This video says about itself:
14 January 2016
On the 15th January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were killed by members of the [extreme right paramilitary] Freikorps. The two German socialists were joint-founders of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany, and were captured following the Spartacist uprising that began on the 4th January.
Luxemburg and Liebknecht were members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany when Germany declared war in 1914. Frustrated by the wider SPD’s support for Germany’s declaration of war, they and other leftists created a separate organisation known as the Spartakusbund or Spartacus League. Named after the leader of the Roman Republic’s largest slave rebellion, the Spartacus League actively opposed the ongoing war. In 1916, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were found guilty of high treason and imprisoned after they organised an anti-war demonstration.
From the World Socialist Web Site, 14 March 2016:
100 years ago: German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht denounces militarization of education
On March 18, 1916, Karl Liebknecht, the German revolutionary socialist and opponent of World War I, delivered a series of remarks in the German Reichstag, or parliament, denouncing the militarization of education and the glorification of war taking place in schools across the country. Liebknecht’s speech was one of a series in which he defied the Social Democratic majority, which had betrayed socialist internationalism by supporting the German war effort, and spoke out against the imperialist slaughter.
Liebknecht stated, “The ideal of classical education lies in the spirit of independence and humanity.” Addressing the government, and all of the pro-war parties, he said, “Your ideal of classical education is the ideal of the bayonet, of the bombshell, of poison gas and grenades, which are hurled down on peaceful cities, and the ideal of submarine warfare.”
He declared, “The higher schools are also used as practical helpers in the service of the present war. A systematic propaganda is conducted in them for the war loans, and gold is collected in them. … The schools are converted into training stables for the war. The physical upbuilding of the youth is encouraged now to attract new material for the Moloch, Militarism. Strengthening especially human health has thus as its aim the destruction of human life.”
He denounced the war propaganda promoted in schools, which focused exclusively on the crimes committed by Britain, France and the other Allied powers, and painted the actions of German imperialism in the brightest colors.
“In school must be taught, how this war arose, not only that the abominable murder of Sarajevo was an incident to inspire horror, but also the fact that the crime of Sarajevo was looked upon in many circles as a gift from Heaven, serving them as a war pretext,” he said. His reference to the fact that sections of the ruling elite had welcomed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist, seeing it as an opportunity to launch longstanding military plans, provoked outraged howls from the Conservative and opportunist Social Democratic deputies to the Reichstag.
Amid repeated interruptions, Liebknecht concluded with a call for a revolutionary struggle against the German government and the imperialist war, declaring, “To action! Those in the trenches, as well as those here at home, should put down their arms and turn against the common enemy, which takes from them light and air.” The president of the Reichstag called Liebknecht “to order” for the third time, and asked the deputies whether he should be allowed to continue to speak. Only a handful of socialist opponents of the war voted in favor.
Left party delegation barred from laying wreath in honour of sailors who sparked the  German Revolution: here.
One hundred years ago—on November 9, 1918—the revolutionary uprising of the German working class against war and monarchy reached its peak and shook the capitalist system to its foundations: here.
This article discusses how the German trade unions and bourgeoisie today glorify the traditions of the murderous role played by the SPD and trade union bureaucracies in 1918/19 in preparation for mass upheavals by the working class today against capitalism and war.
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100 years ago: Scottish workers’ leaders convicted of sedition in Britain
On April 11, 1916, John Maclean, a socialist workers leader in the area of Glasgow, Scotland dubbed “Red Clydeside” on account of its traditions of industrial and political militancy, was convicted of sedition by British authorities. Maclean was charged under the 1915 Defence of the Realm Act, which provided for sweeping attacks on democratic rights as part of the war effort, following anti-conscription speeches he had delivered earlier in the year. He was sentenced to three years of penal servitude.
Three others—William Gallacher, the chairman of the Clyde Workers’ Committee (CWC), John Muir, editor of The Worker and Walter Bell, business manager of the Socialist Labour Press—were also convicted on sedition charges. They were each sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Between March and April 1916, ten CWC shop stewards were convicted of treason and deported to Edinburgh.
