The People Speak


By Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove.

A fantastic collection of documents and excerpts. It leads to much further reading. Favourites include the piece from John MacLean and the investigation into the Bryant and May Match factory working conditions (and subsequent strike) in Bow. But, really, there is so much information contained.

The book was read over about four months and was perfect to dip into and then do further reading about events and people on the Internet. This really is inspiring stuff and a call to action.

Following is the last Stanza from Shelley’s ‘The Mask of Anarchy‘:

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'



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From Solidarity to Sellout

[The Restoration of Capitalism in Poland]

By Tadeusz Kowalik.

I had always wanted to read a detailed account of what happened in Poland circa 1989 and this book certainly does that – right down to specific meetings and conversations had by participants. This was enlightening – and what transpires is that things were and are complex – there is no one party to blame wholly for the economic disaster that occurred in Poland after the fall of communism. Some individuals – such as the idealogogue Balcerowicz can take a large share of the blame as can the right wing hawks in the IMF, and perhaps also the naivety of the Solidarity leadership with governorship suddenly thrust upon them. In Kowalik’s opinion the following happened:


“Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki made a “Columbus mistake” when he wanted to go to Bonn for a model (looking for his Ludwig Erhard), but his confidants bought him a ticket to Washington (the Washington Consensus) and Chicago (headquarters of Milton Friedman’s school) instead.”

The quotes I highlighted in this book are numerous. But, here are a few which seem to sum things up – if they can be consolidated in such a way.

“The Polish middle class emerging from the first version of post-communist capitalism did not gain its positions through the market. For a great portion—or at any rate for those who acquired great fortunes—it was not the free market that turned out to be the most important, but pocket diaries. And so if this group is in fact defending anything, it is these pocket diaries—the connections, arrangements, quotas, government orders, limits, customs barriers, monopolies, thanks to which it gained its current position. This is the Polish drama.”


“It is remarkable that all indicators, without exception, both economic and social ones, have turned out to be more favorable for countries with a social market economy (cooperative) than for countries based more on a free market and open class conflict. Japan, for example, started an accelerated modernization march by radically reducing income (wages) and property disparities (zaibatsu expropriation, agricultural reform). Sweden by no means paid for its egalitarianism with lower efficiency, as it moved to the lead (next to two countries with a similar system—Denmark and Finland) among the knowledge-based economies in the world. “


“To recapitulate, Polish capitalism is characterized on the one side by massive unemployment, a large portion of people living in poverty, and high and constantly rising wage and income disparities. On the other side there is a diverse group of those who hold wealth and power, with strong clientelist or corruption links among its members. Both sides are the result of not so much uncontrolled market processes as deliberate activity (or inactivity, depending on the circumstances) of the state. All this convinces me even more that Poland has created one of the most unjust social and economic systems of the second half of the twentieth century, and with this system, it has entered the European Union.”

And finally:

“Advantage was simply taken of the immense trust that the people had in the first non-communist government.”


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The Shadow of the Sun

By Ryszard Kapuściński.

This is a collection of essays on Africa – or perhaps essay is the wrong word – these could be seen as disconnected acts in the larger drama of Africa in change. Kapuściński veers between the descriptive narrative and musing – trying to find a meaning in the upheaval he documents. He covers the length and breadth of Africa in these pieces. This is an exceptional read. Here are some extracts:

“I arrived in Kumasi with no particular goal. Having one is generally deemed a good thing, the benefit of something to strive toward.This can also blind you, however: you see only your goal, and nothing else, while this something else—wider, deeper—may be considerably more interesting and important.”


“Our contemporary suspicion of and antipathy for the Other, the Stranger, goes back to the fear our tribal ancestors felt toward the Outsider, seeing him as the carrier of evil, the source of misfortune. Pain, fire, disease, drought, and hunger did not come from nowhere. Someone must have brought them, inflicted them, disseminated them. But who? Not my people, not those closest to me—they are good. Life is possible only among good people, and I am alive, after all. The guilty are therefore the Others, the Strangers.”


“History does not exist beyond that which they are able to recount here and now. The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here, because the African past has no documents or records, and each generation, listening to the version being transmitted to it, changed it and continues to change it, transforms it, modifies and embellishes it. But as a result, history, free of the weight of archives, of the constraints of dates and data, achieves here its purest, crystalline form—that of myth.”








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King Candaules AND The Mummy’s Foot

By Théophile Gautier.

Two surreal and magical short pieces – perfect to break up some of the non-fiction I have read recently. Gautier is a more decadent and fantastical Balzac – and maybe not as much of a polymath. Having read Gautier years back I am tempted to read his travels in Egypt – he did write a fair bit – I saw a 22 volume set of his works online recently. So, worth some continued investigation. These were both excellent.




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Another Day of Life

By Ryszard Kapuściński.

Quite a brilliant book. Kapuściński writes really well and completely engages you with his narrative. I learn’t a lot reading this. Irrespective of mistakes Kapuściński may have made in his support for the ‘regime’ in Poland, his books are a window into a different world. This is a cohesive snapshot of Angola (and Africa) changing from colonial to self rule. He may play hard and fast with personal facts but this doesn’t detract from the work.

“Confusão is a situation created by people, but in the course of creating it they lose control and direction, becoming victims of confusão themselves.”

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