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The New International, October 1944

James Barrett

The Anti-Marxian Offensive – II

On Some New Critics of Scientific Socialism


From The New International, Vol. X No. 10, October 1944, pp. 325–328.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


[Continued from last issue]


Third, the critics assure us that the state is not, as the Marxists contend, an organ of class oppression, but merely a “broker,” negotiating among various groups. In democratic countries it has a “usable” tradition and is responsive to “democratic” pressures. The Marxian theory of the state, moreover, has no validity especially today when we are already living under a “transformed” economy.

(1) This supra-class concept of the state explains the politico-economic “plans” which the critics present as alternatives to the Marxist analysis and program. The “plans” are labeled with such titles as “mixed economy,” “permanent NEP,” “pluralistic economy,” etc. In essence, the critics deplore the contemporary fusion of political and economic power and the presence of monopolies; some recommend a “partnership” of all classes in a “mixed economy” of private and public enterprise; others, the conversion of monopolies into public corporations under a “people’s” or “functional socialism.”

The “plans” of the former group, of course, are actually proposals to freeze the status quo, since a “mixed economy” is already in existence, the automatic result of capitalist development. Just how a country which now consists of small and large business, public utilities, government ownership, cooperatives [8], viz., the “pluralistic” ideal, can move toward a fuller “democracy” is never made clear. The anti-statists repeat their nebulous formulations of “decentralization” and “regionalism” associated with the schemes of Borsodi, Mum-ford, Huxley and various members of the SP, but never do we hear of anything concerning the socio-economic and political relationships existing among the “pluralistic” units of the economy or the possible future of such units in an era of rapidly-developing statism. Or, how the private (competitive) and public (”socialized”) sectors of the country are to be compartmentalized so as to prevent conflicting encroachments not only in terms of economics but of class and group interests.

(2) The “pluralistic” economy is offered as a “democratic” alternative to socialism which in its alleged state control of political and economic power possesses a “totalitarian potential.” Russia, of course, is always used, especially by the revisionists, as the historical example of “socialism.” It is interesting to note that the very anti-statist critics who are recommending “permanent NEPS” have overlooked the minor detail that the NEP was introduced by those who had first captured state power and who were, therefore, in a position to command the economy. (What the Bolsheviks, incidentally, considered a retreat, necessitated by internal and international factors, the proponents of “pluralism” present as a progressive “plan.”) The “totalitarian potential” as a by-product of socialism has never been historically validated. What has been proved is that it is an inherent tendency of capitalist development. The “decentralizers,” for all their apprehensions of statism, are merely preoccupying themselves with derivative, economic minutiae without ever coming to grips with the fundamental nature of the state. Only those who divorce politics from economics and are, therefore, unable to locate the locus of power or to comprehend its functions write sterile “pluralistic” programs [9]; those who own and control the corporate interests of the capitalist state formulate the practical strategies projected, for example, by the NAM, the WPB, the CEC, the Federation of British Industries, and by men like Swope, Baruch, Batt, Sloan, et al. “Pluralists” permit themselves the luxuries of constructing Utopian blueprints, for instance, of hemispheric democracy and abundance, whereas monopoly power establishes an Inter-American Developmental Commission or an Anglo-American Caribbean Commission to perpetuate its rule. Not only do these Utopians seem to be oblivious of contemporary predatory politics but they seem to have no comprehension of those historical forces which have shaped the world in which we are living. They would do well to consult the factual data (not necessarily the political conclusions) assembled in the works of R. Brady [10], K. Simpson [11], F. Neumann [12], O. Nathan [13], S. Haxey [14], etc., where they will find incontrovertible proof – if proof can convince them – that economic power means social oppression and political domination.

(3) In spite of their own avowed anti-statism, the “pluralists” reveal another bit of characteristic petty bourgeois inconsistency. Not only do they call upon the “government” to perform its alleged functions of “arbitrating,” “co-ordinating,” etc., but to supplement the economic mechanism whenever the “automatism” of the market ceases to function. [15] Since, according to the managerial-technical theoreticians, control and not ownership is the paramount factor today, government “planning” and “control” are logical procedures in our “transformed” economy. Thus, the Marxian contention that planned economy and the private or state ownership of the means of production are contradictory categories is refuted by the simple device of inventing new classes, new productive modes and relations. And for further proof that what is necessary today is socialization not of the means but of the “purposes” of production, the critics appeal both to authority and to fact.

