When I Met Tony Benn

Tony Benn and the Whitstable Postal Workers at the Gulbenkian Theatre, January 2011

Tony Benn and the Whitstable Postal Workers at the Gulbenkian Theatre, January 2011

Tony Benn meets CJ Stone, Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury, January 2011

Tony Benn meets CJ Stone, Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury, January 2011

So sad to hear of the death of Tony Benn.

I first met him in 1994 at a march and rally against the Criminal Justice Bill. Benn was one of the speakers and I was one of the organisers.

As soon as I saw him I went up to shake his hand. There was no hesitation. How often do you get to meet a national hero face to face?

What struck me was how open he was. He paid attention. I felt that I mattered to him, that he was genuinely interested in what I had to say.

The next time I met him was in October 2000. I wrote to him at the House of Commons requesting an interview. I met him at his house in Notting Hill and was shown into a spacious basement room lined with books.

He was very easy to spend time with. He made a pot of tea which he brought out on a tray. After this he filled his pipe and lit it. He was puffing away on his pipe and sipping tea throughout the interview.

You can read the results of that meeting here.

The last time I met him was in the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury in January 2011 during the campaign to keep the Whitstable delivery office open. Benn had agreed to say a few words.

He was as gracious as always, listening with careful attention and fixing me with his eyes. After that the press took over and we were shuffled about this way and that to provide photographs for the newspapers.

And that was the last time I met him. Of course I was saddened by his passing, so close on the heels of the death of Bob Crow, but I don’t think it would be right to regret his demise. Old age and death come to all of us, and it’s how we live our lives that matters.

Tony Benn remained an inspiration to the last, showing dignity and grace even in the midst of his final illness, telling us not to fear our end.

For an extended version of this article please go to: http://cjstone.hubpages.com/hub/TonyBenn

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An Interview With Tony Benn

From the Socialist Unity website

The following interview was recorded on the 9th October 2000 at Tony Benn’s house in Notting Hill. It was for a book I was planning to write at the time, called The Lords of Misrule about the protest movement, which had recently scored such a high-profile victory by closing down the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999. The interview was published in  Red Pepper and on the LabourNet website. I put in up here today as a tribute to Tony Benn, one of a rare breed, an honest politician, who died on the 14th March 2014. An inspiration to the end.

Tony Benn: I’ll just mark this. It is now the ninth of October the year 2000. I’m with Chris Stone who was coming to see me about protest but might be something else. OK, I’m with you.

Chris Stone: Really it’s about the current globalisation project. So. There’s a whole range of things I want to ask you really. First of all, what do you understand by the term “globalisation”?

TB: It’s the free movement of capital, but not the free movement of labour. It’s imperialism under a new form: only the agents of imperialism are companies rather than countries. But of course the companies are supported by countries. So America backs up its oil companies by going to war where there’s an oil interest, as we did in the Falklands, because the Falklands was an oil war, there’s more oil around the Falklands than there is around the United Kingdom, and that’s what that was about. And of course some companies are now bigger than nation states. Ford is bigger than South Africa. Toyota is bigger than Norway. And some of these big guys come and dominate the world, bring pressure to bear on governments, and to make sure they then buy both parties in Britain and America, and then expect to pay off which ever one wins. And imperialism of course is coming back now. And it really is, I think, a direct counter attack on democracy. The franchise was only extended to one person one vote in 1948 in Britain, and at the age of 18 later even than that, and at that moment the guys at the top got really frightened that the poor could use the vote not just to buy political power, but economic power. So they decided to prevent it. They couldn’t prevent it during the period of the Soviet Union, because the existence of an anti-capitalist superpower frightened the life out of the establishment. And so they had to let the colonies go, in case they went communist, concede the welfare state in case western Europe went socialist. Only America is now the dominant power and not Britain, and we’re piggy-backing on the back of American military power. . . .

CS: And we’re doing their dirty work for them. . .

TB: Exactly. And now we can be a superpower but not a super state. . . . like saying I’ll have a banana but not a banana split. Ludicrous. But it’s an indication that the urge for domination is the urge that’s put forward by governments. . . But then they’re all in the pay, or under the control, of corporate finance. I mean it’s really, in a sense it’s a very alarming development. But as long as people understand it, and don’t look for scapegoats like asylum seekers, we might make some progress.

CS: Carrying on from that, about the recent protests in Prague against the World Bank and the IMF: as I understand it, the WB/IMF were originally conceived as humanitarian institutions, that is, to aid development. . .

TB: Well I’ve no doubt they were presented as world development. . .

CS: I suppose the questions is: it’s your insights into how such institutions, which at least put forward a humanitarian front. . .

TB: Everything is humanitarian. I mean, the war, when we used depleted uranium and cluster bombs in Kosovo. And funnily enough, because I was thinking of this word “humanitarian”, I looked up the killing of 11, 000 Sudanese at Omdurman 102 years ago – it happened to be the centenary of the bombing of the factory by the Americans – and I looked up what was said at the time, and Lord Salisbury the prime minister – of course he didn’t comment on it for six months because it took so long for the news to get back – and then he described it as a humanitarian thing. He said, “the Africans will have grounds to thank us for having restored law and order. ” And remember, imperialism is always presented as humanitarian: the white man’s burden, the cross going round the world, the poor benighted natives, the sun never sets. . . So you have to be very careful about humanitarianism. The latest example of it is don’t give money to beggars. That would be humanitarian. You saw that in the paper? Jack Straw is spending a quarter of a million pounds telling people not to give money to beggars.

CS: That’s quite interesting. We were told on Victoria station the other day not to give money to beggars. And immediately you think, yes I want to go and give money. I immediately went and looked for a beggar.

TB: The Good Samaritan would have been arrested, given a fine on the spot, taken to the nearest cash point. . .

CS: OK, I’m puzzled about these terms. You spoke about humanitarianism and how a term such as this is used as a front for something else. . .

