The acceleration of history: The worsening crisis, the extension of the class struggles

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The world economy heads for recession

1985 will see a new acceleration in the crisis of the world economy. Following Reagan's re-election as US president in Autumn 1984, the full extent of the crisis, which had been hidden by the Amer­ican ‘recovery' has reappeared in all its brutal­ity. The dissipation of the effects of the meas­ures used to create this ‘recovery', whose only impact has been on a few indicators of the cap­italist economy, essentially in the US, confirms the characteristics of the inevitable recession of the 1980s, which we named the ‘years of truth' as early as 1980.

"But what, allows us to affirm that the recession into which capitalism is now plunging will be the most extensive, the longest and the deepest since the war? Three kinds of factors:

1) the extent of the world economy's decline;

2) the growing ineffectiveness of capitalism's means for relaunching economic growth;

3) the growing impossibility for capitalist states to use these methods."[1]

The end of the American recovery

And, indeed, the 1980-82 recession was the most extensive, the longest and the deepest since World War II, and the 1983-84 recovery of the US economy the least effective since the beginning of the open crisis at the end of the 1960s.

Today, the once optimistic forecasts have been revised downwards: "the US Department of Commerce has just published the figures for the growth in GNP for the third quarter of 1984: 1.9% against the 2.7% previously announced. This is the weak­est rate since the fourth quarter of 1982, which marked the end of the recession." (Liberation, 22.11.84)

The threat of a collapse in the international banking system with the bankruptcy of Continental Illinois (the 10th largest US bank) and 43 others during the first six months of 1984, has shown that the various artificial tricks (indebt­edness, arbitrary exchange rates fixed for the dollar) have still less counterpart in production than before. Right from the start in fact, the ‘experts' pointed out the ‘originality' of this ‘recovery': the lack of any significant growth in productive investment. As we predicted: ‘the mechanism of the ‘recovery' in the US presages a catastrophic future for the world economy."[2] Contrary to Reagan's propaganda, the slowdown in the rate of inflation was not the fruit of ‘mon­etarist' policies, but the result of the recess­ion and the glut on the world market. It is this glut that forces each company to lower its prices to escape elimination by its competitors. And today, the time bomb of the capitalist world's gigantic indebtedness (debts of both the third world and industrialized countries, budget def­icits) has once again raised the specter of an inflation which has remained the rule in the more peripheral countries (1000% in Israel, for ex­ample). Today, the US National Debt has reached $1,500 billion: 42% of GNP against 25% in 1979. 40% of these dollars are merely paper which the ‘experts' discreetly admit as a "40% overvaluetion of the dollar." The US budget deficit has passed the $200 billion mark     

Capitalism is trying to cheat the law of value; it can only defer the system's contradictions and each time at a higher and more explosive level.

The absolute pauperization of the working class

One element of the economic ‘recovery' has been the massive attack on wages, justified in the name of ‘saving the company', ‘maintaining employ­ment' or ‘national solidarity'. In fact, wage freezes, limitations and reductions in the ‘soc­ial wage' (health, pensions, education, housing, unemployment benefit) have brutally accelerated without any significant diminution in unemploy­ment (except in the US, Australia and New Zeal­and). In countries like Belgium and Holland, where the attack on public sector wages provoked in autumn 1983 the first great strikes of the new upsurge in workers' struggles, unemployment has remained about 15%. In a country like France, increasing numbers of unemployed (such as the young or ‘long term' unemployed) simply dis­appear from the statistics. In the US, un­employment has momentarily dropped but the working class has been subjected to one of the sharpest wage cuts in its history - as much as 15% at Chrysler.

The planned redundancies mean tens of thous­ands of workers thrown onto the street with fewer and fewer resources, in mining, the steel industry, the public sector, shipyards, the car industry, etc, and .this more and more simultan­eously in different countries. In whole regions dependent on one dominant industry, all activity is menaced: in Spain, France, Great Britain. The ‘advantages' of bonuses, holidays, benefits of all kinds, are being suppressed, eaten away sub­ject to more restrictions. The soup kitchens, which had disappeared since World War II, are reappearing in countries as rich as France. Not merely relative but absolute pauperization is battening on the working class in every aspect; of its living conditions.

