American Socialist, June 1955

The Next Ten Years

by Bert Cochran

This article was adapted from the text of a speech delivered in Detroit on May 14, 1955

WHAT is going to happen in the next ten years? What will the world look like in 1965? Before taking the plunge into the unknown, let us review some of the important changes of the recent past. The past is not always a sure indicator of the future, but it provides clues; a conscientious study discloses some of the long-term trends. One can make out the main lines of historical development through the myriad, unceasing movements of peoples, and establish laws governing the sphere of social relations.

I do not need to dwell very long on the miracles of scientific progress and achievement in the past fifty years. These are being trumpeted and heralded unendingly by our public figures and Rotarian after-dinner speakers. They have become part of today’s consciousness, and their importance is fully appreciated by present-day humanity, and if anything, over-appreciated and viewed too one-sidedly and uncritically by most Americans. The genius of man has flowered above all in the sphere of natural and applied science.

Albert Einstein wrote his first paper on relativity at the turn of the century. Forty years later, the power encased in the atom was unlocked on the testing grounds at Alamagordo, New Mexico, and humanity entered the atomic age. The contours of the atomic revolution are still too indistinct to project a firm picture of what is to come. We can only vaguely glean some of the potentialities of this dread secret forced from the hitherto sealed lips of nature. But unless this knowledge shall prove too overwhelming for the mind of man to encompass, so that it unhinges his reason and becomes the tomb of civilization— and I cannot bring myself to believe that—we know enough right now to declare with assurance that the atomic revolution will pale the achievements of the past, and will thrust humanity forward in its material progress with a speed that will beggar comparison with anything that preceded.

POETS have written of the existence of a golden age in the dim past. This was just poetic license and an effort to escape from an unsatisfactory present. There never was such an age in antiquity. Man’s ascent from the jungle has been painful and slow, and his history since the dawn of civilization is written in agony, in and in violence. But a golden age has become a possibility. The means are now at hand to abolish poverty and to eliminate want, to escape from drudgery, to alleviate the struggle between man and man for the good of life by providing abundance for all. Will we be able to enter the shining portals by employing the same power of reason and thought that is brought to bear in the laboratory and the research establishment on behalf the social organization of humanity?

Heretofore, the social evolution of man has proceeded just as blindly as the natural evolution of species. The law of one was natural selection. The law of the other was class struggle. The element of conscious organization and planning was not much greater in the social sphere than in the natural. Capitalism, the system under which living in this country, and which still dominates the greater portion of the globe, came into the world as an emancipatory, revolutionary system, breaking down old hampering restrictions and sweeping clean the Augean stables of feudal particularism and pollution. Its flaming banners proclaimed a new liberty, equality and fraternity.

In a number of passages in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels go into a veritable paean of praise for the historic accomplishments of capitalism in its progressive heyday. ‘The bourgeoisie,’ states the Manifesto ‘during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all the preceding generations together.’ But the system exhausted its progressive mission and went into historic decline when the major imperialist powers opened up the epoch of world wars of mutual annihilation. The glories of scientific achievement, the magnificent new tools and machines, the conquest of hitherto mysterious natural all turned into a Frankenstein monster, which proceeded more efficiently and mercilessly than any ancient barbarian horde to put millions to the sword, and monuments of centuries of civilization and enterprise to the flame.

DESPITE the tons of editorials and the mountains of learned essays and books tearing to shreds the views of Karl Marx, the capitalist system cracked up in Russia in 1917, in Yugoslavia in the course of the second World and in China in 1950. All these countries proceeded to abolish capitalism and start new planned economies in accordance with Marx’s forecasts. Marx’s uncanny projection of the next stages of social development has been demonstrated as a work of genius, of a magnitude equaled in man’s history.

But, alas, historical developments did not follow Marx’s theory precisely. Life proved more complex, more multi-colored than the book. Marx thought the workers would take over in the most advanced countries of Europe and build on the considerable cultural heritage of capitalism. That is the way the latter system came into being. The capitalist revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries occurred in England and France, which at the time were the most advanced countries in the world. The capitalist system was thereby enabled to display its superiority over feudalism almost at once—in military prowess against its enemies, and in capturing the imagination and loyalty of the peoples because of its economic and cultural pre-eminence. By contrast, the modern revolution introduced socialism as a practical alternative to capitalism under a grievous handicap. The overturn took place in the most primitive country of Europe. Russia had to start building socialism on Asian backwardness. And today China has to build on an even more barren foundation.

