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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation, Organise! #79 - The IAF-IFA-FAB at Saint-Imier

Date Tue, 27 Nov 2012 16:59:41 +0200


The following article contains some reflections on the role of our kind of anarchism as represented at Saint-Imier. In the International of Anarchist Federations we call ourselves âsocial anarchistsâ, although some non-ex-communist-bloc federations within it also refer to themselves as âanarchist communistsâ (as the AF does), and some do not really recognise an anarchism which is not concerned with the building of a mass movement, and so prefer simply to call themselves âanarchistâ. ---- The social anarchist movement also contains anarcho-syndicalism (our âsister federationâ is the anarcho-syndicalist International Workersâ Association: IWA-AIT) and platformist traditions. Although we share much in common, following on from the development of organised anarchism after Saint-Imier one hundred and forty years ago, there are some different theoretical models and practices relating to how we achieve the goal of an anarchist society. Some of these differences are reflected in this article.

The IFA sees itself as an heir to
the first anti-authoritarian inter-
national. We strive to maintain
the basic anarchist principles that
emerged out of the conflict with
the authoritarians in the workers
movement in the 19th century.
This is why we decided to hold
our Congress concurrently with
the Saint-Imier anniversary event.
Within IFA we have different
histories, traditions and practices
yet are united around certain
common anarchist principles that
form our âAssociative Pactâ. This
coming together of a wide range
of people from different countries
in a process of on-going collective
work is a rich source of ideas and
reflections on practices.

Aside from the AF, our interna-
tional is composed of nine other
ânationalâ or language-group fed-
erations: Argentina (FLA), Belarus
(FAB), Bulgaria (FAB), Czech and
Slovak Federation (CSAF), French
speaking (FAF), Germany and Ger-
man-speaking Switzerland (FdA),
Iberia (Spain and Portugal) (FAIb),
Italy (FAIt), and the Slovenian Fed-
eration for Anarchist Organising
(FAO), which we enthusiastically
admitted to IFA at our Saint-Imier
congress. We also officially recog-
nised the âOutsideâ group of the
FLA, in response to their internal
crisis. All of these federations but
the Bulgarians were able to at-
tend, and all of these contributed
to discussion and decisions.
As well as contributing to the
workshops and policy discussions
held at our Congress, IFA individu-
als and federations contributed
to the wider anniversary event
and shared their thoughts and
experiences on a range of differ-
ent meetings and forums. These
included five roundtable discus-
sions featuring different kinds of
organised social anarchism, some
of which we participated in as IFA
and some as our own national
federations. Then there were the
sessions organised by specific
federations. We had members at
the daily anarcha-feminist round
table. Finally there were introduc-
tory and concluding âcommon
meetingsâ in which a wider variety
of anarchist traditions were repre-
sented.

Some common themes emerged
through these collaborations
and interventions. They relate
significantly to our adherence to
the principles of the Associative
Pact and the years we have spent
working together, sharing ideas
and practices, and also the com-
ing together of federations and
anarchist traditions for the first
time around these subject areas.
This article attempts to sum-
marise some of these common
themes as well as give examples
of some our contributions to spe-
cific meetings.

Common Themes

1. Defining a specific current
within the anarchist movement
which is rooted firmly in the
social, economic, political and
cultural struggles of the working
class.

This is of course an underlying
theme of both our Congress and
the wider anniversary event, a
feature of all the presentations
and contributions. As said by the
IFA speaker in the Round Table on
Anarchism in practice today,
âWe aim to help create mass
movements based on class strug-
gle. Anarchist organisations aim
to build solidarity, confidence and
experience in the working class to
help create mass movementsâ.

2. Opposition to any tendencies
within the anarchist movement
to act as substitutes for the ac-
tion of the people themselves.

This complements the first
theme. If an anarchist society is
to be created by the working class
itself, then we have to make sure
that we do not act âon behalfâ of
others but operate from âwithinâ
struggles. This was the key mes-
sage of the workshop led by the
AF, âNeither Insurrectionism nor
Reformism but Anarchismâ, repro-
duced elsewhere in this edition
of Organise! A contribution from
a IFA comrade during the discus-
sion clarified this point further. He
stressed that we must make sure
that we do not act as intermediar-
ies between the masses and the
struggle for emancipation. It is
vital that all our actions are con-
nected to the wider movement.
In a statement arising from our
Congress workshop âAnarchism
Between the Collapse of Power
and the Clash with the sSate,â
amongst other things we agreed
the following:

âSocial anarchism is not a van-
guardist movement. It does not
on its own create struggles; it is
the people who do that. None-
theless, with our methods and
organizational structures we need
to give a libertarian dimension to
all popular confrontations with
authority. There is not a contra-
diction between the two perspec-
tives, given that both are features
of social anarchismâ.

