Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Labour's Futile Housing Reform (1973)

From the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour’s promise to take over all privately rented accommodation in London is a confession of the failure of its previous policies of rent control and improvement grams to solve the housing problem. And it too will fail.

Rent control had eventually led to housing conditions getting worse. Many landlords neglected to maintain their houses properly since the low rents they received didn’t make it worth their while. Faced with this problem the last Labour government came to accept the Tories’ policy of allowing rents to rise to enable landlords to make bigger profits. True, they did introduce a measure of re-control of rents. But this very same Act set up the now notorious “fair rents” machinery which the Tories had merely to extend to council tenants. It wasn’t long before people were complaining that this was benefiting landlords more than tenants — but then it had to if landlords were to make more profit.

Then in 1969 Labour introduced another Housing Act whose effect has nearly been as disastrous as what labour politicians used to call the “wicked Tory Rent Act” of 1957. This Act extended the so-called fair rents formula to some previously controlled tenancies, but it also provided for local councils to make “improvement grants” to landlords. The intention no doubt was that the sitting tenants would benefit in terms of better housing, even if they did have to pay more rent. But it has not worked like this at all. Property companies have bought houses off smaller landlords, obtained a grant to convert them into flats — and then let them off at much higher rents. Far from the sitting tenants’ benefiting they have had to find alternative accommodation. Whole communities of lower-paid workers, as in parts of Islington, have been driven out of their traditional homes by these “improvement” grants, swelling the number of homeless and aggravating the housing shortage.

The whole business illustrates the futility of piecemeal reform as a solution to the housing problem. It proves the soundness of the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s contention that the housing problem can never be solved as long as capitalism lasts. What is required is a complete change in the basis of society which will bring the means of production into common ownership under the democratic control of all the people. Only on this basis can production be planned with a view to satisfying people’s needs. Housing would then be no problem. The resources, human and material, to build enough decent homes for everybody have long been in existence. In Socialism there will be no class privileges or profit motive to prevent them being used to do this, as there is under capitalism.

Letter: “Democracy” in Greece (1973)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,

In your April issue, commenting on Andreas Papandreou’s Democracy at Gunpoint, you said that the situation in pre-1967 Greece was different from that in other places with “a workable, though limited, political democracy” because ‘‘parliament in Greece did not control the coercive side of the state machine”. This is so, but there are one or two other points which I think should be stressed.

Mr. Papandreou's party was not a Socialist party as we understand it, and although they used the usual slogans of the Left never intended to establish Socialist Democracy in Greece. The Centre Union was very authoritarian in its structure and its policies were by far more conservative than those of the Labour Party here.

The trouble with Greece is that all those who pose now as “liberators”, “democrats” and God knows what (including Mr. Papandreou) failed to realize or did not want to realise that you cannot hope for Socialism unless you have the conscious consent of the majority.

Greek society is a non-democratic one. This is apparent not only in the structure of its political but also of its educational and religious institutions and the family.

That is not to say that I accept the colonels’ argument that they will teach the Greek people democracy(!). Their rĂ©gime is a ruthless dictatorship and democratic principles can only be learnt by living in a democracy and perhaps making the inevitable mistakes. What I mean is that Greece does not need failed bourgeois opportunists, but Socialists who will work seriously for Socialism.
D. M., Swansea.

In general terms we would agree with the views expressed by our correspondent, providing it is understood that Socialism — a democratic society based on the common ownership of the means of life with production solely for use not sale or profit — could not be established in a single country like Greece but must be world-wide. And of course our review of Papandreou’s book did make it clear that his Centre Union party was the party for modern capitalism in Greece. We would agree that what the workers of Greece need is Socialism, not a government under such “failed bourgeois opportunists” as Papandreou.
Editorial Committee.

A Wet Old Season (1973)

Book Review from the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kicking against the Education System

Fifteen years ago the answer to all the deficiencies in working-class education was to have comprehensive schools. This was to be the mid-century’s great reform, comparable with the Welfare State in its hoped-for transforming and equalizing effect. So comprehensive schools were established, and a steep-stepped gradation among them sprang up immediately. Some became the Etons and Gordonstouns of this plastic brave new world; others produced associations of well-heeled parents fighting to keep their children out of them. Inside the schools all the inequalities of the old system were repeated and all the problems recurred. What change?

