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Full text of "Religion and communism"

Religion a n d 
Communism 



By EARL BROWDER 



KC 



The following is the text of the address of Earl Browder, 
General Secretary of the Commmtist Party, U.S.A., delivered 
at the regular morning service of the Commmniy Church 
Boston on March 5, 79^9. 



in 




THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 

OF TEXAS 

AT 
AUSTIN 



PUBLISHED BV 

WOKKKItS LIlikARV PUBLISHERS, INC. 

P. O. UOX 148, STATION D, NEW YORK, N, Y, 

KJRST PRINTING^ MARCH, iggg 

SECOND PRINTING, MARCH, 1939 



PRINTED EN THE U.Sji. 



RELIGION AND 
COMMUNISM 

BY EARL BROWDER 



THERE is an extensive newspaper campaign being con- 
ducted in the United States, designed to unite all persons 
of religious belief in a common front against Communism and 
the Communist Party, on the ground that Communism and 
the Communistii threaten to destroy their religions and their 
religious freedom. I have taken advantage of your kind invita- 
tion to address you today, in order to give the Communist view 
of this question. I am assuming that we occupy at least this 
common ground, to begin with, that we all agree that both 
sides of the question should be considered fully before minds 
are closed and final judgment rendered;* that is, I assume that 
I am not addressing myself to those whose views are already 
fixed and final, not to be reached by reasonable discussion. 

Allow me, first of all, to make a clear definition of the 
Communist Party attitude to religion. My Party stands for 
unconditional freedom of religious beliefs and worship, as a 
matter of principle, for the complete scparacton of church and 
state, for the removal of every element of coercion in matters 
of conscience. That is its fundamental principle in all ques- 
tions of public, of governmenlal, policy. Within our Party we 
place no tests of religion whatever upon our merabershipj 
which includes, as a matter of fact today, persons of all shades 
and tendencies of religious belief, as well as skeptics, agnostics 
and atheists. The Party resei-ves the right, in relation to its 
own members, of caUing up for discussion any particular 
opinions of any kind, religious or otherwise, which involve 



formulation of policy toward social and political problems, 
but this can never result in coercion because of the purely 
vohintary nature of membership in the Party. 

This being the Communist position, not a new position but 
going back to the foundation of our movement in the teach- 
mgs of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels from the middle of 
the nineteenth century on. the question arises, upon what 
basis has it been possible for misconception to arise, for the 
Communists to be pictured as proponents of forcible destruc- 
tion of religion and reh'gious freedom? 

Two facts have served to lend some color of credibility to 
these charges against us, and to make possible widespread mis- 
understanding. 

First, the repression of the Greek Orthodox Church in the 
Russian Revolution which founded the first socialist republic 
of the world under the leadership of the Communist Party; 
second, the insistence of all Marxian ]>hil(}sophical authorities 
upon the exclusion of every element of the supernatural from 
the explanation of the world and of man's history, and from 
the policies which are expected to mold and direct future his- 
tory^the insistence that these questions must be dealt with as 
matters of scientific inquiry as rignronsly as questions of as- 
tronomy, physics, chemistry or biology. Let us, therefore, 
examine these two facts more in detail, to sec if they conflict 
with the principles of religious freedom. 

• « • 

The Greek Orthodox Church was deeply involved in the 
Russian Revolution, and suffered from it, first of all because 
it was a State Church, a political instrument in the hands of 
the tsarist autocracy, as corrupt, rotten and unspiritual an insti- 
tution as history records. It was the antithesis of religious free- 
dom, as well as the symbol and instrument of political 
despotism, Any steps toward freedom, religious or political, on 
the part of the Russian people, no matter how limited, could 
only be taken over the ruins of tsarism and the Church which 
was its unlimited instrument; the role of the Church was 
summed up in the sinister figure of the Monk Rasputin, who 
dominated the last years of the reign of Nicholas II. For full 
documentation of this phase of the problem, no recourse is 






needed to Communist authorities; the case was fully estab- 
lished by historians of all religions (except of the one under 
examination), before the socialist revolution o£ 1917 caused 
them to lock up their books in forgotten archives, so as not 
to embarrass the anti-Soviet political fight of the Church, with 
which they were in agreement. 