TB: The word is used to cover things. I don’t say that it’s always in that sense, but they do describe the bombing of Iraq as humanitarian, to protect the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the South. I mean: “peacekeeping”. I’m interested in language. We used to call it the War Office. Then it became the Ministry of Defence. We used to talk about the hydrogen bomb, now we talk about a deterrent. And the language is very cleverly constructed to give the impression that it’s not what it is. Humanitarian Intervention. World Peace. Chomsky said the other day that whenever you hear the words “Peace Process” remember, this is what American national interest is about. You don’t want to be cynical, but you do have to understand language.

CS: There’s a lot of euphemisms used, isn’t there? I mean, Free Trade: it actually means protectionism in the United States. Globalisation actually means the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. The International Community means the elites within the G7. . .

TB: I know half of the International Community myself. It’s a tremendous achievement. I mean, I’ve actually met Robin Cook. (Laughs). I think that a little bit of gentle mockery is not a bad thing really. Because the odious hypocrisy of the language that they use. . . And I mean, the guys in Prague are troublemakers and thank god the police are dealing with them, but the demonstrators in Belgrade are. . . the police mustn’t fire at them. The miners in Yugoslavia striking against Milosivec are heroes, the miners in Britain striking to keep their jobs are revolutionaries. I mean the whole thing has got to the point now where unless you address the language you can’t explain to people what’s happening.

CS: The notion of Capitalism gives off this idea that we have a free market, and various institutions struggling between themselves to lower prices. I know this isn’t true. One of the things Chomsky points out is that the state is more often used to funnel public money into private hands. I was just wondering, given your wide experience of actually being in government and watching government if. . .

TB: Well Thatcher said she’d run down the state. Actually what she did was to transfer the power of the state in protecting people to protecting business against people. And the state is more powerful than it’s ever been, but it’s on the wrong side. And this theory. . . I’m doing a broadcast tomorrow actually (10th October) about a book called The Commanding Heights, which is written by two academics, celebrating the victory of what they call market forces over the state. But it’s actually a victory of market forces and the state over people. I mean, if you take the railways – I looked it up the other day – I got the House of Commons library to tell me what are the profits of the private railway companies and what are the subsidies and many of them pay the dividends out of the subsidies and run the railways at a loss. And that’s called Private Enterprise, Public Private Partnership. It’s very easy to expose now, and what I do find is that now communism is gone and people aren’t terrified that they’re going to be invaded by the Red Army tomorrow, they’re now having a chance to look at capitalism and they don’t really like it very much. Most people would like publicly owned railways, they’d like the schools to be run by elected people, don’t want private companies taking over schools, would like the Health Service to be free of PFI (Private Finance Initiative) and all that, so I feel at the moment that the tide is coming in, not in an explicit socialist way, but it a very, very powerful anti-capitalist way. Very easy to make the case against capital and people respond, they’re insecure, they’re worried, they don’t feel happy, they don’t know what it is, and that’s the duty of explanation, that’s why Chomsky is so important because he explains things so clearly.

CS: Following on from that, and talking about government, you will presumably know most of the people who are currently in government, or at least have watched some of them coming up through the ranks. . .

TB: Well I’ve only once been introduced to Gordon Brown at a New Statesman party three years ago. I know Beckett very well and I know Blair a bit and I know Mowlam, she used to work down in this basement thirty years ago as a research assistant. Jack Straw I know from way back. Who else? I don’t really know Mandelson very well except he was a press officer for the Labour Party in Walworth Road. Gordon Brown is the only one I don’t really know at all.

CS: The puzzle I have here is, what happens to people when they enter government? This is where I’m asking for your experience. The example I’d give is Peter Hain who, not so long ago was head of the anti-apartheid movement, apparently radical, who now appears to justify the bombing of Iraq. I’m not interested in individuals. The process if you like. . .

TB: Actually Peter Hain used to come and see me once a month for a year when I persuaded him to come and join the Labour Party. He was a Liberal. Well, when you get there a lot of things happen. First of all you feel you are entering a place controlled by the people and you’re sort of glad to be there. Then the Permanent Secretary says good morning Secretary of State, and then later you get on to first name terms: I know Sir John, I have a word with Sir Alan. But of course the civil service believe in a continuity of policy, and they treat you a little bit as a Maitre D’Hotel. . . . (Conversation interrupted by a phone call during which Claire Short was mentioned. ) I forget where we were now.

CS: A similar thing in a way. I was talking about what happens to people when they get into power, Claire Short being another example of someone I used think was. . . I don’t want you to speak about the person. . .

TB: Some of these people I can’t say I was altogether surprised. But then you realise they have a continuity policy, they just want you to. . . The Permanent Secretary will do a deal with you. If you do what we want you to do, we will put out to the press that you are an incredibly able Minister, and The Economist will say that people have been amazed at Mr. Jones’ ability to handle a difficult. . . That all comes from the Permanent Secretary. If you don’t do that than they’ll put out that you’re a troublesome Minister, you’re causing trouble; they’ll go straight to your department in No. 10 and tell the Prime Minister that the Secretary of State is being very difficult. And they undermine you. It’s partly ambition. They want to get on, it’s very understandable. And partly, of course, the so-called collective cabinet responsibility, where if you’re a cabinet minister you’re responsible for everything everyone does even if you didn’t know about it. So you’re sucked in that way. And I found ways of getting round this. One way of getting round collective cabinet responsibility is to make a speech saying, a lot of people are saying to me it’s time the government looked again at the question of this or that. Well they can’t complain about that because that was reported – reportage – but of course you were really building up support. Or: Looking further ahead beyond this to the fourth Labour Cabinet, we will have to consider this. . . . And it made them very, very angry. But they want you when you are there to abandon your responsibilities, your beliefs, your constituency, your party, and simply become what’s now called “on-message”. And if you step out of line – and the media particularly – they just assassinate you. The media – it’s a long time ago now – but they used to sit in the garden and ring the front door bell, there were twenty film crews and when my kids went to school they used to swear and hope they’d swear back. And really, media harassment amounts almost to political assassination. Very, very unpleasant. And that’s another factor because if you want a good press you’ve got to do what the editor of the Guardian wants, or the editor of the Independent or the Times. So there are a lot of pressures. And to stand up to them. . . . I mean I was radicalised by being a minister. That’s when I saw how the system really worked. And that is not a very usual process, but it certainly happened to me: it gave me a lot more experience, it helped me to understand where power really lay, develop strategies for undermining or changing it, and so on. But that isn’t the norm. Mr Gladstone moved to the left as he got older, and one or two other people have, but normally you swing the other way.

