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“The scene has changed fundamentally. The six weeks’ march to Paris has grown into a world drama. Mass slaughter has become the tiresome and monotonous business of the day and the end is no closer. Bourgeois statecraft is held fast in its own vise. The spirits summoned up can no longer be exorcised.

Gone is the euphoria. Gone the patriotic noise in the streets, the chase after the gold-colored automobile, one false telegram after another, the wells poisoned by cholera, the Russian students heaving bombs over every railway bridge in Berlin, the French airplanes over Nuremberg, the spy hunting public running amok in the streets, the swaying crowds in the coffee shops with ear-deafening patriotic songs surging ever higher, whole city neighborhoods transformed into mobs ready to denounce, to mistreat women, to shout hurrah and to induce delirium in themselves by means of wild rumors. Gone, too, is the atmosphere of ritual murder, the Kishinev air where the crossing guard is the only remaining representative of human dignity.

The spectacle is over. German scholars, those “stumbling lemurs,” have been whistled off the stage long ago. The trains full of reservists are no longer accompanied by virgins fainting from pure jubilation. They no longer greet the people from the windows of the train with joyous smiles. Carrying their packs, they quietly trot along the streets where the public goes about its daily business with aggrieved visages.

In the prosaic atmosphere of pale day there sounds a different chorus – the hoarse cries of the vulture and the hyenas of the battlefield. Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, cocoa powder, coffee-substitute – c.o.d, immediate delivery! Hand grenades, lathes, cartridge pouches, marriage bureaus for widows of the fallen, leather belts, jobbers for war orders – serious offers only! The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It’s a question of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up.

Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins; villages become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are beggared; churches, horse stalls. International law, treaties and alliances, the most sacred words and the highest authority have been torn in shreds. Every sovereign “by the grace of God” is called a rogue and lying scoundrel by his cousin on the other side. Every diplomat is a cunning rascal to his colleagues in the other party. Every government sees every other as dooming its own people and worthy only of universal contempt. There are food riots in Venice, in Lisbon, Moscow, Singapore. There is plague in Russia, and misery and despair everywhere.

Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.”

– Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis of German Social Democracy. Written February–April 1915 (while in prison). Published in Zurich, February 1916, and illegally distributed in Germany. Source: Politische Schriften, pp.229-43, pp.357-72.

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“As early as the last period of the feudal epoch, a kind of parliament had already existed: the convocation of Estates. In the struggle with the estates – first the nobility, later especially the world of finance and trade, to whose material aid he had to turn – the prince had drawn or selected representatives of the different orders and occupations and convened them in a corporate body. But this body was only to express wishes, make suggestions, furnish opinions: this meeting of estates was not competent to enact and promulgate laws itself. Eventually a second body partly joined the assembly of estates, coming more from the people and even sometimes elected, so that a distinction was drawn between a first and second chamber (Lords and Commons). But the competences of both chambers were still very limited by the power of the princes. Real parliaments with full legislative power, proceeding from open election, everywhere formed one of the achievements of the bourgeois revolution.

As we know, the bourgeois class stood for the principle of liberalism in its state-political ideology and the principle of democracy in its state-political organisation. It was, then, for freedom and equality. But only for freedom as it saw it, namely as far as it regarded the interests of its economy of profit, and for equality only insofar as it could be expressed in paragraphs on paper, not to be confirmed and realised through equality of social conditions. Not even in dreams did it occur to them to respect and practice freedom and equality in relation to the proletariat, still less did they let the principle of brotherhood carry any weight for it.

