Monthly Archives: June 2009

Once more on EU Post Office Privatisation and the Greens in the European Parliament!

In my earlier article on this question (posted on this blog here) and also posted by Socialist Unity (here) I examined the public statements of the European Greens on EU postal privatisation. This was in order to prove that they did not support privatisation, contrary to the claims of the Socialist Party. The Greens did in fact vote against the EU’s privatising postal services directive in the European Parliamentary vote. However, the Green groups opposition to the directive was often framed in ambiguous language, and its tactics and opposition were not bold enough. Furthermore, while they voted against the directive, they failed to support important  and principled amendments put forward by more left wing socialists. This allows some to continue to claim that the Greens supported privatisation.

UK Green Party member campaigning against postal privatisation

UK Green Party member campaigning against postal privatisation

This sometimes obscure subject matter takes on an even greater importance when we consider its role in the recent UK Euro-elections, where the BNP fascists narrowly beat the Greens by 0.3% to gain a North West MEP seat.  This has ignited controversy on the left because the Socialist Party were taking part in the ‘No2EU – Yes to democracy’ electoral coalition, which had no chance of gaining a seat or stopping the BNP. However, because in the North West this No2EU coalition gained 1.4 % of the vote, many on the left believe it let the fascists in, by taking crucial votes from the Greens, who were the main left wing challengers with a real chance. Thus these allegations against the Greens in an editorial in the Socialist Party’s newspaper in the run up to the election take on a bigger significance. The Socialist Party claimed:

“The Greens are seen as standing on the left, but in reality in the European Parliament the European Greens have supported privatisation – including the Postal Services Directive, which is the law under which Royal Mail is being part-privatised. However, there is a pro-working class slate standing in the European elections. No2EU – Yes to Democracy….”

So lets get to the bottom of this! Which way did the Green / EFA European Parliamentary group (of which the Green Party of England and Wales is a part) vote on the privatising EU postal services directive?

They voted against the directive. That is, they voted against the directive in the main final vote. They did this because they claim that the proposed liberalisation and ‘opening to market’ competition scheme would be bad for public services, postal workers and the environment. All well and Good so far then.

But that is not the end of the matter. For there were also many other votes on different amendments. One of these, called ‘amendment 10’ was a “proposal to reject the common position” – i.e reject giving the directive a second hearing in the Parliament. This was proposed by the European United Left / Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL).

The GUE/NGL is the most left-wing grouping in the European Parliament. It consists of 33 MEP’s from the Communist Parties of Greece, France, Italy, Portugal including six from the former ruling Czech Communist party. It also contains the German Die Linke, the Greek Synaspismos , the Spanish United Left and Sinn Fein. While they are not revolutionary Marxists, (and despite their NGL name none are explicitly Green parties either) clearly they are the best and most principled block in the parliament.

The GUE / NGL amendment was based upon a principled socialist rejection of the neo-liberal privatisation of public services. As a socialist member of the Green Party of England and Wales I must state my belief that the GUE / NGL position was the correct one. And GUE / NGL MEP’s gave excellent reasons for their stand: Georgios Toussas of the Greek Communists spoke for amendment 10: “The postal services are being transformed from a public good into a commodity” he argued, declaring that “the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) is opposed to the liberalisation of the postal services and is fighting for services that are exclusively public, modern and effective, and for the protection of workers’ rights”. His Portuguese comrade Pedro Guerreiro also speaking for the GUE / NGL amendment said that the directive was “an attack by the big multinationals on the public postal service, the public ownership of this service and the public administration that has to provide it, as well as on its democratic nature, attempting to wrest from the power of each people”.

Well said.

But unfortunately the GUE / NGL motion never stood a chance. The main groupings of the centre right EPP–ED (conservatives) and the centre left PES ( Party of European Socialists i.e New Labour) were committed to voting down the amendment in their hundreds. They were joined by the ranks of the Liberal Democrats (ALDE), and the right wing UEN. Sadly they were also joined by the majority of the Green / EFA group lead by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and including Jean Lambert. The Greens / EFA split on the issue, with 22 voting against the amendment, and nine voting for.