3. Stressing the importance of
non-hierarchical ways of organ-
ising at all times and in all con-
texts; the importance of prefigur-
ing the kind of society we want
to create in the way we organise
today.

The importance of sticking to
anarchist principles in ways of
organising and operating, was
raised in a number of workshops.
In the workshop on authoritarian
and anti-authoritarian ways of
organising presented by the Slo-
venian and British federations we
looked at both the historic con-
flict within the first international,
associated with authoritarian
Marxism, as well as the continued
fight against authoritarians even
within the anarchist movement.
Authoritarian ways of organis-
ing are most clearly seen in the
interventions made in campaigns
by Trotskyist organisations and,
in many ex-communist countries,
by Bolshevik organisations. They
do not want to create non-hier-
archical structures but instead
are keen to elect âleadersâ and
committees who then end up
making most of the decisions.
Unlike in Britain, where the left
consistently derails attempted at
non-hierarchical workplace and
community organising, in Slo-
venia, they do not have to face
such organisations but they are
very aware of the importance of
creating structures within their
own federation and the cam-
paigns they are involved in which
can ensure full participation and
equality. They had the problemthe dominance of the group from
the capital city, Ljubljana, and
were determined to rectify thisrotating tasks and responsibilities
between groups.

However, not all anarchist organi-
sations have been able to resist
the temptation of bureaucratisa-
tion and centralisation, as reflect-
ed again in the workshop âNeither
Insurrectionism nor Reformism
but Anarchismâ.

4. The recognition that there are
other oppressions that cannotsubsumed into the wider strug-
gle but need their own space
and autonomy to organise and
develop their ideas about howemancipate themselves, as well
as participating fully in the com-
mon struggle for a new society.

This was an issue at Saint-Imier in
several ways, some of which are
reflected in other items in this Or-
ganise! Members of federations
affiliated to IFA participated in the
anarcho-feminist round table, and
we have a âSnapshotâ of some AF
reflections in this issue. IFA con-
sciously chose women and people
of different ages to appear on our
behalf. But as the women from
the anarcha-feminist round tables
pointed out at the final meeting
of the Saint-Imier anniversary
event pointed out, it is not just a
question of tokenism, but of fully
equal participation in our move-
ment. They asked why movement
meetings are still dominated by
men, some of whom clearly have
more influence over elements of
the movement they work within
than other people, and certainly
than women.

It was also noted that disabled ac-
cess to the wider event was poor
over all (although we had chosen
an accessible space for the Con-
gress itself). The ethnic make-up
of the wider anniversary event
was, predictably, predominantly
white. This only partly reflects
the fact that most participants
were from countries that are
white-dominated anyway, where
we have so far failed to make our
analysis relevant to people of
colour. Where people from other
parts of the World contributed
(IFA raised money for several
plane fares) they were there pri-
marily as delegates or as serious
representatives of their move-
ments and were not therefore
able to hang out with their im-
mediate friends and comrades in
the way that most people could.
IFA is working on this internally
and has concrete mechanisms
and plans for organising even
more with non-Europeans. For
example, IFA will continue to sup-
port the co-ordination between
Latin American anarchists that
has begun at this Congress. IFA
supports âObservatario Criticoâ,
a network of dissidents in Cuba
heavily influenced by libertarian
ideas, including the only anarchist
group in Cuba. The FdA will fund
their website and send a delegate
to meet them. IFA is also involved
in organising the conference of
Mediterranean anarchists that
will take place in Athens in the
Winter. The FAF are working with
Tunisians on an Alternative Social
Forum in Tunisia.