Without relish, we can say that we told you so. Our 1959 pamphlet Schools Today predicted precisely those outcomes from making State education "comprehensive”. Reformers are painfully slow to learn, however. That is why we are out of sympathy for the agonized cries of Christopher Searle’s book This New Season (Calder & Boyars, £2.60). Alternating presentations of children’s poems with his own bitter attacks on the education system, the writer calls for "rank and file control of the schools” and "democratizing the schools as a fundamental part of society”. Yet we have just been watching a reorganization with those claims and supported by the entire Left fall flat on its face, demonstrating that within capitalism schools are what they have to be.

Contradictory Anger
Christopher Searle’s account of what they are is a wide-eyed one, full of astonished indignation at discoveries that the teacher is a wage-slave, that “the child is . . . raw material to fill up the functions for making profit”, that the education system is “divided and hierarchical”. The reactions are those of the student who has believed in the idealism of training-college discussions, then gone to his first teaching post and been told to forget that nonsense and get on with the job as it really is (which is what most young teachers are told as soon as they start). Of course the statements are true, but the truth is not very profound. In all epochs, education aims to fit the young to live in and maintain their society — not as a rulers’ conspiracy, but as a necessary function. Education in capitalism has no alternative to being education for capitalism.

It has to be said that contradictions and sloppy thinking abound in This New Season. You cannot slate Stepney, where Searle’s school is, as “a decaying, violent neighbourhood”, “claustrophobic”, etc., and then berate teachers for not choosing to live there: on his own evidence, who would? Teachers are “underpaid, confused, frightened”, but also guilty of “cosy, middle-class” existence. The most absurd and prejudicial item in the book is a photograph of the headmaster and the vice-chairman of the Governors, obviously intended to condemn by itself. They look unappetizing, certainly. But would a candid-camera snap of, say, Cliff and Healy be more attractive? And, to turn the thing inside-out, would State education become acceptable if Mrs. Thatcher were a dolly-bird? What nonsense is this !

Blind Alleys
The question is what schools are all about. Searle is correct in saying they exist “to prepare a child for his future employers”, mistaken in thinking this primary function can be stopped as immoral and a worthier one substituted under capitalism. The example given of an alternative is the Scotland Road Free School where it is said “The whole of Liverpool is our classroom”. No doubt the Free School is an enjoyable place, but the truth is that it is as irrelevant as A. S. Neill’s Summerhill. On one hand, its material is children in a social section the State can afford, at least up to a point, not to bother about. On the other, most educational innovations are picked up from experimental and minority schools, and their methods put to use for “the enemy culture”. The poacher finds he was only a trainee gamekeeper, after all.

Beyond reiterating the value of poetry as a liberating activity, and the importance of the English teacher, the book has nothing whatever about the content of education. Searle says:
. . .  we need more schools, more teachers, more books, more facilities for our working-class children, more concentration to develop their frustrated and insulted potential. The more economic and educational demands we make for our class, the more we threaten the prevailing standards peddled in the schools.
It might be remarked that this has happened. Since the 1944 Education Act there have been more schools, books, teachers, etc., and “the prevailing standards” have apparently been reinforced not threatened by them. But what is the desired “more” to consist of? Only hints are given when Searle talks of “the wastage”, lack of “any social opportunity”, “an inequitable and divided society”. One has to infer that he believes there is a superior kind of education given to the well-to-do that should be shared equally by working-class children.

Marketing Goods
There are dreadful fallacies here. To give the most handsome schooling to every child would not alter anything in economic life. An adolescent’s poem in the book asks:
Now will a college be my fate?
Or National Assistance?
The answer is: quite likely, both. Not long ago attention was drawn to the number of science graduates — chemistry in particular — who could not get jobs.