CS: So why would that be? Why would they normally swing the other way when faced with the realities of power?

TB: Well because the establishment rewards you, don’t they? Very, very richly. I mean if you take the four members of the SDP – Jenkins, Owen, Williams and Rogers – they all became members of the House of Lords. I mean, that really is something isn’t it? I mean if you’re a trade unionist who goes along with the government, you become Lord Murray, Lord Chappell, and a lot more weighty. Patronage is a very powerful force. (Conversation interrupted by another phone call. )

CS: I’m still puzzled. . .

TB: About why people shift?

CS: Yeah.

TB: Well I mean it’s a variety of things. First of all you start with ideas, and you’re young, you have less experience than when you’re old, you say, it’s wrong to hunt animals, or it’s wrong that people should be thrown out of work. Then you get there, they say, half a minute, if you try to tackle that you’d have this. So you face the. . . what you might call from protest to management. Now I found that very interesting and satisfying, because at least I had a little bit of power. Whereas if you’re an ordinary MP and the factory workers are made redundant, there’s nothing you can do but protest. But if you’re a minister. . . I’d say, right, I’ll do this, I’ll do that, I’ll do the other, so you could help a little bit. But of course all the pressures from the department, and from your colleagues, broadly was, oh well, that’s inevitable, it’s globalisation, you’re causing trouble, there’s nothing could be done, they’re not very representative, they don’t matter, we’ve got a lead in the polls. And then the sort of hint that if you’re a good boy you’ll get promoted and you’ll end up as Lord So-and-so. I mean, I’m putting it very crudely, but I think that is what it is. And then the media say, right, marvellous article Lord Jenkins whatever he is, in another masterly address to the nation said. . . Mr Benn in a typical article shouted. . . I mean they give government health warnings to explain who they want you to listen to. And all these pressures become very great. And also I think a lot of people are a bit overawed by civil servants. “Come and have dinner, we’ll discuss it. . . . ” The quickest way to get to the top in society probably is to be a Blair Babe now. And then all of a sudden you find you’re invited to parties. I don’t want to be cynical, because I’m not. But I’ve seen it happen to so many people who move from the left to the right so damn quickly. The number of Trots who are now Blairites. I mean, Aleister Darling was a Trot, I believe Steven Byers was a Trot, Alan Millburn was a Trot. And the Comms (Communists) shift because funnily enough the Comms identify in New Labour the very Democratic Centralism they admired in Russia. They sort of recognise it. That’s an ideological phenomenon.

CS: New Labour is a Democratically Centrally organised party these days?

TB: Absolutely the same.

CS: Going back to the globalisation thing. There’s a Zapatista slogan, “a thousand yeses and one no!” We know what’s wrong. It’s what we do about it.

TB: Oh I agree. But then that’s what you have to think about. I mean, for example, I was the Energy Minister when we were developing the North Sea. So I suddenly found myself dealing at the very top level with Esso, Amoco, Texaco, Conoco, with BP, the bloody lot. And I recognised they were bigger than Britain as companies, so I treated them like foreign powers. I’d say, we have a common interest in getting oil out of the North Sea. You’re looking after your shareholders, I’m looking after my electors. If it’s a conflict between your shareholders and my electors, I’m going to win. And one of them, the Esso guy, said, I can’t negotiate with you. I said, why not? Well, he said, your political philosophy is different to mine. So I said, right, OK, thank you very much. And you could see his own people quivering ‘cos they wanted the bloody oil. So they went away. And then a year later they asked me to lunch. So I talked him about his golf, his wife, but I wouldn’t discuss oil with him. And of course they capitulated, because they wanted the oil. I’ll give you another occasion when we discovered – at the time the Balance of Payments was a big problem – that by transfer pricing, you know what I mean. . .

CS: I don’t.

TB: Well within a company you can arrange to make a profit in one country and not in another. Well I knew that Phillip’s of Eindhoven were running a Balance of Payments deficit on Mullards and all the factories they owned here. So I got in a helicopter, went to Eindhoven, said to Mr. Phillips, if you don’t change that, I’ll tell you that the Minister of Defence will never buy another Mullard valve off you. And a year later my official came and said, by the way, Secretary of State, we’ve discovered they’ve now shifted it. So they aren’t making a Balance of Payments deficit. So that was just bullying them. And they spend millions of pounds on publicity, there’s a tiger in your tank, all this stuff, because they want good will with the host country, with the host government. So we’re much more powerful than we think. Mind you, if you annoy them, they’ve got all sorts of ways of getting at you. But this idea that we’re at the mercy of them. . . They’re very powerful. I sent you that thing on the World Trade Organisation? They’re very powerful. But we elect MPs in this system to protect you, not to administer the world on their behalf where you’re just a spectator.

CS: But isn’t this the problem, that given that Ministers tend to move to the right, that we can no longer depend on government, and given that the corporations are so closely tied in with the current administration, that those of us who aren’t ministers, who are just blokes on the street. . .

TB: If we’d have been talking about apartheid forty years ago, you’d have said the same to me about apartheid. . . The police are controlled by the whites, the media are controlled by the whites, the army’s controlled by the whites, what hope is there for change? It changes from underneath.

CS: So you would promote protest?