Socialism has unfortunately been presented, at least in its first manifestations, as a system not of abundance but of scarcity, as a system not of increased leisure and comfort, but of unusual sacrifice and back-breaking toil. Moreover, encircled by hostile capitalist powers dedicated destruction, boycotted, blockaded and reviled, Russia had to start industrializing by a forced march at the expense of the peoples’ living standards, and by using force and dictatorial pressures on often apathetic and sullen masses. For over three decades Russian socialism has therefore appeared as a system which offered not political democracy and a wider freedom, but conspicuously less freedom than exists in the most advanced capitalist countries. The socialist experiment could not have started under less auspicious circumstances or taken root in less promising soil.

THE first crude automobile was probably slower and efficient than the horse-drawn carriage. But its potential was vastly superior. Similarly, Russian socialism building on the heritage of Asian backwardness, and forced to repair the devastation of two world wars, has in a quarter of a century by means of its superior social engine hoisted itself from the depths to emerge as the second industrial power in the world. History draws no comparable achievement! Its economy is still considerably behind the United States. But its planned system has already revealed its superior potential. Can you imagine the magnetic pull on the world’s peoples when socialism wins out in one of the Western countries and can demonstrate its economic and political superiority in absolute terms?

History accepted Marx’s basic prescription, so to speak. But it played a nasty trick on him and the rest of us. Instead of starting the new system, as the doctor had indicated, in France and Germany, then spreading it in rapid order to the other advanced European countries, and then pulling the backward and colonial nations into its orbit, it went to work from the wrong end. The capitalist chain first broke in its weakest links, and these proved to be the backward, not the most advanced countries.

In Western Europe the workers are organized today into powerful parties of their own, socialist or communist, or both. But they are held back from taking over by narrow-minded opportunist thinking and leadership, or disillusionment bred from past defeats, or lack of independence from Russian diplomacy, or fear of upsetting the applecart and precipitating a new war, or a combination of all these reasons. In the United States, labor is truly a sleeping giant. The workers still listen to the propaganda of the Chambers of Commerce. They know they eat and live better than the Russians, or anybody else, for that matter, and that’s been good enough up to the present to hold them as camp followers of the capitalists.

But the American plutocrats are wiser than the workers. At least, they have a far better-developed class sense. They have a foreboding that the existing state of affairs and relationships is transient. They see the threat to their way of life in the new system that is building up in the Soviet bloc. They can mouth for public consumption a lot of blather about the glories of ‘free enterprise.’ But they don’t seem to have too much confidence that they can win out in peaceful competition as a long-term proposition. That is why Mr. Moneybags in America is in a state of high fever and demanding in stentorian tones that ‘something must be done.’

This crowd of panicky businessmen has turned the world into two armed camps and is bracing itself for a fight to destroy the new system which it fears. The second half of the twentieth century has thus opened with two immense phalanxes facing each other panoplied in full battle array. This is a lineup for Armaggedon that neither Marx nor anyone else foresaw. How will the world extricate itself from this impasse?

THE first question that calls for an answer is: Will there be a third world war? If the answer is yes, we can stop right here, as this obviates any necessity for weighty analyses of further matters. Let us begin our inquiry by asking: Who is threatening a new war? Both sides point the accusing finger at each other as being the aggressor. Which side is lying? Or are both lying? Or are both telling the truth—about each other? The facts absolve the Kremlin people of responsibility for planning or threatening war. The blame has to be placed on the shoulders of imperialism, led in the main by the Washington-Wall Street axis. Don’t let us forget that there was a world war in 1914 before anyone ever heard of the Soviet hobgoblins. Don’t let us forget that the second World War erupted without any provocation on the Soviet side, and without its initial participation. We have had in other words two shattering world wars brought on by the rivalries and conflicting ambitions of the leading imperialist powers. Now Washington is trying to construct a united imperialist front to wipe out an anti-capitalist bloc of states. That seems to me to be the root cause of the present war tension.