5. The importance of explor-
ing the complexity of the social
reality of the working class, such
that we can devise meaningful
ways of transforming struggles
into a movement for complete
social transformation

Presentations by IFA and its af-
filiated federations were well
received because they were
based on knowledge and concrete
experience of social issues. We
do not deal in platitudes, abstract
generalisations or unproven theo-
retical models. Comments on the
question of appropriate way of
analysing social relations were re-
ceived from many people who at-
tended, and we considered them
serious and well-informed. They
did reveal, however, that some
anarchists consider the concept
of class to be outdated. A fun-
damental step in demonstrating
that it is still relvant, is embed-
ding our experiences as workers
and service users in our analysis
and action. We are workers (and
we include all oppressed and
exploited people under capital-
ism in that class based category)
before we are theoreticians. Thus,the FAItâs meeting âThe Politics
of Health and the Trials of Social
Inequalitiesâ was introduced by a
health worker. âNeither Insurrec-
tionism or Reformismâ was put onby people who have seen anar-
chist militants abandon workersâ
self-organisation and take posi-
tions in trade unions. And so on.

In the presentation New territo-
ries for anarchism, the speaker
from the FAF made the distinctionbetween two kinds of new âterri-
toriesâ: the need for new conceptsin order to deal with the realities
of 21st century anarchism and
the new territories in the sense ofanarchism being spread beyond
its traditional home.

Combined with the second aspect
of new territories, we must un-
derstand that in many countries,
such as Brazil, there is so much
unemployment and precarious
employment that we cannot think
about organising in the same way
as we have in the past. We cannot
talk about workers taking over
the process of production if in
fact they are not involved in that
production.

An example of understanding
the complexity of social reality
in countries outside Europe was
the need to discuss the role of
organised religion. Many western
anarchists would call themselves
atheists. In largely secular coun-
tries where it is not illegal to chal-
lenge religious institutions per se,
we may face ruling class disap-
proval, as our Italian comrades do
when they take action against the
Catholic church. But for anar-
chists some countries it is a more
complicated issue to address. In
some Arab Spring and Caucasus
countries, for large proportions
of people fighting dictatorship,
external and internal, the revolt
has a religious dimension. In
ex-soviet union countries, athe-
ism is associated by some of the
working class with the old order,
and therefore as authoritarian-
ism, not freedom. These issues
cannot be ignored if an effective
anarchist movement is to be built.
Like nationalism, religion is not a
route through which the working
class can free itself. We cannot
compromise our position against
organised religion in either our
theory or practice.

We canât tell people what to
believe either. But we have to
think about how best to deliver
that message and make an effec-
tive intervention. In the long run,
we have to make religion and the
authoritarian baggage it brings
redundant, and promote a class
analysis.

In the meeting organised by the
AF and MASA-IWA from Croatia,
the speakers emphasised the
complex nature of nationalist
ideology. While it is clear that
workers have no country and
that we are against right-wing
nationalism, the question of
left-wing nationalism has proven
historically to be more complex.
The speaker from the AF gave an
example from Britain in which a
group calling itself the Anarchist
Workers Group once used the slo-
gan of âVictory to Saddamâ in the
first Gulf War in an effort to show
that it was against US imperial-
ism. This was in contrast to other
anarchists who organised them-
selves around the slogan, âNo War
but the Class Warâ.
However, it is not a always a
straight forward question of
opposition to the nationalist
struggle as there are aspects of
the struggle that are important
to support. We do support the
working class in face of foreign
domination, but meaningfully
and not by pandering to its lead-
ers, âdemocratically electedâ or
otherwise. We support working
class struggles against racism,
genocide, ethnocide and political
and economic colonialism, but
critique cross-class and popularist
alliances.

On a related topic, we discussed
the militarisation of society as a
reality that we have to respond
to. The following is taken from
the statement we agreed on Anti-
Militarism (it appears in full on
the IFA website).

âNowadays the army operates
with the same functions of social
control as the police, are becom-
ing more and more similar to the
army. In this situation, cities be-
come the battleground: tanks tear
down walls in order to frighten
people. Drones are everywhere.
Social disruption and economic
crisis mean that repressive laws
are not âmatters of emergencyâ
anymore but have become ânor-
malityâ. Internal and external wars
are two sides of the same coin.
Itâs a war, or more accurately,
battlegrounds, known as âpeace-
keepingâ or âhumanitarianâ war.
The keeping of social peace is the
extension of capitalismâs commer-
cial activities. In the streets of the
city and the working class sub-
urbs, the police and army experi-
ment new methods of repression
on us. Repression is the other side
of the coin to neo-liberal globali-
sation. Government dynamics
force national states to use force
to deal with social problemsâ.