Searle writes of “a choice” offered to the working-class child: “be consumed, move upwards, away from your origins and join the middle class, or fall back and join the labour market”. This is abysmal rubbish. The “middle class” of professional and managerial people are in the labour market with all the rest. And what emerges is that Searle sees himself, for all the talk about “identity” and “class allegiances”, as coming down from the middle class to give a helping hand to the proles:
The teacher, society’s agent in the schools, is like the lonely dustman. Dependent on the children for both his raison d’etre and his raw material, he takes them from the dark world of the school to the darker world of the dead-end job or the dole, and yet his liberalism still likes to make him see them as friends . . . The fact is that we are all workers: teachers, children, parents, and children themselves can soon identify with oppressed and exploited adults.
What needs to be remembered also is that the subject-content of education is itself a collection of marketed products. The “better” the education, the more this applies. A great deal of what is taught in schools, halo-surrounded, is practically worthless either in getting-a-job terms or for personal satisfaction. The biggest educational growth industry of the present time is modern languages — formerly Spanish and German, now Russian, with Chinese on the horizon (in America the upsurge is in Japanese). Not to learn at least one such language is taken as a deprivation, but the fact is that the likelihood of using it for any reason at all is microscopic. The use of mathematics above office-boy or workshop level is so rare as to make its universal teaching absurd. That is not to denigrate any branch of study, but to point out that behind every subject is the sale of books, equipment and buildings. If you don’t believe it, go to an “education exhibition”. Is this the “opportunity” that must be won by struggle?

Searle’s most persistent attack is on the attitudes imparted in schools, summarized by him as “white middle class consciousness”. Its other side is shown by citing a survey made recently by the Medical Research Council’s Social Medicine Unit, where
it was revealed that in the East End of London, the single most important factor in determining whether a child becomes a ‘delinquent’ and appears before the courts, is the school he attends. Their research completely reversed the majority view very widely and conveniently held in the schools that the home environment and lack of parental control is the determining factor in whether a child becomes a ‘delinquent’.
That is all true, as far as it goes. The dividing and streaming of schoolchildren is undoubtedly a catalyst to delinquency: those labelled “reject” get the message and, often, react accordingly. The trouble is that different factors are confused here. Basically, the school and a child’s place in it are likely to reflect his family’s income and circumstances. In the days of the eleven-plus it was commonly said among teachers that the scholarships might as well be given in relation to the parents’ income because that was what school prowess at that age amounted to; and this fact of capitalist life has transferred itself to the comprehensive system.

But delinquents, whatever else is said concerning them, have plainly rejected “white middle class consciousness”. (They have also been rejected by it; and in the quotation above it is hard to see any other kind of consciousness at work.) It remains to be shown that attitudes presented in schools do carry and have a decisive effect. A report in The Times on 19th December 1972 summarized four recent studies on whether education can change people or society. All conclude that it cannot. Thus, the Jencks report from the United States:
To improve schools would not eliminate inequality in cognitive skills or poverty and economic inequalities between adults . . . According to the Jencks arguments, schools are at best only marginal institutions.
Prisons and Freedom
To speak of schools as prisons will not do, despite examples to be found. “Factories” would be nearer the mark. However, in any society there is a minimum of skills and knowledge which must be acquired if the individual and the community are not to be at disadvantages: literacy, proficiency with numbers, the use of tools and means of expression and enquiry. Ideally, what happens beyond that is a matter of individual inclination matched to social needs. Nevertheless, it is mistaken to think that all learning must be fun and wherever it is not is a prison. Much learning, at both child and adult levels, has to be unpalatable grind with satisfaction only at later stages. What is wrong with capitalism’s education is that the satisfactions are rarely one’s own and principally realized in profit-making for others; but to seek to trivialize and gift-wrap learning is to underwrite the Woolworth mentality of capitalism.

Schools cannot be treated as if they were separable from society, capable of being re-directed in isolation. It is always possible for a teacher to have his own attitudes reproduced, particularly in writing and art, by the suggestibility of children and be elated by these signs of a new outlook. Unfortunately, the effect does not last because it cannot be based on understanding. Bernard Shaw said in 1914 that the people who became emotionally excited over peace were the same ones who became emotionally excited over war; and he was speaking of adults. Of course it is desirable that education should aim at “control of our own lives”, and “reciprocity, comradeship and shared experience”. But to obtain that, we must first create a society to which such purposes will be functional — not the other way round.

