Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Reading notes: The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923–25) By Leon Trotsky

By Leon Trotsky

Overall context:

*devastation of war and civil war 1914-1921
*failure of German revolution

My underlinings for the introduction are below:

Introduction [1974]

[Twelfth Party Congress scheduled for April 1923]

....Trotsky hesitated to open fire at the Twelfth Congress, fearing that his move would be interpreted as a bid for the position of Lenin's successor, and hoping that Lenin would recover sufficiently to lead the struggle in person.

....Stalinists, who had played lesser parts in the revolution but were the protagonists of the revolution's decline, muddied the waters by insisting that their regime was the faithful continuation of Lenin's. 

...struggle  ....involved crucial historic issues which retain their relevance in any contemporary discussion of foreign or domestic policy in the workers' states, or of revolutionary strategy in the colonial or imperialist countries

....main issue ....the bureaucratization of the Russian Communist Party and the Soviet state

....How could the Soviet working class retain in its hands the power it had won, when the summits of party and state came to be more and more dominated by a conservatized, privileged bureaucratic elite? 

....only Lenin and Trotsky saw the danger at its outset ....this proved insufficient

....meant the immense toll in human suffering caused by the forced collectivization of agriculture and the crash industrialization program in the thirties. This included the artificial famine in the Ukraine in 1932, in which five to six million peasants died when the grain they had harvested for their own subsistence was seized for export; the crushing of the rights of the non-Russian nationalities in the Soviet Union; the destruction in the great purges of the thirties of the entire generation of revolutionists 

....the denial of even those civil liberties that are enjoyed by the populations of the imperialist democracies. Internationally, the price of bureaucratic supremacy in the Soviet Union was the turning back of the world revolution on every front for an entire historic period. Instead of a revolutionary foreign policy, the Kremlin advanced a policy of conciliation with imperialism ("peaceful coexistence") that required the sacrifice of revolutionary activity both in the imperialist countries and in the colonial world. The result was a series of unnecessary defeats that gave imperialism a new lease on life

....historical significance of the struggle of the Left Opposition comes into focus. For what the Left Opposition accomplished on an international scale, despite its defeat in the USSR, was to preserve for future struggles the program of revolutionary Marxism and the best traditions of Bolshevism


.... trade between town and countryside broke down. Armed detachments were sent to the countryside to requisition food for the army and city dwellers. The peasants retaliated by hoarding their surpluses and refusing to plant more than they needed for their own consumption. Thus only a short time after they had hailed the October Revolution for distributing the land, the peasants came into bitter conflict with the measures the revolution was forced to resort to for survival.

....catastrophic decline of industry and the dispersal and destruction of the proletariat between 1918 and 1921, on the one hand, and the estrangement if not downright hostility of the peasantry

....question of whether the Bolsheviks would be able to hold their loyalty was the central one in the debates over policy after the civil war.

....transition to socialism in a predominantly peasant country would hinge on the peasants' support for the workers' state.

[Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1921]

"In such a country [with a minority of industrial workers and a vast majority of small farmers] a socialist revolution can triumph only on two conditions. First, if it is given timely support by a socialist revolution in one or several advanced countries. As you know, we have done very much indeed in comparison with the past to bring about this condition, but far from enough to make it a reality.
    "The second condition is agreement between the proletariat, which is exercising its dictatorship, that is, holds state power, and the majority of the peasant population" [Collected Works,Vol. 32, "Report on the Substitution of a Tax in Kind ... "(March 15, 1921), p. 215].

....revolutionary wave had given way to a period of capitalist stabilization. At the top of the agenda for European communists was no longer the imminent seizure of power but rather the broadest possible defense of the workers' rights against a systematic attack by a frightened but victorious bourgeoisie. The communists were only a minority of the working class. Through the united front tactic they now sought to join forces with the social democratic majority for a common struggle against reaction-and in the process to win to communism those workers who still remained loyal to the reformist social democracy.

....The NEP was a domestic measure of retrenchment that corresponded to the tactics of the Comintern designed to deal with the delay in the world revolution
    ....Forced confiscation of the agricultural surpluses was to be replaced by a progressive tax in kind; the restoration of private trade between city and countryside through the free market would permit an accumulation of capital; the capital could be channeled into industry. 

