And yet we see all the time that major events in our lives are decided upon behind our backs. Wars are declared and fought without any say-so from us. Factories, mines and large companies are closed-down but only the shareholders get to vote on the matter.
The Russian people already know that if the Russian parliament, the Duma, doesn't eventually vote for Yeltsin's appointee, Viktor Chernomyrdin, presidential powers will be used to impose what Yeltsin wants.
This bald statement is no different from the reality behind all capitalist democracies -- it's just cruder. All the parliaments of the capitalist world were created by and for their respective capitalist classes. If working people mounted a serious challenge to capitalism through parliament the iron fist would quickly emerge from the parliamentary velvet glove.
In fact we do not live in democracies at all but dictatorships of the rich. The reins of state power, which includes control of the armed forces and police, are In the hands of the capitalist class and this is so regardless of which party has a majority in the parliament.
It is certainly right that we should seek to bring about reforms by using our votes and by putting parliamentary representatives under pressure inside and outside of parliament.
But we should have no illusions. Fundamental change will not come about in Russia, or anywhere else, simply by trying to change the faces in the Duma or in Westrmnster or in the US House of Representatives. Socialism can only begin to be built when the working class has seized state power for itself.
This task, as Lenin wrote in "What is to be done?" cannot be achieved by relying on working class spontaneity -- the struggle will only succeed if the working class has a party of its own to organise and give leadership.
Throughout the world Marxist-Leninist parties are needed as never before.
It has implications for football far beyond the gates of Old Trafford. For if the boss of the BSkyB media empire also owns one of the top-flight clubs in the English Premier League the game will become even more distorted by big-money, more commercialised and more big games will be handed over to satelite and cable TV channels. Some even fear the schedules could be rearranged to suit a global viewing market.
At the end of the day supporters wanting to see matches on TV will have to pay out for satelite dishes, cough-up for pay-TV or spend more time watching big-screens in the pub or sports bar. Whatever they choose it will cost more.
Like everything else under capitalism -- the wealthy win at our expense and the wishes and needs of working class people are disregarded.
Murdoch's move could also increase the pressure on leading clubs to enter a European super-league. This too is bad news for the rest of the clubs and for thousands of working class supporters who couldn't afford to travel to the away matches -- they'd have to buy the dish and watch on Murdoch's TV instead.
But this development fits very well into the agenda of the leading sector of the ruling class which wants to create a single European state -- Europe-wide football, based on city teams, is yet another way of conditioning people to "think Europe".
Murdoch's move will also please transnational companies like Nike, Adidas and Coca-Cola who want to sell football to every comer of the globe using satelite TV as a vehicle for pushing adverts for their products.
It's time capitalism was kicked out of play!
Firefighters reaffirmed beyond any doubt their cast iron principle of defending the service to stop the axe falling on 16 jobs and £1.2 million funding. The dispute, now running into 14 weeks, has grown bitter as strikes have begun to intensify and firefighters suffer the financial consequences.
The fire boss said that if the strikes go on "we'll have a disaster". He was therefore prepared to discuss the FBU's demands and was "relieved" that the fire authority had taken this view. The impression was clearly that David Turner had a real offer in mind.
The CFA recently agreed to sack firefighters if the latest offer was not accepted. That amounted to accepting the return of four out of the 16 jobs that were cut and retaining fire equipment, including the aerial ladder platform at Chelmsford.
The FBU is demanding all 16 jobs back -- and the equipment retained can only be of practical use in relation to full personnel levels, the FBU says.
For the first time the FBU, fire chief and Basildon Labour MP Angela Smith appeared together before the BBC South East News' cameras on Tuesday when David Turner announced his intention of meeting the FBU the next day.
Graham Noakes, Essex FBU chairman, said he was very encouraged by this "first step to meaningful negotiations". He said it would be worthwhile if more money and jobs go into the fire service. "We need extra funding for fire service safety," he concluded.
Essex Labour MPs, in the first serious intervention yet, met to discuss the dispute last week, according to Angela Smith MP. They "were very concerned that it had taken so long" to resolve the dispute, and the CFO's intervention, she said, was "unprecedented".
