May 16, 2000: The Election Campaign: A Tough Nut To Crack But Also A Great Success.

Interview with Stefan Engel, Party Chairman of the MLPD.

stefan-engel.jpgRed Flag: Last weekend the state elections for North-Rhine/Westphalia (NRW) took place. How would you assess the results?

Stefan Engel: In 1999, we could observe that the masses were breaking away from the influence of the bourgeois parties, bourgeois parliamentarianism and its institutions to an extent we had not witnessed before. The SPD/Greens/Alliance 90 government was noticeably losing its mass basis, so that serious doubt arose as to their ability to conduct monopolist affairs.

The intention of the ruling class to stabilize the Berlin government by means of the elections in NRW failed completely. As compared to the federal elections in 1998, the SPD lost 1,954,835 votes, a decline of 38.3%. The Greens had 227,527 or 30.5% fewer votes, which means a continuation of their downhill trend, beginning with the federal elections in ’98 and followed by the municipal elections in ’99. The SPD, for its part, was able to win 624,290 more votes than at the municipal elections in ’99, which had been its all time low. Many of these votes came at the cost of the CDU which lost a lot of the ground they’d made at the municipal elections due to the secret coffers affair and the disappointing experiences people made with their reactionary policies at community level. Compared to the federal elections, the CDU lost 956,743 votes; compared to the municipal elections 1,018,955. Even the FDP, presently being celebrated loudly as the winner of these elections, lost 68,358 votes as compared to the federal elections of ’98. The voter turnout of 56,7% was the absolute lowest of all state elections in NRW since the end of World War II.

So the process of the masses breaking away from the influence of the bourgeois parties, bourgeois parliamentarianism and its institutions has continued. The principle form of criticism was to abstain from voting, whereby this time the smaller parties were scarcely able to draw benefit out of this.

Only 86,000 voted for the fascist right wingers from the Republicans and the NPD, almost only a third of their votes at the federal elections, where 224,000 still voted for the combined forces of the Republicans, DVU and NPD. This illustrates the basic anti-fascist attitude of the electorate in NRW.

Red Flag: Did the MLPD fail to reach its goal of achieving a reasonable success as to the number of votes?

Stefan Engel: I wouldn’t say that. After all, nearly 6000 voted for us. In relation to the 87 of a total of 151 constituencies in which we ran for election, that was 3.32 times the number of votes as in the federal elections of 1998. It is also the best result by far that we have ever achieved in elections above the municipal level in NRW. That illustrates a clearly positive tendency.

Because of the wide-spread support we received in many thousands of discussions - a support we had never experienced during elections before - I did expect higher results for the MLPD. Many people who, before election day, had assured us they would vote for us, decided at the last moment either not to vote at all or to vote in such a way as to achieve a greater immediate political effect.

That just shows the big effect of the manipulation of the elections by means of the 5% restriction clause and the opinion polls. From the outset, the MLPD was only listed under "miscellaneous", which intends to say to the electorate as much as "plays no role", "forget them!" or "no point in voting for them!".

Those people who, in spite of everything, still voted MLPD, agreed not only with our argumentation during the elections but also supported the whole trend portrayed by the MLPD in its movement "New Politicians For Our Country!"

Even if we had hoped for higher results, the principle aim of our campaign was never just to get as many votes as possible. Our main intention was to gain mass influence on the course of the elections, to make the MLPD widely known and to win over as many people as possible for the movement "New Politicians For Our Country!" We achieved these main goals in every respect.

Never before has there been such a mass public discussion about the MLPD, its election campaign and slogans. Never before has the municipal press been obliged to give such all-round coverage of the elections. Never before have our candidates and our slogans met with such approval. And we have never yet been joined by so many young people in our campaigning. After all, during the course of the election campaign, 350 youngsters and children joined REBELL and the ROTFÜCHSE (Red Foxes), and we received many applications for membership in the party itself. We established a number of new connections to social movements. We have made a name for ourselves particularly in the trade unions, in environmental organizations and in community affairs as a rigorous advocate of a militant opposition to the government.

Red Flag: When you speak of mass influence, should this not also be visible in the elections results?