TB: Well I don’t like the word protest. I know what you mean of course. But I don’t regard it as protest. I regard it as the first stage of political campaigning. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard my sequence of events. When somebody comes up with a progressive idea, to begin with, you’re mad, bonkers. Then if you go on, you’re dangerous. Then there’s a pause. Then you can’t find anyone who can say they thought of it in the first place. That’s how progress is made. This is why I do believe in the vote. In the end, all these people who’ve been tempted to the right realise the warning lights in their constituency are brighter than the bright lights from No. 10 offering them things. And then they begin listening. The Poll Tax was an example. And the fuel thing is interesting, because although the people who were running it were anti-government, the support was very general. Because the fuel tax is too high. And I think now, after Prague and Seattle, maybe Belgrade even, you’re going to find a lot more of this. I mean, how did women get the vote? Mr. Asquith, the prime minister, said that if women got the vote it would undermine parliamentary democracy. How did they win? How did the Tolpuddle Martyrs get trade unionised? It’s self-organisation. That’s why the word protest is too negative. You’ve got to be in favour of something. Ban the Bomb, Votes for Women, Jobs for All, those are sound bites that mean something. They are the rallying cry, but not on a sectarian basis, I’m more socialist than you are, that is absolute dead duck sectarian politics, but issue based politics. . . The Miner’s strike attracted people from the whole political spectrum.

CS: Going back to protest. It’s the same root as the word Protestant you realise?

TB: Yes it’s very interesting isn’t it.

CS: And from Protestantism, which is protest against the Catholic Church. . .

TB: The priesthood of all believers, you see. I was brought up to believe you don’t need a bishop or a cardinal. Were you brought up in a religious home?

CS: No I wasn’t personally. But I’ve looked a lot, especially at that period, the Diggers and the Levellers, Gerard Winstanley. . .

TB: Oh yeah. I’ve got a picture on the wall over there of Daniel in the lion’s den. Have you heard that story? In the bible there’s a man called Daniel, and he went into a lion’s den. They said, you’ll be eaten up. He wasn’t. And my Dad used to say to me, dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose firm, dare to let it known. An old testament story. And I found that picture in the YMCA in Nagasaki, and I took out my camera and I photographed it. So you see, there is, all the political battles we fight now were fought in the name of religion in the past. That’s why it’s so important to study religion. Martin Luther against the Pope was the same as the Campaign Group against New Labour (laughs). I didn’t know that Protestantism came from protest, because that entirely marries in with my understanding of what you’re doing. You’re challenging unaccountable power.

CS: Of course, those of us who only have the vote, that’s as far as it goes in terms of our political influence, have tended to take other means of direct action. Have you got any views on that?

TB: I’ll give you some very good examples of direct action. Monsanto. WTO. IMF. Brussels. All extra-parliamentary. Only they’re not called that. None of them were elected. And when Ford closes Dagenham, that’s direct action. So you’ve got to be clear in your mind, that governments are driven by direct action from capital. That’s discussed as “the real world”. So when they face direct action in the streets of Prague. . . Oh my god, this is a revolution. And they always try and make protest movements out to be violent. Just as Thatcher called Mandela a terrorist. Which he was I suppose. At his trial he said, we tried peacefully, then by non violent activity, and then we took to the gun. He was a terrorist. And then he wins the world peace prize and becomes president of South Africa. That’s how it happens. It’s very important not to differentiate protest from the democratic process. Because the ballot box is so important. There’s people on the left who say, the ballot box is a waste of time. Forget them. When Mandela voted for the first time at the age of 76 there was a lot of grown men, including me, wept buckets. That was what it was about. It doesn’t solve things, but it gives you the mechanism to hold to account the people with power.

CS: You spoke of sectarian problems on the left. There’s a huge history of this. This is one of the problems we encounter. If we really are to overcome the powers of capitalism then we need some sort of unity. . .

TB: Yes, but you can’t actually get it on the basis of ideology. It has to be on the issue. On the Miner’s strike, all these left groups supported it. On Seattle, they probably all supported it. On pensions. . . So I’ve long ago given up the idea that there’s a better party, with Scargill’s party: not that I ever had it, you know, I’m a Labour Party person myself. But it’s a phenomenon, a self-weakening phenomenon, self-indulgence of a kind. Although what they write is very brilliant. I mean, I read all the left press. Far from being mindless militants, they’re the most formidable intellectuals. I was talking to an Anarchist yesterday. He’s a waiter in a restaurant. He’s always been very friendly to me. He said, I was imprisoned by Franco because I was an Anarchist, and I’ve come here. He’s a good lefty, and he knew of Portillo’s father. We had a lovely talk. And Anarcho-Syndicalism is a very important strand of thought, and it’s always dismissed as just a lot of. . . Like the Luddites and the Ranters. The Ranters were actually quite sensible people, going round, teaching people. And the Luddites didn’t want to destroy the machines, they wanted to control the machines, so they destroyed the machines in order to get control. And all that’s always done. Even the word “silly”. Silly means religious. It’s either silly or daft, I forget which. . . .

CS: So do you see yourself as a religious man?

TB: I was brought up on the bible. But I’m not practicing. First of all I think that the moral basis of the teachings of Jesus – Love thy neighbour – is the basis of it all. Am I my brother’s keeper? An injury to others is an injury to all, you do not cross a picket line; and that comes from the book of Genesis and not the Kremlin. And my mother brought me up on the Old Testament, in the conflict between the Kings and the Prophets, the Kings who had power, and the Prophets who preach righteousness, and I was taught to believe in the Prophets and not the Kings. I mean, my cultural roots of Dissent and Protestantism and Non-Conformity all come from there. But it doesn’t mean I’m trying to impose my religion on anyone else, or that any of the mysteries – the virgin birth or the ascension – interest me in any way. But I think if you are going to relate to a society with arguments that make sense, you have to relate to your common cultural background. And if I say, when Cain killed Abel in the garden of Eden – am I my Brother’s keeper? – and that’s really why we don’t cross a picket line, people register. Whereas if I say, in my particular socialist sect it makes it clear that it’s a treachery to the working class to cross a picket line, they might say, oh hell, there he is, he’s at it again. So it’s partly presentational. It’s a cultural, historical, traditional presentation of that.

CS: I’ve been reading a bit of Liberation Theology recently. .

TB: Oh that’s very interesting. I’m very interested in Liberation Theology, when the priests are Marxist and the Marxists are Christians. You weren’t brought up in any religion at all?

CS: I wasn’t. Well, born in the 50s, brought up in the 60s. It was a secular state by then. I did go to a Baptist church but I didn’t much like it.