Beginning in 1911, Clydeside had been a center of mass strikes, including one involving 11,000 workers producing sewing machines, and widespread rent strikes. Trade union membership grew rapidly in the years immediately preceding and following the outbreak of war in August 1914.
In 1915, the British parliament passed the Munitions of War Act, which brought industrial relations in sectors of the economy involved in war production under the Ministry of Munitions. The move served to illegalize strikes, drive down wages, and prevent struggles for improved conditions. Workers were forbidden from leaving a company involved in war production without the consent of their employer. Prosecutions under the act were met with protests. The Clyde Workers’ Committee was created as a result of mass opposition to the Act.
The growing unrest in Clydeside and the turn to sedition prosecutions were discussed in the House of Lords on April 11. The Earl of Desart declared, “A prosecution for High Treason, which is a very solemn and impressive thing, would awaken the imagination of the workmen throughout the country, and that is really what I have in mind.” Making clear that he was calling for a turn to dictatorial forms of rule, he declared, “There are moments in the life of a nation when people must for a time sacrifice their most cherished principles, and I am not sure that this is not the time when that must be clearly faced.” Other lords noted that the major trade union federations had entered into agreements with the government in support of the draconian wartime industrial relations regime, and claimed that the unrest was the work of a handful of agitators.
Maclean was the most prominent of a layer of revolutionary-minded socialists, who, while lacking a worked-out Marxist perspective, gave expression to the hostility of broad sections of the working class to the war and the associated attacks on the working class.
100 years ago: German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht denounces war at May Day demonstration
Liebknecht speaking, 1919
On May 1, 1916, the German Spartacus League, the organization of revolutionary socialists who opposed the imperialist world war that had erupted in August 1914, led a mass demonstration in Berlin on a socialist and anti-war program. Karl Liebknecht, one of its most prominent leaders, delivered a speech indicting German militarism, its crimes abroad, and the accompanying assault on the social and democratic rights of the working class.
The Spartacus League had been formally constituted at the beginning of 1916. It consisted of a handful of leading figures from the German Social Democratic Party, who opposed that organization’s betrayal of socialist internationalism when it responded to the outbreak of the war by supporting its own government.
The Spartacus League was subjected to intense state suppression. Its publication was banned. Liebknecht had been forced by the German government, with the complicity of the Social Democrats, to join the army despite ill health, and had been given the task of burying the dead after refusing to fight. He returned to Germany in October 1915. Rosa Luxemburg had been imprisoned for a year beginning in February 1915, also for opposing the war.
Amid mounting hostility to the war, and a deepening social crisis, the Spartacus League decided to defy the authorities and launch their most public show of opposition to the war. A leaflet calling for the May Day demonstration, widely distributed in factories across Berlin declared, “Our enemy is not the English, French, nor Russian people, but the great German landed proprietors, the German capitalists and their executive committee … Workers, comrades, and you, women of the people, let not this festival of May, the second during the war, pass without protest against the imperialist slaughter. On the first of May let millions of voices cry, ‘Down with the shameful crime of the extermination of peoples! Down with those responsible for the War!’” As many as 10,000 workers and young people responded, filling Potsdamer Platz on the evening of May 1.
A first-hand report quoted Liebknecht’s speech and described the reaction of the crowd: “‘By a lie the German workingman was forced into the war, and by like lies they expect to induce him to go on with war!’ A mighty shout went up from a thousand throats—‘Hurrah for Liebknecht.’ Liebknecht raised his hand for silence. Then steadily, though knowing the cost, he said: ‘Do not shout for me, shout rather, we will have no more war, we will have peace—now!’”
Liebknecht was dragged from the crowd and arrested. He was stripped of his position in the Reichstag (German parliament), and found guilty on a host of charges, including “attempted treason.” He was sentenced to two years in prison, which was increased to four years after he delivered another anti-war speech at an appeals hearing.
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100 years ago: Mass strike in Germany over Liebknecht conviction
Responding to the secret trial and conviction of Karl Liebknecht for his revolutionary opposition to the First World War, 55,000 workers in Berlin took strike action on June 29, 1916. The strike action started in Berlin’s large companies, but soon spread. On many job sites there was a complete walkout. The strike was a significant show of strength for the anti-war movement and is sometimes referred to as “Liebknecht’s strike.”