Stefan Engel: Oh, but it is! It is no coincidence that the SPD and the Greens/Alliance 90 flopped principally among the workers of the Ruhr Area. The MLPD has been working there for years and that’s where our campaigning was concentrated, picking to pieces Clement’s swindle about "successful structural changes" and the "alliance for jobs". Particularly in the factories, in the trade unions on May Day and in the working class residential areas, our argumentation met with massive approval.

The same applies to our line on the CDU’s campaign for their renowned New Start, which stands for nothing other than sweeping all the background information, the responsibility and the interconnections of the CDU scandal under the carpet. Our line of argument on the Green Party’s complete abandoning of any kind of social opposition in favor of minister positions or a participation in the government was also found convincing.

All these points of argument have a strong influence upon the workers in the factories. This will widely improve our possibilities for joining up with a large number of people in the fight against the hostile policies of the SPD/Greens/Alliance 90 government and will give us more room for tactical maneuverability in the near future. With our movement "New Politicians For Our Country", we have doubtlessly succeeded in giving more strength to the militant opposition and in stabilizing the MLPD as its steady core.

This mass influence is very evident in the election results: the indications for the masses breaking away from the bourgeois parties are on average higher in those areas where we concentrated our campaigning. It is also there that SPD, CDU and Greens/Alliance 90 lost more than the average number of votes. The election turnout in Gelsenkirchen, where the MLPD had the highest number of votes, declined from 58.7% to 50.3%. The SPD lost 45% of the votes they had at the federal elections 1998 and, compared to the state elections of 1995, they lost 26%. The Greens lost almost half of their votes and slipped under 5%.

This becomes even clearer if we take a closer look at the MLPD’s 10 best polling stations in Gelsenkirchen. The turnout is particularly low in these locations, where the MLPD reached between 11.45% and 2.89%. It ranged between 32.2% and 44.1% and sinks almost in the same proportion as the MLPD’s results rise. The SPD lost in these 10 polling stations alone more than half of their votes in the federal elections ’98 (from 3,834 votes down to 1,756). It is also openly admitted by all the bourgeois opinion polls that the government parties owe their defeat to the workers in the Ruhr Area. And here the MLPD played a considerable role.

Red Flag: One of the important political tasks set by the Gelsenkirchen Party Congress was to achieve a significant change in the relative strength of the PDS and the MLPD. How did you succeed here in these elections?

Stefan Engel: Well, of course, the PDS has a lot more possibilities than we do. They have the largest financial reserves of all parties in Germany and they don’t have to collect signatures to be admitted to elections. Since they are already in the federal parliament, they can put up as many candidates as they choose, they have access to the modern mass media and, as regular guests at the usual election talk-shows, they are constantly present in the press, on radio and television. In comparison, the MLPD appeared only twice on television, once in our 90 second election spot and then briefly during a lunch-time magazine program at a bad viewing time.

But despite all these possibilities and despite the fact that more and more people are turning their backs on the bourgeois parties, the PDS lost 51,659 votes compared to the federal elections and lost considerably compared to the municipal elections. That is a pitiful failure considering that they wanted to crack the 5% barrier or at least dreamed of improving their results from the federal elections. In Gelsenkirchen, for instance, 2,514 people voted for the PDS at the federal elections and 2,516 at the municipal elections. At the state elections, their votes went down to 1,499. That is 1000 less. While at the federal elections the PDS had ten times as many votes as the MLPD, this time it was only three times as many. The same thing happened in Cologne, Duisburg, Oberhausen, Herne and Dortmund. That is a clear shift of balance in our favor.

This is, above all, the effect of our strong ties to the real social movements such as the workers’ and youth movements, the women’s and the peace movements - there where their work is being done. For most people, the PDS only really exists in the form of being mentioned in the media, in their presence in parliament or in their sporadic information stalls. The same thing will happen to the PDS as is happening to the Greens, who have sacrificed their entire social basis for their parliamentary and government work. For this reason, they are in the course of a downhill slide that cannot be stopped. The MLPD, as a difference, proved in the elections that it is an up and coming factor that no one can afford to ignore,

Red Flag: How would you explain the contradiction that the effect of the MLPD’s argumentation and its election campaign on the way the masses think, feel and act can no longer be overlooked, whereas, at the same time, the number of votes for the MLPD has, so to speak, remained within a family framework?