Socialists working for that society have a special interest in everyone’s education. It is ex ducere to bring forth, “educe” to draw out: not the stuffing-in of school education or the parrot-unison of ideologies, but the joining of knowledge to experience from which the conception of and the resolve for a different world must arise.
Robert Barltrop

50 Years Ago: The Capital Levy (1973)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard 

In the “Forward” (Saturday, May 5th, 1923), Mr. F. W. Pethick Lawrence, a Labour candidate and prominent advocate, sets out what he calls “The Case for the Capital Levy,” with the sub-title, “Lift the Burden of Debt from Industry and Labour.”

If the burden rested on the backs of the workers it might be worth while trying to throw it off. But if the workers have no surplus, then they cannot be robbed of what they don’t possess; and, in spite of apparent objections, the workers as a whole do not suffer from high, nor benefit from low taxation. They suffer because they are robbed, and they are robbed whether taxes are high or low, and the degree of the robbery has, over a period, no direct or indirect relation to taxation. As we have seen, the workers receive all the wealth they possess from the capitalist owners, and, further, these owners control at present the machinery by means of which taxes are levied.

Now, the workers either receive a surplus over their minimum needs or they do not. If they don’t, then they cannot be robbed of that non-existent surplus afterwards. If they do, then the capitalists will have given the surplus either because they are philanthropists or because they are compelled by economic forces. If they are philanthropists, then they will not take back the gift they gave; and if they were compelled to give, then the same forces will prevent them from taking it back.

The pertinent question Lawrence might answer is this : Would the capitalists, if there were no taxation at all, give the workers a larger share of the wealth produced, and, if so, why?

Mr. Lawrence says : “The main principle of the levy is simplicity itself. It is to pay off debt out of wealth. The wealth of the country as a whole is the wealth of its citizens.” This, as I have already explained, is quite untrue. The wealth of the country as a whole is the private property of the capitalist class. Only the owners of property can suffer the burden of taxation, and only the owners do suffer. Some of them want you, the propertyless workers, to pull their chestnuts out of the fire, and Mr. Lawrence and the Labour Party are making a bid for office on the strength of offering to do the necessary publicity work.

While the capitalists will on the one hand be relieved from the burden of paying the debt interest, they will also, on the other hand, be deprived of the present means of paying that interest. Some will gain by reduced taxation what others lose by the paying off by the State of their quota of the debt and their consequent loss of interest on their bonds. The money paid out will, in its turn, be reinvested in industry, and we shall be as we were.

(From an article by E. Hardy in the Socialist Standard for August 1923.)

Mr. Cousins Damp Squib (1959)

From the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
What Mr. Cousins is after will leave the workers just as they are, the wage slave victims of capitalist conditions and subject to the threat of terrible wars, with or without the H-Bomb.
The Labour Party is in a turmoil—and the General Election is near. Mr. Cousins of the Transport and General Workers Union has thrown a spanner into the works. He has been making quite a stir in the news by his opposition to the official attitude of the Labour Party on the H-Bomb and nationalisation.

Mr. Bevan has now become quite respectable as an official spokesman. Mr. Cousins has replaced him as the Labour Party rebel—the “leftist.” It is only farce that is played out every now and then with only a change in the personnel. Is there really any fundamental difference between Mr. Cousins and the leaders of the Labour Party?

He objects to the H-Bomb but supports the Labour Party, which is pledged to a defence programme. Millions were killed in the last war without the H-Bomb being used, but he does not support the only policy that will end war. He believes Mr. Gaitskell is sincere but that his policy on the H-Bomb will not be effective.

At the Transport and General Workers Conference in the Isle of Man Mr. Cousins dropped his bombshell. He is also reported as follows: “I have never believed that the most important thing in our lives is to elect a Labour Government. The most important thing is to elect a Labour Government that is determined to carry out Socialist policies.” (Daily Express, 10th July, 1959.)

Now what does he mean by “to carry out Socialist policies”? To him it means nationalisation—state capitalism. He objects to the official line on nationalisation—buying shares instead of the state taking over the industries. But to him. just as to them, state ownership is equivalent to Socialism. In other words, in spite of the long experience of state capitalism, he blindly accepts it as the fundamental aim, despite the disillusion and unrest in state owned or state controlled concerns and the labour struggles in them for better conditions.

