Orientation text: Militarism and decomposition

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On several occasions, the organization has been led to insist on the importance of the question of militarism and war in the period of decadence[1], both from the viewpoint of the life of capi­talism itself, and from the proletarian stand­point. With the rapid succession of historically important: events during the last year (collapse of the Eastern bloc, war in the Gulf) which have transformed the whole world situation, with capitalism's entry into its final phase of decom­position[2], it is vital that revolutionaries be absolutely clear on this essential question: militarism's place within the new conditions of today's world.

Marxism is a living theory

1) Contrary to the Bordigist current, the ICC has never considered marxism as an "invariant doctrine", but as living thought enriched by each important historical event. Such events make it possible either to confirm a framework and analyses developed previously, and so to support them, or to highlight the fact that some have become out of date, and that an effort of reflection is required in order to widen the ap­plication of schemas which had previously been valid but which have been overtaken by events, or to work out new ones which are capable of encompassing the new reality.

Revolutionary organizations and militants have the specific and fundamental responsibility of carrying out this effort of reflection, always moving forward, as did our predecessors such as Lenin, Rosa, Bilan, the French Communist Left, etc, with both caution and boldness:

- basing ourselves always and firmly on the basic acquisitions of marxism,

- examining reality without blinkers, and de­veloping our thought "without ostracism of any kind" (Bilan).

In particular, faced with such historic events, it is important that revolutionaries should be capable of distinguishing between those analyses which have been overtaken by events and those which still remain valid, in order to avoid a double trap: either succumbing to sclerosis, or "throwing the baby out with the bath water". More precisely, it is necessary to highlight what in our analyses is essential and fundamental, and remains entirely valid in different historical circumstances, and what is secondary and cir­cumstantial - in short, to know how to make the difference between the essence of a reality and its various specific manifestations.

2) For a year, the world situation has under­gone considerable upheavals, which have greatly modified the world which emerged from the sec­ond imperialist war. The ICC has done its best to follow these events closely:

- to set out their historical significance,

- to examine how far they confirm or invalidate analytical frameworks which had been valid previously.

Although we had not foreseen exactly how these historic events would take place (Stalinism's death-agony, the disappearance of the Eastern bloc, the disintegration of the Western bloc), they integrate perfectly into the analytical framework and understanding of the present historical period that the ICC had worked out previously: the phase of decomposi­tion.

The same is true of the present war in the Persian Gulf. But the very importance of this event and the confusion that it highlights among revolutionaries gives our organization the responsibility of understanding clearly the im­pact and repercussion of the phase of decompo­sition's characteristics on the question of mili­tarism and war, of examining how this question will be posed in this new historical period.

Militarism at the heart of capitalist decadence

3) Militarism and war have been a fundamental given of capitalism's life since its entry into decadence. Since the complete formation of the world market at the beginning of this century, and the world's division into colonial and com­mercial reserves by the different advanced cap­italist nations, the resulting intensification of commercial competition has necessarily led to the aggravation of military tensions, the constitution of ever more imposing arsenals, and the growing subjection of the whole of economic and social life to the imperatives of the military sphere. In fact, militarism and imperialist war are the central manifestations of capitalism's entry into its decadent period (indeed the beginning of the period was marked by the outbreak of World War I), to such an extent that for revolutionar­ies at the time, imperialism and decadent capi­talism became synonymous.

As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out, since imperi­alism is not a specific manifestation of capitalism but its mode of existence throughout the new historical period, it is not particular states that are imperialist, but all states.

In reality, if militarism, imperialism, and war are identified to such an extent with the period of decadence, it is because the latter corre­sponds to the fact that capitalist relations of production have become a barrier to the devel­opment of the productive forces: the perfectly irrational nature, on the global economic level, of military spending and war only expresses the aberration of these production relations' contin­ued existence. In particular, the permanent and increasing self-destruction of capital which re­sults from this mode of life symbolizes this system's death-agony, and reveals clearly that it has been condemned by history.