TB: Some of them are pretty restrictive in their view.

CS: Yes, I must admit, I’m not religious really. But, like you, I like the use of symbolism and imagery. I think the problem on the left is this pretence that we have a scientific world view, when in fact it’s not really scientific, it’s humanitarian. . .

TB: There was a conflict – I only learned this recently – between William Blake, who was a non-denominational Christian, and Tom Paine, who was an atheist. And Blake’s analysis, Blake believed that the origin of reason was the devil, and that faith was what mattered. Therefore he played no part whatever in political activities. He was a visionary, a prophetic voice. Whereas Paine was involved in everything. And the idea that reason owes its role to the devil: it’s totally unscientific, but there’s something in it.

CS: I think you need both, faith and reason. Which is maybe where I’m not a Christian, because Christians have faith in something that I can’t see or feel or that I don’t know much about. However, I can believe in the possibility of something, that by putting my energy into that possibility I can make it happen. That to me is belief on a concrete level. That you can believe in – say – reforming an institution, doing something about something, and actually then make it happen. I still think you need reason down the line. I think if you lose reason. . .

TB: Well you see, Christians believe that God created man, and humanists believe that man invented God. But whichever way you look at it, we’re brothers and sisters. Either we’re brothers and sisters because we’re children of God, or because we’ve banded together to invent God. So the ethics of the humanist and the ethics of some Christians are very similar. And we don’t want to create divisions between humanists and Liberation Theologians, and more than we want between the New Worker and the Trots. It’s not helpful.

CS: I’m not sure how much longer I’ve got.

TB: I find these discussions very interesting. Tell you what, I want to know all about you. How old are you?

CS: 47. I’ve been a single parent. My son’s now 20. He’s now got himself a flat on his own. He’s left me.

TB: What have you done all your life?

CS: Bits and pieces, really. Bit of a drifter, I suppose. I’ve done lots and lots of jobs. Active in the Labour Party for a while. Briefly. I left the Labour Party over the Poll Tax, because they said we had to pay the Poll Tax and that then they’d get in and repeal it. But if we hadn’t actively fought against the Poll Tax, the Poll Tax would still be here wouldn’t it?

TB: Well Kinnock was furious with me. I didn’t pay the Poll Tax till the abolition was announced. I wouldn’t tell anyone else not to pay because they would be taking a risk I wasn’t taking. Yes, the Poll Tax was very important. The other fairly non-political example was when Hamilton killed those kids in Dunblane. Public opinion was so strong even Michael Howard had to ban handguns. The last thing he ever thought of. But he had to do it. And public opinion: protest formulates public opinion, and Parliament is the last place to get the message. At the moment it’s so totally out of touch, I’m not sure it’s getting any messages at all. As we approach polling day one or two messages will be conveyed, through MPs who’ve got to fight their seats. And it’s very interesting to see how the process works. And I think to understand how the democratic process works is the most important thing, so people don’t get frightened by it, and get put off, and give up. But being in the Labour Party is a very minor matter in that sense. You can do all that you want to without being in the Labour Party. And I’m giving up because I want to spend more time on politics.

CS: yes, I’ve heard this quote. What did you mean by this?

TB: I meant I don’t want to stand night after night on a three-line whip about cutting benefits for lone parents, putting in tuition fees, ending jury service, broadening (the definition of) terrorism, fining yobs at the nearest cash-point, going to war with Kosovo. I don’t want to do it. And I’m free. I’m a free man now. It’s lovely to be old. I’ve got age, experience and zero personal ambition. No body could corrupt me by anything: possibly a job in the government, a peerage, a quango, I don’t want any of it.

CS: So how do you see the next few years then?

TB: Well come back on my hundredth birthday and I’ll tell you. But it’s the beginning, I think, of a very exciting period of political work. Maybe. . . I mean you do need the media to get your case across. I can’t complain because I get lots of opportunities. Maybe when I’m not in parliament they won’t, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter what happens to me, but I would like to have access to the public and at the moment I’m very, very lucky. I had a business man this morning, from the London Business Magazine come to interview me. And you come and talk to me, and the BBC come and ask me questions. I really am a sort of wholly untrained guru who sits at home and meets people and tries to answer their questions. Very, very enjoyable.

CS: Talking about political parties, since the rise of New Labour I have felt disenfranchised. There is no longer a party that represents me and my views. I’ve heard you refer to New Labour as a coup d’etat on the Labour Party. . .

TB: Yes, it’s s new political party. I’m not a member of it. It’s probably the smallest political party in the history of British Politics, but they’re all in the cabinet so it makes it quite powerful. They’ve captured the MillbankTower. They would really like a coalition, I think. If you talk privately, they’d like Ken Clark and Charles Kennedy in the coalition and have a one-party state. All the guys at the top huddling together to see that people like you never have any influence. I think that’s what they’re really about. And then Scargill made the same mistake in setting up the Socialist Labour Party. When I saw Blair a few months ago I said, you and Scargill have made the same mistake, you’ve set up a new political party. He looked a bit sort of quizzical. But they have.

CS: Except that Blair has power and Scargill doesn’t.

TB: Yes, but I mean, they both left the Labour Party. And yet he needs the Labour Party. As we get near polling day you wait and see. Even the Brighton Conference had a touch of old Labour about it. And the unions beat him on pensions: a very important victory.

CS: And following on from that, Ken Livingstone’s victory in London: it wasn’t just because everybody liked Ken, it’s because he was opposing the privatisation of the tube. Opposed to the PFI (Private Finance Initiative).

TB: And also proved to people you don’t have to be Tony Blair to win. That was the really important point. Because Blair had been saying, well drop me if you like, but you’ll lose. And Ken said, sorry, you can throw me out, but I’ll win. And he did.

CS: But then you see the anti-democratic tendencies of New Labour. That despite the fact that this was really a referendum on PFI , they still continue with PFI. That is, they are ignoring the will of the people.