As a matter of simple historical fact, the disestablishment 
of the Greek Orthodox Church in Russia, and its elimination 
from political life, was pan of the bourgeois-democratic revo- 
lution and not specifically of the socialist revolution, even 
though it was realized only under the Soviet Republic, as 
were most of the simplest democratic achievements. But it was 
an historical Lask strictly paiallel to the disestablishment of 
the Catholic Church in France, a feature of the bourgeois 
revolution, and was carried through with much less violence 
and incidental hardships precisely because it was so long over- 
due that only the socialist revolution completed it. It was an 
historical task strictly comparable to that which the United 
States carried out over the sixty or seventy year period follow- 
ing the Declaration of Independence. It compressed in a few 
short years for Russia the hundreds of years required for the 
Reformation fn Central and Western Europe, which had left 
Russia almost untouched. 

It becomes further clear that the struggle against the church 
was a necessity of the simplest aspirations to political liberty, 
and not a special item of the socialist or communist program, 
when we see how today it repeats itself in other lands fighting 
for democracy and independence, for example, in Spain and 
Mexico. I know quite well, of course, that all Tories point to 
the conflict between church and state in Spain and Mexico as 
signs of Communist influence in those lands, but such propa- 
ganda is so obviously untrue that it should not confuse a single 
educated person. Every period of Spanish history, when its 
people were striving toward democracy and civilization, saw 
the church hierarchy (always with honorable exceptions) on 
the side of reaction; and the repressions of the popular move- 
ment always resulted in movements against the church, marked 
by church burnings and so on. 

When the Spanish Republic arose a few years ago, the same 

5 



struggles set in again, as they had so ofter^in Spanish history; 
that the Communist Party did not create this struggle is 
proved by the fact that it was not strong enough, before 1936, 
to elect a single deputy to the national legislature, and v/hen 
it did become stronger its influence was consistently a mod- 
erating one on the religious issue (not, of course, conciliatory 
toward the pro-fascist section of the Church hierarchy). Simi- 
larly in Mexico, the conilicL between church and state has 
been a permanent one since the 1911 Revoliarion, and was 
sharpest in the period before the Communist Party was formed, 
or while it was a small and persecuted sect, President Cardenas 
is the first Mexican executive to have the epithet ''Communist*' 
flung "at him (he has the consolation, if he needs it, of know- 
ing that President Roosevelt suffers at the same time from the 
same accusation), but he is also the first President since 1911 
to have succeeded in softening tliis conflict considerably with- 
out compromising the program of the revolution written into 
the Mexican Constitution. 

And finally, citizens of the United States, before they accuse 
Communists of being church-burners and persecutors of reli- 
gion, should study the history of our own country more care- 
fully, for they will find that church-burnings and persecutions 
in tliis country have occurred, but always on the part of one 
religious group against another, never as the act of anti- 
religious groups or of Communists. 

An illuminating and valuable book has but recently been 
issued, The Protestant Crusade, by Ray Billington, dealing 
with the anti-Catholic movement in America in the first half 
of the nineteenth century, from a pro-CaLholic viewpoint, 
which is sufficient by itself to absolve the Communists from 
any responsibility for the origin of bigotry or intolerance on 
the religious question in our counti7. 

So much for the first of the two grounds upon which Com- 
munists have been accused of being enemies of religious free- 
dom. Overwhelming evidence proves that all the great strug- 
gles between church and state which have been so lightly 
ascribed to Communist hostility to religion are nothing of tlie 
kind; they arose out of the general democratic movement of 
the people for both political and religious freedom^ and char- 

6 



acterize the bourgeois-dernocraiic revolution against feudalism 
and semi-feudal survivals, and that these struggles arc carried 
over into the socialist revolution only there where, and to the 
extent to which, the bourgeois-democratic revolution was de- 
layed or was incomplete. 



Now for the second ground for accusation against us, 
namely, the insistence of Marxian ideology and philosophy 
upon the exclusion of the supernatural from the world-view 
upon which we base our prograni, the insistence upon an ex- 
clusively scientific consideration. First of all» let me repeat, 
there is no religious or anti-religious test of membership in the 
Communist Party, and an increasing number of Party mem- 
bers are active communicants of the various churches, finding 
in the Party program and activities, as distinct from its back- 
ground and base of M^xian philosophy, what they themselves 
describe as "the nearest we can find to applied Christianity." 