At the same time, bourgeois society is by no means a monolithic class. Rather it contains many layers, groups and professional categories, and therefore a lot of different economic interests. The wholesaler has different interests from the retailer, the house-owner from the tenant, the tradesman from the farmer, the buyer from the seller. But all the different groups and categories want to and ought to be taken into account in the legislature. Each has more prospect of consideration the larger the total of representatives of its interests in parliament. On this account every layer or group tried to collect as many votes as possible for its candidates in parliamentary elections. To make their agitation vigorous and lasting, they combined in election associations from which the parties emerged with firmer organisations and more definite programmes. Whatever these parties called themselves, whichever programmes they put forward, whatever high and holy virtues they stood up for, whatever fine phrases and slogans they used – their struggle, to the extent that it strove for political influence, was always concerned with quite definite economic interests. Thus the conservative party, which wanted the preservation (i.e. conservation) of the old traditional state form, distribution of power, and ideology, formed the rallying point for the feudal caste of big landowners. The big industrialists with an interest in the national state, who embraced the liberalism of the capitalist era, formed the party of the national liberals. The petty bourgeois, to whom freedom of opinion and equality before the law seemed achievements worth striving and being thankful for, were found in the democratic and radical parties.

At first the workers had no party of their own, for they had not yet grasped that they were a class on their own with their own interests and political aims. So they let themselves be taken in by the democrats and liberals, or even the conservatives, and formed the faithful herd of voters for the bourgeois parties. In proportion, however, as the workers’ class consciousness was jolted awake and strengthened, they went over to forming their own parties and sending their own representatives to parliament, with the mission of securing for the working class as many and as large advantages as possible during the construction and completion of the bourgeois state. Thus, in the Erfurt Programme[11] of the Social-Democratic Party, the many practical demands of the movement are laid down alongside the great, revolutionary final goal, reflecting its parliamentary life and orientation towards the immediate present. These demands had nothing to do with socialism, but derived mainly from bourgeois programmes; only they were never carried out by bourgeois parties, in fact had never been seriously wanted. It is not to be denied that the representatives of social democracy did hard and sincere work in parliament. But their effectiveness and success remained limited. For parliament is an instrument of bourgeois politics, tied to the bourgeois method of making politics, and bourgeois too in its effect. In the last analysis, the real advantage of parliamentarism accrues to the bourgeoisie.

The bourgeois, i.e. parliamentary method of carrying on politics is closely related to the bourgeois method of carrying on economics. The method is: trade and negotiate. As the bourgeois trades and negotiates goods and values in his life and office, at market and fair, in bank and stock exchange, so in parliament too he trades and negotiates the legislative sanctions and legal means for the money and material values negotiated. In parliament the representatives of each party try to extract as much as possible from the legislature for their customers, their interest group, their ‘firm’. They are also in constant communication with their producers’ combines, employers’ associations cartels, special interest associations or trade unions, receiving from them directions, information, rules of behaviour or mandates. They are the agents, the delegates, and the business is done through speeches, bargains, haggling, dealing, deception, voting manoeuvres, compromises. The main work of parliament, then, is not even done in the large parliamentary negotiations, which are only a sort of spectacle, but in the committees which meet privately and without the mask of the conventional lie.

In the pre-revolutionary period, parliament also had its justification for the working class in that it was the means of securing for it such political and economic advantages as the power relations of any given moment allowed. But this justification was null and void the instant that the proletariat arose as a revolutionary class and advanced its claims to take over the entire state and economic power. Now there was no more negotiation, no putting up with greater or lesser advantages, no compromises – now it was all or nothing. The first revolutionary achievement of the proletariat would logically have had to be the abolition of parliament. But it could not fulfil this achievement because it was itself still organised in parties, and so bound up with organisations of a basically bourgeois character and consequently incapable of transcending bourgeois nature, i.e. bourgeois politics, economy, state order and ideology. A party needs parliamentarism, as parliament needs parties. One conditions the other, in mutual sustenance and support. The maintenance of the party means maintenance of parliament and with it the maintenance of bourgeois power.

After the model of the bourgeois state and its institutions, the party too is organised on authoritarian centralist principles. All movement in it goes in the form of commands from the top of the central committee down to the broad base of the membership. Below, the mass of the members; above, the ranks of officials at local, regional, country and national level. The party secretaries are the NCOs, the MPs, the officers. They give the orders, issue the watchwords, make policy, are the higher dignitaries. The party apparatus, in the form of offices, newspapers, funds, mandates, gives them power to prescribe for the mass of members, which none of the latter can avoid. The officials of the central committee are, so to speak, the party Ministers; they issue decrees and instructions, interpret the decisions of party congresses and conferences, determine the use of money, distribute posts and offices according to their personal policy. Certainly the party conference is supposed to be the supreme court, but its composition, sitting, decision-taking and interpretation of its decisions are thoroughly in the hands of the highest holders of power in the party, and the zombie-like obedience typical of centralism takes care of the necessary echoes of subordination.