Stefan Engel: It makes a difference whether you agree with our argumentation and our campaign in a certain tactical situation or whether you agree to our entire program of the struggle for genuine socialism.

In the course of our campaign, thousands of people, particularly in the Ruhr and Rhine Area, have heard the MLPD’s argumentation, its slogans, its criticism of ruling policies, have noticed a certain fighting confidence, and have made these their own. But these single steps are not enough to bring about a lasting higher development of the interrelation between the MLPD and the broad masses of the people. But they are necessary steps on the way to a better understanding of Marxist-Leninist objectives.

It is also a simple fact that many people heard of the MLPD for the first time, for instance via the press. But people need many more diverse experiences with us in order to be able to deal with the influence of modern anti-communism, but also the negativist attitude "there’s no point in it anyway!" etc. Six week long election campaigns are not enough to bring about such a comprehensive process of self-changing in the interrelation between the party and the broad masses. This can only be achieved by means of all-round, long term, systematic work at grass roots level by the MLPD, giving the masses the chance to gain personal experiences with us. Evidently it takes a whole lot more to vote for the MLPD than to vote for other parties. It’s almost the same as an obligation to start out in a certain direction, or take on responsibility. However, that requires a qualitative leap in class consciousness, and under present-day conditions that cannot happen spontaneously on a mass basis.

Red Flag: So what is your overall evaluation?

Stefan Engel: There is no doubt at all, that the MLPD, its comrades, the supporting sympathizers and election supporters conducted an outstanding and very successful election campaign. More than that was really not possible. Due to the present balance of forces and the limited possibilities, it is not primarily in our hands to reverse the ruling manipulation of opinion in state-monopoly capitalism and the social system of the petty-bourgeois mode of thinking.

But we achieved important partial successes and won great respect, especially among the ordinary people. Now it absolutely important that the experiences that people made be confirmed in practice in the coming years. They must gain self-confidence and experience us as the force that changes the society, that they can turn to in confidence and that they can join someday, too.

To put it short: The participation in the state elections 2000 was a tough nut to crack, but it was an unlimited success. The MLPD proved in its first bigger campaign after the Gelsenkirchen Party Congress, that it is able to assess the political development correctly and to move masses to a certain extent, to gain mass-influence. In this process, the MLPD learned a lot, won numerous new forces and went in the right direction. The only conclusion to draw from this is: keep up the good work!

At the same time it was confirmed, that special emphasis must be placed upon developing communal parliamentary work at the grass roots level. In many cases, the 5-percent-hurdle does not exist at that level, which makes direct success in elections possible. A longer lasting social presence is organized by this, too, which is necessary to enable the masses to really cope with the social system of the petty-bourgeois mode of thinking. That is why we decided to participate next year in a number of municipal elections in Hesse.

On this occasion, I want to express my gratitude to all the comrades, hundreds of young people and supporters for their magnificent and successful engagement. It was a marvelous thing, that surely will bring about a big step forward for party work.

Red Flag: Currently, the government is getting a great deal of praise from the employers associations and the institutes for economy. They are attested to be carrying out a "successful policy" that even caused an "upswing in economy" and a decrease of mass unemployment. What is your opinion on that?

Stefan Engel: What Schröder describes to be a "wonderful development of economy" is, in reality, an illusion. We take into consideration that experts’ reports on the economy are essentially based on expectations and moods that are used to deliberately manipulate public opinion. The major driving force of the economic growth of 2.8 percent expected in 2000 in Germany is the rapid decline in exchange rates of the Euro compared to the dollar.

The most important reason for the praise the government is getting from the employers’ associations is not some kind of an upswing of the economy, but the tax reform in favor of the monopolies. Its essence is that the capital companies, i.e. joint-stock companies and companies with limited liability, can sell their shares in other capital companies tax-free in future. That includes tax relief for the monopolies of 200 billion DM and will accelerate and increase the wave of mergers starting on the first of January, 2001.