....while restoring the flow of food into the cities, in fact took place largely at the expense of industry, and thus of the city proletariat

....NEP had an immediate salutary effect on agriculture and the condition of the peasant, the problems of the industrial worker remained unsolved. By 1922 the harvest had reached 75 percent of its prewar level, but industry had recovered only to 25 percent

....The soviets, the political organs of the workers, which had assumed power only four years earlier, were being drained of independent content and becoming rubber stamps for the government bureaucracy. Thus the proletariat, its economic power undermined by the disorganization of industry, had virtually ceased to play a political role.

....summer of 1923 the revival of agriculture at the expense of industry began to have an effect on prices that came to be known as the "scissors" effect from the appearance of the phenomenon on a graph: the simultaneous rise of industrial prices and fall of agricultural prices. 

....minority in the Central Committee, which after October 1923 was called the Opposition, was led by Trotsky, Preobrazhensky, and Pyatakov. They maintained that the first successes of the NEP should be consolidated by a comprehensive plan for the industrialization of the country

....If it were not assisted, the boom in light industry (producing consumer goods) would be short-lived and even agriculture would suffer from the lack of equipment and farming tools. Credits directed to heavy industry should be guided by a long-range economic plan rather than the short-range criterion of profitability.

....the NEP was intended to assist not in the rebirth of capitalism in Russia but in the resuscitation of the economy so that the work of socialist construction could go forward. However, as early as 1923 the private sector was accumulating capital and expanding while the nationalized sector was working at a loss.

....reviving industry would have as its corollary reviving the industrial proletariat, putting it back on its feet after the economic blows it had received, and enabling it to exercise political power.

....On December 27, 1922, he dictated a note to the Politburo recommending a policy along the lines of Trotsky's proposals for Gosplan. But the Politburo refused to publish Lenin's note, and his new thinking on the question was hushed up. Trotsky raised the issue at the Twelfth Congress in April 1923, in his "Theses on Industry." Although his "Theses" were adopted by the congress, none of his recommendations were put into effect.

[International situation]

....Why did October 1923 represent a turning point in the development of the disputes in the party? The answer to this question cannot be found in an examination of the conditions prevailing in the Soviet Union alone at that time, or in a study of the development of the inner-party dispute. It is necessary to look beyond the borders of the Soviet Union, to the international situation, to understand why, in October 1923, Trotsky and forty-six prominent party members took the step of demanding an open discussion in the Communist Party of the differences within the Central Committee.

....Both Lenin and Trotsky had concluded that a socialist revolution was possible in a country that lacked such material prerequisites, but that such a revolution could only be a holding action with a brief lifetime if it were not relieved by aid from a successful revolution in the advanced nations. This traditional Marxist view was proven to be essentially correct, with one modification: in the absence of both the material prerequisites of socialist construction and of aid from the West, the Russian Revolution did not fall back all the way to its capitalist starting point; instead, it stabilized for a whole period just short of that by throwing up the parasitic Stalinist caste. Trotsky understood that the key to defeating the incipient bureaucracy was to spread the revolution, and that this was a life-and-death matter both for the Soviet working class and for the world communist movement.

.....March 1921, the German party, under the direction of the Hungarian Comintern representative Bela Kun, had called the workers to arms and proclaimed an insurrection against the government, in response to sporadic clashes with the police. Communist workers, without any preparation

....That summer, the Third World Congress of the Comintern characterized the March action as a putsch and condemned the ultra-leftism that had brought the German communists to an unprepared uprising in isolation from the masses of the working class

....German leadership falsely extended the ban on putschism to cover the very idea of insurrection. When the revolutionary crisis mounted in Germany in the summer of 1923, and the masses of workers threw their support behind the Communist Party and its call for a workers' Germany; when the bourgeoisie, hesitating and unsure of itself, failed to take any measures to solve the social crisis or assume leadership of the massive discontent; the party leadership did not recognize the situation for what it was and failed to mobilize the party and the working class for the seizure of power or to make technical preparations for an insurrection