The bourgeoisie's ‘discovery' through its press and its ‘charitable' institution of the ‘Fourth World' or ‘New Poor' expresses not any moral or humanitarian concern but an anxiety at the reac­tions this deepening misery is likely to provoke. The pauperization of the working class and mass­ive unemployment do not have the same consequen­ces as in underdeveloped countries.

Class consciousness cannot develop there in the absence of powerful proletarian movements; soc­ial movements take the form of hunger and pov­erty riots, without being able to uncover the means and aims of the struggle against capital­ism. In the developed countries, it is the prol­etariat that is directly affected. 10%, 15%, 20% of the workers belonging to an established prol­etariat are deprived of all means of subsist­ence. Families include first one, then two, then three members out of work. The proletariat as a whole comes under attack.

With the development of the class' combativity and consciousness, massive unemployment constit­utes a decisive element for overcoming the sectoral, corporatist framework, encouraging the extension of the struggle and the proletariat's ability to assume the social, anti-corporatist character of its combat.

The ruling class' real concern about the ‘new poor' lies in the development of the class struggle; it uses this theme to strengthen the idea that those in work are ‘privileged', and to sugar the pill of its calls for ‘effort' and ‘national solidarity' taxes.

Against rising working class anger and struggles, the bourgeoisie will continue to use its polic­ies of austerity, proliferating campaigns of mystification and diversion, and increasingly systematic repression; above all, it will cont­inue to strengthen its left factions in the wor­kers' ranks, in their ‘opposition' role, to try to contain and divert the rage provoked by its crisis measures.

The intensification of imperialist tensions

Capitalism's only ‘way out' of its crisis is a headlong flight into an attempt at a violent new share-out of the world market in war between imperialist blocs. This is expressed in the permanent armaments drive on the part of every country despite the fact that military expenditure is an important accelerating factor in the crisis. (See ‘The Weight of Military Expendit­ure', IR 36, 1st quarter, 1984.) It is demon­strated in the constant and growing tension of the East-West confrontation, especially in those parts of the world that serve as ‘theat­res of operations': the Middle East and the Far East. The American offensive against the Russ­ian bloc will continue. The war-mongering of the Reagan administration has been damped down solely for internal US reasons: to avoid stirring up a scare, in order to ensure the re-election of the Republicans. These diplomatic and military maneuvers aim at stripping the Russian bloc of the remains of its influence outside its own fort­ress. They demand a tightening of the reins on Iran and increased subjection within the Western bloc.

These maneuvers have reappeared at the fore­front of ‘international tension' by the end of 1984: pressure on France to settle the situation in Chad and Libya, and Mitterand's trip to Syria; Arafat's new ‘peace' orientation, marking the PLO's increased submission to Western aims; the assassination of Indira Gandhi, which came at just the right moment to attach India more firmly to the Western bloc.

We shall not go into this question in the frame­work of this article. As long as the bourgeoisie keeps the historical initiative, inter-imperial­ist tensions will continue to increase. There is only one thing preventing a generalized world war: the fact that the bourgeoisie has still not been able to disorientate the working class to the extent of bending it to the defense of the national economy, and to the discipline and ideological control necessary for a generalized war, which would sign humanity's death warrant.

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The acceleration of the class struggle

The perspectives that we traced out at the be­ginning of the 1980s remain valid: the working class has opened a historical period, which will lead to confrontations, class struggles that will be decisive for humanity's future. Either the workers will be able internationally "to keep the murderous hand of capitalism at bay and gather enough strength to overthrow it, or they will let themselves be worn out, tricked, and demoralized by its talk and repression, and so leave the way open to a new holocaust which is likely to wipe out all human society." (IR 20, 1st quarter 1980: ‘The ‘80s, Years of Truth') Since 1980, the bourgeoisie has inflict­ed a partial defeat on the world proletariat's 1978-81 wave of struggles. In Western Europe, it wiped out workers' resistance thanks to the cap­italist left's move into opposition in most of the highly industrialized countries. This defeat culminated in the isolation of the proletariat in Poland and the installation of the ‘state of war' in December 1981. After this defeat, the question was posed whether the world proletar­iat would be able to continue in the industrialized nations what the working class had been unable to achieve in Poland: "The Polish workers could only pose the problem of inter­national generalization in an objective manner. Only the proletariat in the other industrialized countries, and Western Europe in particular, will be able to give a practical answer." (IR 33, 2nd quarter 1983, ‘Towards the End of the Post-Poland Reflux') This reply has begun to appear in the present situation with the renewal of workers' struggles in the West, after a reflux between 1982-83.

