Birth of Our Power



By Victor Serge.

Great writing. And, by association a great translation. A well-formed novel and Serge then has the space to play and tease out philosophies and characters. This novel moves from Revolutionary Barcelona in 1917 to Petersburg and the journey in between. There’s still quite a lot of Serge for me to read. Excellent.

“Will you have some coffee? One should always appreciate coffee in troubled times. Humanity is wailing and suffering: let us sip the delectable mocha slowly; mine will be the egoist’s cup, yours whatever you wish; but it will leave the same bittersweet taste in our mouths.”


“The art of living consists in thinking. There are a few good moments: that is when, book in hand, you can lie down in the grass for an hour …”

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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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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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By Leo Tolstoy.

This was worth reading. And, it was a good tale – Tolstoy can tell a story. It doesn’t draw you in the same way as a Dostoevsky or Turgenev – it all seems a little too planned. Each scene has been mapped out, considered and fulfills its purpose precisely. I don’t believe great (important) works of literature work in this way: the random disordered elements and the frenzied activity of the writer as he or she throws what they have out on the page makes something unique. This is a novel by numbers, and it is well done but nothing special.

The themes are well worth considering – the inhumanity of the prison system, the lot of the working people and the different universe that the privileged inhabit. Finally, of course, ‘where is meaning to be found?’ – which is the major tenet of the book.



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23 Things They Dont Tell You About Capitalism

By Ha-Joon Chang.

This book had its moments and there were a few points that started me thinking; one being that the the unqualified good of low inflation at any cost isn’t necessary for economic growth. This is the dominant view which is espoused everywhere and maybe it isn’t so. The book could be thought of as a primmer for further reading. Some parts are detailed – but mostly it is a summary of dominant free market views with rebuttals. Not all the rebuttals are watertight and more detail could be given, but then the book would be something more than what it is; a work canvassing and changing conceptions that the free market mechanisms are somehow moral and self-regulating.

Here are some good quotes:

So, when free-market economists say that a certain regulation should not be introduced because it would restrict the ‘freedom’ of a certain market, they are merely expressing a political opinion that they reject the rights that are to be defended by the proposed law. Their ideological cloak is to pretend that their politics is not really political, but rather is an objective economic truth, while other people’s politics is political.


It helps us break away from the myth that our economy is exclusively populated by rational self-seekers interacting through the market mechanism. When we understand that the modern economy is populated by people with limited rationality and complex motives, who are organized in a complex way, combining markets, (public and private) bureaucracies and networks, we begin to understand that our economy cannot be run according to free-market economics.






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