State capitalism and imperialist blocs

4) Confronted with a situation where war is om­nipresent in social life, decadent' capitalism has developed two phenomena which constitute the major characteristics of this period: state capi­talism and the imperialist blocs. State capital­ism, whose first significant appearance dates from World War I, corresponds to the need for each country to ensure the maximum discipline from the different sectors of society and to re­duce as far as possible the confrontations both between classes and between fractions of the ruling class, in order to mobilize and control its entire economic potential with a view to con­frontation with other nations. In the same way, the formation of imperialist blocs corresponds to the need to impose a similar discipline amongst different national bourgeoisies, in order to limit their mutual antagonisms and to draw them to­gether for the supreme confrontation between two military camps.

And the more capitalism plunges into its deca­dence and historic crisis; these two characteris­tics have only become stronger. They were ex­pressed ·especially by the development of state capitalism on the scale of an entire imperialist bloc since World War II. Neither state capital­ism, nor imperialism, nor the conjuncture of the two, express any kind of "pacification" of the relationships between the different sectors of capital, still less their "reinforcement". On the contrary, they are nothing other than capitalist society's attempts to resist a growing tendency to dislocation[3].

Imperialism in the phase of capitalist decomposition

5) Society's general decomposition is the final phase of capitalism's decadence. In this sense, this phase does not call into question the spe­cific characteristics of the decadent period: the historic crisis of the capitalist economy, state capitalism, and the fundamental phenomena of militarism and imperialism.

Moreover, in as far as decomposition appears as the culmination of the contradictions into which capitalism has plunged throughout its deca­dence, the specific characteristics of this period are still further exacerbated in its ultimate phase:

- decomposition can only get worse, since it results from capitalism's inexorable plunge into crisis;

- the tendency towards state capitalism is not called into question by the disappearance of some of its most parasitic and aberrant forms, such as Stalinism today; on the contrary[4].

The same is true of militarism and imperialism, as we have seen throughout the 1980's during which the phenomenon of decomposition has ap­peared and developed. And this reality will not be called into question by the disappearance of the world's division into two imperialist constel­lations as a result of the Eastern bloc's collapse.

The constitution of imperialist blocs is not the origin of militarism and imperialism. The oppo­site is true: the formation of these blocs is only the extreme consequence (which at certain mo­ments can aggravate the causes), an expression (and not the only one), of decadent capitalism's plunge into militarism and war.

In a sense, the formation of blocs is to impe­rialism as Stalinism is to state capitalism. Just as the end of Stalinism does not mean the end of the historical tendency towards state capital­ism, of which it was one manifestation, so the present disappearance of imperialist blocs does not imply the slightest calling into question of imperialism's grip on social life. The funda­mental difference lies in the fact that whereas the end of Stalinism corresponds to the elimina­tion of a particularly aberrant form of state capitalism, the end of the blocs only opens the door to a still more barbaric, aberrant, and chaotic form of imperialism.

6) The ICC had already worked out this analysis when it highlighted the collapse of the Eastern bloc:

"In the period of capitalist decadence, all states are imperialist, and take the necessary measures to satisfy their appetites: war econ­omy, arms production, etc. We must state clearly that the deepening convulsions of the world economy can only sharpen the opposition between different states, including and increas­ingly on the military level. The difference, in the coming period, will be that these antago­nisms which were previously contained and used by the two great imperialist blocs will now come to the fore. The disappearance of the Russian imperialist gendarme, and that to come of the American gendarme as far as its erstwhile "partners" are concerned, opens the door to the unleashing of a whole series of more local rival­ries. For the moment, these rivalries and confrontations cannot degenerate into a world war (even supposing that the proletariat were no longer capable of putting up a resistance). However, with the disappearance of the disci­pline imposed by the two blocs, these conflicts are liable to become more frequent and more vi­olent, especially of course in those areas where the proletariat is weakest" (International Review, no 61).

"The aggravation of the capitalist economy's worldwide economic crisis will necessarily pro­voke a new exacerbation of the bourgeoisie's own internal contradictions. As in the past, these contradictions will appear on the level of military antagonisms: in decadent capitalism, trade war cannot but lead to armed conflict. In this sense, the pacifist illusions which may de­velop following the "warming" of relations be­tween the USSR and the USA must be resolutely combated: military confrontations between states are not going to disappear, even though they may no longer be used and manipulated by the great powers. On the contrary, as we have seen in the past, militarism and war are decadent capitalism's way of life, and the deepening of the crisis can only confirm this. In contrast with the previous period, however, these mili­tary conflicts no longer take the form of a confrontation between the two great imperialist blocs ... " (International Review, no 63, 'Resolution on the International Situation').

