Colloquy on China

Erwin Marquit:

Despite our positive view of China's socialist-oriented market economy, we should not be blind to the possibility that an imperialist character can emerge from its foreign investments if the CPC does not consciously take measures to counter it. See how this is problem emerges on China-Wire, a Chinese News Service that provides news about China's economic development. I reproduce the text below:



China’s Harsh Squeeze in Zambia’s Copper Belt

A tense link between a copper mine strike and Zambia's new president is troubling Chinese companies.

A rhetorical U-turn by Zambia's new President Michael Sata recently brought at least some relief to Chinese investors rattled by strikes and his anti-China campaign speeches. But Chinese companies in Sata's resource-rich country - including mining, power plant and construction concerns - remain seriously challenged in the face of Zambia's fluid business conditions, labor relations, public sentiment, and an awkward political environment.

"My dear Chinese brothers and sisters, Zambia welcomes you," Sata declared at an October 26 luncheon in Lusaka for more than 100 Chinese business leaders. "Because we are all-weather friends."

For several months before the luncheon, and during his successful campaign, Sata's harsh criticism of Chinese businesses put investors on edge. His outspokenness strained executive nerves at hydroelectric plant builder Sinohydro Group, general contractor Jiangxi International and several mining companies with Zambian investments worth billions of yuan. Fresh in mind at the luncheon was an acrimonious, two-week strike by workers at a copper mine owned by NFC Africa Mining Corp., a subsidiary of government-owned China Nonferrous Metal Corp., that had ended just a week before. Today, Sata calls himself a friend of Chinese business. He's also promised to work with Chinese investors to boost economic development in his country all through his five-year presidential term.

Some Chinese business leaders working in Zambia and interviewed by Caixin say they're not entirely sold on Sata's apparent change of heart. Yet for now, they're willing to stay in Zambia. They're also trying to ascertain the president's - and his people's - true attitudes toward Chinese companies. And in the wake of the latest NFCA strike, every foreign mining company in Zambia is now waiting to see whether Sata will adjust the nation's labor laws, minimum wages, corporate taxes and state shareholdings in ways that affect their bottom line. Caixin also interviewed Sata for his views on how Zambia can balance economic development and foreign investment. He hinted that Chinese companies may not be permanent fixtures in his country.

"We do not possess some specific skills, for which we need help from foreigners," he replied. "At the same time, we're eager to become self-reliant.

"If you understand that African education is still very backward, this is not a question of a choice between foreigners or self-reliance," the president said. "If we can do it ourselves, there is no need for foreigners."

Copper Crisis

The October walkout at NFCA's Chambishi mine by about 2,000 workers was the longest ever for a Chinese company in Zambia, and came at a time of political tension following Sata's inauguration. The antagonism between the unionized miners and company managers was so great that it pulled the new president into the fray.

Sata was elected September 22 after he stoked Zambian hostility toward Chinese investment throughout his campaign. Indeed, he ran on a platform that openly opposed Chinese investment, and called for improved working conditions at Chinese-owned businesses. So emotions were running high when the Chambishi miners struck, demanding higher pay and better conditions. NFCA and miners' union officials told Caixin the strike broke out without warning.

NFCA executives were uncertain about what to expect next, given the political climate. They felt like "a lone boat on the ocean being tossed about in a fierce storm," said a company insider. "An extreme situation could have occurred at any moment. "We prepared for the worst - being expelled from Zambia - in which case all the money invested over the years would be gone." NFCA, China's biggest miner in Zambia, has sunk about US$ 1.4 billion into its copper facilities - an amount that eclipses all other Chinese financial interest in this landlocked country. Since 1964, when Zambia won independence, some 300 Chinese concerns have invested a total US$ 2 billion.

The company bought Chambishi for US$ 80 million in 1998, and to date has earned about US$ 200 million, all of which the company says it has reinvested at the site.

Industry sources said China indirectly or directly is the final destination for most of Zambia's copper output, which totaled about 800,000 tons last year. Zambia is Africa's largest and the world's fourth-largest copper-producing country.