....Radek, who was in Germany, reported his fears that the German party was heading for another abortive insurrection. Zinoviev, at the head of the Comintern, urged bold action but-just as he had done in Russia 1917-balked at the idea of an insurrection. Stalin did not believe that the situation was revolutionary and wrote that the Germans should be "restrained." Trotsky had become convinced that the situation was revolutionary and that the party should set a date for the insurrection and begin preparing for it; it should mobilize the workers for the seizure of power and rid itself of its fatalism

....the initiative passed back into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The government demanded that the Saxony rebels capitulate by October 21, and then attacked. On the defensive, the party called for a general strike. When there was no response

....Heinrich Brandler was blamed for the defeat to save the reputations of those who had told him what to do. This was the first example of what later became a common practice-designating scapegoats to explain away defeats. Furthermore, the Comintern refused to admit that the revolution had failed and the movement was on the decline

....The defeat of the German revolution in 1923 was a grave setback for the Soviet people; it reinforced their isolation and condemned them to go it alone for an indefinite time. The fate of the Russian revolution had always been closely linked to that of the German revolution in the minds of the Bolsheviks; now the hope that the German proletariat would soon come to their aid was dashed. To Trotsky and the Left Opposition, the failure of the German revolution dictated a decisive change in the terms of the dispute within the Russian party. No longer was it possible to shut one's eyes to the bureaucratization of the party apparatus, the dangers of adaptation to the peasantry, the infringements on proletarian democracy, in the expectation that the spread of proletarian revolution in the West would make the conditions of Soviet power in Russia more favorable and help to solve the problems arising from backwardness, poverty, and isolation.
    Now these problems would have to be tackled. First and foremost, the problem of the regime in the party had to be settled, because it was the chief obstacle to the solution of all the other problem that faced the Soviet Republic. That was the reason Trotsky decided to mount a public attack on the policies of the Politburo majority-led at this time by Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Stalin with his two letters to the Central Committee in October 1923.

....formation of the Left Opposition was an effort to improve the Soviet state's chances of holding out until the next wave of proletarian revolution-this time apparently to be postponed for some time.
    The existence of an organized Opposition would resist the free expansion of the bureaucracy, subject it to criticism, and perhaps retard its development long enough to keep intact the roots of the proletarian dictatorship

[The Rise of a Privileged Bureaucracy]

....shift in the relative weights of the peasantry and the proletariat, the twin pillars of the Soviet system, to the detriment of the proletariat. This shift was reinforced by the defeat of the international revolution.

..... At the heart of the industrialization controversy was the problem of reconstituting the proletariat as a viable class that could exercise power in its own name and provide political and economic direction to the peasantry. But the reassertion of the peasants and independent traders was accompanied by a corresponding waning of the political power and self-confidence of the proletariat. The NEP compounded the problem by producing an increased stratification in the countryside, where the strengthening of capitalist property relations and the operation of the free market led to the growth of exploiting layers: a class of rich peasants (kulaks), independent traders, and speculators (Nepmen).

....efficacy of the alliance between the two classes depended on the ability of the proletariat, through its state apparatus, to lead the peasantry toward socialism 

....decline of the proletariat and the rise of the bureaucracy coincided with the consolidation and expansion of the Soviet state apparatus.

....To convince the skilled administrators to stay, the Soviet government was forced to offer them material incentives, allowing them a standard of living considerably exceeding that of the masses of Soviet citizens. The privileged governmental bureaucracy, with its alien and hostile class outlook, was a source of infection; at the same time, it was an indispensable apparatus of organization. Furthermore, what was true of the Soviet state was equally true of the Red Army and of Soviet industry, where former tsarist army officers and factory managers had to be offered bonuses for their services.

....with the NEP, the character of the soviets began to change: in the rural areas, on the local level, more and more soviets were being captured by kulaks and used by them as an avenue to political influence and as a facade of legality for the growing exploitation of poor peasants; in the cities, the administration of industry was passing back into the hands of former bourgeois managers and specialists, who were acquiring unprecedented authority and influence.

....Simultaneous with the growth of the state bureaucracy, however, and partly drawing strength from it, was an even more ominous development: the growth of a bureaucratic tendency within the Communist Party itself.