Since autumn 1983, working class strikes and movements have proliferated throughout the world: from the US to India, from Peru to South Africa. Here, we shall only recall the most sig­nificant movements against redundancies and wage cuts in Western Europe: Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, Britain, Spain. The strikes have hit vital industrial sectors. Again naming only the most important: in Belgium, the state sector and the mines; in Holland, the state sector and the port of Rotterdam (the world's largest); in Germany, the shipyards, the printing and steel industries; in Britain, the mines, the car and steel industries; and in Spain, the shipyards and the steel industry. These strikes, accompanied by a chorus of strikes and demon­strations in these and other countries and in other branches of industry, are still going on and will accelerate[3]. They are the beginning of a third international wave of workers' struggles, following those of 1968-75 and 1978-81. The period that has opened will pose the ques­tion of the proletariat's ability to pass from resistance against austerity to the international generalization of its combat against capitalism.

The renewal of the struggle has sprung from a maturation in class consciousness. It demonstrates the loss of illusions in the possibility of getting out of the crisis, and the develop­ment of an awareness of the need to take on the open struggle against capitalism's attacks: the struggles are beginning again in spite of all the noise about the ‘economic recovery' and the appeals for ‘solidarity with the national econ­omy'. In this new upsurge of struggles there has been a slow and hesitant disengagement from the grip of the maneuvers of the left and its trade-union and leftist appendages: after two years of retreat to the lowest levels (sometimes the lowest for decades, as in Britain 1982), these maneuvers are no longer enough to pre­vent strikes from breaking out. The left fac­tions are forced to try to contain discontent more directly on the terrain of the working class. This orientation has been illustrated particularly by the CP's return to opposition in France, and the care given to Reagan's re­election. Everything was done to avoid an elect­oral accident in the US: to ensure the presence of the Democratic Party (and therefore of the unions) in opposition in the US itself; and above all because, as leader of its bloc, US policy must set the example and provide the thrust for all the countries of the bloc - particularly with regard to the orientation for maneuvers on the social terrain against the working class.

The international simultaneity of workers' struggles: The first step towards generalization

The growing simultaneity of strikes is a first step that shows the extent of the proletariat's international counter-attack. Even compared with the revolutionary wave of 1917-23, this is the most widespread situation of simultaneous str­uggle in the history of the workers' movement. It helps to bring into the full light of day the profound unity of the needs of the class str­uggle despite the attempted news blackouts, div­ersionary campaigns and the travesty of events presented as ‘national specificities' (the ‘Basque problem' in Spain against the movement in the shipyards) or ‘problems of particular sectors' (the ‘mining problem' in Britain) . This is the crucible where tens of thousands of workers undergo, in the same period of time, an­alogous experiences and confront similar prob­lems, therefore accelerating the possibility of drawing out general lines of action for the whole working class.

At present, the working class' strength lies in the fact that the proliferation of strikes hin­ders the bourgeoisie's international and con­certed planning, Increasingly frequent moments of struggle impose delays and modifications in redundancy plans, contrary to the ‘logic' of capitalist necessity. To take the European steel industry as an example, as early as 1982 more than 100,000 lay-offs were needed to ‘revive' the productive apparatus; if the bourgeoisie has not yet been able to impose them fully, this is due to the danger represented by foreseeable movements in the neighboring steel plants in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, sectors which have already demonstrated their ‘lack of discipline' on several occasions. And during the strikes in Belgium, the workers spoke of going to Longwy in France.

The simultaneity of strikes outlines the prol­etariat's international political response. In the period of capitalist decadence, and espec­ially in a period of open crisis, it is confronted with "a unity and solidarity among the capitalists greater than ever before. They have created specific organisms so as never again to confront the working class individually." (IR 23, ‘Proletarian Struggle in Capitalist Decadence') The unfolding of workers' strikes and movements, from one branch to another, from one country to another, hinders the bourgeoisie's attempts to demobilize and defeat them little by little, factory by factory, branch by branch. The simultaneity of workers' strikes in the middle of the ‘80s - the ‘years of truth' as we have called them - expresses a development of consciousness about their real interests and constitutes a step forward in their ability to unify the combat internation­ally.