Thus what Mr. Cousins is after will leave the workers just as they are, the wage slave victims of capitalist conditions and subject to the threat of terrible wars, with or without the H-Bomb.

In striking back at Mr. Cousins Mr. Gaitskell made some very significant statements. He made it clear that a Labour Government was not bound by the decisions of the rank and file of the Labour Party and that he was first and foremost a patriot. Here are some extracts from his speech at Workington on the 11th July, 1959:
A Labour Government will take into account the views of the Conference, but, as was clearly demonstrated in the correspondence between Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee in 1945, annual conference does not mandate a government.

Both a Labour Government and the Parliamentary Labour Party must be left free to settle in matters of detail how and when the principles and decisions are to be applied in practice. This has always been understood in the past, and it must be clearly understood again today. (Observer, 12th July, 1959.)
Earlier in his speech he was even more emphatically the leader who would disdain the decisions of the Labour movement he claimed to represent:
To give such a pledge [not to resume nuclear tests] might conceivably be to jeopardise the future security of our country, and that I will not do under any circumstances. Those of us who have the responsibilities of political leadership have to remember always that we shall be expected to stand by our pledges.
We will not bother to remind him of the pledges the “political leadership” have broken in the past, but we can remind him that no one is forcing him to take the “political leadership” job. If he doesn’t like what the people who appoint him want him to do he can always resign his job and not fly in the face of their decisions. But that would be the democratic way and leadership is the antithesis of democracy!

Time and again we have pointed out that what the Labour Party was mainly concerned with was not principles but votes. This futile controversy has spotlighted it once again. Labour M.P.’s are wrathful and shaking in their shoes at thought of the effect this blow-up may have on their votes in the next election. That is their main and all-consuming worry. Even Mr. Cousins expostulates that his proposals will not split the Labour Party, and anyhow, he will abide by conference decisions—in spite of the prospect of dire calamity unless the H-Bomb is abandoned.

While the Labour Party storm may have a bad influence on their election prospects it will have no influence upon the subject position of the worker. Only Socialism can remove that subjection—and this has no place in the Labour programme, nor in Mr. Cousins’ outlook.

Letter: Socialists and Nuclear Disarmament (1959)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrades,

Although I am a supporter of the S.P.G.B. for the last ten years, it is not my usual practice to write to you whenever I happened to disagree with the Party on minor issues; but now I am compelled to write this letter, because the point I should like to raise here is a very important and a serious one—it is the Party’s relation towards the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (C.N.D.)—I have read your short A Point of View (May, 1959). I entirely agree on every point you raised and explained in relation to the cause of war and its remedy; but what I don’t agree, is your attitude towards C.N.D. It crystallizes in one single sentence in the first para. “We hold that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is on an unsound basis and inevitably leads in the wrong direction.”

I think this tendency to disassociate with a movement of this character and make judgment that it is uon an unsound basis” is due to your incorrect or false evaluation of the social forces. Most of you may be probably still thinking that it is a movement started by a few non socialists like Canon Collins or Michael Foot or Bertrand Russell or perhaps they (the leaders) might be conscious of the dangers of the present situation, but the people in general who follow them have no clear understanding of our society. This view or any other similar view which is trying to picture that movement as if it is completely dominated and controlled by such a leadership, is superficial, grossly incorrect and an oversimplification of the whole social process which brought C.N.D. into being.

New Consciousness
In the first place I should like to point out that it is not the leaders that came before the movement, but the movement armed with a new social consciousness pregnant with a new force of energy, which appeared first and then a set of leaders are born out of that specific social situation. In the last ten years powerful nations on both sides were boasting that they have more effective and better weapons of destruction than the other side. Many influential politicians and military leaders in Britain, Russia and America repeatedly stated that they are developing bigger and better bombs.