Those voting for the GUE / NGL amendment included a bloc of around 33 GUE / NGL MEP’s themselves, plus are range of characters from the Fascist right such as the French NF’s Le Penn and also right wing populists such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage. These right wing supporters of amendment 10 declared that while they did not oppose postal service privatisation, it should be up to nation states to decide, not the centralised EU. Other supporters of the amendment included the nine rebel MEP’s from the Green / EFA group and one or two others. But this small and eclectic mix were vastly outnumbered. Caroline Lucas abstained, along with two other Greens MEP’s and four others altogether, one being Robert Kilroy-Silk!

Both the Greens / EFA and the GUE / NGL then tabled a series of other amendments, seeking to resist the directive by placing protections around workers rights and public services. These amendments were again defeated by the massive neo-liberal majority of EPP-ED, PES, ALDE and UEN. Then when the directive was voted on, this neo-liberal majority again steamrollered the second reading of the directive through. Both the Greens / EFA and the GUE / NGL voted against the directive in this final vote.

Clearly the GUE / NGL stand was most principled. Why did the Greens not support the GUE / NGL amendment? I can only speculate at this stage. To be charitable, perhaps the leadership around Danny Daniel Cohn-Bendit imagined they were engaged in clever tactics? Perhaps they calculated that outright opposition would fail, but clever amendments would break the neo-liberal logic of the directive? But the GUE / NGL did both – principled rejection and attempts to amend the directive. Why couldn’t the Green / EFA group follow this lead? And anyway, the Greens must have known that the neo-con / neo-liberal majority coalition would vote down their amendments, making a Green vote against the directive inevitable.

The real answer is probably that the Green / EFA group is lead by contradictory and treacherous elements like Cohn-Bendit, whose German Green Party has been the junior partner in a rotten SPD government which implemented privatising neo-liberal attacks, acts of imperialist war and environmental destruction. Other members of the Greens / EPA include the Czech Greens, again, junior members in a right wing government. Establishing a common position with these people, but also keeping on board grassroots Green activists and more left wing Green MEP’s must require all sorts of tactical compromises and ambiguously worded fudges. Perhaps that’s why the wording is so ambiguous in the Green / EFA position paper document I analysed in the opening article above.

But let us also remember that the Green / EFA group did not vote for postal privatisation. Their tactics may have been tame, legalistic and piecemeal. But they still opposed the directive.


I think that the outright opposition of the GUE / NGL was better than the Green / EFA tactics, because even if you cant win

Photos from Green Party Trades Union Group

Photos from Green Party Trades Union Group

inside the parliamentary chamber, clear and principled opposition is needed to help build the social movement and trades union mobilisation for the mass popular direct action that can save public services like the post!

I think that Green Socialists in GPEW should campaign for a new stance for the party in the European Parliament. GPEW should first campaign to pull the European Greens to the left, arguing for consistent and principled opposition to war, privatisation and participation in governments. If this task is found impossible, then we should decamp to the GUE / NGL bloc, bringing as many of the best Green elements along.

Lucas and Lambert should be asked to explain to GPEW members why they did not vote for the principled GUE / NGL amendment no. 10. The strong words issued by GPEW stating its principled opposition to postal (and other) privatisation in the UK must be translated into a similar principled stance within the European Parliament.

The Green Party of England and Wales has in recent years attempted to position itself on the left of the UK’s political debate. It has opposed neo-liberalism, war, and racism. It has also sought to move away from its cranky ‘anti-growth’ feudal romanticism with a new platform of a ‘Green New Deal’ proposing a million new green jobs. It has formed alliances with trades unions and anti-capitalist social movements. These are all moves in the right direction.

But it also lacks a critique of political power. It has no coherent strategy for dealing with the problems of success. What happens when elections are won, and influence grows in council chambers? How will it avoid repeating the fate of the Labour Party, of achieving office, then being forced by capital to attack its own social and electoral base? Similarly, how will it avoid the fates of the German, Czech and Irish Green Parties? After a brief success, the Irish Greens have now gone into electoral meltdown following their disastrous participation in a right wing government. Socialists in GPEW can help the party avoid such a fate. Lets add that Respect and any moves towards a ‘new workers party’ also have yet to grasp that nettle, still being too embryonic to face these challenges. What kind of programme can enable the left to use electoral politics and positions to gain influence, without being made a prisoner of electoral reformist logic? The Green Party of England and Wales is not yet a neo-liberal, pro-privatisation lost cause. Instead it provides a valuable space to create new openings for the left.