The concept of a party with a revolutionary character in the proletarian sense is nonsense. It can only have a revolutionary character in the bourgeois sense, and then only during the transition between feudalism and capitalism. In other words, in the interest of the bourgeoisie. During the transition between capitalism and socialism, it must fail, the more so in proportion to how revolutionary had been its expression in theory and phraseology. When the world war broke out in 1914, i.e. when the bourgeoisie of the whole world declared war on the proletariat of the whole world, the Social Democratic Party should have replied with the revolution of the proletariat of the whole world against the bourgeoisie of the whole world. But it failed, threw away the mask of world revolution, and followed bourgeois policy all along the line. The USP should have issued the call to revolution when the peace treaty of Versailles was concluded. Its bourgeois nature, however, forced it to a western instead of eastern orientation; it agitated for signing and submitting. Even the KPD, hyper-radical as its pose is, on every critical question is constrained by its bourgeois-centralist authoritarian character to serve the bourgeois politicians as soon as it comes to the crunch. It sits in parliament and carried on bourgeois politics; in the Ruhr in 1920 it negotiated with the bourgeois military[12]; it fought on the side of Stinnes in the Ruhr action against France by means of passive resistance; it falls victim to the cult of bourgeois nationalism and fraternises with fascists; it pushes itself into bourgeois governments in order to help further Russia’s policy of capitalist construction from there. Everywhere – bourgeois politics carried out with typically bourgeois means. When the SPD says it does not want a revolution, there is a certain logic in this because it, as a party, can never carry out a proletarian revolution. But when the KPD says it wants the revolution, then it takes into its programme far more than it is capable of performing, whether in ignorance of its bourgeois character or out of fraudulent demagogy.

Every bourgeois organisation is basically an administrative organisation which requires a bureaucracy in order to function. So is the party, dependent on the administrative machine served by a paid professional leadership. The leaders are administrative officials and as such belong to a bourgeois category. Leaders, i.e. officials, are petty bourgeois, not proletarians.

Most party and trade union leaders were once workers, perhaps the most sound and revolutionary. But as they became officials, i.e. leaders, agents and makers of business, they learned to trade and negotiate, to handle documents and cash; they undertook mandates, began to operate within the great bourgeois organism with the aid of their organisational apparatus. To whom God gives office, he also gives understanding. Anyone who is leader in a bourgeois organisation, including parties and trade unions, does so not on the strength of his intellectual qualifications, his insight and excellence, his courage and character, but he is leader on the strength of the organisational apparatus, which is in his hands, at his disposal, endowing him with competence. He owes his leadership role to the authority arising from the position he occupies in the organisational mechanism. Thus the party secretary obtains his power from the office in which all the threads of the administration converge, from the paper work of which he alone has exact knowledge; the editor obtains his from the newspaper which he has in his intellectual power and uses as his instrument; the treasurer from the funds he manages; the MP from the mandate which gives him an inside view of the apparatus of government denied to ordinary mortals. An official of the central leadership may be much more limited and mediocre than an under-official, and yet his influence and power are greater, exactly as an NCO can be smarter than a Colonel or General without having the great authority of these officers. Ebert[13] is certainly not the ablest mind in his party, yet it has installed him in the highest office it has to give; he is certainly not the ablest mind in the government either – but why does he occupy that position? Not on the basis of his personal qualifications but as the random representative of his party, a centralist, authoritarian organisation, in which he has climbed to the highest rung of the ladder. And why does the bourgeoisie put up with this Ebert? Because the bourgeois method of his politics has brought him to this position and because he conducts himself politically throughout as the advocate and counsel of these bourgeois politics. A bourgeois leader in this position would be neither better nor worse than he.

Here a word must be said about leadership in general.