In the first case they find support in the Keynes-Hansen proposals of governmental controls in savings, investment, low interest lending, tax programs, public works, social services, etc. This super New Deal-WPA which collapsed even under the most propitious conditions and had to be superseded by a war economy is now intended to solve the crises of post-war capitalism. But even the “pluralists,” like some Brookings Institute economists, at times have their less sanguine moments. The anti-Marxists of The Nation, for example, following the Laski group in England, propose a revolution “by consent” to the Union Leaguers who are warned that if they do not follow Keynes they will have to “choose” Marx and, what is still worse, they may not be here to do the “choosing.”

In the second case, those who justify governmental intervention in our economy point to the war as proof that capitalism can under similar “peacetime” co-ordination provide full employment. Even such “left wing” capitalists as Senators Bone, Kilgore and LaFollette argue along these lines. Since the purpose of an economy, according to these men, seems to be full employment – which, by the way, is not achieved even under war conditions – there is nothing wrong with a system which implies intensive exploitation, huge profits and disparities in living conditions. The constant references, therefore, to such abstractions as “democracy,” “justice,” “freedom,” etc., goals with which the “pluralists” are ostensibly concerned, would appear to be entirely irrelevant, if not superfluous. Contrary to these people, a war economy does not prove capitalism’s ability to plan but merely to co-ordinate and control in the interests of the capitalists as a class, to preserve, in other words, existing property relations even if individual capitalists have to be “disciplined” and small business driven to ruination. The war economy also necessitates the release of those scientific, technical and managerial skills which under “normal” conditions are restricted in the interests of a scarcity economy. Measures, however, are already under way to sup press the inventions released by the war demands in order to protect investments in pre-war products and technical methods. The capitalist conscience knows no imperative but that of profit. Patriotism is of secondary consideration, as was strikingly illustrated in the cases of productive restrictions dictated by such interests as aluminum, synthetic rubber, magnesium, etc. The fundamental error, of course, in the idea of a war versus peace economy consists in treating war as an unfortunate interruption of “normal” functions instead of viewing it as an integral part of the capitalist system, let alone as capitalism’s major industry. From the standpoint of humanistic values, war is naturally the most catastrophic aspect of capitalism; from the standpoint of political economy, however, it is the most illuminating manifestation of those capitalist categories, which under less dramatic conditions, appear to possess “freedom,” “autonomy,” “fluidity,” viz., wage-labor, the market, class interests, property rights, and state coercion.

(4) The state, according to the anti-Marxists, exhibits protean qualities. Not only can it be an equal partner in a “mixed” economy, but it can assume the role of a disinterested judge. [16] Just how or under what conditions these functional reshiftings take place is never explained. What appears to be possible, if one is to accept bourgeois political science, is that fundamentally the state or “government” is a mechanism delicately balanced above all classes. [17] Thus, what the Marxists would describe as Bonapartism or crisis-government is considered by the bourgeois theoreticians to be a political principle underlying normal societal functions. A natural corollary of this concept is the “democratic” society with its “functional” groups not classes. Whereas it was easy for the ruling classes during the early days of expanding capitalism (class fluidity, territorial expansion, sectional differences, etc.) to perpetuate this ideology, it becomes relatively difficult today to continue the same theme without necessary variations. If, as the different national polls reveal, the average American seems cynically indifferent to Atlantic Charters and Four Freedoms and dubious about post-war security, perhaps new formulas must be found. And who, after all, can provide better formulas for the bourgeoisie than renegades like Corey or Hook with their “people’s” or “functional socialism.”