....During the revolution and civil war the membership tripled and quadrupled; by 1919 a quarter of a million people had joined. These members, recruited during the most difficult years of the revolution, were generally the most dedicated and selfless revolutionists, motivated not by the pursuit of personal gain but by determination to participate in the conquest and consolidation of Soviet power. The party's membership tripled again between 1919 and 1922, rising to 700,000, but by this time the character of the recruitment was changing. Careerists and self-seekers, anxious to ally themselves with those in power in the hope of securing their future job prospects, heavily outnumbered the revolutionists.

....Communist Party began to attract to its ranks many people whose motivation was honest enough but whose political views had little in common with Bolshevism. By inclination and outlook they would have been disposed to join the other, more conservative parties that had participated in the first period of the Soviet regime-the Left Mensheviks and the Left Social Revolutionaries. But these parties no longer existed.

....considered a temporary ban, instituted to prevent the collapse of the whole Soviet order at a time when its continued existence was in question. The result, however, was that the normal variety of outlets for political energies and sympathies was eliminated, and social antagonisms-which under ordinary circumstances would have been reflected in a struggle among political parties with different programs-were forced to refract themselves through the only legal party, the Communist Party. But around the same time, the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921 banned factions within the party.

....exceptional measure was taken to marshal every possible ounce of strength to resist the attack on the Soviet regime by the sailors at Kronstadt, in the face of open support for the Kronstadt rebellion in some quarters in the party.

....flow of nonproletarians into the Communist Party during the NEP included a significant proportion of kulaks, factory managers, specialists, and other petty-bourgeois elements whose existence had been tolerated as a necessary evil for the country's recovery but who had not previously received the political status and endorsement of party membership. A similar phenomenon occurred when party members, seeking to fill the gaps in the economy caused by desertion or sabotage by former factory managers or state officials, took industrial or governmental positions; they thus came under the pressure of an alien class milieu.

....creating a layer that depended on the central apparatus of the party for appointments to salaried positions and access to the material privileges that kept its living standard above that of most of the population....

....outlook: a narrow nationalist disdain for revolutionists in other countries, whose activities could prove costly to the Soviet state treasury and attract the hostile attention of imperialist military establishments; an exaggerated respect for established authority in the form of bourgeois governments; a contempt mingled with fear of the workers and their wrangling assemblies and councils; a love of solid comfort and unchallenged authority; and a sentimental romanticization of peasant life.

1922.... incipient bureaucratic caste.... included in its ranks former enemies of the October Revolution as well as the politically passive elements who had become party members for reasons of self-interest rather than political conviction....

....Between December 1922 and January 1923, as Lenin was withdrawing from his work for the final time, the triumvirate of Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, all Old Bolsheviks from the prerevolutionary period, organized a secret faction whose purpose was to prevent Trotsky from having a majority in the Politburo.

....triumvirate did not base itself on a program of principled agreement but on a secret mutual-assistance pact. Using a system of patronage, appointment, and punitive transfers, the triumvirs gained control of the national party apparatus during the year 1923. They created an army of local, province-level, and city-level secretaries personally loyal to them and increasingly beyond the democratic control of their constituencies.

....It was an empirical social layer that preferred to accommodate an increasingly rich and powerful peasantry rather than take steps to curb its influence. This was expressed above all in the refusal to institute an economic plan and increase the pace of heavy industry, while the capitalist market relations in the countryside were permitted unrestrained growth. 

....1923 Opposition.... not homogeneous; it included individuals who had little interest in the economic questions but valued inner-party democracy for its own sake. The forty-six were united at this stage by their dissatisfaction with the party regime and their conviction that a return to the norms of proletarian democracy would contribute to the solution of a great many of the party's ills.

....Cell after cell in the factories, army, and universities declared for the Opposition. In an attempt to coopt and contain the Opposition sentiment, the triumvirs resorted simultaneously to repression and concessions. Their critics were demoted and transferred. In violation of party statutes, the Central Committee of the Communist Youth, which overwhelmingly supported the Opposition, was dissolved by the General Secretariat of the party and replaced with a more obedient group. At the same time, the triumvirs prepared a special resolution whose exclusive purpose was to allow them to identify themselves with the sentiment for inner party democracy and allay the suspicions aroused by the controversy among the membership. To be effective, they reasoned, this resolution had to be signed by Trotsky. Thus, on December 5, the New Course resolution, bearing Trotsky's amendments, was unanimously adopted by the Politburo....