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Sudden outburst of anger on northern streets!

Part of yesterday's impromptu anti-fascist demo in LancasterPart of yesterday’s impromptu anti-fascist demo in Lancaster


This article was originally written for and published by ‘Lancaster Unity‘, the popular anti-fascist blog. It reports on an extra-ordinary Monday evening in the small North West city of Lancaster…

Barry Kade, Monday 8 june 09 (pictures by Lancaster Unity).

As people finished work on Monday evening a crowd began to gather in Lancaster’s Dalton Square, where they soon began to line the edge of the city’s busy one-way traffic system. Hastily-made placards were passed around and held aloft. By 6pm, a headcount revealed that over one hundred local people were now gathered. What was happening was a sudden and spontaneous outpouring of popular anger, sparked by that morning’s news – a notorious Nazi extremist had taken a Euro MP’s seat for our region. A megaphone arrived and rousing anti-fascist speeches filled the air, invoking the memory of our ancestors who sacrificed themselves in the battles to stop fascist rule in Europe. As the numbers swelled people stood on traffic islands and roadsides holding aloft signs that said ‘Stop the BNP’ and ‘Unite Against Fascism’.

Lancaster folk united in their opposition to the nazi BNP

Lancaster folk united in their opposition to the nazi BNP

What was amazing about this gathering was that it had been announced only a few hours before. Word got out via SMS text messages, facebook and email, spreading rapidly around networks of families and friends. People had woken up that morning to hear the dismal news of Nick Griffins elevation to the EU gravy train. You can tell when people are really angry when sizeable protests seem to come out of nowhere, and take a only few hours instead of weeks to organise. It was like this with the poll tax and the build up to the Iraq war. People seem to be desperately seeking an outlet for their opposition, concern and rage, and take to the streets almost instantly. The same was also happening at the same time across the North West and Yorkshire, with reports of 2,000 gathering in Manchester, and many other hastily called protests each growing hundreds strong in Preston, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.

For there is a rising level of anger in this country. It is more than anger against the sick politics of the BNP. It is also anger against the degeneration and corruption of our political life that has lead to this humiliating spectacle – of Britain sending two Holocaust-denying, Hitler loving Nazis as our representatives to the European Parliament – on the very 65th anniversary of our victory over the Nazi war machine!

demopic2Yet the BNP still only have support from a small minority of the population. They only received 6.2% of the Euro-election vote across Britain and the actual number of votes they got went down this year. The BNP have experienced no great surge of support, even though Britain is in such a deep economic and political crisis, for while the majority of people have heard their siren calls, they have firmly rejected them. The real shift in this election is the collapse of the Labour Party and its vote, paying the price of years of betraying its grassroots voters, of putting profit before people and selling its soul to big business, war, and greed. Yet still people retch and recoil from the BNP, choosing either UKIP for an anti EU protest because of its lack of Nazi background, or the Greens for a leftish alternative to Labour.


It is worth noting that in the total vote for these Euro elections across Britain, the Green Party polled more than the BNP, receiving 8.6%. It also saw a bigger increase in its vote than the Nazis. It achieved this while standing on its most left-wing yet ‘green new deal’ platform, which proposes to create a million new green jobs. However, in the North West region, the vote panned out at 8% for the BNP, which due to the proportion of parties and seats, let them scrape in by the tiny margin of just a few thousand votes, only narrowly beating the Greens. 

More protestor's at Lancaster's Dalton Square yesterday

More protestor's at Lancaster's Dalton Square yesterday

Now the fear is that Griffin and fellow ex-National front leader Andrew Brons can leap on the EU gravy train. By linking up with dodgy Nazi groups from Hungary, France, Italy and elsewhere, Griffin can now get millions of Euros of taxpayers money to spend on spreading his poisonous gospel of race war into our communities. As the ordinary people of Britain we face enough problems – we live in fear of job losses, home repossessions, attacks on our rights to pensions, we face being ripped off by greedy bankers and corrupt politicians. Yet now we face another threat, an additional problem – Nazi politicians like Griffin trying to elbow their way into the scene.

