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Archive for September, 2011

The purpose of this message is for us to get as big a turnout as possible in the Newcastle Labour Club this coming Monday the 26th at 7pm. Its possible that Bill Green and or the Union will attempt to take over this dispute. Given the history of disputes led by the leadership of the union this would be the kiss of death – I think, and I would welcome a correction, its fair to say that there has NEVER been a single victory, in say the last 8 years or so, in any dispute that has been led by the Union leadership.

So if the leadership take control of this dispute we’re fucked and we
may as well go home and give in to the bosses.

Also this dispute is not JUST about Tyneside. If you know ANY
construction worker in the North East get them to turn up at the
Newcastle Labour Club.

We need contact details of construction workers in Hartlepool and
Teeside generally. The union is not showing any signs of going to give
us these contact lists. So we have to collect them ourselves. There
was a good construction branch in Hartlepool with a very good secretary and chair. Anybody know how to contact them? If you do please contact him, pass on my email address or that of Jimmy Warne.

We MUST spread and escalate this dispute. The bosses are already
escalating the dispute by reducing hourly rates and threatening
sackings if you don’t do as you are told. If they can do this why not
us, but however the dispute is spread or escalated we must put
pressure on the union officials to do as WE want.

Ray Smith

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Electricians/Sparks Protest in Newcastle against 35% wage cuts

http://www.youtube.com:

On Wednesday the 21st of September Sparks from the north-east went out to protest against the proposed cut to wages.

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Staff at a Newcastle school carried out the first of three strikes today in protest against plans to turn it into an academy.

Members of the NUT, NASUWT and ATL at Kenton School started their
co-ordinated industrial action at 8am.

Teachers fear that if the school becomes an academy, the headteacher and governors will be allowed to set pay and conditions which could see the dismantling of nationally-agreed pay and conditions for staff.

Ian Grayson, of the NUT, said: “We have seen that across the country terms and conditions in academies have been changed for the worse.

“There would be the potential for teachers’ terms and conditions to be
changed.”

However, headteacher David Pearmain claimed in a letter to parents that there was “no threat whatsoever” to staff pay and conditions.

“Our governors made a promise and assurance before there was any question of industrial action, that if at any time in the future they were to talk about change in pay and conditions it would only be to improve them above the national standard,” he said.

Staff will carry out two more strikes at Kenton – one of the country’s
biggest secondary schools – on September 27 and 29.

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Economic Notes. 14.9.11
(Cutting through the Tory Rubbish)

‘Growth’ versus ‘Deficit Cuts’.

A personal view by Bejay.

Economics is a powerful weapon often politically misused by politicians to keep people in their place and do them terrible harm – as our George is doing. Economic arguments affects our jobs and our share of the country’s wealth. It is important to know and use the alternative economic argument. The deficit is a good example. The deficit is the cornerstone argument for the cuts. If the deficit argument falls, then so does the big stick which is used to frighten, beat and cut us.

How do you, as a non-economist, reason against the cuts?

The economic debate is often summarised as ‘Growth versus Cuts.’ To understand it you need to know a little bit history.

John Maynard Keynes (b.5.6.1883 – d.21.4.1946) is recognised as the greatest economist in the 20th century. This is because of his work on recovering from world depressions. His major work is based on the great depression of the 1930s. Keynes’ work has been built on by many Nobel prize winning economists, such as, Paul Krugman (2008), Joseph Stiglitz (2001), Peter Diamond (2010). Keynes’s emphasis is on the state stimulating growth in a depression. Cuts do not increase employment. They, unnecessarily, decrease employment and delay the start of recovery.

The Keynesian thrust is that to get out of a depression the state itself has to create work to get out of unemployment. Examples may be: building roads, hospitals, and factories so that workers receive money which they can spend, say, in local shops. These shops will then spend the money to their suppliers. This is known as the multiplier effect – increasing the circulation of money – ‘kick starting the economy.’

The recessions of 1980/81 and 1990/91 (Thatcher and Major) showed that the longer Keynesian measures were delayed, the longer the recession lasted.