Today, this analysis is fully confirmed by the war in the Persian Gulf.

The war in the Gulf: first signs of the new world situation

7) This war is the first major manifestation of the new world situation since the collapse of the Eastern bloc (in this sense, its importance today is a good deal greater):

- Iraq's "uncontrolled" adventure, grabbing another country belonging to its own one-time dominant bloc, confirms the disappearance of the Western bloc itself;

- it reveals the accentuation of the tendency (specific to capitalist decadence) for all coun­tries to use armed force to try to break the in­creasingly intolerable grip of the crisis;

- the fantastic military deployment by the USA and its "allies" highlights the fact that in­creasingly, only military force will be able to maintain a minimum of stability in a world threatened by growing chaos.

In this sense the war in the Gulf is not, as most of the proletarian political milieu claims, "a war over the price of oil". Nor can it be re­duced simply to a "war for control of the Middle East", however important this region may be. Similarly, the military operation in the Gulf is not just aimed at forestalling the chaos developing in the Third World.

Of course, all these elements have a role to play. It is true that most Western countries have an interest in cheap oil (unlike the USSR, which is nonetheless participating in the action against Iraq as far as its limited means will al­low), but it is not the means that have been put in motion that will make oil prices fall (they have already pushed crude prices up far higher than what Iraq was demanding).

It is also true that the USA has an undeniable interest in controlling the oil-fields, and that this strengthens its' position relative to its com­mercial rivals: but then, what makes these same rivals support the US efforts?

Similarly, it is obvious that the USSR has a prime interest in the stabilization of the Middle Eastern region, close as it is to Russia's central Asian and Caucasian provinces, which are al­ready agitated enough. But the chaos develop­ing in the USSR does not concern this country alone. The countries of Central, and then of Western Europe are particularly concerned by what is happening in the old Eastern bloc.

More generally, if the advanced countries are preoccupied by the chaos developing in certain regions of the Third World, this is because they themselves are more fragile as a result of this chaos, because of the new situation in the world today.

8) In reality, the fundamental object of the "Desert Shield" operation is to try to contain the chaos which is threatening the major developed countries and their inter-relations.

The disappearance of the world's division into two great imperialist blocs has meant the disappearance of one of the essential factors which maintained a certain cohesion between these states. The tendency of the new period is one of "every man for himself", and eventually for the most powerful states to pose their candida­ture to the "leadership" of a new bloc. But at the same time, the bourgeoisie in these coun­tries is well aware of the dangers of this new situation, and is trying to react against this tendency.

Faced with the new degree of general chaos represented by the Iraqi adventure (secretly encouraged by the United States' "conciliatory" stance towards Iraq before the 2nd August with the aim of "making an example" of it after­wards), the "international community" as the media call it, which is far from covering only the old Western bloc since it also includes the USSR, had no other choice than to place itself behind the world's greatest power, and more especially behind its military power which is the only one capable of policing any corner of the world.

The war in the Gulf shows that, faced with the tendency towards generalized chaos which is specific to decomposition and which has been considerably accelerated by the Eastern bloc's collapse, capitalism has no other way out in its attempt to hold together its different compo­nents, than to impose the iron strait-jacket of military force[5]. In this sense, the methods it uses to try to contain an increasingly bloody state of chaos are themselves a factor in the aggravation of military barbarism into which capitalism is plunging.

No prospect of the formation of new military blocs

9) Although the formation of blocs appears his­torically as the consequence of the development of militarism and imperialism, the exacerbation of the latter in the present phase of capitalism's life paradoxically constitutes a major barrier to the re-formation of a new system of blocs tak­ing the place of the one which has just disappeared. History (especially of the post-war pe­riod) has shown that the disappearance of one imperialist bloc (eg the Axis) implies the dislo­cation of the other (the "Allies"), but also the reconstitution of a new pair of opposing blocs (East and West). This is why the present situ­ation implies, under the pressure of the crisis and military tensions, a tendency towards the re-formation of two new imperialist blocs.