The Chambishi purchase 13 years ago was the first overseas non-ferrous metal mine buyout approved by the Chinese government. NFCA started work at the site in 2000, and three years later started churning out ore. The company expects to produce 25,000 tons this year. The operation turned profitable in 2005, following a US$ 160 million investment. The company plans to invest another US$ 800 million at a neighboring pit. On the 12th day of the strike, NFCA management announced that Chambishi workers who refused to return that day would be dismissed. They were also given 48 hours to appeal if they want to return to the job. NFCA Chairman Tao Xinghu said the threat was designed to get workers back into the pits as quickly as possible. According to management and the union, the strike was technically illegal. Zambian law says the two sides can negotiate new contract terms within three months of an old contract's expiration.

But the Chambishi workers struck before contract talks start, demanding a monthly salary hike of about 2 million kwacha, or about US$ 400, from the current average US$ 334. Moreover, according to a worker, NFCA management pledged last March to improving working conditions, but took no action. On October 11, Zambian Mines Minister Wylbur Simuusa began mediating the dispute on behalf of the new president. That led to an agreement signed by two union officials - the chairman and general manager of the Mining Worker Union for Kitwe City - and NFCA President Wang Chunlai. The union promised all workers would return by October 22, and Chambishi's managers promised reinstatements for all. After that, a cooling-off period began during which the two sides were to negotiate salaries.

Many workers were still angry when they returned to work after the strike. They complained Chinese mining companies pay less than others in Zambia, and are run by arrogant, stubborn managers who refuse to listen to dissatisfied workers.

Yet if NFCA would meet all the strikers' demands, the Chambishi workers would be the highest-paid in the industry in Zambia. Wang says that would be unreasonable, given that the mine's ore grade is about 2 percent - below grades found at other mines, which makes extracting from Chambishi costlier.

Wang said Zambia's largest copper miner, Indian-owned Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), averages 20 tons per worker a year, for example, while Chambishi gets only about 70,000 tons. The strike was the third at an NFCA facility so far this year. Earlier disputes occurred in January and March. Altogether, the company said, it's lost one month's production this year, costing about US$ 16.8 million.

Anti-Chinese Slogans

Management wants workers to come to grips with the reality of business conditions for Chinese copper mine companies. In Wang's eyes, that means they should accept the company's pay offer. "Zambia has several dozen mining companies," said Wang. "Our production scale is fifth in the industry, and our salaries are at mid-level, corresponding to our position in the industry." He noted that KCM's average wage exceeds US$ 600 a month. Wang said NFCA is still investing in its Zambian operations and cannot afford to pay workers as much as other foreign mining companies. Yet he admits the dispute seems to be about more than wages. Some strikers shouted anti-Chinese slogans on the picket lines. Others demanded dismissals for Chinese managers, or that NFCA should get out of their country altogether.

NFCA was not the only Chinese company hobbled by labor strife in recent weeks. In September, for example, short-term walkouts were held at Jiangxi International and Sinohydro worksites. Some industry insiders say these labor issues have been politicized amid Zambia's changing political situation. Sata's campaign speeches were peppered with anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Lebanese rhetoric. Indian and Lebanese companies have also invested heavily in Zambia. Sata once claimed that if elected president, he would expel all Chinese investors. He also campaigned on a promise of "more work and tax cuts, so there is more money in your pocket." It was a slogan that apparently made a deep impression on the public mindset. While the fledgling Sata government has yet to propose a specific policy path for labor, or push for raising the minimum wage and updating labor laws, the nation's workforce seems eager to act, particularly at Chinese job sites.

"Chinese people pay the lowest wages," one mine worker told Caixin. He linked these arguably depressed salaries to speculated corruption involving Chinese businesses and the administration of the nation's former president, whom Sata replaced, Rupiah Banda. "In the past, there was a good relationship between China and the Banda government," he said. "The Banda government was corrupt and didn't listen to us. Now Sata has come to power, and he will help us get back what we deserve."

Meanwhile, Chinese company managers are quick to complain about Zambian workers, labeling them inefficient, lazy, unskilled and disloyal. They also fault them for being unwilling to accept performance-based pay that includes penalty clauses. Zambian workers are aware of these complaints. "We are badly in need of work," said another miner. "But just because you give us work doesn't mean you can exploit us like slaves. Why would we want a job that doesn't pay enough to support ourselves?"

An NFCA executive mused that Chinese companies in Zambia will not find China-like business and labor conditions. And that's troublesome for some managers.