We are told that Russia is imperialist too, that it expanded into Eastern Europe and the Far East. Its expansion at the end of this last war is an indubitable fact. But if we don’t permit ourselves to get mesmerized by the cold-war propaganda, we can discern that Russia simply took advantage of the exceptional set of circumstances that obtained at the end of the war to build up spheres of influence both in Eastern Europe and the Far East. The almost four decades of Soviet history both before and after the second World War demonstrate that the basic impulse and dynamic of the Russian system is for internal development, not toward expansion, and certainly not in hunting for military adventures abroad. We may certainly take issue with some of the policies and acts of the Russian heads on the eve of the second World War, but the evidence is conclusive that their motivation was to try to stay out of the bloody mess. We see the same impulse at work today in the Soviet maneuvers to neutralize Germany and create a vast zone between itself and the NATO capitalist bloc. Now, this would certainly be a foolish and self-defeating course if the Soviets were planning to send their armies marching across the continent to the Channel. Whatever the Soviet leaders may be guilty of, war aggression is not one of their crimes. The drive for war comes from the other side.

NEXT, let us look into this matter whether nuclear warfare is as destructive as some have represented it. Are hydrogen bombs, as Krishna Menon of India stated, ‘suicide for the nations who used them, genocide for those against whom they were used, and infanticide for posterity’?

I will begin by quoting a man who on this subject knows whereof he speaks, General MacArthur, one of America’s foremost militarists, a man who has never been accused of either pacifism or secret pro-Soviet proclivities. I believe that even Attorney General Brownell would unqualifiedly agree that MacArthur is definitely no security risk. In a speech delivered in Los Angeles on January 26th under the sponsorship of the American Legion, MacArthur said:

‘War has become a Frankenstein to destroy both sides. No longer is it the weapon of adventure whereby a short cut to international power and wealth—a place in the sun—can be gained. If you lose, you are annihilated. If you win, you stand only to lose. No longer does it possess the chance of the winner of a duel— rather the germs of double suicide. Science outmoded it as a feasible arbiter.’

On March 21st, General Gruenther, who Eisenhower replaced as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, let us in on this additional bit of cheery news delivered before the Advertising Council:

‘We have an overwhelming air reta1iatority capacity in the event that war should break out today. Thus, to make the most pessimistic assumption, namely that the Soviets might be successful in over-running a part or all of Europe now, the Soviets would still be defeated because of our great air capability. Please note that I do not say that we would ‘win.’ 1 recognize all too well that if a world war should break out now, there would be no such thing as a ‘winner.’ But definitely the Soviets would be defeated.’

That’s certainly consoling! We’re going to be blasted to Kingdom Come, but we’ll drag the Russians in with us. How nonsensical can you get? This is the stuff of the raving of madmen, of the jibbering of fools. The next lurid account was printed in the N.Y. Times of March 25th based on a UP dispatch from Washington: ‘The government withheld a report on the deadly results of hydrogen bomb radiation for nearly three months for fear it would ‘adversely affect certain international situations.’ So testified Chairman Strauss of the Atomic Energy Commission before a Congressional subcommittee. After months of alarums and warnings by scientists over the world, the AEC report was finally made public on February 15th, which confirmed how one H-Bomb exploded in the Far East spewed deadly radioactive fallout over a 7,000-square-mile area.

On March 16th, Professor Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize chemist of the California Institute of Technology, warned that radiation from the atomic tests was polluting the earth’s atmosphere so that it could endanger life and lead to an increase in the birth of abnormal babies. A few days later, on March 21st, Professor Frederick Soddy, Nobel Laureate physicist, stated in an interview that the hydrogen bomb explosions ‘are fouling the air with radioactivity. . . . It is nonsense to say it is harmless.’ He declared that these radioactive gases might devastate the natural resources of the countryside and bring economic chaos and ruin. ‘Politicians and technicians rushing into experiments without the faintest idea of what the results might be.’

FIVE damage Suits have been filed against government by sheepmen of Cedar City, charging that their animals sickened and died as a of the fallout from the 1953 tests. The Atomic Commission disclosed that it had received 57 medical and hospital expenses resulting from injuries caused by radioactive fallout from atomic tests in Nevada since the beginning of the tests in 1951, and has paid almost 400 of these claims.