In the nineties, the number of mergers rose worldwide almost threefold from 9000 (1990) up to 25,000 (1999). More and more big companies are merging. At the same time, the total value of yearly mergers rose by 800% from 290 billion dollars up to 2.4 trillion dollars. This accelerated process of concentration on a world-wide scale is part of the international structural crisis for the reorganization of international capitalist production. With each merger, the companies annihilate surplus capital and jobs in a tremendous dimension, because all those sectors are sold off that do not promise profit rates of at least 15 to 20 percent and do not have the prospect of playing a leading role in the world market. Meanwhile, some mega-mergers such as the one of the "Deutsche Bank" and the "Dresdner Bank" already failed. The reason for this is, that the annihilation of capital and jobs gives rise to considerable upheavals, causing serious problems for these companies.

When the government, on the one hand, supports these large-scale mergers and, on the other hand, promises to decrease unemployment considerably in one, two or three years, then this is pure deceit. We can just wait for this bubble to burst.

Till now, unemployment has not decreased; merely the unemployment statistics are being manipulated. Since recently, for example, the 630-marks-jobs are being counted as normal jobs and suddenly we have a surprising decrease of the number of unemployed people by some hundreds of thousands. In general, more and more of the jobs being counted are part-time jobs that supposedly make up for the annihilated full-time jobs. Their numbers rose from 4.74 million in 1991 up to 6.69 million in the year 2000. The growing dimension of underemployment is concealed by the manipulation of the unemployment statistics, but it is – aside from permanent mass-unemployment – one of the major results of the international structural crisis.

Red Flag: Not much of the promised "upswing in the East" is left. Don’t we need a change in Germany-policy ten years after re-unification?

Stefan Engel: Definitely! Government and monopolies are conducting a systematic policy of division. Budget resources for building up Eastern Germany are all going to the monopolies or for an infrastructure in their interest. At the same time, more and more measures for social support are running out as, for example, financial aid for the nursing institutions and redevelopment of ecologically problematic waste.

This will further impair the living conditions of the masses. The destruction of housing space, rent increases, the reduction of day care centers, plans for shutting down schools and other changes for the worse are already unbearable. Currently we are witnessing a new wave of people fleeing from the East to West Germany. In addition, the crisis of bourgeois family order is intensifying due to the great burdens on individuals. The number of marriages per 1000 inhabitants in West Germany decreased from 6.6 in 1990 to 5.4 in 1998, in the new states from 6.3 to 3.6. There is a similar serious decline in the birth-rate. It decreased from 11.1 newborn children per thousand inhabitants to 6.7.

It is an oath of disclosure, when the SPD-leader Müntefering advises East Germans who are in need to move to the West because there are more jobs and better conditions there.

But the masses are not coming to terms with these conditions. They are organizing massive protests against the rapid deterioration of health care. Hundreds of thousands of signatures were collected against the scheduled law for day-care centers in Saxony-Anhalt. Tens of thousands demonstrated against the catastrophic conditions in education. Especially the strikes in metal industry and in public services for equal wages in East and West signalize new impetus for the unity of the working-class.

The program of MLPD states: "Only the working class and its joint struggle against the monopolies and their government can heal the wounds of the long-lasting division of Germany, consolidate the unity of the German people in East and West and maintain its progressive achievements." (p.5)

To cope with this responsibility, the entire party will focus on party building in Eastern Germany in the coming time.

Red Flag: At its latest national party congress in Münster, the PDS got into a crisis of leadership. What effects does this have on the balance of forces between MLPD and PDS?

Stefan Engel: Gysi and Bisky had to announce their resignation because the PDS got into a crisis on its road to becoming a state-supporting monopoly party.

Gysi failed with his attempt, typical for modern anti-communism, to defame anyone in the party who criticized his course as a "dogmatist" or a "sectarian".

That also includes the outright slander and defamation of the MLPD in January, when the Lenin – Liebknecht - Luxemburg demonstration was banned. Many PDS-members, for example, cooperated in solidarity with the MLPD in the active resistance against the NATO-war and made positive experiences. Some are attracted by the MLPD or are advocates of a more objective form of discussion. Gysi's demand for a purging of the left forces within the PDS, immediately after the Münster Party Congress, caused an outrage.

Not only did the goal of building up the PDS in the West fail with the Münster Party Congress and the elections for the state parliament in North Rhine Westphalia, but there is also a crisis in the mass-basis of the PDS in the new federal states. The PDS lost about half of its votes in the municipal elections and elections for the office of the mayor in Thuringia last weekend. It seems that the PDS has exceeded its zenith.