....1923 Stalin and Zinoviev had already overhauled the party apparatus, replacing the elected secretaries of cells and districts with appointees loyal to the triumvirate. On December 15 an article by Stalin appeared in Pravda opening a campaign against the Opposition, attacking the forty-six, and trying to discredit Trotsky by referring to his pre-1917 disagreements with Lenin. Trotsky refused to conduct the discussion on the level of slander and character assassination, and his only reply was one sentence, published in Pravda on December 17: "I make no response to certain specific articles which have recently appeared in Pravda, since I think this better answers the interests of the party, and in particular the discussion now in progress about the New Course."

....anti-Trotskyist campaign.... purpose was to divert the party's attention from the New Course discussion [of planning, industrial development, curbs on kulak enrichment]

....triumvirs made use of Lenin's death to proclaim the so-called Lenin levy-they threw open the gates of the party to new members without the usual selection process, and between February and May 240,000 people joined, not only workers but also clerks, petty officials, careerists, and self-seekers of all varieties.

....May 1924.... Thirteenth Congress....This was the first time that dissidents in the party were asked to disavow their ideas in order to escape censure; the demand for recantation would later be made of Zinoviev, as well as of virtually all those who joined in the clamor for Trotsky's recantation in 1924). The congress declared an end to the controversy that had begun with the publication of the New Course resolution. But it did not even begin to discuss or evaluate the recent momentous defeat in Germany.

....Between 1923 and 1924, aided by Zinoviev, the Comintern's president, he set out to remake the Comintern in the pattern of the Russian party. Using the authority and prestige that the Russians had earned in the eyes of foreign communists as pioneers of the socialist revolution, he was successful in dislodging the leaderships of national sections that were sympathetic to the Russian Opposition and replacing them with handpicked representatives who could be relied upon to support the Russian majority. By the time of the Thirteenth Party Congress in May 1924, this process was well under way. At the congress the leaders of all the European parties present except the French rose to add their voices to the shower of abuse rained upon Trotsky. A month later the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern opened in Moscow. Called the "Bolshevization" congress, its purpose was to consolidate the victory the triumvirate had won in the Russian party by extending it to the International. This victory was sealed by a policy of artificial splits in the Communist parties all over the world and expulsions of all Oppositionists and their sympathizers.

....Trotsky wrote a long preface for the [collection "1917"], entitled "Lessons of October." The essay revealed the role of the present-day triumvirs during the two crucial turning points of the revolution (in April and October 1917). He went on to demonstrate that the same policies the triumvirs had followed in 1917 (when they, and not he, had opposed Lenin) had recently led to the disaster in Germany; and he argued that in order to avoid similar mistakes in the future, the real history of the Bolshevik Party and the Russian revolution had to be studied in detail and assimilated by the Russian party and by the Comintern. Finally, implicit in his argument is the point that the triumvirs, because of their actions in 1917, ought not to be entrusted with the leadership of the party, and certainly were not qualified to utter definitive pronouncements on Lenin and Leninism.

....Between the formation of the triumvirate in late 1922 and the deliberate strangulation of the Spanish revolution in 1936, the Stalinist bureaucracy went through a process of consolidation and change. In its early stages, it appeared to be a tendency within the revolutionary movement with different ideas about how to build socialism in the Soviet Union and extend the revolution abroad. As it developed, however, it became identifiable as a distinct social group that defended interests separate from those of the working class, seeking above all to maintain and increase its privileges.
The bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet leadership had a profound impact on the world revolution. By the thirties the Comintern had become an instrument of counterrevolution for the benefit of the Soviet government's diplomatic ties with the capitalist nations abroad. (Even at that late date, however, Stalin had to physically wipe out thousands of Old Bolsheviks and behead the Red Army to carry out his counterrevolutionary plans.) But in the twenties this policy had not yet jelled. The bureaucracy was still in the process of defining itself.
In the broad sense, the Stalinists began to reflect unconsciously the outlook of the nonproletarian elements that had permeated the party, and began to look for rationalizations of their new outlook in theoretical terms. Stalin's theory of socialism in one country, which was first promulgated in December 1924, was an attempt to free Soviet foreign policy from the program of international proletarian revolution. It asserted that the alliance of workers and peasants was, in and of itself, a sufficient guarantee against the dangers of capitalist restoration within the borders of the USSR. This was an instinctive turning away from foreign revolutionary entanglements, which had proved disappointing. It enabled the Stalin faction to justify its course toward the peasantry and to attack the Marxist evaluation of the peasantry as "Trotskyism"; it was also a theoretical consolation for the failure of the international revolution and a means of attacking the orientation toward it.
It was only after Lenin's death that any open challenge to internationalism could be made. Stalin launched it in 1924, under the guise of an attack on Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. The two basic tenets of Trotsky's theory, elaborated in 1905, stipulated, first, that in tsarist Russia the proletariat could accomplish such bourgeois-democratic tasks as land reform by taking power and establishing a workers' and peasants' government-which would also begin to carry out socialist tasks; and second, that the Russian revolution would open the era of the world socialist revolution....