But these warnings of the scientists and t suits are about the bomb tests. What happens when the real shooting starts? An ordinary-sized H-Bomb would blow a hole 200 feet deep and a mile across. Complete obliteration for four miles, severe damage for sixteen miles, fallout for 7,000 to 10,000 square miles. Have the Russians the military capability of giving us a dose of this warfare? Oh yes! It seems the Russians probably detonated an H-bomb six months before the United States did. Brigadier General Thomas A. Phillips, military analyst of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, thinks the Russians may have 1,000 H-bombs by now, and have the long-range carrier to deliver them. Both sides are now working on inter-continental guided missiles which can carry atomic warheads and travel faster than sound. No wonder Dr. Norris Bradbury, director of the laboratory in an interview reported in the Los Angeles Times on March 13th summed up his feeling that we had reached a dead end. He said: ‘He [the enemy] may die faster sooner, and I may die slower later.’ It is conceivable, although not sure, that life would be left on this planet after such a holocaust, but civilization will have been wiped out and the long painful climb from the jungles and swamps will have to start all over again.

Bertrand Russell isn’t even this optimistic. He stated: ‘Authorities are unanimous in saying a war with hydrogen bombs is quite likely to put an end to the human race. There will be universal death—suddenly only for a fortunate minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disintegration.’

Can we avoid this war of mutual annihilation? I don’t know for sure, because time and again we seem to approach the rim of the abyss, but I think we can. For the time being, the common ownership of this dread weapon acts as a deterrent. Fear of nuclear retaliation is holding back the rulers, and has produced a deadlock in the international struggle. Out of this stalemate arises the possibility of the two blocs coming to a new practical agreement, a modus vivendi, co-existence. We have had a number of little wars since 1945, and the war of nerves goes on without respite. I am afraid that this generation will see more of these little sectional wars, and that the diplomacy of blackmail and threat will continue for the decade ahead. I am also aware that fear of retaliation is not an absolute deterrent. Decaying social classes sometimes get irrational. But the organized anti-war movement is growing abroad, and if we reinforce it from here, and make it harder for public figures to rattle the atom bomb, it can well be that this present unique, unprecedented combination of circumstances will save humanity the harrowing ordeal of a nuclear world war. I am trying to make a sober estimation of the situation. I hope I am making no mistake.

WILL this stalemate between the two power blocs freeze the status quo everywhere—in other words, will the present line-ups endure intact? And a corollary proposition, will the masses in Western Europe and the United States continue to see socialism exclusively in the grim and dictatorial visage of the present Russian and allied states?

Experience since the end of World War II has answered the first part of the question. The overhanging war clouds may have affected up to a point the workers in Western Europe, but the struggle against ancient wrongs continues to blaze brightly in the colonial world. Chinese Communism swept that country clean. The Indochinese cleared the French out of half their country. Civil war continues in Malaya. And even Africa is stirring from its century of enslavement and degradation. Imperialism is wounded from the blows dealt it by the colonial freedom movement in Asia. But that continent, trying to lift itself by the bootstraps from centuries of backwardness and decay, cannot give socialism its more advanced imprint along the lines originally conceived by its founders. Neither Chinese Communism, nor Russian, can be the trail blazer of democracy and abundance of the present-day revolution. That will have to come from the West, with its advanced economies, its trained labor movements, its democratic background. Have we reason to expect the socialist struggle to revive in Western Europe in the next period?

G. D. H. Cole, the old British socialist historian, has written recently a provocative article appearing in the Nation, where he complains that the old internationalist spirit that animated the socialist movement when he joined it as a young man seems to have got lost. Socialism, he says, ‘has renounced its old ambition of world revolution and has shrunk into a number of separate national movements’ for the furtherance of minor welfare reforms within capitalism; while communism has turned into a totalitarian tyranny in the states that it dominates. Cole tries to find a solution for this very real dilemma by proposing the organization of a small intellectual elite international society which could hold itself aloof from the mass parties and do their thinking for them, because he, for one, doesn’t think the masses can think, anyway. I doubt that Cole’s idea is a very happy one. In certain periods and under certain conditions, socialist educators can profoundly influence the thinking and direction of a movement, but never by standing aloof from the existing organizations in a posture of snobbery or superiority; only connected with them, and basing their thinking, in every case, upon the actual dynamics of the workers’ movement.