However, the very fact that military force has become - as the Gulf conflict confirms - a pre­ponderant factor in any attempt by the ad­vanced countries to limit world chaos is a con­siderable barrier to this tendency. This same conflict has in fact highlighted the crushing superiority (to say the least) of US military power relative to that of other developed coun­tries (and to demonstrate this fact was a major US objective): in reality, US military power is at least the equal of the rest or the world put to­gether. And this imbalance is not likely to change, since there exists no country capable in the years to come of opposing the military potential of the USA to a point where it could set itself up as a rival bloc leader. Even in the future, the list of candidates for such a position is very limited.

10) It is, for example, out of the question that the head of the bloc which has just collapsed ­the USSR - could ever reconquer this position. The fact that this countr y was able to play such a part in the past is in itself a kind of aberration, a historical accident. Because of its serious backwardness on every level (economic, but also political and cultural), the USSR did not possess the attributes which would have al­lowed to form an imperialist bloc "naturally" around itself[6]. It was able to do so "thanks" to Hitler (who brought it into the war in 1941) and to the "Allies" who at Yalta paid Russia for having formed a second front against Germany, and for the tribute of 20 million dead paid by its population, by allowing it control over the area of Eastern Europe occupied by its troops at the end of the German collapse [7].

Moreover; it was because the USSR was inca­pable of keeping up this role of bloc leader that it was forced to impose a ruinous war economy on its productive apparatus in order to pre­serve its empire. The Eastern bloc's spectacu­lar collapse, apart from confirming the bankruptcy of a particularly aberrant form of state capitalism (which did not spring from an "organic" development of capital either, but from the elimination of the "classical" bour­geoisie by the 1917 revolution), could not but express history's revenge on this original aberration. This is why, despite its enormous arse­nals, the USSR will never again be able to play a major role on the international stage. All the more so, since the dynamic behind the disloca­tion of its external empire will continue to work internally, and will finish by stripping Russia of the territories it colonized during previous centuries.

Because it tried to play the part of a world power, which was beyond its capacities, Russia is condemned to return to the third-rate posi­tion it occupied before Peter the Great.

Nor will Germany and Japan, the only two po­tential candidates to the title of bloc leader, be able to assume such a role within the foresee­able future. Japan, despite its industrial power and economic dynamism, could never pretend to such rank because it is too far removed from the world's greatest industrial concentration: Western Europe. As (or Germany, the only country which could eventually play such a role, as it already has in the past, it will be several decades before it can rival the USA on the military level (it does not even possess atomic weapons!). And as capitalism plunges ever deeper into its decadence, it becomes ever more necessary for a bloc leader to a crushing military superiority over its vassals in order to maintain its place.

The USA: the world's only gendarme

11) At the beginning of the decadent period, and even until the first years of World War II, there could still exist a certain "parity" between the different partners of an imperialist coalition, although it remained necessary for there to be a bloc leader. For example, in World War I there did not exist any fundamental disparity at the level of operational military capacity be­tween the three "victors": Great Britain, France and the USA. This situation had already changed considerably by World War II, when the "victors" were closely dependent on the US, which was already vastly more powerful than its "allies". It was accentuated during the "Cold War" (which has just ended) where each bloc leader, both USA and USSR, held an absolutely crushing superiority over the other countries in the bloc, in particular thanks to their posses­sion of nuclear weapons.

This tendency can be explained by the fact that as capitalism plunges further into deca­dence:

- the scale of conflicts between the blocs, and what is at stake in them takes on an in­creasingly world-wide and general character (the more gangsters there are to control, the more powerful must be the "godfather");

- weapons systems demand ever more fantas­tic levels of investment (in particular, only the major powers could devote the necessary re­sources to the development of a complete nu­clear arsenal, and to the research into ever more sophisticated armaments);

- and above all, the centrifugal tendencies amongst all the states as a result of the exacer­bation of national antagonisms, cannot but be accentuated.

The same is true of this last factor as of state capitalism: the more the bourgeoisie's different fractions tend to tear each other apart, as the crisis sharpens their mutual competition, so the more the state must be reinforced in order to exercise its authority over them. In the same way, the more the open historic crisis ravages the world economy, so the stronger must be a bloc leader in order to contain and control the tendencies towards the dislocation of its differ­ent national components. And it is clear that in the final phase of decadence, the phase of de­composition, this phenomenon cannot but be se­riously aggravated.