But today’s protests revealed another side to the situation. Thousands of people are willing to stand up and fight, to oppose the BNP and drive it back. Every advance made by the BNP will generate increased resistance: the more serious a threat it appears to be, the more the anti-fascist majority will want to fight it back. The fascists shall not pass. We shall never surrender; we will never let their jackboot settle upon our necks.

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He is not my MEP! – the resistible rise of Nazi Nick

The odious Nazi Nick Griffin is now supposedly ‘my’ MEP – with just 8% of the vote on a low turnout! The anti-fascist majority will be repulsed by this absolute slime-ball,  and ‘not in our name’ is sure to rise again in the slogan charts. I hope this outrage is met by intensified protests and resolve to beat back the forces of fascism. Already I hear that anti-BNP protests are called for later today (Monday 8th July) in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.

Yet the big problem is that the Labour Party is collapsing after years of selling its soul to capitalism, war and greed. And we need something to fill its place  – a new progressive popular political force that opposes the greedy bankers, corporate power and corrupt politicians who grow rich by exploiting and degrading the people and our planet.

Could that new left political force  be  the Green Party?

Total VOTES in 2009 EU elections across UK (from BBC):

Votes MEPs
Party Total % Total +/-
Conservative 4,012,600 28.6
24 +1
UK Independence Party 2,440,438 17.4
13 +1
Labour 2,151,907 15.3
11 -5
Liberal Democrats 1,953,575 13.9
10 +1
Green Party 1,223,303 8.7
2 0
British National Party 916,424 6.5
2 +2

In these elections, in terms of overall vote, the Greens came fifth, with  8.7 % of the vote, or  1, 223, 303 votes from across England and Wales. This beats the BNP’s vote, of  6.5 % or 916, 424. 

However, because of the way these votes fell regionally, and because of the number of parties in relation to the particular ‘D hondt system’  of proportional representation, the BNP got two MEP seats. Griffin got his by a hairs breadth, just marginally ahead of the Greens:

Greens V’s BNP in North West Region –

BNP            132,094            8.0%    

Greens        127,133             7.7% 

Hard work saw the Green vote grew by 2.1 % to 7.7% – good, but not quite good enough. Even though the Nazis vote only grew by 1.6 % it was  enough to just beat the Greens. Could other left forces have boosted the green vote?

The Green Party machine is patchy across the North West, with some strongholds like Lancaster, but areas it does not touch. The old left could help increase the green Parties reach – but the Green Party would also have to become more trades union friendly. This is just one dimension of the left / green realignments that have to take place.

Preston has a large left-wing electorate, electing Socialist Alliance and Respect councillors. But the blog of Michael Lavalette the SWP’s leading Preston councillor was silent on the issue of these elections, and hasn’t been updated since April this year on any issue. The SWP’s fudged position of ‘vote left’ did not help. Maybe a mobilisation by what was once Preston Respect or Socialist Alliance could have swung it for the Greens? Was unity possible? did we even try?

Other small left parties votes got a few percent between them in the North West.  Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party got 26,224 votes or 1.6% while the coalition of the RMT / SPEW / CPB ‘No2EU’ slate got 23,580 or 1.4%. Obviously if those votes had gone to the Green Party that would be 10.7% – and we would have a pro-trades union Green left MEP, instead of this disastrous empowerment of neo-Nazis. But not all these votes were transferable – the greens might not yet have enough appeal to working class people, still ‘branded’ as middle class environmentalists to get all the SLP / No2EU votes. But I’m sure if we had won the support of more sections of the North West trades union and left wing activist scene – we could have got a few more thousand votes.

What is needed is a new counter-hegemonic alliance of the Green, Labour and Trades Union movements, around a platform of demands demanding a radical ‘Green New Deal’. The central demands include public spending not to bail out greedy bankers, but to create millions of Green Jobs by building renewable energy systems, insulating buildings and homes and  re- creating public housing in Britain on a massive scale.


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SPEW, GPEW and EU Postal Privatisation. Any truth behind the claims? Any chance of Green/Socialist Unity?