Shortly before the ballot resuit, Regional FBU vice-chair Keith Handscomb, refering to the offer as a "paper exercise", said the strengthening of support was inevitable: "We don't feel we've been treated very well, with the continual lockouts, such as the one this week, for instance.
"We're still locked out now for three days even though we've only called 12 hours of lawful strike action. It's hitting the pay packet hard and the public are vulnerable. We feel very bitter about that."
He said that sackings won't solve anything: "It will leave the public without any fire service whatsoever indefinitely. At some stage we'll still need to end up around the table to resolve the dispute." He reafirmed the FBU's readiness to defend Essex firefighters: "The indications are that everyone believes what they've always believed -- that an injury to one is an injury to all. So if you sack a firefighter or member of control staff somewhere in the country, there will be walkouts all over the place."
Pressure was already beginning to tell on the all-Party 25 member Combined Fire Authority (CFA).
An e-mail leaked to the local media just before the FBU vote, quoted David Turner, in a warning to the rest of Britain's top fire officers: "I am not hopeful that the position will change. It is quite likely, therefore, that the authority may have to dismiss firefighters. In view of the significance of this action, I will keep you informed at every stage."
But Labour CFA chief Tony Wright, under pressure from Labour Group members who are apparantly beginning to pull back from the brink, said: "It looks as though when we meet on 14 September there may have to be another vote on that issue. In the Labour Group we do not think it will solve the dispute. It is a dilemma." He said that he will resign if sackings go ahead.
One retired fire officer has direct contact with senior fire officers
through fire service charities, and he maintains that all are concerned
at the cuts to resources, equipment and staff up and down the country.
He warned that sackings would make the 1970s national dispute over pay much worse in today's circumstances because this issue was not over pay, it was over the most basic code of a firefighters' job -- to save lives and property.
There's no doubting that the firefighters' cause is rising in the popularity stakes. Pop stars and groups -- from the high profile All-Saints' singer Melanie to radical activist indie band Chumbawamba -- have been sporting FBU T-shirts.
And at the Chelmsford V98 festival (which has something of an annual Glastonbury attraction) with Iggy Pop, Chumbawamba and others two weeks ago, firefighter Mick Weald was invited to speak to the audience of 55,000.
Enthusiastic in response, they booed loudly when he declared the CFA were preparing to sack firefighters. The DSS, incidentally, raided the festival for "fraudsters" and claimed to have knocked many claimants off benefits.
The fire authority knows that there will be a national fightback in defence of the Essex FBU if any are sacked. That would be sure to force the government to intervene.
They are also clearly losing what passes for the County's PR battle to win the public's mind, but they are not succeeding in their attempts to pin the blame for the escalating costs of the strike on the FBU.
That, the FBU estimates, has overtaken the budget cut which sparked the strikes by as much as £2 million. So far, the Green Goddess cover has cost around £90,000 a week. The MoD is now set to double that.
Some councillors opposed to the fire cuts also point out that the Essex county recently made a rates hike to squeeze the public again to improve services. What happened to that?
During the general election the Labour Party said there would be no increase in public expenditure. Essential services were expectcd to be targeted for improvement within existing budgets. That simply meant re-allocation while councils remain desperately in need of central finance.
The emergency services are the frontline and the end of the line.
Let them go to the wall, then we are all exposed. But if the government
allows the general national decline to continue, the government will find
itself exposed. Hence, perhaps, the current moves.
Around 600,000 primary school entrants will face the tests to assess what they know of numbers, letters, books and so on.
They are supposed to be a guideline for assessing how effective the schools' teaching methods are so that when later tests are done at seven, eleven and 14 educationalists call work out how much change there has been.
This is why the government has urged parents not to coach their children for the tests.
But last week junior education minister Charles Clarke admitted that the results of the tests could play a "small part" in the "setting" of pupils and determine the ability band in which the child is placed.
The government is now saying that the test will enable teachers to identify children's strengths and weaknesses and plot their progress throughout their school careers.