For all these reasons, especially the last, the reconstitution of a new pair of imperialist blocs is not only impossible for a number of years to come, but may very well never take place again: either the revolution, or the destruction of hu­manity will come first.

In the new historical period we have entered, and which the Gulf events have confirmed, the world appears as a vast free-for-all, where the tendency of "every man for himself" will operate to the full, and where the alliances between states will be far from having the stability that characterized the imperialist blocs, but will be dominated by the immediate needs of the mo­ment. A world of bloody chaos, where the American policeman will try to maintain a mini­mum of order by the increasingly massive and brutal use of military force.

Towards "super-imperialism"?

12) The fact that in the coming period the world will no longer be divided into imperialist blocs, and that world "leadership" will be left to the United States alone, in no way validates Kautsky's thesis of "super-imperialism" (or "ultra-imperialism") as it was developed during World War I. This thesis had already been worked out before the War by the Social­-Democracy's opportunist wing. Its roots lay in the gradualist and reformist vision which con­sidered that the contradictions (between classes and nations) within capitalist society would di­minish to the point of disappearing. Kautsky's thesis supposed that the different sectors of international financial capital would be capable of uniting to establish their own stable and pa­cific domination over the entire world. This thesis, presented as "marxist", was obviously fought by all the revolutionaries, end especially by Lenin (notably in Imperialism, highest stage of capitalism), who pointed out that a capitalism which had been amputated of exploitation and competition between capitals was no longer cap­italist. It is obvious that this revolutionary position remains completely valid today.

Nor should our analysis be confused with that of Chaulieu (Castoriadis), which at least had the advantage of explicitly rejecting "marxism". According to this analysis, the world was mov­ing towards a "third system", not of the har­mony so dear to reformists, but through brutal convulsions. Each world war led to the elimina­tion of one imperialist power (Germany in World War II). World War III would only leave one bloc, which would impose its order on a world where economic crises would have disappeared and where the capitalist exploitation of labor power would be replaced by a sort of slavery, the reign of the "rulers" over the "ruled".

Today's world, emerging from the collapse of the Eastern bloc to face a generalized decompo­sition, is nonetheless totally capitalist. An in­soluble and deepening economic crisis, increas­ingly ferocious exploitation of labor power, the dictatorship of the law of value, exacerbated competition between capitals and imperialist antagonisms between nations, unrestrained militarism, massive destruction and endless mas­sacres: this is its only possible reality. And its only ultimate perspective is the destruction of humanity.

The proletariat and imperialist war

13) More than ever then, the question of war remains central to the life of capitalism. Consequently, it is more than ever fundamental for the working class. Obviously, this ques­tion's importance is not new. It was already central before World War I (as the international congresses of Stuttgart (1907) and Basel (1912) highlighted).

It became still more decisive during the first imperialist butchery (with the combat of Lenin, Luxemburg, and Liebknecht, and the revolutions in Germany and Russia). Its importance re­mained unchanged throughout the inter-war pe­riod, in particular during the Spanish Civil war, not to mention of course its importance during the greatest holocaust of the century between 1939-45. And this remained true, finally, during the various "national liberation" wars after 1945 which served as moments in the confrontation between the two imperialist blocs.

In fact, since the beginning of the century, war has been the most decisive question that the proletariat and its revolutionary minorities have had to confront, much more so than the trade union or parliamentary questions for ex­ample. It could not be otherwise, in that war is the most concentrated form of decadent capital­ism's barbarity, which expresses its death-agony and the threat that hangs over humanity's sur­vival as a result.

In the present period, where the barbarity of war will, far more than in previous decades, be­come a permanent and omnipresent element of the world situation (whether Bush and Mitterrand with their prophecies of a "new order of peace" like it or not), involving more and more the de­veloped countries (limited only by the prole­tariat in these countries), the question of war is still more essential for the working class.

The ICC has long insisted that, contrary to the past, the development of a new revolutionary wave will come not from a war but from the aggravation of the economic crisis. This analy­sis remains entirely valid: working class mobilization, the starting point for large-scale class combats, will come from economic attacks. In the same way, at the level of consciousness, the aggravation of the crisis will be a fundamental factor in revealing the historical dead-end of the capitalist mode of production. But on this same level of consciousness, the question of war is once again destined to play a part of the first order:

- by highlighting the fundamental conse­quences of this historical dead-end: the de­struction of humanity,

- by constituting the only objective conse­quence of the crisis, decadence and decomposi­tion that the proletariat can today set a limit to (unlike any of the other manifestations of de­composition), to the extent that in the central countries it is not at present enrolled under the flags of nationalism.