The difficulty of Keynes’ proven approach is that it is counter intuitive. The reflex action of many people is to cut money to get out of national debt – not spend their way out. It is particularly counter intuitive if you are a right winger, ideologically committed to reducing the size of central and local government or reducing spending on the poor. Hence, George Osborne’s one horse ‘deficit’ cutting approach.

Currently even the word ‘Keynesian’ seems to be banned, leaving only the scary ‘deficit’ approach. However in the last couple of weeks Keynesianism seems to be sneaking back in as the scary deficit approach is seen increasingly not to work.

What is the scary deficit?
There are a number of definitions. The deficit is better known as the ‘debt-to-GDP ratio.’ This broadly means the ratio of national debt a country has compared to the country’s total wealth earned in a year. The total wealth earned in a year is known as, ‘Gross Domestic Product’ (GDP).

Is the ‘debt-to-GDP ratio’ important? Not half as important as George would like you to think – check the historic figures. Currently The UK debt-to-GDP ratio is about 52% (2010 figure). In 1950 it was 193% and no depression. In 1992-93 it was about 34%*. In 1997 the debt-to-GDP ratio handed to New Labour by the Tories was about 43%*. This was reduced by Brown in 2006/7 to about 36%! Yes, he reduced it! Then the bankers blew everything up and by 2010 the debt-to-GDP ratio became about 52%.

Should we be so scared of the deficit ratio that we not use Keynes’ well proved methods? No! The UK with about 52% is still regarded as the 4th best place in the world to do business. And Japan who is above us in that league has a higher ‘debt-to-GDP ratio of 170%!** George is using the deficit ratio to falsely scare us into accepting his ideological changes to our society. Push the stimulus argument.

Four economists worth listening to:

Danny Blanchflower – the easiest read. A Keynesian and former member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee. http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/david-blanchflower.
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner 2008. A blog on the New York Times site: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com.
Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize winner 2001. He has a blog: http://www.josephstiglitz.com .
Peter Diamond, Nobel prize winner 2010 – nominated by Obama to work for the American Federal Reserve, but stopped by the Republicans because they said Diamond didn’t know enough economics! No blog but worth reading on Wikipedia.
References:
*William Keegan, The Observer, 22.5.2011 and http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk for 2010 figures.
** Guardian website and CIA Fact book.

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Discussions between Tyneside Socialist Forum and the North East Shop Stewards Network resulted in the launch of what has become Tyne & Wear Left Unity in July 2009. There was agreement then that Left Wing politics were disparate and largely ineffective, certainly in reaching a wider audience. There was also the vanity that members of the tiny left wing sects might want to change that. Not so. So where are we in respect of what each of us spends or has spent a considerable part of our lives trying to achieve.

I have argued here and in other forums that for the majority of the people in this country, Left Wing politics play little or no part in their lives, have no meaning for them and are remote from the things that do matter to them. By left wing politics I mean those areas of political activity that come about generally as a result of the actions of small groups of people, acting in opposition to the crisis of having a society run in the interests of a wealthy elite and failing miserably in their attempts to change things.

Organisationally, things are not good, particularly here in the north east. We have a number of small groupings or sects, composed of loyal followers and dreaming or suffering under the illusion that they are building a cadre force of revolutionary leaders who will eventually lead the absent masses (who they are still calling the ‘working class’) to some kind of dictatorship with them in the ‘van’; and fortunately, getting nowhere, year in, year out. We have comrades operating within the Labour Party, some still holding to the belief that it can be rescued while others see it as the only means to getting their ideas across, to a wider audience; given the disengagement with politics referred to above. We have comrades operating and building the Green Party who see that as the main way ahead. Then we have a larger number of people such as myself, who belong to none of these and who may be called the ‘homeless left’, many of whom have been members of groupings above at one time. Trade union organisation, as ever, is also in crisis and unable to provide any leadership or solidarity even among the different unions, other than the ‘lip service’ many of their leaders pay to the Labour Party.

So what about us, about Left Unity? We have been working together in a kind of alliance for two years and given the range of political loyalties and temperaments, that in itself is an achievement and also, a break from the centralised organisations that have dominated the Left these last thirty years. The loose arrangement of working together where we can seems to have worked and found favour. Left Unity is already the largest grouping on Tyneside, attracting large numbers to meetings but do we really believe that means anything? Sixty, Eighty, a hundred at one meeting does not signify change or anything real and certainly not, a political base. Likewise, the Left Unity e mail now reaches more people in Tyne & Wear than anything that has been on the Left in my lifetime but it is composed of people who have been to one meeting during the last two years: what does that signify?