"The Chinese way doesn't work here, and copying it will make trouble." he said. "But I still don't know how to improve labor productivity."

Chinese companies in Zambia are also challenged by communications issues involving their headquarters bosses back home. Some struggle to explain the business environment to people who've never worked in Africa. "We can't apply Chinese standards when making demands of Zambian workers," said another NFCA executive. "But headquarters uses Chinese standards to make demands of us. "We've had several strikes this year, but production targets from headquarters have not changed. When we look at the striking workers outside the window, we get very anxious."

By staff reporters Shen Hu and Han Wei in Zambia.


PA Writers Comment


W.A. Halabi:


Erwin, thanks so much for posting this article. We must face the truth. There have been other developments like this, in Africa and elsewhere, and they can do enormous harm to the real interests of the PRC and the international working class.

One approach I have recommended with comrades from China is -- the PRC government can and should propose development initiatives, such as in Zambia. But the trade unions should weigh in on the proposal, from the point of view of protecting workers' interests, both of Chinese and Zambian workers laboring in the project, and in consultation with Zambian unions if they exist. Environmental organizations must also be consulted. And the Party should weigh in from the point of view of the historic and general interests of the working class, in consultation with the Zambian party, if there is one.

The PRC government should abide by the principles of non-interference. The labor unions and the Party must be guided by the interests of international class solidarity and unity. State policy needs to emerge from discussions between government, unions and party.
A proposed Zambia project may then proceed, or it may not. Achieving balance between domestic development and other tasks, including union, equality and international labor solidarity tasks is very difficult but essential.

This approach is outlined in 'Checks and Balances after a Socialist Revolution' and 'Understanding China and its Unions', both published in PA (the former in a print issue as well as on line, the latter in an editors' blog in Nov.2011).

In solidarity

Norman Markowitz:

This is interesting and I agree with Wadi in thanking Erwin for posting it to us. But, not knowing too much about Zambia, my question would concern SATA--even though there may be legitimate grievances is he a political adventurer, attacking Chinese and Indians in his campaign. Generally, many of my friends, while critical of Chinese economic involvement in Africa, see the Chinese so far giving African nations a better deal than European companies, but there actions conform to capitalist relations, since if they didn't they would see profit margins drop, and that is the crux of the matter. The question is this--can the PRC play a role in limiting its firms exploitation of foreign labor, advancing policies that aid foreign workers on the grounds that this is in the interests of the PRC in preventing foreign workers from reducing the value of Chinese labor and also in providing foreign workers with greater purchasing power to purchase Chinese goods.

Gary Hicks:


this is an interesting thread, one very well posting to pa at some point.

however, i would like to see us place such discourse in the context of a bigger and central reality....that of the g-2 collusion/contention, becoming more heatedly contentious thanks to our capitalist-serving government.

as a political journal, we need to be giving political, theoretical, ideological, and perhaps organizational clarity to the question of china and ourselves. and we need to be combatting the anticommunist and xenophobic offensives against china, understanding that this is a dimension of defending our class and our party.

so let's keep up this dialogue, but let's not for a moment forget who is our real enemy. and let's not overlook the real consequences of china no longer being will make the events of 1989-1991 look like a picnic.

John Case:

I submit the following for consideration:

1. Globalization is an objective, not subjective set of processes. In the current international economic environment, no nation has the choice to separate itself from these processes without abandoning growth. 

2. No predominantly agricultural country can industrialize in the globalized environment without relying heavily on exports.

3. China's export-oriented sections of its economy has created huge reserves of capital denominated in foreign currencies  -- mainly, but not only, dollars. It has tried to use those dollars to re-invest in the US. So far, this has been largely blocked by Congress. So it has chosen to invest them across the undeveloped world in exchange, usually, for raw materials which it must import. The investments have been heavily targeted toward large capital projects that raise the industrial potential and assets of the target nation. But they are not gifts. They are capital investments, that will seek a net positive return over the scope of the deal made with the target/host country.

4. As a side effect, China has NOT followed the course of EITHER the US or the USSR in demanding a political or military alliance in exchange for the investments, or the trade. They have deliberately steered clear of imperial entanglements of the political kind (puppet governments, etc), trusting principally in the inherent values of the development stimulated by the investments to speak for themselves.