Along with this all round boasting they were actually strengthening all their forces of destruction and arming up to the teeth. Almost every aspect of society was alerted. A new awareness or perhaps consciousness began to develop among all sorts of people of the seriousness of the situation in which they are involved. They began to be conscious of the weakness of their social and political institutions which hitherto they supported, to prevent a new world war. They began to doubt the chance of their survival in the nuclear warfare. They felt it is their duty to “revolt” against this ridiculous situation where two great rival nations threaten each other by clenching their fists. It is this new social situation which gave birth to C.N.D. But this new social consciousness is blind. It has no eye to see the barrier in front of it which is to be removed for their survival. As one of the leading members (sociologist?) of the U.L.R. (Universities and Left Review) pointed out it is a “leaderless” movement. Unfortunately what he implied, later in his speech, was that U.L.R. should try to assume its leadership if not of the whole at least its youth section. Hundreds and thousands of people, especially youths, turned up and joined the C.N.D. fully conscious that they need something new, yet they did not know what they wanted!

It is true various types of political factions in C.N.D. are trying to utilize this blind consciousness as a ladder to climb to political power or at least to strengthen their original position, being utterly unaware of the significance of this new development. But it is the Socialists’ duty to move along with them in order to provide them with an eye so that they can see the barrier which stands in their way. In other words, we should try to create a situation so that the Socialist concept, as an eye, should assume the leadership of this new consciousness.

I strongly hold the view that it was our duty, Socialists’ duty, either individually or collectively organized on a party basis, to march along with them with our own banners and slogans and take the opportunity of speaking to such a huge conscious gathering. We lost that opportunity! No Collins or Foots or Taylors can claim even the partial control or ownership of a movement of this character. Nor does it belong to them. It belongs to the whole society. In my view this kind of participation in C.N.D. is only a logical extension of what we had already been doing—selling our literature, discussing with non Socialist marchers etc. Now I begin to feel that it is this type of social isolation or regimentation of S.P.G.B. from the rest of the conscious and militant social forces (as Rosa Luxemburg indignantly pointed out about another aspect—the relation between the masses and the political leadership) which makes our unassailable case ineffective instead of being a powerful political force.
H. J. Panikkar. 

We regret that Mr. Panikkar’s letter was too long to publish in full.

During its 55 years of existence, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has seen many organisations which like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, have been pledged to abolish a particular evil of capitalist society. The hunger marchers and the pacifists of the 1930’s were described as movements “armed with a new social consciousness.” Today, members of Road Safety Committees can possibly be described in the same way— at least their death statistics are less in dispute than those of the C.N.D. In truth, as capitalism throws up problems, so it throws up organisations which try to deal with one or more of them in isolation. There is no doubt about the sincerity of some of these movements, or that they concern themselves with very real and terrifying matters. But because they do not demand an understanding of the roots of the problems, their efforts are doomed to futility.

Because of this socialists have no place in these organisations. But this does not prevent them stating, at every possible opportunity, the socialist attitude to such horrors as war. We do not isolate ourselves from our opponents, we are always eager to put our case to them. Mr. Panikkar cannot have missed, on page 78 of the May Socialist Standard, the account of our activities at the last Aldermaston March. This is typical of S.P.G.B. work, whatever non-socialist organisation we are dealing with.

Weapons of war are inseparable from war itself. To abolish them, we must get rid of war. These are caused by the clash of interests between groups of capitalists who want to protect or exploit markets and fields of valuable natural wealth. The need to do this is the result of the fact that, in capitalist society, goods and services are produced with the motive of profitable sale. Obviously, each group will strive to arm itself more powerfully—which means more destructively—than its opponents. Hence the development of modern weapons and the horrors of nuclear warfare. We can solve this problem by abolishing private property. Only a socialist movement can effectively advocate this.

In contrast, the C.N.D. is in favour of the continuation of capitalism. It does not even oppose capitalism's wars, but wants them to be gentlemanly affairs in which people are killed by conventional armaments. Even on the score of nuclear weapons, the C.N.D. is confused. Many of its members support the return of another Labour government—yet the last one started the British H-bomb and missile programmes. This confusion is typical of organisations which may be well meaning, but lack the essential knowledge with which every socialist is equipped. Mr. Panikkar claims that C.N.D. members are ". . . conscious of the weakness of their social and political institutions . . . to prevent a new world war.” Our guess is that the next election will see them voting for the very political parties which administer the capitalist basis of those social and political institutions.

Marches and demonstrations are glamourous and exciting. Alongside, our insistence on knowledge may seem rather dull. But the marchers are going to dissension and futility. The socialist movement alone offers the world any hope.
Editorial Committee.

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