In my article: ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ and elsewhere I have suggested we need to make our presence-existence known to the millions of people we live among.
In this respect, we have to start by clarifying our own identity-who we think we are?
Let me suggest a few unpleasant truths. We are not revolutionary socialists. There is no coherent Left Wing ideology we can subscribe to. Many of us would be at pains to define let alone agree with, what we mean by the word: ‘socialism’; or many of the other tenets of Marx and Engels. Given the social, political, philosophical and historical context of the last thirty years, a vacuum has opened up and we now have no intellectual, left wing leadership. Why? Some of this is to do with the fragment-ation and the socio-economic problems that arise from living in a Capitalist society but it is also, a result of the failure of left wing activists, notably the sects to engage with or be, attractive to the vast majority of the people in this country. In Left Unity we need to grapple with this and hone an identity which people can relate to and understand and which can begin to provide a positive alternative to the present mess we are living in.

Our next task is to examine our communications. Who do we believe our audience are? Who do we think we are addressing our arguments to, in the various campaigns we engage in? Who would be attracted to our ideas and beliefs? In that respect, I am suggesting that much of what we argue and campaign for, the methods we use to communicate and how we go about this, misses and goes over the heads of most of the people. We need to re-examine the views of the society, the dominant ideology and values that we think we are addressing. That should also include the nature and character of the audience now and the other ideological messages it is subjected to. We also need to decide (and this work is urgent) whether we are addressing the entire audience-society or a part of it; and if the latter, which part do we hope to attract. This in itself brings other questions. What filters (even barriers) exist between what we believe and attempt to communicate and what message is received? How are we perceived and what/how does that perception influence the processes of what we communicate? Clearly, any communication that is taking place between Marxists and the Great British Public is minimal and I am sorry to report but they are not coming forth in droves. So, what do we need to change in our praxis to persuade them to step forth or should that question be the other way around?

This now brings me to tactics and the larger picture of class and ideology. For a fuller discussion of this please see ‘Is There Anybody Out there’ also on our blog. Briefly then, the development of the Forces of Production across the globe during the last century or so, have impacted upon and changed the nature of the Relations of Production and in particular, class struggle as we experience that. I am not suggesting that we are now, in the UK living in one harmonious society; but I am suggesting, there are no ‘cloth capped’ warriors waiting in large centres of production to be led into taking a cudgel to capitalism: they are not there and they have not been there for a considerable period of time. However, for us that does not mean that people are happy with their lot and it is these sectors we have to start addressing. The context here can be better put by Marx in his ‘Preface Critique Political Economy’.1852.
“No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is
room in it to have developed.”
What we have to ask ourselves is, do we really believe capitalism is in its death throes? I don’t and this has consequences for our political activity. We are always caught up in the negative, complaining about life to people who, for the most part, already know that but do we ever offer them a positive alternative; something that challenges the dominant ideology and what Gramsci called the ‘authority’ of the dominant class. When do we challenge their hegemony and the widespread acceptance of their social organisation? There is not space here to go further into this but as we are living in the hey-day of corporate capitalism, we had better focus on that power and where we can best begin to challenge and persuade people that they do not have to accept it as the only possible form of social organisation. Comrades, we have not even begun to do this.

How do we make a majority of people, even here in the north east, aware of our existence and what we stand for; and how do we persuade people that the way in which we are living at present is both anti social, unnecessary and unsustainable, as it serves the interests of a small wealthy minority. More pertinent, how do we challenge peoples acceptance of this society as the only one possible, what Gramsci meant by authority? What do we need to do and to change in our own political praxis?