There will no doubt always be people who in their knowledge, their experiences, their ability, their character are superior to others whom they will influence, advise, stimulate in struggle, carry away with them, lead. And so there will always be leaders in this sense. A good thing too, for cleverness, integrity of character and ability should dominate, not stupidity, coarseness and weakness. Anyone who, in his rejection of the paid professional leadership that gets its authority from the organisational apparatus, goes so far as to repudiate all and every leadership without considering that superiority of mind and character is a quality of leadership not to be repudiated but worthy of welcome, oversteps the mark and becomes a demagogue. That goes too for those who inveigh and rage against the intellectuals in the movement, or – as has occurred – even against knowledge. Naturally bourgeois knowledge is always suspect and usually questionable, bourgeois intellectuals are always an abomination in the workers’ movement, which they misuse, lead astray, and often enough betray to the bourgeoisie. But the achievements of bourgeois learning can be re-cast for the working class and forged into weapons, exactly as the capitalist machines will one day perform useful services for the working class. And when intellectuals in the interest of the proletariat attend to the important process of the scientific assimilation and reworking of intellectual works, they deserve recognition and thanks for it, not abuse and inculpation. In conclusion, Marx, Bakunin, Rosa Luxemburg and others were intellectuals, whose scientific labours have rendered the most valuable services to the liberation struggle of the proletariat.

The paid professional leaders of the bourgeois organisations deserve mistrust and are to be rejected as agents of a bourgeois administrative apparatus. Their bourgeois activity generates in them bourgeois living habits and a bourgeois style of thinking and feeling. Inevitably they take on the typical petty-bourgeois leadership ideology of the party and trade union apparatchiks. The secure appointment, the heightened social position, the punctually paid salary, the well-heated office, the quickly learnt routine in the carrying out of formal administrative business, engender a mentality which makes the labour official in no way distinguishable from the petty post, tax, community or state official as much in his work as in his domestic milieu. The official is for correct management of business, painstaking orderliness, smooth discharging of obligations; he hates disturbances, friction, conflicts. Nothing is so repugnant to him as chaos, therefore he opposes any sort of disorder; he combats the initiative and independence of the masses; he fears the revolution.

But the revolution comes. Suddenly it is there, rearing up. Everything is convulsed, everything turned upside down. The workers are in the streets, pressing for action. They set themselves to casting down the bourgeoisie, destroying the state, taking possession of the economy. Then a monstrous fear seizes the officials. For God’s sake, is order to be transformed into disorder, peace into unrest, the correct management of business into chaos? Not that! Thus ‘Vorwärts’[14] on 8 November 1918 warned of “agitators with no conscience” who “had fantasies of revolution”; thus the newsletter of the trade unions combated the “irresponsible adventurers” and “putschists”; thus the parliamentary party sent Scheidemann[15] even at the last minute into the Wilhelmite Cabinet[16], so that “the greatest misfortune – the revolution – might be avoided.” And during the revolution, wherever workers wanted to go into action they were eagerly countered every time by party and trade union officials with the call: “Not too violent! No bloodshed! Be reasonable! Let us negotiate!”

As negotiations were resorted to, instead of grabbing the enemy and throwing him to the ground, the bourgeoisie was saved. Negotiation is after all their method of carrying on politics, and on their fighting terrain they are at their most secure. Wanting to carry on proletarian politics in the home of the bourgeoisie and with their methods means sitting down at the capitalists’ table, eating and drinking with them, and betraying the interests of the proletariat. Treachery to the masses – from the SPD to the most extreme of the KPD – need not arise from base intention; it is simply the consequence of the bourgeois nature of every party and trade union organisation. The leaders of these parties and trade unions are in fact spiritually part of the bourgeois class, physically part of bourgeois society.