(5) Corey, for instance, advises us to utilize our “democratic, usable tradition” in behalf of socialism. “Democracy” naturally is never defined in terms of class or group struggle but in terms of vague, hypostasized concepts. At no point does he ever differentiate between the “democratic tradition” of the bourgeoisie, whose “democracy” has always meant freedom to conquer markets, to exploit and to defend property; and working class democratic rights, by-products of class struggle in opposition to that bourgeoisie. Which “tradition” is to be exploited? He argues against socialism which allegedly socializes all property; he, on the contrary, proposes (besides the conversion of monopolies into public corporations) the preservation of private enterprise in agriculture and,small business. If his proposals are to be considered as something more than a refurbished popular frontism or “folk socialism” (a Sollman-Jaksch variety) within the petty bourgeois framework of a Jeffersonian democracy, then Corey is actually calling for a peaceful cessation of the class struggle, since he is asking the bourgeoisie to liquidate their own monopolies. [18] Just what we are to do in case they refuse to be expropriated (or “compensated” perhaps?) or, as is their wont, even take the offensive while Corey’s liberals are educating the “public” is not made clear. It comes with rather poor grace from him to castigate German Social Democracy for not having employed more resolute measures; they also prattled about “democracy” in general, about the intangible line of demarcation between capitalism and socialism, and about not “alienating” the middle classes, the very classes who should have been won over to an audacious socialism and not abandoned to fascism, whose demagogy was expressedly designed to “cater to” petty bourgeois ideology. Corey’s strictures, moreover, against the absolute socialization supposedly advocated by Marxists is pure renegade rationalization. He knows, of course, that even under such complete statification as exists in Russia, small peasant property is permitted.

Marxists have always considered the practicable aspects of socialization and of other economic measures as part of a post-revolutionary situation, related, therefore, to such factors as the development of technology; the state of the economy under conditions of civil war, counter-revolution, and intervention; the class psychological relationships, mass political development, etc. Corey’s appeal to Kautsky’s statement that “in a socialist society there can exist ... the most various forms of economic enterprises” has relevance only if we assume first, the capture of state power by the working class and its allies (not, incidentally, by itself, as the anti-Marxian distortion insists upon repeating). All other problems become derivative after that important fact. Corey’s appeal for small business and farm support is based upon arrant deception, and lends support to the possessive-competitive impulses of these people. In pure a priori and fascist manner he is guaranteeing them complete inviolability of their property interests under his type of static “socialism.” The Marxists, on the other hand, attempt the more difficult but necessary task of showing these classes, first, that during the transition periods subsequent to the capture of power varieties of economic “pluralism” will always be theoretically permissible, provided society keeps developing in the direction away from an exchange toward a use-economy, and second, that only under such use-economy can these and other classes competely fulfill themselves, by ceasing, in other words, to be classes altogether.

(6) The reductio ad absurdum of the “open arena” concept of “pressure” politics upon the state is to be seen in the most recent position of Sidney Hook. His first basic revisionism of Marx with regard to the state (which provided him with a rationale for supporting the war) stated that no one could ascertain the nature of the state – or anything, for that matter – by merely defining it. One could determine that only by studying its specific “functions” within given historical contexts. The state, according to this Deweyan “instrumentalism,” must be approached on the basis of what it “does,” and since it does what “pressure” forces it to do, it is anyone’s state. If a ruling class yields to pressure, says Hook, this is “just as significant to understanding the nature of the state as its reason for yielding.”

  1. This is a logical confusion of the general and the specific;. A state defends the propertied interests of the ruling class; the kind and extent of its “yielding” depends upon the given nature and intensity of its opposing class forces. If Hook is offering this epigrammatic gem in order to draw a distinction between the “pressurable” democracies and the “non-pressurable” totalitarians so that he may feel justified in defending the former, he still has to prove the absence of class struggle in the latter. To Hook, Nazism is a counter-revolution against the principles of the French Revolution, which we are now defending!
  2. All those who disagree with him on the nature of this war are labeled as “mad,” “psychopathic,” “cowardly” and “socially irresponsible.” (Eastman calls them “bigots.”) This kind of belligerency need fool no one. Neither is it to be interpreted as bad manners. It is merely a psychological defense to conceal a collaborationism, made doubly suspect by repeated references to Marx’s alleged pacifism and gradualism. Part of this defense, for example, are Eastman’s unctuous warnings about the necessity for a return to “moral character and principle” and Hook’s challenge to Marxists to “subject their methods of achieving democratic socialism to serious and scientific criticism.”
  3. Apparently dissatisfied with his gross revisionism, Hook has decided to refine it still further. He has now decided that even “pressure” upon the state is not necessary to get us what we want. All we have to do is to “pressure” President Roosevelt himself and all will go well. Proof? Why cannot the democratic forces do what the Catholics did during the Spanish Civil War when the President showed himself to be amenable to suggestion by refusing to send aid to the Loyalists? President Roosevelt, in other words, could just as well have shipped arms to Spain, even though there was a civil war raging which could have, with those very arms, as well as with developing revolutionary forces, brought the working class to power. The President, a mere automaton, will no doubt defend any social system, depending upon who brings most “pressure.” Such is the political wisdom of “instrumentalism,” for example, with regard to the international scene.
  4. On the home front, it can show similar successes. None of your Marxian united fronts for the Hookses, Deweys, Kallens et al., in order to combat reaction and fascism. This is to be accomplished by cooperating with those very forces themselves in order to preserve “democracy.” Just as the “instrumentalists” have refined their “pressure” theory, they have also improved upon that of the “open arena.” Under the latter concept all groups compete ideologically with the hope of winning adherents to their particular programs. But even this method apparently smacked too much of “sectarianism” to the philosophers, so they decided to combine forces with their competitors (shades of the Red Referendum!). True, Hook had been accusing his opponents continually for subscribing to “authoritarianism,” “reaction,” “corporate thinking,” “faulty logic,” “fundamentalism,” “irresponsibility” and “obscurantism,” and Kallen had warned that tolerance of illiberalism would spell “suicide,” but that did not prevent these doughty “instrumentalists” and their followers from participating in the conglomerate “Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life.” [19]