And, indeed, it cannot be denied that Christianity and most 
other religions have communistic traditions and ethical teacli- 
ings which can be realized in the modern world only through 
the program of the Communist Party. Nevertheless, there is a 
conflict between the Marxian philosophy which is the dom- 
inating iniSuence in the intellectual life of the socialist and 
communist movementj and the distinctly religious, ethical, or 
philosophical-idealist approach to social and political ques- 
tions, even when these latter approaches result in the accep- 
tance of the same immediate political program o£ the Com- 
rc^unist Party. 

We Communists would be the last to evade this issue, or to 
belittle its significance. But we insist upon keeping it, insofar 
as we are able, upon its proper plane as a conflict of ideas, 
which does not necessarily, and should not, result in a. conflict 
between persons who agree upon immediate program while 
disagreeing upon the intellectual path by which they reached 
that common point. We are determined not to allow any dis- 
putes about the Marxian philosophy to be used by anyone to 
break the unity of the people in their struggles to realize an 
immediate, agreed-upon program, whether that is a simple pro- 
gram of the democratic front or even the program of estab- 

7 



lishing socialism. In fact the highest evidence of the validity 
of Marxism, in our view, is its effective contribution to the 
unity of the working class and the toiling masses of the popu- 
lation. 

We are not sectarians or dogmatists. We know that there 
is every likelihood that even when the time comes when the 
majority of the American people decide to establish socialism 
according to the program of the Communist Party, the greatest 
part of that majority will not understand or consciously accept 
the Marxian philosophy, but will be moved by immediate 
needs which will be expressed in their minds in religious, 
ethical, or philosophical-idealist forms of thought. 

It would therefore be the extreme of stupidity on our part 
if we should raise dogmatic barriers between our Party and 
the great masses who do not understand Marxism, and who 
will not have the opportunity to understand it for some time 
to come. And Marxians are not stupid, at least not as a rule. 
A dogmatic Marxism is, in our understanding, foreign to the 
whole teaching of Marx and his great successors, Lenin and 
Stalin, and was what Marx himself had in mind when, on an 
occasion of being pestered by dogmatists trying to quote him 
against himself, impatiently declared tliat he, Marx, was no 
Marxian. 

No, we are not dogmatists. But neither are we weak-minded 
opportunists or conciliators, who try to patch up a united 
movement of the people out of mutually contradictory frag- 
ments of ideas or the colorless common-denominator of the 
rich and multifonn popular thought. We use our Marxism as 
an instrument to discover the effective forces that can and will 
unite the people in struggle for the needs of their life, despite 
all differences in ideas, and through such common struggle 
gradually achieve more and more unity of ideas. 

For it is the essence of our thought, and that is why we are 
called materialists, that the universe and life come first, and 
out of it grows the idea, not the other way about; and it is also 
of the essence of our thought, and that is why we are called 
dialectical, not mechanical, materialists, that the idea, when it 
corresponds to reality and is taken possession of by the masses 
becomes such a power that can shape, direct and guide the 

8 



human race to complete freedom, which is the same thing as 
to say the full realization o£ its capacities. 

With increasing frequency I have the question put to me by 
religious persons with a communistic tendency of thought: 
why does not the Communist Party drop its Marxism, toward 
which the churches are hostile, and frankly adopt religion as 
an approach to the masses, even if only from practical and 
opportunistic motives. I believe that this question can be an- 
swered in such a way that everyone, including the advocates 
of religion, will understand the impossibility of such a pro- 
posal. All that is necessary is to begin to visualize the steps 
that would be necessary, and what would result from these 
steps- 

These proposals usually come from Christians- They really 
propose that the Party should adopt Christianity. But if we 
did, that would immediately exclude the Jews, Mohammedans, 
and the horde of small non-Christian sects, not to speak of a 
great mass (the majority of the population in the United 
States) who profess no religion at all, as well as smaller groups 
of professed atheists, That would only be to fix arbitrarily a 
division o£ the people instead of greater unity. 

But then our troubles are only begun. The outstanding 
characteristic of the Christian community, from the viewpoint 
of influence upon social groupings, is its schismatic character. 
The largest of the Christian churches is less than one-third of 
the total, while the remainder is divided up among a score of 
Protestant denominations. The Catholics are convinced that 
all others are but disguised forms of atheism, and all the more 
dangerous because disguised; while most Protestants continue 
to look upon the Catholics as idolaters and subjects of a for- 
eign potentate, even when they allow the issue to lie in abey- 
ance. Not even all Methodists have been able to remain in 
one church, and the same is true of Presbyterians and Bap- 
tists, not to mention the lesser denominations. 