But bourgeois society is collapsing. It is more and more falling victim to ruin and decay. Its legislature is ridiculed and despised by the bourgeoisie itself. Laws on interest rates and currency are promulgated, and no-one gives a damn. Everything that not long ago was regarded as sacred – church, morality, marriage, school, public opinion – is exposed, soiled, made mock of, distorted into caricature. In such a time the party, too, cannot go on existing any longer; as a limb of bourgeois society it will go down with it. Only a quack would try to preserve the hand from death when the body lies dying. Hence the unending chain of party splits, disturbances, dissolutions – of the collapse of the party which no executive committee, no party congress, no Second or Third International, no Kautsky and no Lenin can now stop. The hour of the parties has now come, as the hour of bourgeois society has come. They will still hold out, as guilds and companies from the middle ages have held out until today: as outlived institutions with no power to form history. A party like the SPD, which gave up all the achievements of the November uprising without a struggle, in part even wilfully played into the hands of the counter-revolution, with which it is tied up and sits in governments, has lost every justification for existence. And a party like the KPD, which is only a West European branch of Turkestan and could not maintain itself for a couple of weeks by its own strength without the rich subsidies from Moscow, has never had this justification for existence. The proletariat will transcend them both, untroubled by party discipline and the screeches of the apparatchiks, by resolutions and congress decisions. In the hour of downfall it will rescue itself from asphyxiation by strangling bourgeois power of organisation.

It will take its cause into its own hands.”

– Otto Rühle, From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution. 1924.  Translation was first published by Socialist Reproduction in co-operation with Revolutionary Perspectives in 1974. The translation was made from a German edition of the text published in 1970 by IPTR (Institut für Praxis und Theorie des Rätekommunismus, Berlin)

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“Thus the bourgeois class, as soon as it has first won power over feudalism, arrives at a state order according to its needs, in its interests, for its use. Its wishes are decisive, its attitude determines. For it is authority. Its state is an authoritarian state.

In the capitalist economy all commodities develop the tendency to follow the market in order to be exchanged there. This market can be a shop, a department store, an annual market, a fair or the world market. The market is the point to which the centripetal force of all commodities tends. It is, however, also the point from which the centrifugal force of all commodities pushes apart again as soon as they are exchanged, i.e. fulfilled their capitalist purpose. If the commodity is money, the market is stock exchange or bank. Always the market stands at the middle point of a process working in two directions. The market is the centre.

To the law of motion of the capitalist economy corresponds that of the bourgeois state. All the forces of the government collect at one point, there receive their orders and then act back centrifugally. The bureaucracy escalates up to its highest peak, the minister; the army organisation up to the generalissimo; there the decision is taken, the command given, the decree proclaimed; and with the precision of a mechanical apparatus, the organisation functions according to the will of one head, the centre, down to its last errand boy and lowest organ. Only the central office is autonomous: it is the brain and thinks for the whole. Its decision is definitive, it is to be obeyed unconditionally. Strict order and discipline prevail.

In the feudal era, when every socage-farm with its copyholders formed a small economic unit, more or less self-contained and self-supporting, the individual’s power to give orders did not have much scope. One was situated beside the other and each was to the same extent his own master. The system of organisation in which every part of the whole enjoys its full autonomy is called federalism. The feudal state, then, had been a federal state.

The bourgeoisie had gained from the conditions of its capitalist economy the insight that centralism was in many respects superior to federalism. Especially insofar as it united all the dispersed and isolated forces into a whole. They came out in favour of a centralised will and therewith won the ability to do great things. When the capitalist brought the hand-workers together in the factory, went over from domestic industry to co-operation, finally evolved this into manufacture, he went through practical schools of centralism. All the experiences and knowledge thus gained the bourgeois class now utilised in establishing its state structure. It needed a large centralised mechanism that obeyed every finger-touch at the highest point. A mechanism with which it, the small minority, could be the brain, issuing commands, accomplishing its will. And with which the large mass, the proletariat, was subjected to its dominance through strict order and discipline. This mechanism was provided by the centralist system of organisation. It made possible in the best and surest way the domination of few over many. So the bourgeoisie created its state for itself as a centralised state.