    At this assemblage Mortimer Adler, contrary to Hook and his associates, took the initiative by drawing what he thought to be a line of demarcation between his own group and that of his adversaries. Thinking probably in terms of eventual institutional practices and political programs, he labeled Hook’s group “atheistic saboteurs ... more dangerous to democracy than Hitler.” Hook at this point defended himself and called upon the “democrats” to leave the conference. Had Adler, in other words, not taken the offensive, the “instrumentalists” would still probably be attempting to effect “democratic” programs with reactionary totalitarians “Humanistic” clergymen and academicians of “good will,” After all, as Kallen concluded, the “democratic way is the way toward equal liberty for different doctrines.”
  5. These priggish “instrumentalists,” constantly admonishing the Marxists in the name of “means and ends,” do not even possess the virtue of logical consistency. Their “open arena” concept applied specifically, for example, in the case of civil liberties would seem to imply that all contestants, like competitors in any fair game, use the same procedures, obey the same regulations, and aim for the same goal. The arena should be a place where only accurate data are presented, where only one method is employed in such presentation, i.e., sober logic, and where only one democratic goal is involved, viz., the liberation of the human spirit. Free speech, for instance, under such conditions, would be “free” because it utilized democratic means for the realization of democratic ends. It would release human potentialities, not degrade and enslave them. If the “arena” concept means this, then no rational mind could quarrel with it. But the “instrumentalist” is not content to defend this as an ideal; he looks at present reality and offers his approval, since he sees “democracy at work.” Kallen’s “equal liberty for different doctrines” in actuality means the liberty of one class to monopolize the means of propaganda and to alienate the majority from the means of livelihood; the liberty of totalitarian groups (tools of class rule) to employ lies against racial minorities; the liberty of vested interests to inculcate the virtues of regimentation and slavery.

No, it is the Deweyites, not the Marxists, who are the metaphysicians superimposing abstractions upon a recalcitrant reality. They can afford the dubious privilege of the “open arena” ideology only because they never knew or have conveniently forgotten its historically-conditioned class roots. In the struggle between capitalism and feudalism this ideology served as a weapon. In terms of a new class morality it stressed the superiority of reason over faith and of man’s “natural” goodness over the corrupting institutions of church, monarchy, and nobility. If the “instrumentalists” need further proof that within their “open arena” the civil and political “rights” of the working class now as always have to be fought for in opposition to and not alongside of the bourgeoisie, they can study the contrasting opinions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on the one hand in the Minneapolis Labor Case and on the other in the Nazi-Hartzel-Baumgarten cases. The decisions in connection with the latter are already being hailed by our liberals as a “brilliant new chapter” in bur juridical history. In this they are consistent, because, according to their “democratic” assumptions, rule by myth, fraud and coercion is also part of the “arena” concept.