5. The text of Lenin's imperialism is frankly not sufficient to fully understand or evaluate these relationships, which in 1916 were infinitely less entangled than now. That was BEFORE two world wars arising from all the evils of direct imperial domination that came with trade of that era were concluded. Are the relationships between Chinese firms and partners capitalist? YES, with all that that implies about the management of the enterprises in question. Are they of positive development value for the host country? YES. Are they subject to Chinese State direction -- YES and NO. Foreign investments are constrained by the treaty and trade agreement terms negotiated with each country, including, usually, strong industrial policy values, as well as the strong non-political-interference policy of Chinese foreign policy. Chinese firms will NOT expect the Chinese military to come to their aid if they get in so much trouble or bad relations with the host country that they end up taxed or nationalized. But are the firms guided by socialist principles beyond a general industrial strategy?? -- NO.

6. The class struggle will persist throughout the era of both capitalist -- OR -- socialist-, workingclass- or communist-led development of mixed economic systems, until such time as wealth in public goods truly overshadows commodity production. That happens when the means of the higher standard living we now seek and must obtain through commodities -- cars, houses, washing machines, furniture, food, etc --- become sufficiently abundant and cheap that they are no longer scarce, no longer commodities, but universal rights. This happens by a combination of technology and struggle. Not just one or the other, but both.

7. 75% of the workers of the world work in agriculture, much of it primitive and subsistence. There is no path of liberation and emancipation that does not turn this 75% into 3%; that path mandates industrialization; industrialization can be initiated, supported, stimulated by government -- but it cannot develop or be fully deployed in vast economies apart from commodities and commodity relations. Commodity relations do not advance without a) effective property and b) a division of labor and capital. That part is elementary Marxism.

8. An indispensable component of capitalist development is the development of the culture and skills and productivity of the working class. But capitalist enterprises do not spontaneously perform this task. In fact each firm resists it. Instead, they are compelled to repeated re-divisions of labor and repeated ever-higher cycles of technological investment by both competition AND the fight of working people against exploitation. The entire social democratic class and political struggle -- including both socialist revolutions and elected governments of workers and alllies ---  plays, thus, a vital role in pushing commodity production and relations and socialization ever upward to the levels where commodities recede relative to public goods -- and services. The latter do not require, fundamentally or by their nature, the same divisions of labor and capital as commodities do; they do not stand in the way of non-commodity, non-capitalist relations in the same way. They do not inherently or objectively block non-capitalist reorganizations of society.

9. China is plowing new and revolutionary ground in managing the titanic transition at work in their society. But Workers in Chinese enterprises -- in China or around the world --- don't need to tip their hat to any boss --- regardless of his political color. They should approach their struggle exactly the same as any other employer, demanding the highest protections and compensation possible by any means at their disposal. They are their own protection -- as always -- and should organize both politically and economically for themselves. No "waiting for Lefty" to save you, as Clifford Odets' old play warns --- no matter what he calls himself --- stand for yourselves!!!


Gary Hicks:

two points for consideration, in response to john's points for consideration....

1. if you put aside [but not eliminate] point 5, john's points for consideration make a lot of sense. and we should do some discourse, in fact lots of discourse.

2. point 5 is a separate-but-necessary discussion. however, IM[not-so]HO, it adds nothing to the other eight points that john makes.


J. Thomas Riggins:

What is "socialist-oriented" about the Chinese relation to the Zambian workers? It seems that there is more than a possibilty that the Chinese are exibiting imperialist characteristics if the China-Wire story is any indication.

Emile Schepers:

There are complaints about Chinese enterprises in other places also. If I am not mistaken, the oil strike in Kazakhstan is directed against a Chinese firm. But at the very least, Chinese investment, competing with the investment of the US, Euro zone, Japan, S. Korea etc. could give poor African (and other) countries some leverage. Unfortunately, with opportunists like this Sata seems to be, the leverage may not accrue to the benefit of the toiling masses, but only to the ruling elites. I will write more later, but let me just mention that I have recommended to our International Dept that we have in the near future a teleconference on AFrican developments. We will keep everybody posted on that idea.