In the capitalist economy the production of commodities soon becomes mass production. But the absorption capacity of the existing market is quickly sated. New, bigger selling outlets become necessary. Capitalism develops a drive to expand, which threatens to burst the boundaries of the state. Thus every young capitalist state seeks, through wars, conquest, colonial acquisitions, etc., to become a bigger state. This requires a certain mental and spiritual preparation and influencing of the citizens – a certain ideology which interprets the pressure towards expansion and extension in the interest of profit as the expression of imaginary forces and needs, and lyingly converts warlike conquests into achievements for the common good. This ideology invents the concept nation, exploits sentiments about home and fatherland and misuses them for class-interested purposes of enrichment. It deals in national interests, national honour, national duties and national responsibility, until it gets involved in the national war, which is falsified into a war of national defence. To wage the war a national army has been provided, the schools have been made into abodes of national incitement; in national politics a special national phraseology has been cultivated which furnishes every war, however notoriously for plunder and conquest, with the requisite intellectual and moral justification. When the SPD defended the world war from 1914 to 1918 as a national war, when the KPD, during the collapse of the Ruhr, joined in supporting the national defence of the Ruhr zone alongside Schlageter, then both parties proved their character as national auxiliary organs of the bourgeois state, which is always a national state.

The capitalist economy, once it has entered the arena of large-scale enterprises and beyond that, the formation of stock companies, has created for itself a complicated apparatus of management, very appropriate for its requirements. In it all forces are well weighed up against each other, all functions cleverly distributed, all individual actions bound into an exact collective action. The technology of the machine is its model.

In broad outline, the management structure of a modern large factory looks like this: nominal owners and with them actual interested parties, and so the real beneficiaries of the capitalist large-scale concern are the shareholders. These come together in the shareholders’ meeting which passes important resolutions, exercises control, calls in reports, relieves and appoints officials, and concedes wages. From the shareholders’ meeting issues the board of directors, which supervises the management, comes to final decisions, constitutes the supreme court in all the vital questions of the works, but is still responsible vis-à-vis the shareholders’ meeting.

An image of this large-scale industry’s machinery is the bourgeois state. There the bearers of a mandate from the electorate sit in the parliament, a large meeting of shareholders entitled to vote who, discussing and resolving, equipped with important powers, decide about the weal and woe of the state as a whole. From its midst issues the board of directors, the Cabinet, which has the task of looking after, with special care and heightened vigilance, the interests served by the functioning of the state machinery. The Cabinet members (ministers) represent the state at its highest point; they supervise the work of the management bureaucracy placed under them, make the big contacts within the competing firms abroad, i.e. the capitalist foreign states, but always they stay dependent on Parliament and responsible to it; by it they are appointed and recalled.

As in the assembly of shareholders, so too in Parliament questions and proposals often manage to be carried through and dismissed which already are foregone conclusions and are only put to the vote for form’s sake. They have already been put forward and decided on in another place, whose importance more or less strongly controls the vote of the shareholders’ meeting or the parliament. This other place is identical with the offices of the great banks or of the captains of industry. Here, where the most significant decisions of the capitalist economy come down, the decisive resolutions of bourgeois politics are passed. And indeed by the same people in the same case. For politics is nothing other than struggle for the legal protection of economic interests – is the defence of profit with the weapons of paragraphs in law, the securing of the capitalist system of exploitation with the means of state authority.

With tirelessness and zeal the bourgeoisie has worked at the construction of its state form and at the development of its legislature. For this it found its most reliable tool in Parliament, which in turn found its auxiliary organs in the parties. Today, having reached the highest peak of capitalist development, big capital feels the power of Parliament and parties as burdensome. It avoids it by Enabling Acts, military dictatorship, and shifting important authority and decisions to other bodies in which the representatives of capital and economic concerns have the upper hand (state economic council). Open antagonism towards Parliament and parliamentarism is no longer at all concealed in big-capitalist circles; in fact attacks directed against parliament and parliamentary government are debated quite openly without inhibition. The slave, Parliament, has done his duty. When the idea of a Directory was being discussed in the bonapartist tendency, Herr Minoux was selected as the supreme holder of power. Herr Minoux the General Director of Stinnes.”

– Otto Rühle, From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution. 1924.  Translation was first published by Socialist Reproduction in co-operation with Revolutionary Perspectives in 1974. The translation was made from a German edition of the text published in 1970 by IPTR (Institut für Praxis und Theorie des Rätekommunismus, Berlin)

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