Liebkecht was one of the most prominent leaders of the Spartacus League, an organization of the socialist opponents of the imperialist world war that had broken out in August 1914. Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and the other leaders of the Spartacus League constituted a small minority of the German Social Democracy (SPD) who opposed the war effort of their “own” government. The vast majority of SPD leaders had betrayed the program of socialist internationalism, supporting Germany’s predatory military operations.
The internationalists were subjected to intense state persecution, with the tacit support of the SPD leadership. Luxemburg was imprisoned in 1915 for opposing the war, while Liebknecht was dispatched to the Eastern front, to collect the bodies of the dead.
Amid mass anger over the imperialist slaughter, and the associated assault on the social conditions of the working class, the Spartacus League organised a mass demonstration against the war on May 1, 1916. At the rally, which was held in Potsdam Platz, Liebknecht called upon the 10,000 workers and young people present to oppose war and take up a struggle against those responsible.
Following his speech, Liebknecht was dragged from the crowd and arrested on a number of charges. His trial was held in secret on June 28. He was found guilty of attempted high treason, and sentenced to 30 months penal servitude. Following the announcement of the sentence, mass strikes broke out in Berlin and in other centres throughout Germany. The German state reacted harshly to the strike, drafting striking workers and their suspected leaders into the military in order to suppress the action.
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August 2017: Leonhard Frank publishes a collection of antiwar stories under the title Man is Good
The short story collection Man is Good by German author Leonhard Frank (1882-1961) is published in Zürich, Switzerland. Frank is one of the few artists who in 1914 did not let themselves be carried away by patriotic enthusiasm for war. In 1915, he was forced to flee to Switzerland to avoid political persecution by the courts. Outraged, he had publicly slapped a social democratic journalist who celebrated the torpedoing of the British luxury liner Lusitania by a German U-boat. Around 1,200 people perished in the sinking.
Given the revolutionary mood seething within the population, Man is Good is immediately banned in Germany. But the author arranges for 500 copies to be bound, disguised in the cover of the Swiss Civil Code, and smuggled through secret channels into Germany where it is illegally distributed by opponents of the war. A socialist print shop reprints 500,000 copies on newspaper and sends them to soldiers at the front.
The effect on readers is staggering. The collection’s five interrelated stories—The Father, The War Widow, The Mother, The Lovers, The War Cripple—describe individual fates in which one recognizes oneself or the fate of one’s relatives, friends or neighbors. In the first story, the father is a lowly waiter. He has raised his son strictly in the militarist spirit of the German empire. Only the shock of the news of his “death on the field of honor” leads the father to consider his own responsibility. He comes to the conclusion that he must awaken his fellow man to human kindness and call on him to oppose the killing. He begins to speak with everyone he encounters and mobilizes them for a protest march:
Our people, as we see it, consist only of cripples and wretched looking children, women and geriatrics. If one now gathers from the battlefields the arms and legs, the scattered body parts, the millions of mangled bodies—your sons and husbands among them—and throws them on your streets, right before your eyes, would you even then say: one just has to accept it?
Leonhard Frank then portrays with sensitivity how the war widow grapples with the death of her husband. She attempts to console herself with the fact that hers is the fate of millions of women: “I sacrificed my husband on the altar of the fatherland … as all other war widows have.” She only succeeds in keeping away the still unendurable pain over her late husband with the words: “He died a hero’s death for the fatherland.”
Only gradually is she able to work through the thirst for revenge against the “enemy” in the midst of her everyday experiences, and to really mourn her husband. In the end, heeding the call and following the example of a twenty-year-old, she joins the protest march of the waiter, which has now become a mass movement.
With shocking realism, the author describes the “butcher’s kitchen,” the operating room of the mobile field hospital, in which a surgeon carries out endless lifesaving amputations until he himself reaches the point of exhaustion. He travels home by train with the cripples, the blind and the patients gone insane. He travels through the country and observes: “Has the old order, discipline and docility begun to show cracks? Has the new spirit gotten out of hand and penetrated through to the peasants? … They are beginning to think. This tremendous suffering has broken the ossification. That spirit is spreading through the country. The old ways are breaking up, stricken by suffering and the wild longing for freedom. The individual wants to shape his own destiny. The individual is beginning to think.”