Hugh Caffrey, of the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW), writing in its magazine “Socialism Today” (May 2009) about the Green Party’s stance towards the EU’s postal privatization directive makes a serious allegation: “The Green Party in the European parliament supports this directive!”. This is part of an attempt to portray the Greens as neo-liberal and pro-privatisation. This story has also been circulated and reiterated on the Socialist Unity blog as ‘Euro-Greens – A Sorry Tale’

However, a statement by the Greens / EFA group in the European Parliament clearly states their opposition to the directive:

“The Greens are opposed to the proposal that looks set to be voted on, which would lead to a serious deterioration of postal services in rural, peripheral or ‘mountainous’ regions. There are no adequate guarantees for financing the provision of a universal service, which would mean private operators can reap the benefits of profitable routes, leaving the taxpayer to bear responsibility for a universal service” 

Furthermore, the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) has made many public statements against postal privatisation such as this one by Prospective Green Party Euro-MP for Eastern Region, Councillor Rupert Read:

“We strongly oppose any privatisation of Royal Mail. The Green Party has long campaigned against transferring essential public services to private hands…Privatisation benefits big business interests, not consumers. We have seen this in the NHS, BT and the railways, to name a few instances. A report by Postwatch, the consumer watchdog, has failed to find any significant benefits to individual users from the ‘liberalisation’ of the postal service…To call for the part-privatisation of a major British institution at a time when the dangers of ‘the market’ have been so clearly exposed in recent months is clearly madness. The substantial job losses called for by this report are the last thing our struggling economy needs at the moment” 

So whats going on? Who is telling the truth?

As evidence for his claim, Caffery had quoted from a document by the Greens / EFA group in the European Parliament. 

Caffery quotes this Green / EFA group document as saying: “The objective of the postal directive is to guarantee a high-quality universal service. The opening of the market is not an objective in itself, but… to facilitate the achievement of a high-quality universal service”. He goes on to interpret this paragraph as saying: “In other words, they agree with New Labour that it doesn’t matter how a service is delivered, so long as it is delivered. But privatisation cannot and will not deliver high-quality public services”.

I want to show how Caffery has only made a selective quotation from the offending paragraph, in order to misrepresent the real position of the Greens / EFA in the European Parliament.  The real position of the document is far more critical of and opposed to postal privatization or ‘market-opening’ or ‘liberalisation’. Caffrey’s article was published in the run up to the euro-elections, where the Socialist Party was part of the ‘No2EU – yes to democracy’ platform and thus competing for the ‘left of labour vote’ with the Green Party.

So to start, lets re-locate the offending sentence back into its surrounding original text in the Green / EFA document:

“Greens/EFA consider that the objective of the Postal Directives is to guarantee a high-quality universal service. The opening of the market is not an objective in itself, but eventually a mean to facilitate the achievement of a high-quality universal service. In case of a contradiction between the objective of universal service and liberalisation, other means of ensuring universal service must be found or maintained. This interpretation is in conformity with the Treaty itself…”

What could this mean? What is at first glaring is that Caffery has missed out is the crucial sentence following the one he gives us, a sentence which changes the whole meaning: “In case of a contradiction between the objective of universal service and liberalisation, other means of ensuring universal service must be found or maintained”.

Lets deconstruct the paragraph:

“Greens/EFA consider that the objective of the Postal Directives…This interpretation is in conformity with the Treaty itself” This part of the document is clearly seeking legalistic grounds on which to base its argument. Its starting point is possible interpretations of the existing EU law, not stating its own pure principles.

Starting from this, the Green / EFA document argues that the stated aim of the Directive is not ‘opening to the market’ itself, but instead a ‘high-quality universal service’. Furthermore, it then immediately goes on to state that liberalisation can in fact contradict the stated aim of a ‘high-quality universal service’. Therefore ‘other means [than liberalization] of ensuring universal service must be found or maintained’. Other means…maintained? Other means including public ownership and protection form the market! The offending paragraph therefore in fact argues that member states can have a right to keep their post service public!

Lets put this paragraph in its context. Since the 1990’s, the European Commission (the unelected pro-capitalist central driving executive power of the EU) has been trying to force through post service privatisation (termed ‘opening of the market’ or ‘liberalization’). The main instrument for this is the ‘Postal Directive’ (Directive 97/67/EC) revised in 2002 and 2008. Central to the Comissions gradual ‘market opening’ have been a series of steps to reduce the areas exempt from market competition and reserved for public services.