I am going to try and begin an answer to some by positing more questions and statements. A response is certainly hoped for.
1. People are disengaged from the political process. By that I mean they are almost without any conscious involvement or understanding of the society they exist in. Can this be changed and if so, how?
2. A growing number of people are not apathetic and do have certain views but on what are these based? Think rise of BNP here. What and how are they formed? What are the influences and who/what determines ‘class conscious- ness’ in this respect?
3. Working Class. What does the term mean now? Where would you find them? Among the dispossessed victims eg, migrants, asylum seekers, welfare recipients? Are these the people of the coming revolution or have they already been beaten?
4. A large section of the British white population are well off; certainly so in comparison with some other parts of the world. When working people own large pots of capital, how does that effect Marx’s view of class struggle?
5. British capitalism is not in its death throes, so is it necessary to prepare to lead the workers revolution? If not, what then is our role?
6. If we consider ourselves as ‘revolutionary socialists’ where are we located in our own communities, where we both live and work? How isolated are we?
7. How and what is stopping us getting our message for a better world across, a world based upon sharing and non violence and sustaining our beautiful planet?

If you find my assessment of the current situation with regard to left wing politics and praxis agreeable or disagreeable, I do hope you will come along to our meeting and contribute to our discussion.

I propose we have to change the way we have all been engaging politically, ie, change our praxis. By this I mean we have to continue with our present campaigning methods but also, begin to engage with the so-called political process, no matter how phoney it is, in order to reach and communicate with the masses who have illusions in it. I also think we need to raise a banner and begin to make our presence known in the communities in which we live. That banner has to present us as a positive and coherent alternative to the ‘failed’ society in which we live. The criticism of that society has to be presented in a constructive manner which embraces the lives and problems of the people and communities in which we share. Until we do this we will remain invisible.

What I mean by this is we have to get away from perspectives of people as ‘cloth capped’ warriors. They are no longer with us; also, the language we use such as ‘working class’, does anybody know who these people are? Ever met one? If you believe you are going to lead them over some rainbow, think again. They are not listening, do not know who you are, who they are or more important, do not have any collective ideas with regard to the political process and how that effects their continued existence. We need to grasp this quickly when we consider people’s consciousness: in an alienated, individuated and fragmenting society where the rich are increasingly powerful in their control of the corporations and governments and where power wears the mantle of celebrity, we are beginning to inhabit the world of the joker, the court jesters. Do we even take ourselves seriously?

We have to stop shouting negative demands from the outside and appear to be a part of the political process, a critical part. Comrades our real business is sedition: we have to sow the seeds of sedition before we can think about recruiting to vanguards or whatever else. We have the cart in front of the horse and it is going backwards.

Paul Baker
August 2011

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The title was suggested by the last Forum discussion and has caused me to ask: who we think our audience is? Who we believe we are addressing our arguments to, in our struggles (if I may call them that); and who would be attracted to our ideas and beliefs? The short answer I would like to suggest is, that most of the political groupings on the left and much of their activity is aimed at an audience that is no longer there and has not been present for a considerable period of time. By this I am suggesting that much of what we (I’m including myself) argue and campaign for and how we go about that – the methods we use to communicate with people – misses and goes over the heads of most people.

We need to ask why and how this is happening. In this, we need to re-examine the views we have of the society we think we are addressing. That should include the nature and character of the audience now and the other ideological messages it is subjected to. We also need to decide whether we are addressing the entire audience-society or a part of it; and if the latter, which part do we hope to attract? This in itself brings other questions: what filters (even barriers) exist between what we believe and attempt to communicate and what message is received? How are we perceived, and what and how does that perception influence the message communicated?. Clearly, any communication that is taking place between Marxists and the Great British public is minimal and I’m sorry to tell you, they’re not coming forth in droves. Perhaps it is time to ask: is there anyone out there and what do we need to do or change in our ‘praxas’ to persuade them to step forth?

Before further comment a disclaimer: I still regard myself as an adherent of Marx to some extent and I hope my friends and comrades will correct me where they find my analysis goes awry. The suggestions I am about to present below are intended as just that and in a comradely sense. We really all have to learn some self discipline where this medium is concerned and not write-send before we think. The discussions these last few months – as well as the political actions – have been divisive and nobody has achieved anything. We need to learn to treat each other as comrades and grasp that no grouping or individual on the Left, that I can see has found the ‘tablets’. If they believe they have, then I suggest they need to think again.