TB: Yes but you have to take a moving picture in politics, not snapshots. I think of all the things I’ve campaigned on in my life, years and years ago. Gay rights. I introduced a bill in 1989 for an equal age of consent. It was laughed at. Now law. I campaigned for the end of apartheid. Everybody said it will never happen. I’m not saying I did it. You anticipated it. And the PFI will go down the pan because the unions won’t have it. And the unions are beginning to feel their muscle again. They wanted Labour to win, quite rightly after the Tories, they want Labour to win again, quite rightly, and there are a few peerages hovering over the heads of the General Secretaries. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the principle General Secretaries don’t take up with Mr. Blair’s reformed House of Lords. There are a lot of factors at work. But underneath, where people are people, it’s not going to quite be like that.

CS: So you remain an optimist then?

TB: Oh yeah.

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German efficiency all to do with working practice

Angela Merkel addressing the British Parliament. Is German efficiency a national trait?

Angela Merkel’s visit to the UK parliament last week left me puzzling as to the source of German economic success. Is it because they are more naturally efficient than we are, or is there something institutional, something they do that we don’t?

I read a couple of articles which answered that question for me. One of them was about the Union of Auto Workers in the United States who recently lost a ballot to organise the workforce in Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant.

How do you imagine the management of Volkswagen reacted to the news? Had it been a British or an American company, it would almost certainly have celebrated the decision. Volkswagen, on the other hand, have threatened to close the plant if it is not unionised and have encouraged the union to challenge the decision in the courts.

Volkswagen consider a unionised workforce a necessary part of good industrial relations.

The other article was about work practices in Amazon warehouses, which, as you may know, are fairly brutal. Staff are made to wear GPS tags and their productivity rate is constantly being pushed to almost unmanageable levels. Failure to keep up can result in summary dismissal.

Again, the British and American workforces are not unionised, whereas the German workforce is. Consequently working conditions are better in Germany than they are here, while the workers are represented at management level through statutory works councils.

Not only that, but the Trade Union movement as a whole is represented in the German parliament by the Social Democratic Party, which, unlike the British Labour Party, has maintained its link to organised labour.

Are we beginning to see a difference between our two countries now?

In Germany workers are included in the political process. They have representation in parliament. They have a voice in the workplace. They are well paid and have better working conditions.

British workers, on the other hand, are constantly being undermined. We have no representation in parliament, and no voice in the workplace.

The efficiency of German workers has got nothing to do with some mythical national characteristic. It has everything to do with good working practice.

Write to Gazette House, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE.

Email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk Web: kentishgazette.co.uk

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Satyagraha: Engaged Spirituality

Mahatma Gandhi called it Satyagraha, Truth Force.

Martin Luther King called it Soul Force.

It is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, as Karma Yoga, Action Yoga, consecrated action.

Or we could call it Engaged Spirituality.

It is the means by which a person with spiritual beliefs may become involved in the political world.

http://cjstone.hubpages.com/hub/Satyagraha

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Mandela’s mission still leaves country in poverty

Nelson mandela with Joe Slovo

So Nelson Mandela has passed on. This must be the first time ever, in the entire history of the human race, that a politician will be missed.

A friend of mine, Lois Davis, was at his first rally after he’d been released and she filmed the event. It took place in the Soccer City stadium in Soweto.

It’s a remarkable piece of film. You can see all the people pouring towards the stadium in their pickup trucks, or walking along the dusty roads.

As they get near the venue they start to run. There is such excitement in the air, such joy. It’s like a wave of bliss breaking over the landscape. The people are dancing as they go.

Once in the stadium, it is like a rock concert rather than a political rally. Everyone is jigging about, clapping their hands and pumping their fists into the air. How many politicians get this kind of reception?

It wasn’t only that he was a freedom fighter, willing to suffer for his beliefs. It wasn’t only that he spent 27 years in gaol. He was so gracious, so willing to forgive.

He famously refused to condemn his gaolers, saying that they were victims too.

Even as I write the great and the good from all over the world are flocking to South Africa to attend his funeral. Everyone wants a piece of him. But I wonder how much of the real Mandela we are getting in our news reports right now?

In the elevation of Nelson Mandela to virtual sainthood, we seem to have forgotten all the other anti-apartheid fighters who worked alongside him. People like Joe Slovo or Chris Hani, and other members of the South African Communist Party.

In the end, it has to be said, he failed in his mission. He helped to end the racial apartheid of South Africa, only to see it replaced with an economic apartheid.

The country is as divided now as it ever was, but not between black and white any more: between rich and poor. The fact that some of the rich are black, hardly makes a difference.

From The Whitstable Gazette.

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number. Send letters to: The Editor, Gazette House, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE, email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

You can see Lois Davis’ film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKGz8PN_4vE&feature=youtu.be

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The Empire of Things: a new book by CJ Stone

 

The Empire of Things by CJ Stone

CJ Stone wrote a column for the Guardian Weekend from 1993 till 1998. It was called Housing Benefit Hill and won the writer much acclaim. He has also written columns for the Big Issue, for Mixmag, for Radio 4’s The Afternoon Shift, for Prediction magazine and for Kindred Spirit, as well as writing regularly for the New Statesman and the Independent on Sunday, amongst others. Currently he is a working postman. The Empire of Things is his sixth book.

The novelist Jon McGregor attributed Housing Benefit Hill with making him want to become a writer.

He wrote: (The Observer Sunday 13 February 2011):

I blame the Guardian. Specifically, I blame CJ Stone’s Housing Benefit Hill column, which was then running on Saturdays… This was not only enough to persuade me to join an anti-road protest; it also made me want to become a writer. See what a couple of good sentences can do.

John Higgs (author of I Have America Surrounded and KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds) said of CJ Stone’s work:

He has a knack for telling you things you need to know before you’re aware that you need to know them… He sees the archetypal in the mundane. He captures moments which should be washed away by the passing of time, and he hammers them into permanence.

This new collection of writings is culled from various sources: from his work for Prediction magazine, from Kindred Spirit, from the Independent, from the Whitstable Gazette and from his popular blog. It covers such diverse subjects as drugs, economics, politics, paganism, the Stonehenge mystery, synchronicity, Robin Hood, King Arthur, holidays in Transylvania and wearing pyjamas in the Co-op.