....In its anticipation of the actual development of the Russian revolution, Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution had been remarkably accurate. By 1924 his essays on the subject had been reprinted and translated many times and were unchallenged as a statement of Bolshevik thinking. However, Trotsky had viewed it as a theory of the Russian revolution, and it was not until late 1927, under the influence of the events in China, that he became fully convinced that the theory was applicable to colonial and semicolonial countries in general. So when Stalin opened an attack on the theory of permanent revolution in December 1924, it was not part of a dispute over the theory's application to a current problem but rather an attempt to discredit Trotsky by raking up Lenin's prerevolutionary attacks on the theory of permanent revolution-attacks that had become obsolete in 1917....

....He would not respond to Stalin's "theory" of socialism in one country until 1926. This serves to underline the point that the terms of the struggle in the Russian Communist Party changed as the struggle developed. Neither the scope of the differences, nor their implications, nor the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy was completely clear in the early stages.

....The silencing of the Opposition did not prevent the contradictions between town and countryside from becoming ever more acute during the course of 1925. Differentiation in the countryside was becoming more pronounced. The conditions of the agricultural laborers and poor peasants worsened as the kulaks gathered increasing wealth and power into their hands. In 1925 fewer than 10 percent of the peasants produced more than half the marketable grain surpluses; by withholding them from the market they were creating food shortages in the towns; and by refusing to buy the overpriced industrial goods, they were creating new crises in industry and new disruptions in the lives of the industrial workers. The workers, again becoming restive and dissatisfied, took refuge in drunkenness and absenteeism. In the major industrial cities the dislocations were particularly acute.
In response to this crisis a new alignment began to develop in the Politburo. Zinoviev, head of the Leningrad party organization, and Kamenev, head of the Moscow organization, made themselves the spokesmen of the mood of industrial unrest, which was strongest in the major urban centers. They also drew back from Stalin's theory of socialism in one country, refusing, as early as April 1925, to allow it to be made official party doctrine. In public, however, they limited themselves to an attack on Bukharin, who since 1924 had become the major defender of the wealthy peasant and of basing Russia's industrial development on the growth of the peasant market. As a result, Stalin relied on an alliance in the Politburo with Bukharin and his supporters, Rykov and Tomsky, on the issue of socialism in one country, and to secure their loyalty he backed them cautiously on their policy toward the peasants; Zinoviev and Kamenev opposed the new ruling faction on both counts.
During the summer of 1925 Stalin worked to remove party functionaries loyal to Zinoviev and Kamenev and to replace them with his own followers. He succeeded in Moscow, but not in Leningrad.
The shake-up in the Politburo reached its climax at the Fourteenth Party Congress in December 1925, the first congress not preceded by a full and open discussion. An indication of the way the outcome of party elections was determined entirely by control of the secretarial apparatus is the fact that all the delegates from Leningrad supported the Leningrad Opposition while all those from Moscow supported the new majority.
At the congress, the fundamental issues at stake-socialism in one country, the course toward the peasantry, industrialization policy, planning-were heatedly debated.
Zinoviev and Kamenev disclosed the unscrupulous and unprincipled measures which they and Stalin had used to crush the 1923 Opposition. Trotsky remained silent, taken by surprise at the rift in the triumvirate; but he began, with three articles written before and during the Fourteenth Congress (published in this volume for the first time), to consider the possibility of a bloc with Zinoviev and Kamenev and a renewal of open struggle in the party....

7 January 2020

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