To the longer answer. We are essentially talking about ‘class’ here. For Marx, a class is a group whose members share a common relationship to the distribution of the ‘means of production’, they either have them or they have to do something for them. If you substitute the word, ‘life’ for the word, ‘production’ to make ‘means of life’ their common interests should become clearer. Classes then, for Marx arise out of the relations that men and women enter into in order to produce the means for their survival. In Britain, over four fifths, 84% of the means of life are privately owned. 7% of the population own this giant share leaving 16%, which does go around the rest of us but how much is the 84% worth. How rich are the rich? A question seldom asked and that takes me to Marx and Engels second condition when considering society. Class consciousness, how each member of a class becomes conscious of their common interests and acquires an understanding and willingness to support actions which serve their class interests. This can be understood more clearly if we consider the situation of the owning or dominant class in any historical period where, by the advantage of their position, they consciously act together to protect their own class interests. The English ‘Establishment’ is an example of such a class, with their state apparatus, legal system, private schools, heritage, language, all of which buttress their world view to some extent; yea even democracy and the ‘mother of parliaments’ is defined and managed to serve and sustain their power and privilege; while that which we see and hear each day and what is mistakenly called ‘the news’ is little more than an expression of a ruling class taking action to manage and protect its shared interests.

However, when we come to the subject or non owning classes, the process of their conscious recognition of a common interest is neither as direct, nor as simple and this is where the problems we have with communicating our own ideas, to which I have referred to above, have to be applied. For Marx and Engels, particularly in the earlier texts eg, the manifesto, the subject or non-owning class, or ‘working class’ would acquire a class consciousness through their struggles with the capitalist, owning class and by this, would acquire the political will to support a communist party which would overthrow their masters. This has not happened and they were wrong about this. Before criticising Marx we should remember the times he lived in and the society he will have witnessed, where the great majority were manual labourers and will have appeared as a dispossessed, ‘ragged-trousered’ army, and who will have seemed a homogenous crowd with a common interest in ending the cause of their misery. But they didn’t

So, Marx and Engels identified a persons ‘class position’ as being defined by the place they occupied in the economic structure. However, they also suggested that to act effectively as a ‘class for itself’ they had to become conscious of their common interest as opposed to the capitalist owning class. If we can agree with that premise and there are arguments to be made against it, we can proceed. What other factors are at play here; what prevents the subject classes from developing a conscious under- standing of their situation, and in turn, from acting in their own class interest?
We need to consider the effects of how the ‘development of the forces of production’
across the globe during the last hundred years or so, have impacted and changed the ‘relations of production’ and the class struggle. That is for a later discussion and referred to here only to flag up the wider argument. Marx’s views in regard to these,
are described in the ‘Preface to the ‘Critique Political Economy 1852. What concerns us here is the statement from that text: “no social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed.” We have to ask ourselves if we really believe capitalism is in its death throes? I don’t.

We also need to consider the role of ideology in the context of the technical developments in communications and what power these lend to a dominant class.
Gramsci’s contribution here is relevant. The ruling class dominates other classes by a combination of force and consent. Force is exercised mainly by the coercive appara- tuses of the state, the armed forces, police, law courts, prisons; and also through paramilitary groups such as ‘Mussolini’s squads’, the ‘Nazi Black Shirts’ and what the National Front aspire to. More important for Gramsci was how a ruling class secured the consent of subordinate classes through the exercise of political, moral and intellectual leadership. Gramsci used the term ‘hegemony’ to describe the exercise of national leadership, for which the building of alliances was central to his concept:
“A hegemonic class is one that maintains a position of national leadership by
gaining the consent of other classes and social groups through creating a system
of alliances and continually adapting it to changing circumstances”.
Ideology for Gramsci was the social cement that binded the system of alliances and which in turn, required constant attention to popular needs and interests and the ability to combine these with the long term interests of the ruling class. Think Labour Governments going out of power here.

