘eighteenth-century’ sociologies of protest persist into the middle twenty-first century? The past is probably a poor guide to the future. History is not uniformitarian. The new urban world is evolving with extraordinary speed and often in unpredictable directions. Everywhere the continuous accumulation of poverty undermines existential security and poses even more extraordinary challenges to the economic ingenuity of the poor. Perhaps there is a tipping point at which the pollution, congestion, greed and violence of everyday urban life finally overwhelm the ad hoc civilities and survival networks of the slum. Certainly in the old rural world there were thresholds, often calibrated by famine, that passed directly to social eruption. But no one yet knows the social temperature at which the new cities of poverty spontaneously combust.

Indeed, for the moment at least, Marx has yielded the historical stage to Mohammed and the Holy Ghost. If God died in the cities of the industrial revolution, he has risen again in the postindustrial cities of the developing world. The contrast between the cultures of urban poverty in the two eras is extraordinary. As Hugh McLeod has shown in his magisterial study of Victorian working-class religion, Marx and Engels were largely accurate in their belief that urbanization was secularizing the working class. Although Glasgow and New York were partial exceptions, ‘the line of interpretation that associates working-class detachment from the church with growing class consciousness is in a sense incontestable’. If small churches and dissenting sects thrived in the slums, the great current was active or passive disbelief. Already by the 1880s, Berlin was scandalizing foreigners as ‘the most irreligious city in the world’ and in London, median adult church attendance in the proletarian East End and Docklands by 1902 was barely 12 per cent (and that mostly Catholic). [94] In Barcelona, of course, an anarchist working class sacked the churches during the Semana Trágica , while in the slums of St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires and even Tokyo, militant workers avidly embraced the new faiths of Darwin, Kropotkin and Marx.

Today, on the other hand, populist Islam and Pentecostal Christianity (and in Bombay, the cult of Shivaji) occupy a social space analogous to that of early twentieth-century socialism and anarchism. In Morocco, for instance, where half a million rural emigrants are absorbed into the teeming cities every year, and where half the population is under 25, Islamicist movements like ‘Justice and Welfare’, founded by Sheik Abdessalam Yassin, have become the real governments of the slums: organizing night schools, providing legal aid to victims of state abuse, buying medicine for the sick, subsidizing pilgrimages and paying for funerals. As Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi, the Socialist leader who was once exiled by the monarchy, recently admitted to Ignacio Ramonet, ‘We [the Left] have become embourgeoisified. We have cut ourselves off from the people. We need to reconquer the popular quarters. The Islamicists have seduced our natural electorate. They promise them heaven on earth.’ An Islamicist leader, on the other hand, told Ramonet: ‘confronted with the neglect of the state, and faced with the brutality of daily life, people discover, thanks to us, solidarity, self-help, fraternity. They understand that Islam is humanism.’ [95]

The counterpart of populist Islam in the slums of Latin America and much of sub-Saharan Africa is Pentecostalism. Christianity, of course, is now, in its majority, a non-Western religion (two-thirds of its adherents live outside Europe and North America), and Pentecostalism is its most dynamic missionary in cities of poverty. Indeed the historical specificity of Pentecostalism is that it is the first major world religion to have grown up almost entirely in the soil of the modern urban slum. With roots in early ecstatic Methodism and African-American spirituality, Pentecostalism ‘awoke’ when the Holy Ghost gave the gift of tongues to participants in an interracial prayer marathon in a poor neighbourhood of Los Angeles (Azusa Street) in 1906. Unified around spirit baptism, miracle healing, charismata and a premillennial belief in a coming world war of capital and labour, early American Pentecostalism—as religious historians have repeatedly noted—originated as a ‘prophetic democracy’ whose rural and urban constituencies overlapped, respectively, with those of Populism and the iww .[96] Indeed, like Wobbly organizers, its early missionaries to Latin America and Africa ‘lived often in extreme poverty, going out with little or no money, seldom knowing where they would spend the night, or how they would get their next meal.’ [97] They also yielded nothing to the iww in their vehement denunciations of the injustices of industrial capitalism and its inevitable destruction.

Symptomatically, the first Brazilian congregation, in an anarchist working-class district of São Paulo, was founded by an Italian artisan immigrant who had exchanged Malatesta for the Spirit in Chicago. [98] In South Africa and Rhodesia, Pentecostalism established its early footholds in the mining compounds and shanty towns; where, according to Jean Comaroff, ‘it seemed to accord with indigenous notions of pragmatic spirit forces and to redress the depersonalization and powerlessness of the urban labour experience.’ [99] Conceding a larger role to women than other Christian churches and immensely supportive of abstinence and frugality, Pentecostalism—as R. Andrew Chesnut discovered in the baixadas of Belém—has always had a particular attraction to ‘the most immiserated stratum of the impoverished classes’: abandoned wives, widows and single mothers. [100] Since 1970, and largely because of its appeal to slum women and its reputation for being colour-blind, it has been growing into what is arguably the largest self-organized movement of urban poor people on the planet. [101]

Although recent claims of ‘over 533 million Pentecostal/charismatics in the world in 2002’ are probably hyperbole, there may well be half that number. It is generally agreed that 10 per cent of Latin America is Pentecostal (about 40 million people) and that the movement has been the single most important cultural response to explosive and traumatic urbanization. [102] As Pentecostalism has globalized, of course, it has differentiated into distinct currents and sociologies. But if in Liberia, Mozambique and Guatemala, American-sponsored churches have been vectors of dictatorship and repression, and if some us congregations are now gentrified into the suburban mainstream of fundamentalism, the missionary tide of Pentecostalism in the Third World remains closer to the original millenarian spirit of Azusa Street. [103] Above all, as Chesnut found in Brazil, ‘Pentecostalism . . . remains a religion of the informal periphery’ (and in Belém, in particular, ‘the poorest of the poor’). In Peru, where Pentecostalism is growing almost exponentially in the vast barriadas of Lima, Jefrey Gamarra contends that the growth of the sects and of the informal economy ‘are a consequence of and a response to each other’. [104] Paul Freston adds that it ‘is the first autonomous mass religion in Latin America . . . Leaders may not be democratic, but they come from the same social class’. [105]

In contrast to populist Islam, which emphasizes civilizational continuity and the trans-class solidarity of faith, Pentecostalism, in the tradition of its African-American origins, retains a fundamentally exilic identity. Although, like Islam in the slums, it efficiently correlates itself to the survival needs of the informal working class (organizing self-help networks for poor women; offering faith healing as para-medicine; providing recovery from alcoholism and addiction; insulating children from the temptations of the street; and so on), its ultimate premise is that the urban world is corrupt, injust and unreformable. Whether, as Jean Comaroff has argued in her book on African Zionist churches (many of which are now Pentecostal), this religion of ‘the marginalized in the shantytowns of neocolonial modernity’ is actually a ‘more radical’ resistance than ‘participation in formal politics or labour unions’, remains to be seen. [106] But, with the Left still largely missing from the slum, the eschatology of Pentecostalism admirably refuses the inhuman destiny of the Third World city that Slums warns about. It also sanctifies those who, in every structural and existential sense, truly live in exile.