The 1997 directive put this protected level reserved for public services at items weighing less than 350 grams. The 2002 revision reduced the reserved areas to items weighing less than 100 grams by 2003, and to items weighing less than 50 grams by 2006. More recently, the battle has been around abolishing the 50 grams protected zone altogether and moving to full ‘market opening’.

In this battle this the document considered here by the grouping of the Greens and the EFA in the European Parliament takes the right side. Its main argument was to oppose the move towards further liberalization. As the Greens document states:

“Greens/EFA consider that Member States should be allowed to maintain a reserved area for items weighing less than 50 grams. Reserved areas have proved to be efficient and economically rational means to finance universal service obligations. By contrast, the opening of market to competition for items under 50 grams has not proved efficient in securing prices for private consumers and SMEs. Furthermore there are serious indications that it has lowered social and employment conditions in the postal sector in Member States concerned”.

Much of the rest of the Greens document is taken up by quoting various research reports including those by trades unions that show how liberalization and market opening lead to job losses, worse employment conditions, a worse service and higher prices. They argue that:

“In Member States which have experienced full liberalisation so far, there are signs of negative impacts on employment levels and conditions in the postal sectors, but also regarding the financing of universal service and the level of prices”

The Euro-Greens document gives as an example: “In Germany, a study commissioned by the German trade union Ver.Di shows a net loss of 29000 jobs in the Deutsche Post, 15000 of which have not been compensated by job creation by new operators ; furthermore, the majority (2/3) of new jobs created by these new operators are highly precarious (“mini-jobs”) and paid less than 400 € per month”.

The rest of the document is full of similar arguments that try to block the directive being used as an attack on public services: Thus subsidiarity is invoked to defend the right of member states to maintain public postal services:

“Greens/EFA consider that, in conformity with the principle of subsidiarity, Member States should be allowed to require the provision in all parts of their territory of a full range of universal service obligations….[they list a range of social considerations]…Consequently, Member States should be allowed to use any financing means compatible with the Treaty in order to finance universal service”

The Greens document explicitly criticizes liberalization and its effects on workers and services:

“Greens/EFA consider that Member States should be allowed to preserve quantitative and qualitative employment and social standards as well as environmental standards in the postal sector”; “Greens/EFA consider that Member States should also request all the operators to respect fully their labour laws, i.e. any legal or contractual provision concerning employment conditions, working conditions, including health and safety at work and the relationship between employers and workers” ;“Greens/EFA consider that Member States should also request the operators to respect fully their social security legislation, as well as the exercise of fundamental rights, including the right to negotiate, conclude and enforce collective agreements and to take industrial action The document ends by noting how postal liberalization damages the environment and leads to monopoly by private corporations like DHL and Federal Express.

So this is not, as Caffery claims, a document proclaiming support for postal privatization. Rather, it is a carefully worded document that seeks to provide a space for defence of public services and is critical of neo-liberalisation of postal services. Now, in my opinion, the Greens document is still problematic – it is framed in mealy-mouthed and ambiguous legalistic argumentation that does not state opposition to market opening, liberalization and privatization in a clear enough way. It is critical of the effects of liberalization on services, workers and the environment, but not oppositional enough. I think it should state clearly that publicly owned and democratically controlled services are necessary, and should be defended and extended, by political means as well as action by unions and social movements.

It is far from perfect – but it is not a neo-liberal attack on public services that Caffrey would have us believe through his use of selective quotation. I think that the Green documents real problems and ambiguities reflect the contradictory composition of the European Parliamentary Green / EFA group, and also the contradictory nature of contemporary green parties. These contain different elements, petty-bourgeois and working class, socialist and radical liberal, utopian and pragmatic. The Green parties have different trajectories and histories, some have sold out when seduced by power, others have stood alongside social movements and the unions. Some have also been transformed from their original liberal posture by the wave of social movements against neo-liberalism since the battle of Seattle and after, and now are on the left, although still in a contradictory way. But for all their faults, the real picture of Green politics is totally different form the merely propagandistic caricature painted by Caffrey for the Socialist Party. And this last point is important. Socialists need an accurate assessment of different movements and parties in order to find the best terrain on which to fight and to form the best alliances. We cannot get this if we only read the blatant propaganda of sects, who wish to promote themselves by smearing other groups on the left.


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