War's impact on class consciousness

14) It is true that the war can be used against the working class much more easily than the crisis itself, and economic attacks:

- it can encourage the development of paci­fism;

- it can give the proletariat the feeling of impotence, allowing the bourgeoisie to carry out its economic attacks.

This in fact is what has happened to date with the Gulf crisis. But this kind of impact cannot but be limited in time. Eventually:

- the permanence of military barbarity will highlight the vanity of all the pacifist talk;

- it will become clear that the working class is the main victim of this barbarity, that it pays the price as cannon-fodder and through in­creased exploitation;

- and combativity will recover, against in­creasingly massive and brutal economic attacks.

This tendency will then be reversed. And it is obviously up to revolutionaries to be in the forefront of the development of this conscious­ness: their responsibility will be ever more de­cisive.

15) In the present historic situation, our inter­vention in the class, apart of course from the serious aggravation of the economic crisis and the resulting attacks against the whole working class, is determined by:

- the fundamental importance of the question of war;

- the decisive role of revolutionaries in the class' coming to consciousness of the gravity of what is at stake today.

It is therefore necessary that this question figure constantly at the forefront of our press. And in periods like today, where this question is at the forefront of international events, we must profit from the workers' particular sensitivity to it by giving it special emphasis and priority.

The ICC: 4/10/90



[1] See ‘War, militarism, and imperialist blocs' in International Review nos 52 and 53.

[2] For the ICC's analysis on the question of decomposition, see International Review nos 57 and 62.

[3] Nonetheless, we should emphasize a major difference between state capitalism and imperialist blocs. The former cannot be called into question by conflicts between different factions of the capitalist class (except in cases of civil war, which may be characteristic of certain backward zones of capitalism, but not of its advanced sectors): as a general rule, the state, which represents the national capital as a whole, succeeds in imposing its authority on the different components of that capital. By contrast, imperialist blocs do not have the same permanent nature. In the first place, they are only formed with a view to world war: in a period when this is not an immediate possibility (as in the 1920s), they may be very well disappear. Secondly, no state is particularly ‘predisposed' towards membership of a particular bloc: blocs are forced haphazardly, as a function of economic, political, geographical and military factors. There is nothing mysterious between this difference in stability between the capitalist state and imperialist blocs. It corresponds to the fact that the bourgeoisie cannot aspire to a level of unity higher than the nation, since the national state is par excellence the instrument for the defense of its interests (maintaining "order", massive state purchasing, monetary policies, customs protection, etc). This is why an alliance within imperialist bloc is nothing other than a conglomerate of fundamentally antagonistic national interests, designed to preserve these interests in the international jungle. In deciding to align itself with one bloc or another, the bourgeoisie has no concern other than to guarantee its own national interests. In the final analysis, although we can consider capitalism as a global entity, we must never forget that it exists concretely in the form of rival and competing capitals.

[4] In reality, it is the capitalist mode of production as a whole, in decadence and still more in its phase of decomposition, which is an aberration from the viewpoint of the interests of humanity. But within capitalism's barbaric death-agony, certain of its forms, such as Stalinism, which spring from specific historic circumstances, have characteristics which make them still more vulnerable, and condemn them to disappear even before the whole system is destroyed either through the proletarian revolution, or the destruction of humanity.

[5] In this sense, the way that the world "order" is maintained in the new period will more and more resemble the way the USSR maintained order in its ex-bloc: terror and military force. In the period of decomposition, and with the economic convulsions of a dying capitalism, the most barbaric and brutal forms of international relations will tend to become the norm for every country in the world.

[6] In fact, the reasons behind Russia's inability to act as locomotive of the world revolution (which was why revolutionaries like Lenin and Trotsky expected that the revolution in Germany would take Russia in tow) were the same as those which made Russia a wholly inappropriate candidate for the role of a bloc leader.

[7] Another reason that the Western powers gave the USSR a free hand in Central Europe, was that they expected the latter to police the proletariat in the region. History has shown (in Warsaw in particular) how well-placed their confidence was.

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