(7) As far as John Dewey himself is concerned, he too has counterposed his own “scientific” reasoning to Marxian “metaphysics.” According to him, the Marxian theory of the state and of class struggles as the motivating forces in history is almost animistic. The Marxists are guilty of not employing the inductive-experimental method to ascertain causative factors but of merely assuming in a priori fashion that class struggles exist and then proceeding to read these back into history.

(Max Eastman seems to have earned quite a reputation for many years by peddling this and similar gibberish.) The whole concept of class struggle, to judge from Dewey’s caricature, is an outmoded theory of mechanical “friction” which it is the Marxist’s duty to aggravate into a state of classless harmony. The trouble, for instance, with the Bolsheviks (liberalism, like Nazism, also needs its scapegoats, the Bolsheviks having introduced all the sins into the garden of our “democratic” Eden) was that instead of first exploring possible avenues of cooperation with the peasantry, they dogmatically assumed that these were reactionary classes and acted accordingly. Marx, as well as his followers, you see, never studied history; only Dewey has done that. They simply awoke one fine morning and decided to invent a class-struggle theory, the result of which is that they have subscribed paranoically to it in the face of refuting realities. [20]

The whole experimental-pragmatic approach to societal problems of the Dewey-Hook-Eastman school is, of course, another figment of petty bourgeois imagination. The ideal of objective experimentation is possible only in a truly democratic community and not in a class society whose science is subverted to specific vested interests. Under present conditions, therefore, promulgation of such an ideal can only provide a philosophic rationale for class collaboration and “peaceful” mediation. “Instrumentalism” is perfectly explicable in terms of an earlier expanding capitalistic technology. It also developed its own political philosophy, expressing itself in various forms of social meliorism championed by the Deweys, Beards, and Parringtons. What these men failed to recognize was that their tangential tinkerings were actually concerned with the by-products of a more fundamental class struggle whose reality they always denied.

[Continued in next issue]


8. The revisionists persist in their pre-war enthusiasm for the cooperative movement as a panacea. Recent articles by Chamberlain, Barnes and others point once more to the glories of the Scandinavian middle way without realizing the huge differences which separate the predominantly agrarian economies of Sweden and Norway from a highly industrialized organization like ours, viz.,Scandinavia’s politicalized trade union movement, her favorable trade agreements and large profits resulting from not having been involved in the last war, her relative social stability based to a great extent upon territorial compactness and cultural homogeneity, etc., factors, however, which in no way have circumvented the class struggle. As for the cooperative movement itself, not only can it offer no solution to the problems created by capitalism, but it contributes to their aggravation by adopting, of necessity, the commercial techniques of all other huge business concerns (wages, profits, competition, management, etc.). To expect the cooperatives by themselves (as so many pseudo-socialists imply) to effect an emancipation of the working class behind the back of society, as Marx stated, is to subscribe to sheer utopia.

9. The works of Beard, Hazlitt, Kevins, Commager, etc., dealing with the crisis in our governmental machinery, represent a similar schizophrenic tendency in the field of political science.

10. Business as a System of Power.

11. Big Business, Efficiency and Fascism.

12. Behemoth.

13. The Nazi Economic System.

14. England’s Money Lords.

15. They show a tender regard not only for the middle classes but for the working class as well. An interesting corollary of their decentralizing propaganda is their attack upon centralized union leadership which, like the state, deprives the worker of liberty. The solution, of course, is a democratic union whose leadership shares responsibility not only to its members but to management and government as well. Thus under the guise of this happy family pattern the pluralists, among whom are to be found our younger progressive union leaders, are helping to tie the trade unions closer to the state.

16. John Chamberlain, who prefers the term broker, has committed something in the nature of a Freudian slip. In attempting to show how the state in subjecting itself to group pressure can therefore become anyone’s state (John Doe’s apparently as well as Alcoa’s, duPont’s or Standard Oil’s), he refers to the democratic state as a “limited racket.” Such terminology is more than sprightly journalese; it aptly expresses, in spite of the writer’s intentions, the inherent gangster ethics of a competitive society. Another terminological revelation along similar lines is afforded by Lippmann’s definition of “legitimacy.” Drucker, Chase and Chamberlain, who are disturbed about the problem of “legitimate” versus “illegitimate” powers, especially in connection with our “managerial” societies, need worry no longer. Lippmann assures us that any group or nation which can “rule” or “hold power” possesses “legitimacy.” Others writers prefer the euphemism, “realistic,” in place of “legitimate.” Fortified with quotations from Talleyrand and Clemenceau, they urge the necessity for curbing “unrestrained power,” which is the alleged cause of present world chaos.