The compulsory tests are supposed to take 20 minutes and will find out if the child can:
* hold a book the right way up and turn the pages one by one,
talk about what happens on each page and recognise at least two words,
pointing to them and saying them aloud;
shapes and sounds
* recognise their own name when written and point to it and recognise 15 or more letters by their shape and sound;
* recite at least one nursery rhyme and recognise at least three patterns of rhyming sounds;
* write their own name, beginning with a capital letter;
* make up a story involving at least three details or pieces of information;
* recognise numbers, count and write numbers up to ten;
* use mathematical terms such as small/big: shortest/tallest in front/behind;
* interact with other children, collaborate at a task, is confident at tackling new things and can concentrate for more than 10 minutes without supervision.
Each part of the test is marked with between one to four points, with three being a "desirable outcome".
Trials on a group of 7,000 children found that the majority "failed" in every part except personal and social development.
Four-year-olds scored an average of 10 points out of a maximum 32 and five-year-olds 17. Only six-year-olds on average scored the "desired outcome" of 24 points. Girls outperformed boys in every part of the tests.
Mr Clarke seemed to contradict himself, insisting that despite giving a "desired outcome". there was "no success and no failure".
He said there: was no need to coach children for the tests because they would have no great consequence, and then said they were vital "so children could be taught according to their needs".
He continued: "Baseline assessment will enable teachers to know within weeks of children starting school how best to develop their individual pupils' potential."
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said that Mr Clarke's estimate of "20 minutes of attention for each pupil" to take the test, was a "hopeless underestimate".
He said: "I can only wonder what the other children will be doing while one pupil is being individually observed and assessed by the teacher.
"A simpler, less bureaucratic system is badly needed."
Despite the understandable preoccupation of many delegations with the consequences of the imperialist-instigated aggression against the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the XII summit, which concluded in the early hours of Friday 4 September, succeeded in addressing many of the crucial questions of peace and development that concern the mostly former colonial and semi-colonial countries grouped in the movement.
As President Nelson Mandela said in his closing address: "We can firmly conclude that we have recommitted ourselves to the common vision and project of the reconstruction and developmentof the countries of the South.
"That vision is driven by our firm determination to act together as we strive to raise the living standards and improve the quality of life of all our peoples on a sustained basis.
"Thus, we commit ourselves to work tirelessly for the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment."
The Durban Declaration for the New Millennium, adopted by the heads of state, declares: "We are the ones who have endured centuries of colonialism, oppression, aggression, exploitation and neglect. We have been the invisible people of the world.
"In recent times, spurred by our Movement and progressive forccs, we see our rapid emergence from that condition. This despite vast obstacles deliberately placed in our way and new, totally unexpected, challenges facing humankind.
"Indeed, our time has come."
A common theme in many contributions from the heads of state was how to address the question of globalisation, with its possibilities for enhanced scientific and technical progress, but its largely harmful consequences to date for the poor and the developing world.
In the words of the Durban Declaration: "Globalisation must not sweep all before it. It must not mean uniformity. Its impact must be channelled, not just by the large and powerful nations, but by the representatives of the majority of humankind.
"Liberalisation must not provide a cover for the protectionist policies of the rich and powerful, securing their vital interests while the weak are beggared beyond description by being forced to 'open up' to the world."
The Summit's final declaration reflects the broad range of concerns addressed by the leaders of the Third World countries at the Summit as well as during the preceding meeting of Foreign Ministers and in the work of the political and economic commissions, chaired by Iran and Tanzania respectively.
It strongly condemned the American attack on a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and expressed "support to the Sudan in its legitimate demands for full compensation for economic and material losses resulting from the attack."
"Long-standing solidarity with the Palestinian people" was reaffirmed. as was the demand that sanctions against Libya should be suspended once agreement has been reached with the countries concerned on the arrangements for the trial of the two accused in the Lockerbie case. "They further decided that the sanctions must be totally terminated once the suspects have appeared for trial, and decided that NAM shall act accordingly."
In welcoming the decision by the United States and Britain to "finally accept the positions advocated by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, supported by the NAM, the Organisation of African Unity, Arab League, Organisation of the Islamic Conference and other regional organisations of the south to try the two suspects in a neutral country, they expressed their regret that it has taken so long for them to accept that position."