Gramsci’s ideas also need greater consideration than space here (or I will be writing a book). but central to his argument is how a ruling class maintains its class interests
by dividing those below. The ideological struggle is central to this. Marx and Engels were certainly aware of this to some extent. The phrase that comes to mind from the ‘German Ideology’ “the ruling ideas of any society are those of the ruling class” or “the class which is the ruling material force is at the same time, its ruling intellectual force”. Marx was not suggesting that the only ideas in a society were those of the rich or dominant class, but that a struggle or contest took place and that the ideas and values, eg, the laws that dealt with property were more likely to be the ones which favoured the interests of the rich, due to the advantage of their position. Similarly, the class struggle between the wage slaves and their capitalist employers was rigged in favour of the latter; but for Marx and Engels, they also believed that to be a life and death struggle and they described the working class or proletariat or proles as Orwell later joked as the ‘gravediggers of capitalism’. And that is why their view of the role of ideology only went so far: they were very optimistic about the dispossessed.

This has a major bearing on our own political activity because if you are hoping to recruit a cadre force from an ever increasingly conscious proletariat who you believe, will then lead them over the rainbow, think again: they are not listening, do not know who you are, who they are or more important, do not have any collective ideas with regard to the political process and how that effects their continued existence. We need to grasp this quickly when we consider people’s consciousness: in an alienated, individuated and fragmenting society where the rich are increasing invisible and where power wears the mantle of celebrity, we inhabit the world of the joker and the court jesters. Do we even take ourselves seriously?

The first condition, a persons class position. In Europe and advanced capitalist nations, though we still live in a society of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, of an owning and non owning classes, that society, the one that Marx described and lived in has changed beyond that which he perceived: the great mass of unwashed, unfed, unrepresented and unprotected are no longer as homogenous as that which he hoped would soon take up their cudgels. Nor are they working in large centres of production, or waiting for us to lead them over some rainbow. Therefore, the second and third conditions in his model-consciousness and action- must also be amended and re-assessed in the light of the changes to peoples existence’ in these parts of the world. (Elsewhere eg, South America, the older view may still apply: I don’t know but I doubt it even there). The conditions of people’s existence, their relationship to the ‘means of production’ and therefore, their conscious understanding and willingness or inability to act for themselves have shifted into new and more complex ways of control and disorganisation or fragmentation, if you prefer Comrades, we need to address this, quickly, if we wish to survive as we are living in dangerous times.

Certainly, a person’s class position exerts a powerful influence upon their beliefs and values but in the world we are in, so do a range of other factors. We need to examine what these are in the context of where we are failing to communicate our message and why a larger number of people are not attracted to our banners. I am going to try and begin an answer to some by positing more questions and statements. A response is certainly hoped for.
1. People are disengaged from the political process. By that I mean they are almost without any conscious involvement or understanding of the society they exist in. Can this be changed and if so, how?
2. A growing number of people are not apathetic and do have certain views but on what are their these based? Think rise of BNP here. What and how are they formed? What are the influences and who/what determines ‘class conscious- ness’ in this respect?
3. Working Class. What does the term mean now? Where would you find them? Among the dispossessed victims eg, migrants, asylum seekers, welfare recipients? Are these the people of the coming revolution or have they already been beaten?
4. A large section of the British white population are well off. Certainly so in comparison with some other parts of the world. When working people own large pots of capital how does that effect Marx’s view of class struggle?
5. British capitalism is not in its death throes, so is it necessary to prepare to lead the workers revolution? if not, what then is our role?
6. How and what is stopping us getting our message for a better world across, a world based upon sharing and non violence and sustaining our beautiful planet?

Remember, I have been dealing with only one aspect of Marx’s philosophy – namely the social class structure or model he used to account for social change. I should add that Marx was essentially an economic historian and much of his methodology is better used to describe historical periods and structures. In this respect, we have been using an historical tool as a piece of sociology which Marx will not have intended. More simply, he was not writing road maps for future revolutionaries to follow. The next important point to make is that central to his methodology are dialectics, ‘dialectical materialism’ where forces and ideas interact and which I have attempted to show above in the passage that refers to how the ruling ideas of any society are panned out.

To finish with a final question which I dearly hope someone can find an answer to. What does capitalist society have to offer people with all of its inequality, violence and anomie; that facilitates people’s disengagement with the political process and which allows them to accept the above ills without question; to accept the inequality of 7:84 or £billions spent on armaments or the drug induced neurosis of their neighbours. What is this power that makes a hell on earth palliative, while I can only retch?
Cheers Comrades.
Paul Baker. July 2009

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