When the waiter interjects, “We will all be executed … before,” the surgeon says: “You see … the gentlemen cannot risk any more today; they know that today for every job that becomes vacant in this way, a hundred applicants will immediately be there, behind whom millions more stand. That is how it is today … even the brave social democrat [Karl Liebknecht] sits in prison for nothing; this incident is drilled into a hundred thousand heads.”
“That book was a European sensation,” literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki later writes. In the 1920s, it is reprinted multiple times in large print runs and is read on a massive scale. In 1933, like other works by Leonhard Frank, it will be burned by the Nazis, and the author will be forced to emigrate once again.
Stefan Zweig, Romain Rolland, Henri Guilbeaux, Frans Masereel – Artist friends unite against the war
Debout les Morts – Arise Ye Dead. One of 10 woodcuts in opposition to the war by Frans Masereel
On September 4 1917, the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig writes to his friend, the French author and musicologist Romain Rolland, and sends him his tragedy Jeremias. He thanks Rolland, writing that without his “moral example,” he would have been unable to complete it.
Zweig was initially carried away by war euphoria in 1914. He saw “something fine, inspiring, even seductive in that first mass outburst of feeling … It was difficult to resist it,” he wrote in his autobiography, The World of Yesterday. “And in spite of my hatred and abhorrence of war, I would not like to be without the memory of those first days.” A few pages later, however, he admits that due to his cosmopolitan lifestyle he had “been immune” to the sudden rush of patriotism. He only discovered the real meaning of the war when he traveled to the front in Galicia in 1916 and, when upon his return journey in a hospital train, he witnessed the suffering of the wounded and dying.
Romain Rolland, with whom Zweig has been corresponding since 1913, sharply criticizes Zweig’s contradictory attitude from the beginning: “You yourself must finally get rid of your blind confidence,” Rolland wrote to Zweig on November 12, 1914. The writer and music historian was surprised by the war while in Switzerland, and as a committed pacifist and internationalist European did not return to his French home. On November 13, 1916, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In Geneva, he works for the Red Cross in the office of enquiry for prisoners of war.
In his drama Jeremias, Zweig uses the material of the Old Testament to deal with the threat of war and its effect on the psychology of the population. A prophet who foresees the danger is treated with hostility by his people. Zweig receives an invitation to Zürich for the play’s premier, and with the blessing of his superiors is able to leave the country for Switzerland where he then spends the entire final year of the war.
He joins a group of European pacifists, which includes the journalist Henri Guilbeaux, the painter Frans Masereel, and the authors Hermann Hesse, Leonhard Frank, Annette Kolb and Fritz von Unruh. In The World of Yesterday, Zweig writes: “[A]s we were all fighting on the same front, in the same trenches of the mind and intellect and against the same enemy, a kind of passionate comradeship formed spontaneously between us. After twenty-four hours we were as familiar with each other as if we had known one another for years, and we were already using the familiar ‘du’, as men usually do on every front line.”
Guilbeaux, a poet and translator (of Rainer Maria Rilke among others), was drafted as a soldier, but was soon discharged as unsuitable. At the end of April 1915, he traveled to Switzerland and like Rolland initially worked for the Red Cross providing aid for prisoners of war. Beginning in 1916, he published the journal Demain, which quickly developed into an organ of international war resisters, increasingly approached socialist views and provided a platform for socialists. It is banned in France.
In addition to Rolland and Zweig, those writing for the journal included the still-in-exile Lenin, Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Leon Trotsky, Karl Radek and Ernst Meyer.
Zweig writes in his autobiography: “While others kept silent, while we ourselves hesitated and carefully considered what to do or not do on every occasion, he took determined action, and it will be to the lasting credit of Guilbeaux that he founded and edited the one intellectually important antiwar journal of the First World War, Demain …” The woodcuts of Frans Masereel opposing wartime atrocities also appeared in the journal. Zweig writes of them: “We dreamt of being able to distribute them over cities and armies by dropping them from aircraft, like bombs, so that anyone, even without words or a knowledge of languages, could understand their grim, savage denunciations. I am sure they would have stopped the war in its tracks.”