6. Introduction of new ideas and
ways of thinking that can stimu-
late thought and discussion.

The federations of IFA are contin-
ually developing ideas as a result
of both thought and experience.
One good example of a presenta-
tion that explored new ways of
approaching subjects was the
open meeting on âAnarchism and
Geographyâ that was the result
of the collaboration of comrades
from both the French-speaking
(FAF) and the Italian Federation
(FAIt).

There is a long tradition that
comes from the First International
of a link between geography and
anarchism. Geography is defined
as the scientific understanding
of the world and how to modify
this world. Some of the most
important geographers of the end
of the 19th century became the
founders of the modern anarchist
movement. These include Kropot-
kin, the Reclus brothers Elie and
ElisÃe, Lev Mecnikov, and Perron.

Their focus was the critique of the
colonial process of state building.
They have been an influence on
geography today in its efforts to
construct a different representa-
tion of the world that does not
rely on the concept of the State.
Traditional geography is based
on the division of the world into
nation states. Anarchist geogra-
phy challenges this and seeks to
develop a way of thinking about
people and their relation to place
without reference to the State.
Some examples of anarchist work
include understanding and as-
sisting the global protest move-
ments, to analyse neo-liberalism
and to bring together the neces-
sities of human well-being and
social justice with the respect for
global resources.

The anarchist geographer is also
concerned with the question
of cosmopolitism and a world
without borders - social interna-
tional solidarity and recognising
differences between individuals.
For example, both France and
the US have a concept of ignoring
the origins of people and stress-
ing the fact that everyone is a
citizen of the country. However,
these are still nationalist ways of
thinking about things. You cannot
have true cosmopolitanism in the
framework of borders.

Elsewhere in this issue of Organ-
ise you can see another new way
of thinking about old subjects in
our presentation exploring insur-
rectionism and reformism as actu-
ally two sides of the same coin,
and an innovative methodological
approach for thinking about social
movements in Anarchism in prac-
tice today.

7. The recognition of the impor-
tance of learning about history
as a means of both appreciating
the contributions of the past and
learning lessons for today.

Members of the IFA-affiliated
federations made crucial contri-
butions to the understanding of
the Saint-Imier anniversary event.
In its opening meeting, one of the
IFA speakers presented a thor-
ough history of what actually led
up to the formation of the anti-
authoritarian International and of
the significance of the events to
followed. This was a vital begin-
ning to the five day gathering that
followed. We needed to know
and understand what we are
actually commemorating in order
to be able to evaluate it and build
on it. Comrades in the past have
made theoretical and strategical
mistakes. We need to understand
these in their historical context
in order to be able to learn from
them.

8. The importance of being
engaged with and learning from
current social movements and
struggles as well as offering an
analysis and critique of these.
There needs to be an integration
of theory and practice.

In our workshop âAnarchism Be-
tween the Collapse of Power and
the Cash with the Stateâ we found
it useful to identify two ways
in which there exist confronta-
tions with the existing systems of
power:

âThe eroding of power, under-
stood as a form of evolution or a
process of change that arise from
our activities in our daily life. And
direct confrontation with power,
which may take the form of dem-
onstrations, sporadic actions and
other direct action.â

During the round table on âAn-
archism in Practice Todayâ IFA
federations made a contribution,
showing how we are embed-
ded in social struggles as well as
developing political analyses of
these struggles. The FAF stressed
the importance of combining
theory and practice. All practice
must be informed by theory and
vice versa. Anarchism must be
something that is lived and not
just theorised about. It is some-
thing that is constantly transform-
ing itself and must not be trapped
in dogmatism. The speaker gave
specific practical examples from
what they are engaged in, includ-
ing educational activities such as
popular universities, libraries in-
cluding mobile libraries, the Paris
radio station âRadio Libertaireâ,
film showings, festivals and co-
operatives. In addition, they are
involved in class struggle in what-
ever is the most radical union.
In all these interventions, there is
a double function- to live anar-
chism and show that it is possible
for things to be different. The FAIb
showed clearly the way that IFA
federations are involved in social
struggle. They presented their
work around the struggle against
the TGV train link which is not just
an anarchist struggle but is based
firmly in the local community.
These comrades face state repres-
sion alongside their communities.