The author can be contacted at christopherston@gmail.com

What the critics say about CJ Stone:

“Stone writes with intelligence, wit and sensitivity.” Times Literary Supplement

“Wry, acute, and sometimes hellishly entertaining essays in squalor and rebellion.” Herald

“The best guide to the Underground since Charon ferried dead souls across the Styx.” Independent on Sunday

“Passionately serious, irresistibly compelling, and hilariously good-humoured.” Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol University

Buy the book here.

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Julian Brazier and Cannabis: who regulates the sources?

Matt Ford says he nearly died after taking a legal high

A few weeks ago our MP made a number of statements regarding the controversial retailers UK Skunkworks after a young man, Matt Ford of Whitstable, almost died from the effects of smoking one of their products.

I responded by saying that while these legal highs are untested and potentially dangerous, some of our illegal drugs are relatively safe. I sent Mr Brazier a copy of the story.

Here is an extract from his reply: “I am told by sources I respect that cannabis is both a much more potent drug than its namesake of the 60s and 70s and that it is now one of the major causes of schizophrenia – as you know we have a worrying rise in mental illness among young people.”

This brings up a number of questions. Where is the evidence? If it’s true that there is a rise in mental illness among the young, can it be shown that this is caused by cannabis?

Isn’t it just as likely, given that young people have had their futures stolen from them, – that they are the first generation in more than a century destined to be poorer than their parents – that the rise in mental illness might have other, more immediate, causes?

Should we be surprised if they are turning to cannabis for relief?

You will also notice that his reply is based upon hearsay. Who are these “sources”? If the government’s own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs says one thing, but Julian Brazier’s sources say another, how are we to know who is telling the truth?

This, of course, brings us to the question of democracy.

It’s fairly clear that Julian Brazier knows next to nothing about drugs. No MP can be an expert on every subject. Consequently he is always going to be guided by sources of information – or misinformation – which lie outside the public sphere.

The question then has to be, how do we regulate those sources? When an MP has business interests he is obliged to declare them. Perhaps he should also tell us the names of the people who inform him.

From The Whitstable Gazette.
The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number. Send letters to: The Editor, Gazette House, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE, email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk
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Brian Haw: conscience for the world

Brian Haw: “roaring out his truths to the world”

I went to the Brian Haw memorial gig at the Whitstable Labour Club on Friday (8/11/13). In case you don’t know, Whitstable is raising money to make a bench in celebration of Brian’s connection to the town.

Not only did Brian live here in his teenage years, but his brother, Richard, remains here to this day. Richard also has a connection to the Labour Club, having been its chairman for many years. Richard was at the gig, along with Brian’s children, Pete, Catt and Naomi.

I listened to speeches by Pete and Catt. They weren’t political speeches. They were stories from Brian’s former life, when he was just an ordinary Dad, bringing up his family in Birmingham. He was a tradesman, a craftsman, and Pete referred to the beadwork on his cabinets, how delicate and fine it was.

This was very touching because of course he became such an international figure in the end, recognised by people all over the world.

This is what made Brian’s protest so powerful. He was an ordinary man, who, by an unwavering commitment and a fierce belief, became the conscience for the whole world.

He was a deeply spiritual man, but he wasn’t like so many spiritual people, content with just praising God. He saw that he also had a duty to God, to fight against the injustices of the world.

Pete told us about the time when Brian first moved to Parliament Square to begin his protest. The children drove him down, little knowing that this would be the last he ever spent time at home with them. They drove away leaving him there on the pavement, with all his camping equipment, his banners and stuff. This was on the second of June 2001.

Brian’s one-man campaign started in protest at the sanctions against Iraq, which had, by that time, killed in the region of half a million children under the age of five.

There is no greater injustice than the murder of innocence. Brain Haw left his own family and by this act threw off the shackles of tribalism. He gave up his own children to become a father for all children.

As we know, Tony Blair has also often claimed to be a Christian. But what a different kind of Christianity this must be to the one that Brian practiced.

One form of Christianity revelled in its power and influence and was able to justify the invasion of a sovereign state and the murder and mayhem that followed. The other stood in fierce condemnation of this, like an old testament prophet, roaring out his truths to the world.

One became immensely rich, cosseted and protected by the state, while the other lived his life out in the open, in opposition to the state, often being beaten up late at night, giving up everything – including his life – to create something much more meaningful.

From The Whitstable Gazette.

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number. Send letters to: The Editor, Gazette House, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE, email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

www.kentishgazette.co.uk

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The War on Drugs is a War on Consciousness: in answer to Julian Brazier

In a recent story – Legal Highs vs Natural Highs, published here - I referred to an intervention my MP, Julian Brazier, made with the Home Secretary on the issue of legal highs. I sent a copy of the story to Mr Brazier who responded with the following letter:

Dear Chris,

Many thanks for your piece which I read with interest. This is a big complicated subject but boils down to the old question of whether to legalise or not. On one point of detail, I am told by sources I respect that cannabis is both a much more potent drug than its namesake of the 60s and 70s and that it is now one of the major causes of schizophrenia – as you know we have a worrying rise in mental illness among young people

Yours

Julian

Following is my answer to Julian Brazier’s letter:

Dear Julian, the issue isn’t in the slightest bit complicated. When the USA made alcohol illegal during the prohibition era, the supply of alcohol was taken over by the Mafia, which grew immensely as a consequence. It is the same with illegal drugs now. We have given over the supply to gangsters and have provided them with a massive source of income by inflating the prices of what are otherwise abundant products in Nature.

You speak of “sources I respect”. This is the equivalent of me saying that I heard it from a mate of mine down the pub. What sources? Where is your evidence? According to the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, in a paper published by the Lancet in 2010, the most harmful drug by far is alcohol. You can read that here.  Cannabis comes in at number 8 on this list, despite it’s wide availability.

If, as you say, the “much more potent” form of cannabis is one of the major causes of schizophrenia amongst young people today, then that may be a reason to control the availability of this form of cannabis, as we do alcohol, by setting a limit on its use. By handing over distribution of the drug to gangsters we abrogate our responsibility for it by giving up legislative control. In fact the use of all illegal drugs has increased exponentially since the so-called “war on drugs” began in the early 70s.