Prior to his departure from Zürich, Lenin invited Rolland and Guilbeaux to come to Russia. Rolland declined and Guilbeaux also remained in Switzerland for a time. In 1917, Guilbeaux published a volume of antiwar poems. After the October Revolution, he is targeted by spies. The French government falsifies documents to accuse him of collaboration with the Germans. He is repeatedly persecuted by the Swiss immigration police under pressure from France and is twice imprisoned. After the war, on February 21, 1919, a military tribunal sentences him to death in absentia.
He is finally able to accept Lenin’s invitation in 1919. He obtains Russian citizenship and is among the signatories of the founding manifesto of the Communist International. He remains in the Soviet Union for three years.
Berlin, September 12: Massive loss of membership in the SPD
On September 12, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) paper Vorwärts (Forward) publishes the “Report of the executive committee to the congress for the fiscal years 1914/1917.” The report claims that the party has done everything it can for the preservation of peace. The peace resolution adopted by the Reichstag on July 19 is presented as proof of how “seriously the work for peace is taken.” This toothless resolution, which merely calls for a negotiated peace between the imperialist powers without annexations or indemnities, was ignored by the military high command as well as the other belligerent governments.
The trend in membership numbers documented in the same report shows that from 1914 to March 31, 1917, the number of party members has fallen from 1,085,905 to 243,061, or by more than three-quarters. By 1915, a year after the SPD’s approval of war credits, the number is halved.
With the founding of the centrist independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) in April 1917, the SPD suddenly undergoes a further decline. Around 100,000 of the most militant opponents of the war from among SPD members desert for the USPD. Only a body of around 150,000 to 180,000 members, including the apparatus of higher functionaries and several members of the editorial board, remain in the SPD. The membership strongholds in industrial centers have fallen particularly sharply.
The SPD policy of “state truce,” i.e. the suppression of all labor struggles and the direct support of the imperialist war, explains the mass exodus. What was established by decades of bitter and devoted struggles of the proletariat, a strong workers party with the goal of socialist revolution, has organizationally crumbled following the historic political betrayal of 1914.
This departure from the SPD is especially pronounced among the most oppressed layers of the working class and the men drafted into military service. The latter have either fallen at the front or, as survivors, turn away from what Rosa Luxemburg calls the “stinking corpse of the SPD.”
The number of female members has fallen by almost two thirds, from 174,754 prior to the war to 66,608 by the end of March 1917. The reasons are obvious. Working women must not only feed their families under the catastrophic conditions of the war economy, but also take on the heavy labor in the factories in place of the drafted men. How can they be expected to trust a party that shares responsibility for these conditions?
Stockholm, September 12: Third Zimmerwald Conference adopts manifesto calling for international mass strikes against war
At the Third Zimmerwald Conference in Stockholm, delegates from Germany, Russia, Poland, Romania, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Switzerland adopt a “peace manifesto from Stockholm,” an appeal to the proletarians of all countries.
The Zimmerwald movement occupies an intermediate position between, on the one hand, the efforts of parties of the Second International to convene the “Stockholm Peace Conference,” which would purport to negotiate a “peace of understanding” between the imperialist powers, and, on the other hand, the call for a Third International, supported by Lenin and Trotsky, based on a decisive break with all social-chauvinist, centrist, and opportunist tendencies.
The Zimmerwald manifesto castigates the treacherous politics of the right-wing social democrats in every country. The efforts to convene the Stockholm Peace Conference, the manifesto declares, are futile and only condemn the workers and peasants to a continuation of the mass slaughter. The appeal closes with the words: “The hour has struck for the beginning of the great joint struggle in all countries to bring about peace, for the liberation of the people by the socialist proletariat. The means to achieve it is the united international mass strike …”
Only the Menshevik delegate Axelrod votes against the manifesto. Despite the almost unanimous adoption of the appeal, the conference is characterized by political impotence. In the Zimmerwald movement, named after the first international conference of socialist war resisters held in 1915 in the Swiss village of Zimmerwald, there are only a handful of Lenin’s supporters represented. The overwhelming majority are centrists of various shades. On the right wing are figures such as Hugo Haase and Georg Ledebour (Independent Social Democratic Party, USPD) from Germany and the Russian Mensheviks. On the left wing, in addition to the Bolsheviks, is Angelica Balabanoff, who leans toward the Bolsheviks and is ultimately elected secretary of the organizing committee of the ISC (International Socialist Committee).