The speaker from the AF com-
bined theory with practice by
analysing the Occupy movement,
showing how we can understand
the significance of social move-
ments by identifying the extent
to which these movements are
making a positive contribution to
social change as well as by see-
ing what their weaknesses may
be. He showed how our anarchist
principles are relevant for evalu-
ating what is going on today and
applying successful methods.

9. International perspective.
The fact that IFA is made up of
federations from different coun-
tries provides many opportuni-
ties to live our internationalism.
Many of the people invited to
Saint Imier from outside Europe
were invited and paid for by IFA
federations as the result of con-
tacts built up over years of inter-
national work. We donât name
them all here because this could
endanger some of them. Many of
the meetings were the result of
collaboration between more than
one IFA federation. A particularly
important example of such col-
laboration is the organisation of
the Balkans meeting by the Italian
and Slovenian federations. What
follows is a report by one of the
organisers of the meeting.

âThe initiative came from Italian
and Slovenian federations so the
fact that we have an International
made it possible to have this
meeting. By preparing this meet-
ing in advance and having it on
the programme of the Saint Imier
meeting made it possible to bring
together many people from the
Balkans that had come to Saint
Imierâ.

The main goals of the meeting
were:

â Exchange information on the
political and economic situation
in each country, social struggles
and our involvement as anar-
chists in the social movements.
We wanted to find points where
there was basis for co-operation.

â Search for a way for future
co-operation on some concrete
issues. We wanted to identify
specific issues that we thought
were important and that groups
were already working on so that
we had a basis for immediate
joint activity rather than just ex-
changing information.

â Discussion of the actual issues.
One is the rise of nationalism
as an answer to the crisis. It is
very dangerous development
for which we need immediate
action. With an international,
anti-nationalism campaign, the
chances of success are greater.
Another is militarism. This is a
common problem because NATO
is building army bases in the
Balkan countries. Other issues
identified for potential co-oper-
ation include immigration and
the economic crisis and austerity,
and ecology.

There was a strong feeling in the
meeting that internationalism is
essential in the Balkans in order
us to survive as anarchists and
in general against the offensive
of the State. In the past small an-
archist groups survived because
they built a network with other
groups.

We decided on the next steps to
build this co-operation. The two
next points of contact will be the
international meeting of Mediter-
ranean anarchists in Athens in
the Winter and the 10th Balkans
Bookfair which will be held in
May in Ljubljana.

In addition IFA published state-
ments of solidarity with global
struggles with which IFA and its
contacts are involved. For two of
these see elsewhere in this issue
of Organise! It is committed to
the non-Eurocentric initiatives
above.

In summary then, we engaged
with defining a specific anarchist
current, opposition to substitu-
tionism, non-hierarchical organ-
ising, recognising other oppres-
sions and inequalities than class,
exploring complex social relations
under capitalism, new ways of ap-
proaching old issues, the signifi-
cance of history, engaging with
social movements, and of course
internationalism. In the final
statement that IFA was invited to
make at the final meeting of the
anniversary event, we touched on
these also:

Public statement from IFA Con-
gress Saint-Imier 2012, 9-12th
August to other exploited and
oppressed people of the World.
The St. Imier meeting has ena-
bled a lot of groups and militants
that are member and non-
members of the International of
Anarchist Federations (IAF-IFA) to
meet each other. IFA would like
to sum up the events of the last
few days.

One hundred and forty years
ago in this town an international
movement of âanti-authoritariansâ
was founded. It played a major
part in the creation of an organ-
ised movement of anarchists.
They worked then for profound
social transformation, and in this
manner we have participated,
as IFA, in the international meet-
ing in Saint Imier. What we have
to offer is the best sort of soci-
ety that humanity is capable of
achieving. We want to create a
world in which there is complete
economic equality, by which we
mean that there should be no
personal property but that we
produce and own everything
communally, with no need for
money.

But as well as economic equality,
there would be maximum per-
sonal freedom. This means that
we live as we want and no one
can make us do anything we donât
want to do, or prevent us from
doing what we want to do unless
this limits the freedom of others.
So, there would be no hierarchy
or oppression of any kind. There
would be no need for a state or
police because we would not
need controlling or coercing.
There would be no need for wars
or global conflict because we
would have no political enemies
and no desire or need to seize any
resources from anyone else. This
is what we call Anarchism.