But this doesn’t explain why all forms of cannabis are illegal, including the ones that, like parsley and mint, I can grow in my own back garden. This is legislation against nature and against the Earth itself. In fact the reason that some forms of cannabis are much more potent than they were in the 60s is that they have been selectively bred to increase the THC content while the proportion of cannabinoids is reduced. Cannabinoids are antipsychotic in their effects. In other words, in its its natural form the drug contains its own cure.

The selective breeding programme is precisely an effect of the illegality of the drug, because producers want to minimise the volume in order to transport it across borders illegally.

But nothing – NOTHING – you say answers the question about psychedelic mushrooms. Take another look at that list. Mushrooms come in at the bottom, and while they may be said to cause small amounts of harm to users – equivalent to the kinds of harm that peanuts or bananas occasionally cause – they cause no harm whatsoever to other people; unlike alcohol which not only harms the user, but harms everyone who comes in contact with the user too.

So what is your justification for the ban on the possession of what is a natural product of these Isles, which grows out of the Earth in abundance at this time of year, and which has been used by seekers and dreamers in their explorations of consciousness for thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands – of years?

Could it be, as Graham Hancock said in a recent edition of the New Statesman, that the so called “war on drugs” is, in reality, a war on consciousness: a war on our ability, as free human beings, to explore the inner landscape of our collective soul?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nf3CvpA0Wlw

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Not one shall be forgotten: the lies that take us to war

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War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.

George Orwell

For the past weeks I’ve been delivering British Legion letters to the people of Whitstable.

You will have seen them. The envelope shows a picture of a bunch of First World War British Tommies, kitted out ready for war, with their helmets and their rifles, smiling and carefree, on their way to the front. It’s obvious that none of them have seen any action as yet or they wouldn’t be smiling. By the end of the war most of them will be dead, wounded or severely traumatised.

Above the picture are the words “Over one million men fell”, and below it, “Not one shall be forgotten.”

How disingenuous this sentiment is. It is obvious that we’ve forgotten them or we wouldn’t still be sending our troops to foreign parts in order for them to kill and be killed.

How many more of the dead must we remember before we realise that war is always the problem, never the solution, and almost invariably based on lies?

The world’s first national propaganda organisation was the Ministry of Information in the UK, created during the First World War in order to mobilise public opinion in favour of the war.

One of its great achievements was in characterising the Germans as barbarians. It called them “the Hun” and, in one famous case, accused them of having bayoneted babies during the invasion of Belgium in 1914. That was a lie.

Later the lie was repeated. In 1990 an anonymous female calling herself Nayirah told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the USA that she had seen Iraqi soldiers throw Kuwaiti babies out of incubators, where they would be left on the floor to die. The testimony was used by the President of the United States to justify American involvement in the First Gulf War.

That too turned out to be a lie.

We all remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Apologists for the Second Gulf War now characterise that as a mistake, saying that everyone agreed that Saddam was hiding weapons. This is another lie. I remember seeing reports at the time clearly debunking the evidence, while Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons, resigned saying he did not believe there were any weapons. Later David Kelly came out with talk of the evidence being “sexed-up”.

Both Robin Cook and David Kelly died in mysterious circumstances.

More recently there is evidence that the threatened slaughter of civilians in Benghazi, on which the 2011 No Fly Zone over Libya was based, was also a lie.

Lies, lies and yet more lies.

Now here is the truth. War is profitable. War makes money, for the arms industry, for the weapons manufacturers, for the security services, for the sub-contractors employed to rebuild the country. War is essential for the capitalist economy. It is through war that public money is funnelled into private hands. Without war, all the research and development into the high tech industries couldn’t take place. We’d have no computers, no internet, no digital revolution. War is the means by which public finances can be put at the service of the private economy. It is Military Keynesianism.

Keynesianism argues that a constant injection of public money into the economy is necessary for economic stability. In post-war states, that meant money for infrastructure projects, for hospitals and housing, for the welfare state. Military Keynesianism has no need of such wasteful expenditure. Why put money in the hands of the people? It uses the state machine to siphon the money directly into private hands using security issues as its means. Hence the need to keep us constantly on the alert. Hence the need for lies.

It’s the same people who argue for deregulation and privatisation of our public services who also drum up the hysteria about foreign threats and the need to combat terrorism. You want to know how to stop the threats against us? Stop threatening them. You want to know how to stop terrorism? Stop participating in it.

The latest war in Syria is just another in a long line of manufactured threats, and there’s already been a number of notable lies.

One of them was the massacre at Houla. The first time we heard about it was when the media reported that 108 civilians in the village had been killed by shell fire. To illustrate the atrocity the BBC showed a photograph of several rows of dead children wrapped up ready for burial. Except that it quickly emerged that these photographs weren’t from Houla at all, but had been taken in Iraq almost a decade earlier.

‘Somebody is using my images as a propaganda against the Syrian government to prove the massacre’, said photographer Marco Di Lauro, whose photo it was.

Nevertheless the propaganda onslaught continued, for several weeks, suggesting that the Syrian government had been involved in the murder of civilians. It was only later that the truth emerged, in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that actually the victims had been pro-government Alawites murdered by the rebels and then used as anti-government propaganda. Needless to say, while the initial reports were front page stories, the later retractions were buried in the small print or not mentioned at all.

More recently we’ve had the story of the chemical attack on Ghouta, which I’ve written about here. This has also been exposed as a lie.

So next time you hear of a supposed threat from an embattled, weakened and severely impoverished third world nation, remember: War  is the mechanism by which our masters control us. It is the means by which we are enslaved.

Harry Patch, Britain’s last fighting Tommy, said of War that it is legalised mass murder.

And while it is legitimate to think of the dead of the two World Wars at this sombre time of remembrance, it is also right to temper our reflections with the knowledge that the justification for most of these wars has been based upon fabrications, and that our soldiers did not die for freedom, or democracy, or any of the other platitudes, but to serve the interests of the few.

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