From the beginning of the conference on September 5, the proposal not to participate in the social-chauvinist Stockholm Conference planned for mid-September encounters opposition from the German USPD leaders and the Menshevik delegates. The issue resolves itself by the end of the Zimmerwald conference, when it is announced that the Stockholm Peace Conference, repeatedly delayed during the summer, is postponed again indefinitely. The hostility between the social-chauvinists of the allied powers and those of the central powers is too great for them to sit down together at a table.
There are heated debates over another topic: the attitude of the Zimmerwald organizations to the Russian Revolution and its tasks. The fear that this issue could lead to the break-up of the conference is probably why it was not placed on the agenda in the first place. But the Russian delegate Orlovsky submits a declaration in the name of the central and foreign committees of the Bolsheviks. It condemns the participation of the Mensheviks in the Kerensky government in Russia.
The reintroduction of the death penalty in the military, the shooting down of the Petrograd workers in the July Days, the incarceration of their leaders, the unprecedented campaign of slander and witch-hunts against the Bolsheviks—on all of these issues the Bolsheviks demand that the Zimmerwald conference take a clear position and denounce the Mensheviks. Axelrod and Yermanski (Menshevik-Internationalists) protest these demands, and the majority of the conference refuses to allow discussion on these questions.
Nevertheless, in a report by the ISC, Angelica Balabanoff later characterizes the conference and its manifesto as a great step forward. The call for international mass strikes for peace, she declares, means transitioning from a politics of words to a politics of actions.
Lenin disagrees completely. From hiding in Finland, he renews the call for a decisive break with the Zimmerwald movement, which he describes as still moving along the path of the Second International. According to Lenin, the centrists who dominate it only carry forward with their left phrases the work that social chauvinists like the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany or the Mensheviks in Russia, by now hated by the masses, can no longer accomplish for the ruling class: lulling the proletariat with peace resolutions and false hopes and preventing them from preparing for the conquest of power.
The demand for a united international general strike, Lenin states, correctly calls for international actions of class struggle, but remains within the framework of exerting pressure on the imperialist governments instead of concretely envisaging their overthrow in every country.
At the April conference of the Bolsheviks from May 7 to 12, Lenin advocated a break with the Zimmerwald movement, characterizing it as a hindrance on the masses. All energy, he declared, should be devoted to preparations for the founding of the Third International. The Bolshevik Party is not yet united on this question. The Bolshevik Party generally rejects taking part in the Stockholm Peace Conference, but many Bolsheviks still support remaining in a left bloc of the Zimmerwald movement.
At the request of the German USPD representatives and the Mensheviks, the Zimmerwald conference decides that the appeal for a mass strike should not be published immediately. They must wait for a more favorable moment, they say. The conference participants should all return home first. They must also wait for the consent of those delegates from the allied countries who are absent from Stockholm. The Bolsheviks, however, demand the immediate publication of the manifesto.
Two weeks after the conference ends, Luise Zietz, a member of the USPD executive committee, suddenly appears at the organizational committee of the ISC in Stockholm and urgently pleads that publication be delayed even longer, perhaps until the following year. She explains that the USPD leaders fear reprisals from the state. They are already under investigation for having met with Max Reichpietsch and other representatives of the sailors’ movement and allegedly encouraging their uprising. The USPD leaders deny any responsibility for the actions of the sailors, saying they had nothing to do with it and had always warned the sailors against illegal actions.
The organizational committee of the ISC initially rejects the request. At the same time, however, a private communication by George Ledebour arrives from Berlin, stating his disagreement with the mission of Comrade Luise Zietz which had brought her to Stockholm in the name of the USPD. In the end, the ISC agrees to delay publication until December 1917. By that point, the entire appeal will already be obsolete.
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