Norman Markowitz:

Let me take a few friendly issues with John
1. Globalization should not be seen in a mechanical materialist way, stages, inevitability, etc.  Relations are dialectical. workers struggles, divisions among capitalist powers, the overall balance of political forces make imperialism(which I prefer to globalization as a concept) vulnerable.  Economic "growth" is also a capitalist category that we should deal with critically, since imperialism is about taking raw materials out cheap and selling goods dear, and of course exporting capital, making goods for capitalist markets
2. Exports of what.  Raw materials.  
3.  I would not dump on the Soviets.  What they did was to invest in public sector construction, infrastructure development, etc, in order to gain political support(not only formal alliance systems) in economic terms they really did not profit so much from these investments and lost a great deal in places like Egypt when they were expelled.
4.  I agree completely that China is not seeking to build either a military alliance or send troops to defend its companies investments. I have got to go now but I also agree that China is  on a course of development which cannot be seen as either the old imperialism or the socialism of the past, but the U.S., Europe, Japan, etc, are in all areas except their relationship to China  in those imperialist relationships
I have to run, but I will try to get back to this

Phil Amadon:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The question, "what constitutes the rule of the working class" or "what does dictatorship of the proletariat mean in the 21rst century" is decisive for the global workers movement.    Communists recognize this question as one of the cutting edge differences with social democracy and we justify our existence as a separate non- sectarian party within the workers movement.   The fate of the USSR was wrapped up in this question.    Lenin's last writings provide the best framework for 21rst century answers.    The fate of the  PRC is tied to this question as well.

Lenin, in his last letters, articles and notes offers us the wisdom of a dying honest man who also happens to be the greatest Marxist theoretician of the 20th century.    He makes clear in his scathing look at the state he had been in charge of, it's  weaknesses and it's strengths.   He shows that the communist party was holding power amongst a sea of experts, bureaucrats and former supporters of the old regime who were hostile to socialism.   He argued it was still "the dictatorship of the proletariat" because the party could still enforce a set of socialist policies despite the opposition.    At the same time he pointed out that hostile officials could quietly refuse to carry out the policies of the communists.  Using dialectical materialist methodology he saw an ongoing struggle to restore capitalism or preserve socialism.    He saw a worker peasant alliance developing through the voluntary spread of cooperatives, practical access to food and farm machinery, the spread of literacy, culture and science, and the electrification of the countryside.   Lenin said the continued rule of the workers depended on this worker peasant alliance.   Finally Lenin made clear that the grassroots socialist democracy of the early days of the revolution ("every cook should learn to run the state") needed to be revived with a "workers inspection bureau" enforcing workers rule in the state machinery and the revival of trade unions and their ability to strike to enforce workers power in industry, especially "state capitalist" industry.

Taken together the sign posts for a "bare minimum" dictatorship of the proletariat not involved directly in an acute war situation:  1.) A party in power that actually represents the real majority of the active working class and controls the commanding heights of the economy and the force component of the state. 2.) The workers party must, raise the standard of living of the masses in practical ways in a relatively short time.   3.) A solid real alliance must be built between the working class and its allies that relies in an ever increasing ways on persuasion based on improvements to real lives rather than "paper fulfillment" of quota's.  4.)Socialism can only win over decades by proving it is better in real life terms to the majority of the population.   5) The forces who wish  to restore capitalism can only be defeated, except in the case of armed revolt,  by democratic and economic struggle and competition, education, persuasion, culture and science.   6.)Workers power  only stays "worker" by the growth of measurable, easily felt and believed growth in reality based socialist democracy where "every cook" is actually starting  to "run the state,'  and there is a real growth in independently verifiable democratic rights.

Norman Markowitz:

Phil's comments are quite good in terms of both theory and practice.  We should I think, in fact we must, stand with workers fighting for their immediate class interests everywhere, but we would be wrong to both theoretically and tactically to call China imperialist although I would ask Phil if he believes that Chinese firms concretely out of competition with firms from capitalist countries are in their overseas operations not distinguishable from the bullies. 
Here I would also go back to my own research in the distant past on the New Deal, Henry A. Wallace, the left New Deal planners around him during WWII in the Board of Economic Warfare and their failed attempt to have U.S. employers abroad and foreign employers(all of whom were in Latin America) improve the wages and conditions of workers using the New Deal 1930s model on the ground that such policies would mean longterm that those workers would not provide cheap labor that would lower U.S. workers wages and also that their increased purchasing power would make them a more valuable consumer market for U.S. goods(at the time the U.S. had more than a third of the industrial capacity of the world).  Wall Stree hollered bloody murder, their was a mini crisis in the Roosevelt administration, and Roosevelt sided essential with capital on the issue, seeing wartime unity as the key issue.
But China, if indeed the rule of the working class is concrete rather than abstract, could and should develop economic relations with Africa and other regions that would reflect such  ideals and would distinguish China clearly from the capitalist world.