THERE actually has been a remarkable revival of the workers’ movement this past year in England and Germany. Both these movements are controlled by right-wing socialists who want to convert them into pressure groups operating within capitalism, but left wings have sprung up in both parties and are contesting with the old-line leaders. On the other hand, the strong communist movements in Italy and France lack independence from Russian tutelage, and they’re very short on internal democracy. But the Italian CP has also felt the tremors of rank-and-file opposition. If the next decade witnesses massive upheavals in these four countries, there is bound to come a political regroupment signifying the rise of a revived militant socialism prepared to tackle the tasks of this second half of the twentieth century. Bevanism is a small forecast of the new socialism that will reappear and renew the battle with the old, still-unvanquished institutions and antagonists challenged by Marx a century ago. Who can doubt that Western Europe will pass through these struggles? The huge armaments programs do not ensure elimination of the boom-and-bust cycles, but transpose them into a lowering of living standards and the frittering away of the substance of the nation’s wealth. The imperialists’ attempt to hang on to their empires will become a drain on the workers’ living standards instead of a source of higher wages. At a certain point, the economic crisis will inevitably merge with a political crisis.

How about the U.S.A.? Are we foredoomed to be represented forever by Republicans and Democrats? Is our current golf-playing Harding to be succeeded by a McCarthyized Coolidge to be followed by a Brownell-model Hoover? It was the unprecedented 10-year economic boom that accounted for the sweep of conservatism and Babbitry, and generated complacency in the face of McCarthyism. It will be, first of all, the whip of economic insecurity that will reverse the process. And economic troubles are now building up.

The similarity in the present trends to those of the 1920’s is being more widely recognized every day. With a sizable and growing unused industrial capacity typified by the automobile industry’s ability to manufacture 9 million cars annually as against its best recent output of about 6% million, retail prices continue to stay high due to monopolistic control; corporation profits remain abnormally high for the same reason, and personal consumption has continued to rise, propped up by installment buying and mounting accumulation of consumer debt and mortgages. The parallel with 1929 is absolutely deadly. But there is one big difference: government spending, which in 1953 was 46 times greater in dollars than in 1929, accounting in that year for a sixth of the gross national product. The federal government spent $1.3 billion in 1929 and $60 billion in 1953, and of this $52 billion went under the heading of ‘national security.’

You don’t have to be a financial wizard to figure out that without this big chunk of government spending, we would be heading for depression right now. But this type of ‘built-in stabilizer’ is not something new. Schacht, Adolf Hitler’s banker, knew all about it, and administered this same kind of medicine to a sick German capitalism back in the thirties. They even had a big road-building program, too. But you’re in bad shape when you have to depend on ‘shots’ of dope all the time, and increasing doses of those. Even at the height of government spending, sizable unemployment reappeared in 1953 and has persisted since then, enormous dislocations showed up in certain industries, and falling prices and mounting surpluses became the rule in agriculture, the main non-monopoly branch of the economy. In other words, dry rot is eating away at the foundations. The danger ahead is not ‘creeping socialism,’ but ‘creeping depression.’

I am not going to speculate on whether the capitalists have grown smarter in the last quarter century, and whether they will throw out some concessions when up against trouble. I am sure they will. Even crusty old Henry Ford had enough flexibility to sign a with the union when he found he couldn’t open his plant at River Rouge without doing so. I am going to concern myself with how labor will react to the economic difficulties. I believe that we will see for a while greater strike movements in an attempt by workers to reverse the trend and safeguard their economic status. This will bring heightened social awareness and alertness, and sharper clashes and mounting resentment against the forces which pretend to represent the people, in reality the watchdogs of the special interests. Before many more national elections pass, I think we will see a split from top to bottom in this unnatural monstrosity which calls itself the Democratic Party, and the political re-alignment will produce the long overdue labor party, roughly similar to what they have in Britain.

The Democratic Party is based on an unnatural alliance and an archaic system of control. Here is a party whose most powerful contingent is organized labor. With the ADA liberals and professional elements, this accounts for probably over 85 percent of the party in the North, which in 1948 elected Truman even after the Dixiecrat secession. Yet the Southern Bourbons run the congressional machinery of this party to suit themselves, and on the most important matters, either dictate the Democratic policies, or team up with the Republicans to defeat the Northern Democrats.