According to many political groups and organizations, ‘this analysis is optimistic', ‘the ICC sees revolution everywhere', ‘the ICC over­estimates the class struggle'. Skepticism still reigns in the revolutionary movement[4]. This skepticism as to the evaluation of the class struggle springs from an observation of the weaknesses in the present wave of struggles, and is based on the following facts, taken together or separately:

-- workers' struggles remain under the leadership of the left and the trade union apparatus;

-- they remain at the level of economic demands, without emerging significantly from corporatism; there is no ‘qualitative leap' in the evolution of the strikes;

-- the working class has not set up its own auto­nomous organizations (strike committees, co­ordination committees, etc);

-- there is no party, no revolutionary organization, influencing and orientating the movement of struggles in a revolutionary direction.

While these weaknesses are certainly all real, it is nonetheless false to remain at the level of a mere observation of facts. This would be to take a budding movement for one in full bloom and to forget the international context of the class struggle, its historical dimen­sion that requires the development of con­sciousness throughout the working class and its ability to forge a true world-wide revolutionary party. Wanting the revolution, or even the mass strike, straight away demonstrates a narrow, immediatist vision typical of ‘radical' petty-bourgeois impatience; it means disdaining, and thus being unable to understand, the real advances and potential of the present situation. "Taking each struggle in itself, examining it statically, photographically, means being de­prived of any possibility of apprehending the significance of a struggle, and of the present recovery in the class struggle in particular." (IR 39, ‘The Method for Understanding the Re­surgence in Workers' Struggles') This is what transpires through the criticisms of our ‘opt­imism', our ‘over-estimation' of the struggle, or the ‘abstractness' of our intervention which is centered round the call for the extension of the struggle.

The same skepticism, but in the opposite direc­tion at the time, often held sway towards the ICC's positions on the reflux in class struggle during 1982-83. Then, the ICC was accused of ‘defeatism', of having a conception of an ‘all-powerful' bourgeoisie, because we insisted that the proletariat had been disorientated by the bourgeoisie's ability to maneuver internation­ally against the class struggle, The revolution­ary minorities were late in understanding the reflux, and they are late in beginning timidly to recognize the present wave of struggle, after more than a year of strikes throughout Europe. The proletariat has emerged from a period of disorientation but revolutionary groups are hav­ing profound difficulty in understanding ‘the process unfolding before our eyes', where the struggle has got to and where it is going.

Today, the proletariat is still far from the revolution; it has not yet gone onto the offen­sive, which would presuppose the international generalization of the struggle. The strikes are defensive struggles against the attacks of cap­ital. But, due to the objective and subjective historical conditions of our epoch, the charac­teristics of today's struggles mark the beginn­ing of a process that will have enormous hist­orical implications.

"In the advanced countries of Western Europe, the proletariat will only be able to deploy the mass strike fully after a whole series of com­bats, violent explosions, advances and retreats, during which it will progressively unmask all the lies of the left in opposition, trade union­ism and rank-and- filism." (IR 35, ‘Resolution on the International Situation from the ICC's Fifth Congress') The class has already launched this ‘series of combats'. By renewing the struggle, it is extending and deepening its consciousness of the unity of the problems it confronts, and of the force that it constitutes within society. What kind of solidarity? How to struggle? What action should we engage in, and what can we pit against the sterile ‘actions' of the unions? How to reply to speeches about ‘the defense of the firm'? How are we to confront repression? All these questions, posed in practice in the pre­sent struggles, weaken the prison walls of the ‘specificities' that hide the class unity, strengthen the already-present consciousness that capitalism has nothing to offer but misery and machine-guns, that only the struggle can hold back and then put an end to exploitation.

In pursuing its struggles, the class is extend­ing and reappropriating its communist consciousness.

The step forward constituted by the renewed str­uggle is not to be found in the form of each struggle, in an occasional ‘exemplary' strike, but in its underlying political content which goes beyond a superficial observation of the control that still weighs on the working class. This political content lies in the strikes' international simultaneity which is at pres­ent the most advanced aspect of the movement.