If the Christian community is so demonstrably unable to 
unify itself, or even to move in the direction of unity, what 
reason have we to think the adoption of Christianity by the 
Communists would help to unify the people around our po- 
litical program? 



It is, of course, idle to apply the same test to other faiths* 
as for example the Jewish. And of course the religious Jewish 
community would indignantly protest against the Commu- 
nists endorsing their religion, since the fascists have so terribly 
revived the cannibalistic and-Semitism of the Middle Ages, 
and ijitensiiied it, precisely under the completely false identi- 
Rcation of the Jewish religion, with Communism. 

Incomparably larger numbers of people are religious-minded 
than are scientifically minded, due to the educational delects 
of our present social system. Yet, while the religious approach 
to our political problems opens up the doors to schism with- 
out end, the strictly scientific approach gives the maximum of 
uniiy^ and contributes most to realizing the brotherhood of 
man. There has never yet been found a test of religious faith 
acceptable to all religious people; but there are such tests for 
all -who agree upon the scientific approach. That is why all 
sciences, except the social sciences, have largely liquidated 
opposing schools of thought; while in the social sciences, where 
there is as yet only the beginning of unity in America, this is 
only because their scientific possibilities are by and large 
denied, because to admit them would be to admit the tabooed 
premises of Marxism or Communism. But scientific thought is 
a mighty force, which it is very difficult to outlaw, and that is 
why the Communist Party, comparatively very small indeed, 
exercises an influence in our country which is quite broad 
and is extending rapidly. 

» ^ * 

By maintaining this scienLific approach, while scrupulously 
refraining from all offense to the religious preconceptions of 
all m^n and joining in the guarantee of religious freedom to 
all, the Communist Party finds the road to the maximum unity 
and effectiveness of all who agree with the practical program 
of Communism, and the greatest possibility of cooperation 
with the broadest progressive and democratic masses who con- 
stitute a majority of the population. And our cooperation 
with the broadest circles, on a minimum program of ameliora- 
tion of social conditions under capitalism (a minimum pro- 
gram typified by the New Deal), is growing every day. In this 
process we more and more find ourselves in cooperation with 

10 



groups united on the basis of their religious beliefs. We wel- 
come this cooperation, and do our best to make it more 
fruitful. 

Sometimes there are by-products of this cooperation, which 
are embarrassing to our friends. I have in mind a recent 
article in the American Magazine^ which set out to prove that 
the Communist Party was ''boring from within" the Protestant 
churches, with such success that we are supposed to be within 
sight of a majority influence already. Of course^ suclx fantastic 
conclusions are reached by the simple process of identifying 
"Communists" l>y ihe same standards Mrs. Dllling used to 
"expose" the '^Communism" of the President, Mrs. Roose- 
velt and Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter. And you can 
hardly blame the Communists for this embaiTassment, because 
even if we should remove ourselves entirely from the Amer- 
ican scene, Mr. Dies and Mrs. Billing would only insist all the 
more that we had merely "gone underg] ound," and would all 
the more insistently ''expose'' every serious progressive as a 
"hidden Communist," 

An interesting fact* to offset the fantasies about "Commu- 
nism" in the Protestant churches, is that we have more com- 
municants of the Catholic Church as members of the 
Communist Party than of any other denomination. While we 
make many sympathetic contacts among active Protestants, 
they seldom become Party members; but among Catholics, the 
speed with which a sympathetic contact develops into a loyal 
and active Party man is much greater, and the proportion 
much higher. 

When 1 asked one of otir Cadiolic Party members Lo explain 
the reasons for this to me, he replied that his religious educa- 
tion and discipline had contained a recognition of the reality 
of the material world, which he found largely lacking in Prot- 
estant churches, but which he found compatible with the Marx- 
ian dialectical materialism. He considers himself first of all 
a Catholic, but he is intcUectualiy convinced that communism 
is the inevitable next stage of society, and he believes that if 
he helps to bring it about he will thereby contribute most 
effectively to the continuity of his religion. He points out that 
his Church, despite all difficulties, did learn to adapt itself 