Also deplored was the imposition and continued military enforcement of "No Fly Zones" on Iraq by individual countries, without any authorisation from a UN body.
Despite the presence of Kuwait in NAM, and the movement's principle of operating by consensus, "The Heads of State or Government noted with deep concern the continuing deterioration of the humanitarian conditions of the Iraqi population due to sanctions.
"Based upon the principles and decision of the Movement they urge member states to deploy their efforts to halt this tragedy and help in lifting the sanctions as soon as possible in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions."
The NAM summit also expressed concern that "the Korean peninsula still remains divided in spite of the desires and aspirations of the Korean people for reunification, and reaffirmed their support to the Korean people to reunify their homeland in accordance with the three principles set forth in the North-South Joint Statement on July 4 1972 and through dialogue and negotiations on the basis of the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression and Co-operation and exchange between the North and South concluded in February 1992."
The summit affirmed that guaranteeing a durable peace and security on the Korean peninsula was important for the common prosperity of the Korean people as well as for peace and security in north-east Asia and the rest of the world.
And it once again called on the United States to lift all its sanctions on Cuba and to settle its differences with the socialist island through negotiations on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
They denounced the widening extra-territorial nature of the US embargo against Cuba, urged the US to surrender its Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, and to put an cad to aggressive radio and TV transmissions directed at Cuba.
Cuban President Fidel Castro was by far the most sought after leader at the conference, demonstrating the continued validity and attraction of socialism for the world's oppressed majority.
Following the Summit, Comrade Castro paid a state visit to South Africa, during which he addressed a session of parliament in Cape Town and visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many of his closest comrades were incarcerated for almost three decades.
But he firmly rejected their demands, claiming he was absolutely determined "to end the cycle of boom and bust" and putting the blame for the problem on the Asian economic crisis.
The delegation which went to Downing Street last Monday was headed by TUC general secretary John Monks. It called for a cut in interest rates to reduce the value of the pound, making British goods more marketable abroad.
Ken Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU engineering union, warned Mr Blair that unless action is taken, around 250,000 jobs will disappear in manufacturing.
He also wrote to governor of the Bank of England Eddie George and other members of the bank's monetary policy committee.
Mr George is due to address the TUC conference but union leaders warned him he may get a hostile reception unlss he cuts interest rates.
Ken Jackson said: "The Conservatives tried to kill off manufacturing industry and the Bank is trying to finish the job".
There have been many more announcements of coming job cuts in the last couple of weeks, including 600 to go at the Fujitsu micro-chip plant in Mr Blair's own constituency of Sedgefield.
Around 200 jobs are to go at two clothing factories in Scotland where Unidoor manufacturing announced it was closing its factory in Stranraer with a loss of 138 jobs and reducing capacity at its Patna factory in Ayrshire by 80 jobs.
Cables manufacturer BICC has announced that it is scaling down its optical fibres factory at Deeside, north Wales, with a loss of 200 jobs.
Vickers at Newcastle-upon-Tyne is threatening to close its tank manufacturing plant with the loss of 600 jobs.
And oil giant Shell says it will close its refinery at Coryton in Essex by the end of next year, cutting 300 jobs.
Extensive negotiation with the workers failed and the company says there is no hope of a reprieve for the plant.
Blair reacted with contempt for the union position. He told the TUC he understood manufacturing industry's concern about the strength of the pound.
But added that what business really feared was a return to the early 1980s and early 1990s when interest rates were at 17 per cent and 15 per cent, with falling output and investment.
But in trying to prevent capitalism going through "boom and bust cycles", Tony Blair is trying to play King Canute. In all the history of capitalism, no capitalist economist has been able to prevent that cycle because, as Karl Marx pointed out 150 years ago, that is the way the capitalist system works.
There is only one answer, and it is not tinkering with interest rates. It is socialism.
* Employment Secretary David Blunkett last week admitted that the government's flagship New Deal for the long-term unemployed may be blown off course by the world economic crisis.
He said finding work for the young unemployed would be "more difficult"
and added: "Welfare to Work has a bigger challenge as the economy tightens."