The proletariat's demystification of Western ‘democracy' will mean the collapse of a whole section of the bourgeoisie's ideological domin­ation over the entire working class. This is the direction that today's workers' struggles have taken. ‘Democracy' drops its mask and shows its true face, whether it be in the ‘young' Spanish democracy where the strikes in the shipyards clash daily with the forces of order, or in the ‘old' democracy of Britain where the workers are fighting ‘the most democratic police in the world'.

The present recovery traces the outlines and forges the indispensable precondition for the international generalization of workers' str­uggles. Already contained in today's struggles is the element that will increasingly be the catalyst transforming simultaneity into generalization: the tendency towards extension be­yond categorial sectors and barriers. In 1984, it is the situation of the class struggle in Britain that has most clearly illustrated this tendency.

An example of solidarity and extension: the strikes in Britain

It is in Britain that the class has gone fur­thest since the 1980-81 movement in Poland. The strengths and weaknesses of this movement con­firm several characteristics of the present period.

As the miners' strike has shown, the length of a strike in one sector is not the struggle's major strength in conditions of relative geo­graphical and economic isolation (isolated coal­fields and a declining coal industry). The eff­ort to make the strike last, originally an expr­ession of the miners' determination, has been used by the unions to maintain its isolation and corporatism, eg through the ‘administrative' aspects of such a strike (strike payments and collecting funds), in order to keep alive the craft spirit. The bourgeoisie has unleashed ideological campaigns, which an isolated strike is ill suited to resist - all the more so in a sector that has been held up as a sort of ‘sacrificial offering'. This campaign has in­cluded declarations on the ‘services given' to the nation by the miners during World War II; the image maintained by the NUM of a sort of ‘heroic, last-ditch' battalion, etc.

The strike derives its strength from the general situation of unrest in the working class in other branches and internationally, and from its thrusts towards solidarity and extension within this general situation.

The miners' strike has opened up a breach be­cause of the determination it has shown in rejecting the capitalist economic logic of ‘un­profitable sectors'. It has helped to overturn the myths of ‘peacefulness' and ‘fair play' in ‘British' social conflicts. But it is above all in the tendency towards extension that the events in Britain are an example to the whole working class. It is the unions, more than the workers that have pushed for a long strike, in order to avoid this ‘danger'.

Right from the beginning of the strike, the question of solidarity was posed in relation to the steelworkers. The unions insisted on the miners' ‘mistake' in 1980, of not expressing solidarity with the steelworkers, in order to make them give up this idea. They then concentrated attention solely on an extension in the same branch, as a precondition for any other extension, doing everything they could to pre­vent it, with the help of police barriers between strikers and non-strikers to avoid any direct contact.

The strike was isolated. It was the spontaneous upsurge of the dockers' strikes, first in July and then in August 1984, in explicit solidarity with the miners, that once again posed the question of extension. It proved impossible for the dockers to join up with the miners, but the tendency was clearly expressed and so began to break the ideology of ‘the' miners' strike by opening a second front of resistance, and so encouraging the struggles to continue. The bourgeoisie denounced the dockers' strikes. Right and left shared out the job, the right denouncing the strike's ‘political' nature and the left denying it with all its strength to keep the workers' attention fixed on the corpor­atist terrain of the capitalist economy. This is a classic illustration of the role of the left in opposition: the right speaks clearly and says the truth, the left says the opposite. The proletariat, with its illusions in the working class nature of the left, lets itself be taken in and this expresses one of today's major weaknesses: the proletariat's difficulty in assuming the political nature of its struggle, the under­standing that the battle must be fought against the entire capitalist state. As in the mines, the weight of corporatism in the docks - also an old sector - temporarily carried the day. The thrust of solidarity was blocked, despite the bourgeoisie's difficulties: after the second strike, movements continued in the docks in London and Southampton, showing that discouragement had not had the upper hand.

The car industry strikes early in November 1984 have taken the situation onto a wider level for the proletariat, a more dangerous one for the bourgeoisie.