The strikes in public service were in part also directed against the effects of the crisis programs that the PDS bears part of as a governmental party, like in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In Saxony-Anhalt, there is a steady decline in the number of voters – for example in Magdeburg by 40 percent – in connection with the mass-movement against the day care center law and the agreement to the law by the PDS.

The crisis of the PDS has also taken the organization principle of petty-bourgeois pluralism into its grips. It is composed of various opportunist tendencies – reaching from modern revisionism, to left social-democrat and to antiauthoritarian ideas. Gysi sat enthroned above all these tendencies with his pragmatism and, as a media-star, he determined the guidelines of PDS-policy through talk-shows and exclusive interviews. When criticism started to focus on him more and more, he preferred to resign and chatted publicly about his undemocratic and authoritarian petty-bourgeois style of leadership: "I became party chairman in 1989, I was quite uncontroversial in the party and so I had a lot of leeway. I don’t want to deny that at all. I would be shocked, if I had to spend 40 to 50 percent of my time in committees having to persuade people. But that would have become necessary. So I asked myself: Do you really want to do that to yourself?" ("Berliner Zeitung", April 22, 2000). There seems to be nothing more awful for Gysi than to have to do persuasion work and to subject himself to the control of the party and its members and functionaries.

Red Flag: The leadership of the metal-workers trade union also got into a real crisis after the collective bargaining agreements in the spring. What are the reasons for that?

Stefan Engel: The development of class-consciousness is distinguished by a marked politicization of the workers. In connection with the positive trade union work of the MLPD, the "Alliance for Jobs" got into the center of fundamental criticism. The collective bargaining agreements and the undemocratic way in which they came into being were the concrete cause. The proximity of the trade union leadership to the government arouses many unionist’s suspicions. They don’t want to be any kind of governmental organization.

Meanwhile, even in the functionaries’ magazine of the IG-Metall "direkt", discussion are being conducted entitled: "Did the ‘Alliance for Jobs’ cause damage to the policy of collective bargaining?" We must answer this question clearly with yes, because this year's collective bargaining resulted in agreements that increasingly turned from being agreements for the protection of blue and white collar workers to being attacks – ensured by contract – on the employed. Their essence is the flexibilization of working time, profit reservations, opening clauses etc.

That is why it is even more important that in the coming months, the basis of the trade unions organize local and factory assemblies, meetings of shop-stewards, etc. in order to implement the break up with the "Alliance for Jobs" and to engage positively for the trade unions to become fighting-organizations.

It is the policy of class-collaboration that weakens the trade unions, that corrodes their fighting-force and that also leads to a serious decline in membership. Masses of new members can only be won again in connection with a militant trade union policy.

Red Flag: On May 1st, the book "New Perspectives for the Liberation of Women. A Polemic" with Monika Gärtner-Engel and yourself as authors. What new perspectives is this book opening up?

Stefan Engel: The real situation of the masses of women has become more and more complicated in the past few years, in spite of the formal equality between the sexes in Germany. This has aggravated the crisis of the bourgeois family system. This is the basis on which new initiatives of the militant women’s movement can develop.

In order to implement the new perspectives for the liberation of women, it is necessary at first to establish the idea in society, the working-class movement and even among Marxist-Leninists, that a liberation of women is necessary. Contrary to the assumption of petty-bourgeois feminists, the point here is not the liberation from men, but the liberation from the social conditions that are imposed on the masses of women in our society. These are the conditions of the double exploitation, the oppression, the shifting of the burdens of crisis to the private family, especially the discrimination of women, etc.

The book tries to trace the real problems back to their social core and assimilates the many different experiences from the bourgeois, proletarian and petty-bourgeois women’s movement of the last 200 years. We have also analyzed reasons why various women’s movements fell apart again. So, this book is a guide for developing such a militant women’s movement and for establishing which conclusions it must be drawn and what must be taken into account in order to become strong and invincible.

It is also the aim of the book to give the women’s movement a clear social perspective beyond the present capitalist conditions. For this purpose, we also took the trouble to honor the experiences of the socialist construction in the Soviet Union critically, but also to rigorously criticize obvious mistakes. We also dealt with the myth of the "liberated women" in the GDR, which stems from a very narrow understanding of the liberation of women.