The Southern Bourbons are not only arch-reactionaries and racists, but organizationally disloyal to the party and contemptuous of its majority decisions. They only maintain the right to dictate to the party. The truth is they don’t want a Democratic presidential victory, as the situation gives them greater power both in the and in the Congress. There was a kind of two-party system in this country in the heyday of the New Deal, but the two-party system is a hoax today. The Southern oligarchy is in the saddle and has blocked the operation of even the mildest milk-and-water ADA variety of opposition to Eisenhower. The Democrats don’t deserve to elect a dogcatcher on the basis of the opposition they furnished to the Republican administration. This conspiracy is so blatant that even a Truman, as an old-time Pendergast-trained politician, likes to see his candidates get into office, felt impelled to lash against the oligarchy. ‘I have got tired a long time some mealy-mouthed Senators who kiss Ike on cheeks.’ William White, the N.Y. Times correspondent added: ‘Mr. Truman did not name these Senators. The implication seemed inescapable, however, that he was far from satisfied with the restrained partisan activity of the present Democratic leadership of the Senate headed by Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas.’

And yet this scandalous situation continues, and the Southern oligarchy remains in the drivers’ seat, because weak-kneed Northern liberals continue kowtowing and capitulating to the stiff-necked Walter Georges and Lyndon Johnsons, and the labor leaders continue chasing the liberals.

Ocourse, I read recently the report of a speech made by the president of the CIO that a labor party is all right for Europe, but has no place in this country, because we have no rigid class lines here. Whom has Reuther been talking with recently? Hasn’t he read, or told, about the writings of Robert Lynd, or the studies of C. Wright Mills on the middle class? Why, even conservative sociologists and investigators have become so impressed with the stratification of this society that they have stopped talking about opportunity and are concentrating on trying to reconcile the ‘lower classes’ to their lot, lest people strive for the impossible.

I direct Reuther’s attention to the recent testimony of Theodore K. Quinn, former Vice-President of the General Electric Corporation, who testified before a congressional committee that the small independent business man was ‘going the way of the American Indian.’ Quinn stated: ‘As few as 200 industrial giants own outright the most important half of all American industry and are transforming the organization of our society into a kind of American feudalism.’ Reuther’s blooper may rank in the days to come alongside of Hoover’s famous aphorism that ‘prosperity is just around the corner.’ The misalliance labelled the Democratic Party is not called forth by special social needs of the country. It is strictly a product of ‘cultural lag.’ What is holding the party together and binding labor to its coat-tails is not absence of rigid class lines, or renewed opportunity to rise into the middle classes, but the inertia of a working class, born of the complacency that enjoyment of the highest standard of living in the world produced. Begin threatening that—and this whole edifice will start to totter. Subject this party to social tensions, and it will split apart at the seams.

IN Britain, the Labor Party was formed at the turn of the century, and another four decades elapsed before a Bevanite left-wing movement arose within it. Is it therefore implied that a labor party will appear in the United States somewhere along 1965, and that a left wing will come up around the year 2000? Such a timetable would ignore the differences in the two periods of world history: The British party organized at a time when the poet Browning wrote that ‘God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world.’ We are living in an age of the destruction of the colonial system and the rise of anti-capitalist states. The fat cats of the American plutocracy who preside over an enclave of comparative stability and plenty in an ocean of turbulence and poverty are nevertheless rocked daily by the eruptions abroad, and have thrown up a garrison state to ward off the dangers crowding in on them. For good or for evil, events are enormously speeded up nowadays, and important changes loom ahead in our lifetime.

At the 1935 AFL convention in Atlantic City, John L. Lewis and his associates told the assembled hierarchs that if they, the conservative, safe-and-sound labor leaders, did not organize the workers of the mass-production industries, the radicals would. A similar threat will bring a labor party into being. And because that is the only way a labor party will be born, it will necessarily be accompanied with the mushrooming of radical left-wing formations both inside and outside the labor party itself. It is in this context that I view a labor party organization as the prelude for a rebirth of a mass socialist movement. That is the perspective ahead of us, as I see it. In the meantime, as we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, what is necessary is to keep our vision undimmed, our courage high, and our resolve unbending.

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