"If the struggles in the GB car sector - simul­taneously with the miners and other struggles -did't raise, in an explicit manner, the ques­tion of solidarity within the class as a whole, they nevertheless represented a further acceler­ation in the evolution of the struggle as a whole, because;

- they involved workers at the heart of the nat­ional capital: one in ten workers in GB is employed in the car or related sectors;

- they involved workers situated, physically, in or near the major cities, in regular contact with workers from other sectors, not geographically or physically isolated like the miners;

- they had to surmount a whole gamut of union manipulations in order to launch the struggle, and faced the full range of base unionist myst­ifications during the struggle, unlike the min­ers who, atypically, faced a union machine whose most radical rhetoric generally came from the ‘top';

- they had to overcome a rigid compartmentalization by the unions - at least ten unions divide workers at Austin-Rover, for example, whereas the miners, in general, all belong to one union;

- they demonstrated not a solidarity fogged by union mystifications (such as blacking, etc), but the basic necessity of workers under attack today - to struggle, to strike, in an attempt to reverse the rapport de force with the bourg­eoisie;

- they demonstrated that the struggle to main­tain higher standards (higher wage claims) and the struggle to retain jobs ( the miners) is the same struggle, facing the same class enemy, its unions, laws and police;

- they demonstrated, like the miners' struggle has shown, the limits of a defensive struggle through the overall failure to achieve their ends, thus posing the question of a higher, more unified level of struggle.

In this sense, the struggles in the car industry - short explosive struggles involving key sec­tors of the class in large numbers against an experienced union apparatus - simultaneously with struggles in other industries and in other countries, are typical of struggles in the per­iod of decadent capitalism and confirm the ICC's analysis of the perspectives for the struggles internationally." (Communiqué of WR on class struggles in UK)

Faced with the strikes in the car industry, the bourgeoisie immediately handed out a few crumbs in certain factories (Jaguar, for example), to break their unity; it redoubled its ‘back to ­work' propaganda in the mines; it stepped up repression (more than 2000 arrests, several hun­dred injured, and three dead since the beginning of the miners' strike). It staged a campaign around the IRA bombing in Brighton where a min­ister was injured, to draw a parallel between workers' violence and manipulated terrorism, and to call for the defense of ‘democracy'. It prod­uced a multitude of ‘revelations' on links bet­ween Gadaffi and Scargill (leader of the NUM) and on the links between the NUM and the USSR, to try and present the working class as a mass ‘manipulated from abroad', etc.

While some ‘revolutionaries' remain unconvinced by the struggles, the bourgeoisie is convinced of the danger for itself represented by the act­ive solidarity between workers which is emerging in the tendencies towards the extension and sim­ultaneity of their struggles, internationally and even beyond the antagonisms between the blocs:

"The struggle of the miners in GB has attracted the sympathy and solidarity of workers the world over. What we want to draw attention to here is the way the bourgeoisie is trying to use this to blunt consciousness:

- in France, the idea that workers must show solidarity through the collection of funds and, above all, food. Many tons of food from French miners arrived in GB this week;

- in Sweden and elsewhere, that blockades of British goods, organized by the unions, are the way to show solidarity;

- in Belgium, tours by British TUC officials which aim to reduce solidarity to the passive attendance of union meetings whose culminations is ... the collection of funds;

- in Russia, the state has organized for striking British miners, and used this for its own propaganda purposes. (ibid)

1984 will not go down in history as a nightmare imagined by the British novelist George Orwell, who foresaw a world subjected to an all-powerful ‘Bog Brother'. On the contrary, the proletariat in Europe, above all in Britain and Spain at the end of 1984, and in other countries, has stepped up its response by disengaging itself from democratic totalitarianism which everywhere announces redundancies and represses resistance under the pressure of a crisis that goes on intensifying. The miners' arm-wrestling with the ‘iron lady' is giving way to a far more general test of strength between the working class and capital. In Europe, it is in the great cities that have not yet been at the heart of the struggles, that the proletariat's movement will continue, spread and deepen.

MG

6.12.84   



[1] IR 20, ‘1980s, Acceleration of the Crisis'.

[2] IR 37, ‘Myth of the Economic Recovery'

[3] We cannot, in the framework of this article, give a detailed account of events. We refer the reader to the articles in IRs 37, 38, 39 and to our territorial press which tries, to the limits of its capacities, to fight the bourgeoisie's blackouts on workers' struggles. We also urge our readers to send us information on struggles.

[4] We are not talking here of the leftist or trade unionist groups, whose problematic, whatever the ‘working class' language they use, aims at controlling the proletariat and lies outside the workers' camp.

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