Anarchists reject the idea that it is
human nature that one personal
exploits another and that we are
unequal. It is the case that rul-
ers and states throughout history
have maintained this system.
This lie justifies Capitalism as a
ânaturalâ system. We hear that
there is a âcrisisâ of Capitalism, but
Capitalism is crisis. It is a recent
system in historical terms and
has already brought humanity
to its knees many times before
producing the current situation.
But people all over the World are
seeing through this lie and are
resisting states and capitalism as
never before, and seek to coordi-
nate their efforts across national
boundaries. This makes an anar-
chist society more possible than
ever.

But Anarchism is not utopian-
ism. Obviously, for such a soci-
ety to work, many things must
first change, and our task now
is to help bring about these vast
transformations and provide an
analysis that is useful to them.
The working class, by which we
mean all exploited and impover-
ished people, ourselves amongst
them, has to operate as a mass
movement. Crucially, it must not
entrust the struggle to new lead-
ers with old ideas, but by deter-
mining its own path.

Today, social movements are
practising new ways of organising
which draw heavily on anarchism,
for example taking action directly
against obstacles to their progress
and experimenting with non-
hierarchical organisational forms.
They include student movements,
action against destruction of the
natural world and common re-
sources, anti-militarist struggles,
those against G8 summits and
capitalism in general, and most
recently the fight against auster-
ity which unites the international
working class. Movements such
as Occupy and the Indignados
and similar movements of self-
organisation against the banking
system have shown the impor-
tance of using direct action to re-
claim public space. The uprisings
of oppressed indigenous peoples
in recent decades, such as the
Zapatistas, have inspired the new
social movements and have influ-
enced anarchism itself. Such new
movements create large assem-
blies to make decisions together
without leaders. They practice
horizontal decision-making. They
link-up federally, as organisations
of equal status without decision-
making bodies at their centre.

But these attempts often fall
short of what is possible because
meaningful social change requires
also that we change as individu-
als. We seek to be free and equal
as individuals, but there must also
be voluntary, personal responsi-
bility and self-organisation. The
working class itself contains divi-
sions and oppressions and hier-
archies which do not disappear
just because we want to have no
rulers and want to be equal. As
members of the working class
we therefore struggle internally
against our own racism, sexism
and patriarchal attitudes and
practices. Equally we fight the as-
sumption that heterosexuality is
the norm, or that clearly defined
categories âmaleâ and âfemaleâ are
ânormalâ. We must identify and
oppose discrimination and stereo-
typing on the basis of age or abil-
ity. Until internalised inequalities
and deference towards hierarchy
are identified and abolished we
cannot be free, and so we identify
and oppose them in social move-
ments and workers organisations
as well as in society in general.
Finally, to create this free and
equal society, the working class
itself must bring down rulers
and capital. We call this a âsocial
revolutionâ. Anarchists try to build
confidence within the working
class in our ability to be success-
ful as quickly and with the least
violence possible. We do this
through joining with other work-
ers to win small victories. We do
this best through direct action
not through reforms and negotia-
tion with bosses. Direct action
means not waiting but taking
what should belong to all of us.
We need to support each otherâs
struggles through Mutual Aid.
This means practical solidarity in
times of hardship. As well as help-
ing us on a day-to-day basis, this
demonstrates to people what we
are about. So we practice anarchy
now as far as we can in how we
organise and how we struggle to
prove that an anarchist society is
possible.

We salute those comrades from
the past, their work and the
personal sacrifices they made for
human emancipation. We con-
tinue their work, and critically de-
velop their ideas and apply them
to our situation. They would in
turn salute the global working
class at this point in its history,
as it strives for real freedom and
equality.

IFA has dealt with many themes
over the last 5 days and in par-
ticular:

â The economic crisis and social
struggle

â International solidarity

â Anti-militarism

â Anti-nuclear and alternative
energies

â Migration

On this basis, the IFA has reinvig-
orated its own activities and in-
vite all exploited people to strug-
gle for transformation of society,
for anarchism.

The International of Anarchist
Federations (IAF-IFA), 12th August
2012. http://i-f-a.org
_________________________________________
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