Gary Hicks:

"But China, if indeed the rule of the working class is concrete rather than abstract, could and should develop economic relations with Africa and other regions that would reflect such  ideals and would distinguish China clearly from the capitalist world."--Norman Markowitz

China's abstraction...socialism, capitalism, or otherwise... is largely in the minds of romanticists, from which marxists of all stripes contribute a significant quorum.

Concretely, China is a socialist country of six decades duration in a civilization of five millenia, at least two of these under feudalism, and about a hundred and ten years of imperial subjugation. Their ruling class is proletarian, largely in high tech[thanks to Jiang Zemin, following on policies initiated by Jiang Zemin], and their in constant argumentation over what works in their world, to enrich the country, bring their people to middle-level development [think some hybrid of Singapore-Canada-Sweden] by 2050. And they are in full state-owned control of the commanding heights of the economy.

As a country engaged with the entire global economy, China engages in trade. the difference between between China and the capitalists is that with China, African nations are not subjugated to a colonial/neo-colonial mother country. Nor do the Chinese make economic, political, ideological demands on their trading partners. Now this doesn't mean that there won't be corruption and exploitation here and there. Even largely here and there. But China's school of international practice is governed by the Bandung Conference of 1955, not the Berlin Scramble For Africa of the 1880s......a fact that upsets the imperialists of the world to no end, and the basis for major drama between China and the US. 

We need to keep these things constantly in mind as we whistle "Which side are you on?" in the dark corridors of our Wilderness of North America.

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  • In the second sentence of the recent comment submitted, substitute thousands and thousands of people in Missouri, for "millions and millions of people in Missouri". Thanks,

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/10/2012 12:01pm (7 years ago)

  • In the second sentence of the recent comment submitted, substitute thousands and thousands of people in Missouri, for "millions and millions of people in Missouri". Thanks,

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/10/2012 12:00pm (7 years ago)

  • Again, thanks to brother Marquit for leading this discussion.
    Opening communication and class conscious international business relations is a concrete question in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and a critical concern for those who want to create quality, unionized, sustainable jobs in millions of ways, for millions and millions of people in Missouri , when it comes to our relationship with China.
    Unionists, activists, scholars, and the unorganized,unemployed and underemployed Latino and African American element in St. Louis and Kansas City, and all the rural areas in between, have been touched in some way by the prospect of Aerotropolis and China.
    The universal selfishness of capitalism has no place in the business design flowing from the ideas of Jack Kasarda, or any other academic, even if it originates from the forces of production of modern industry. In fact, since it originates there, and we want to shield our communities from the quagmires of capitalist cronyism, Right to Work for less legislation, racist patterns of training and employment, environmentally unsustainable waste generation and disposal, and sexist discrimination, all symptoms of the universal selfishness and the untenableness of capitalist modern industry.
    We would push for a public, and universally democratic plan to invest public and private funds, to expand, control and own plant and warehouse installations, along with transportation and communication facilities, around Lambert International Airport.
    Following the precepts of scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, its implications for public universities, like UM-Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis, as reflected in Du Bois's last autobiography-his Soliloquy-in the chapter entitled China, we will place ourselves on the solid ground of future socialist development, which is badly needed in these United States of America.
    Democracy, and the democracy of trade unionism, with its implications for our entire political system, the innovations that workers will bring, what the future generations of workers will bring, is what we want to enhance.
    To do this, we must build on the institution builders like our W.E.B. Du Bois, and imbue workers and communists with a new way of perceiving industry, through the eyes and hands of those who produce and have for millennia(as brother Hicks has written)produce, and are destine to unite, and lose their chains-both in the U. S. and China.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/09/2012 6:30pm (7 years ago)

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