17. This synonymous use of these term’s is not merely semantic confusion. The failure to define the state accurately as an historically conditioned type of government, to differentiate, in other words, between administration and coercion, is a rationalistic device to circumvent the harsh realities of a class society. It is much more comforting to speak of a “mixed” economy of harmoniously “functioning” groups including “management, unions, consumers and government” (emphasis mine).

18. It is interesting to note that Corey unexpectedly adds as a self-contradictory after-thought, “justice, in the final analysis, is not simply a product of institutional arrangements.” I. Lipkowitz, who in Monopoly and Big Business also argued some years before Corey for the public corporation, admits that the “corporation can be a means of controlling an industry provided we have a truly democratic form of government.” Corey, somewhat like Jesting Pilate, does not remain to clarify “justice,” while Lipkowitz’s profound remark can be paraphrased to read “We could have democracy, provided we had democracy.”

19. Q.v., The Humanist, autumn 1942, spring 1943. This conference, as well as its published reports, is only part of a larger ideological movement of “democratic reaffirmation.” The variations of the intellectuals’ pronunciamentos are many but the motivation is the same, panicky whistling-in-the-dark. One variation consists of an appeal to shibboleth (the conference just mentioned, The American Idea, by the Colgate faculty, etc.), another to symposiums and anthological quotations (Fountainheads of Freedom, Freedom – Its Meaning, A Treasury of Democracy), still another to classical guidance and religious dogma (the Hutchins-Buchanan group of educators) and finally there is an appeal to charisma, faith, “spiritual” values (W. Frank, Mumford, Agar, Sorokin, MacUeish, Van Wyck Brooks, et al.). Arthur Koestler has recently offered us his reaffirmation by means of an escape into the future. All we have to do is to retire to our various sanctuaries during the coming black interregnum and await the democratic renaissance.

20. As a recent example of Dewey’s own historical analysis, the reader is referred to the new essay incorporated in his reissued German Philosophy and Politics. On a somewhat higher plane but in essence similar to the many attempts at explaining Nazism by tracing its alleged roots to the statist philosophy of Kant, Hegel, etc., Dewey’s approach is open to serious objections, (a) There is a fallacy of selected emphasis so prominent as to dwarf almost the other great contributions of those philosophers, e.g., Kant’s world federation for peace or his association with the Enlightenment; Hegel’s championing of the French Revolution or the dynamic quality of his thinking which interpreted the world as process and the social institutions as historically-conditioned. (Incidentally the vicious attacks upon Hegel by the Nazi theoreticians do not seem to substantiate Dewey’s theory very well.) (b) The rich potentialities of Hegelianism as attested to by the various schools: the critical atheists (Strauss, Bauer), the positivists (Feuerbach), the radicals (Ruge, Lasalle, Marx), not to mention the English and the American variations (Green, McTaggart, Royce, and Dewey himself). A similar point can be made in connection with the Kantian tendencies within Germany, some of which even encompass the socialist ideal, e.g., the works of Fichte, Cohen and Nator, as well as those of other Europeans such as Jaurès and Max Adler. (c) Dewey also neglects still other ideational forces within Germany besides those associated with Hegel and Kant, and he fails to take proper cognizance of non-Germanic totalitarians whose statist doctrines also influenced German thinking. This latter point is important because once Dewey is forced to agree that nationalism, racism, militarism, messianic compulsions, etc. – characteristics ostensibly unique to Germany – have also been found among other nations, then he must admit that either there are also non-philosophic factors to explain German politics or that Germany is merely part of the general culture pattern of European capitalism. Since he has overlooked the important socio-economic factors of causation and has failed to evaluate even the philosophic ones within the framework of class ideologists he can well afford to consult the historical works on modern Germany written by that “metaphysical” Marxist, Leon Trotsky. Eastman informs us that one of Dewey’s great regrets is that he never devoted sufficient time to a study of Marxism. Judging by his remarks on the alleged failure of Marxists to utilize the experimental method, Theses of Feuerbach must be one of the works which he obviously overlooked.

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