However, it would be wrong to think that this book is directed only to the women’s movement. It is, first of all, a contribution to the development of the international Marxist-Leninist and working class movement. There will be no liberation of the working class from the system of the exploitation of wage labor without the liberation of women. It will also be impossible to win the decisive majority of the working class without calling into question those living conditions that are imposed on them by the bourgeois state and family system. There will be no real development of the proletarian class consciousness without a corresponding consciousness about the necessity of the liberation of women and the involvement of the broad masses in the struggle for a liberated society, for genuine socialism.

Therefore, the central theme of the book is, first and foremost, the development of the interrelation between the proletarian class struggle and the struggle for the liberation of women, between the revolutionary working class movement and the women’s movement. In this respect many sectarian and opportunist mistakes were made in the past, which had not been analyzed in principle for decades and which was able to have an impact on the party building of the MLPD.

The present polemic is an important guide for how the interrelation between the party and the masses must be changed to bring about a new upswing of the struggle for genuine socialism and to develop the party into a party of the masses.

The book is a guide in the spirit of the criticism-self-criticism campaign which was decided at the Party Congress of Gelsenkirchen. It will certainly lastingly transform every aspect of our party work. It is also a guide for the kind of culture of debate that is necessary for such a societal discussion, that can develop the interrelation between the party and the masses to a higher level. «The proletarian culture of debate is the conscious application of the dialectical-materialist method in the struggle over the mode of thinking within the party, among the masses and in the course of preparing the international revolution.» (Class Struggle and the Struggle for the Liberation of Women, p.283.)

The masses have to learn to cope with the corrosive effect of the disorientating, demoralizing and disorganizing role of the petty-bourgeois mode of thinking. The biggest self-transformation necessary in order to develop such a militant women’s movement, must take place within the working-class and Marxist-Leninist movement. Without the Marxist-Leninist clarity, it will hardly be possible to organize the superiority of the proletarian mode of thinking in the struggle against the petty-bourgeois mode of thinking among the masses of women.

The book is surely very well researched and, despite its profound ideas, it is written in a simple language. So, nobody has to be afraid of not being able to understand it. During the next months, we will launch a study campaign and invite many readers of the book to guided study-weeks and seminars to start the discussion with us and then to propagate it in the factories, residential areas and various social movements. We have to take a lot of time for this social debate, and we mainly have to be prepared for our own self-transformation.

Red Flag: The Party Congress of Gelsenkirchen already took place half a year ago. How has the party succeeded in assimilating its results and tasks and putting them into practice?

Stefan Engel: Of course, it was difficult for our members to establish the correct relation between theory and practice due to the necessary participation in the elections in North Rhine Westphalia. In spite of this, we have started to study the results of the party congress systematically and implement them as a guide for our great social tasks.

I think that the great enthusiasm and mobilization that characterized our election campaign would not have been possible without the 6th Party Congress. We conducted five times more activities, stands etc. than in the election campaign for the national elections and despite this, our comrades studied, visited and held seminars and training courses during this time in order to gain the necessary clarity.

In our assessment of the election campaign, we have to evaluate in particular how far we succeeded in successfully organizing the process of self-transformation within the party, the youth league, but also among the masses.

In any case, it was an excellent beginning after the 6th Party Congress. However, it is necessary to get a period of quiet and rest for the organization during the next months, to allow the comrades a thorough evaluation, and to give more scope for recreation and leisure. This is the only way we can avoid the new experiences, new initiatives and ideas getting lost again.

The most important thing on which our comrades have to concentrate during the next weeks is to win the many new supporters, sympathizers and interested people for membership in the party and the youth league. Because the great social tasks awaiting us cannot be tackled without a considerable increase in party membership in the next years and without strengthening our organizational force. In particular, every party unit has to assume responsibility for the work among the youth, and especially for winning participants and organizing the summer-holiday camps of the REBELL.

Therefore, I ask especially all readers and supporters in the election campaign to make use of the situation and to advance the party considerably by giving donations, by working in one of our initiative groups or by joining the party. There will only be a new upswing in the struggle for socialism, if the MLPD not only learns to move masses of people and influence them, but also if it has the organizational skills and the forces to do this. I am looking forward to the cooperation with all new members of the MLPD and REBELL. You are very welcome to join us!

Literature

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