11 



to capitalism, despite its ties to the old feudal society, and he 
hopes it will, with less resistance, accept the new society of 
socialism. His views are at least interesting, and I pass them 
on to you for what they may be worth. This much I can testify 
toward their soundness, that in the trade union movement the 
Communists have found no more harmonious and effective 
co-workers than among those circles predominantly Catholic. 
From such facts, you will understand why the Communist 
Party does not reply in kind to tlie furious diatribes directed 
against us by the reactionary clergy of the Ca4;holic Church, 
typified by Father Coughlin and the Rev, Edward Lodge 
Curran. They are not representative of the Catholic com- 
munity, and as their links with foreign and native fascism 
become clearer, they are doomed to repudiation by their own 
flocks. Meanwhile, there is a valuable by-product to their 
ravings; inasmuch as they are of such low intellectual caliber, 
most of their audience are left unsatisfied, but curious to really 
learn something about this much-talked-of Communism, with 
the result that the circulation of our literature among Cath- 
olics is increasing by leaps and bounds. A growing number 
of Catholic youth, who are sent to my meetings by Rev. Cur- 
ran in order to scoff, remain, if not to pray, yet to enter into 
reasonable discussions from which they almost always emerge 
with thoughtful visage, minus the cocksure aggressive intoler- 
ance with which they were sent. 

« # * 

All these growing friendly contacts between Communists 
and religious communicants are more than casual and acci- 
dental incidcnrts. They are symptoms of deep currents begin- 
ning to move among the people. They reflect a deepening 
uneasiness before the rising menace of fascism within the United 
States, and alarm before the aggressions of the Berlin-Rome- 
Tokyo axis which are engulfing the world in the second World 
War. When they witness tlie alliance of the war-makers march- 
ing under the flag of "Anti-Communism," their long-inculcated 
prejudices against the Communists are undermined, at least 
to the extent of recognizing that they share a common enemy 
with the Communists, and that enemy an extremely aggressive 
one, and dangerous beyond anything hitherto seen in history. 

12 • 



1 



The distressful conditions of all loyal and active com- 
municants of both Catholic and Protestant churches under 
Hitler, and the cannibalistic pogroms against the Jews, have 
served to awaken and frighten all intelligent church adherents 
in the United States. They are no longer able to accept the 
old formulae and ready-made answers of the pre-Hitler time. 
They are asking questions, serious ones, and demanding 
serious answers. 

With the fascist powers setting themselves up as the church, 
violently assimilating into themselves all existing churches, 
our American church members can no longer be satisfied with 
superficial comparisons with former conflicts between Church 
and the democratizing states which sought the disestablishment 
of the church and its removal from politics. Here is some- 
thing quite different, opposite in fact, something which 
threatens to turn back the clock of human progress not to the 
Middle Ages, but to pre-civilization. 

With the fascist absolutism, no longer content to oppress in 
the name of God, but claiming to be God himself, personified 
in Der Fuehrer, disposing of the fate of whole nations with 
iron hands and the kick o£ rough-shod military boots, Ameri. 
can churchgoers can no longer be frightened by the menace 
of a few quotations from the philosophical writings of Marx, 
Engels, Lenin and Stalin which combat the conception of 
supernatural influences, in the realm of ideas. Here is some- 
thing quite different, opposite in fact, something which trans- 
forms the whole concept of religion and of God himself into 
a monstrous military machine, raining death and destruction 
from the skies upon men, women, and children alike. 

That all America is aroused and frightened by this horrible 
menace is attested by the current rearmament program now 
getting under way, and which seems destined to reach 
colossal dimensions before any relief comes. Does any one 
doubt whence comes the danger before which America is 
arming? 

Surely the danger does not come from "Godless" Soviet 
Russia. It has existed for twenty-one years, and not one of 
its neighbors has ever had cause to fear its armed forces, even 
if some ruling classes have shivered with fright before its ideas. 

13 



The stronger the Soviet Union grows, the more it has been 
able to prove in deeds its undying devotion to international 
order, to peace, and to the inviolability of agreements between 
nations. 

No, there can be no doubt in the mind o£ any intelligent 
person^ even one who is only most siiperficially informed. The 
world is being plunged into war by the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo 
axis, the ^^Anti-Communist'' alliance. There are the enemies of 
all mankind, of civilization itself. Thence comes the menace to 
all culture and all freedom, including religious freedom. 

If that is true— and who can deny it?-what then are we to 
think of those who continue to shout from the housetops the 
alarm about the "menace of Communism"? Communism will 
and can be nothing but what the majority of the people make 
of it, and if we cannot trust the people then all talk of human 
liberty has become so much hypocrisy. 

And what are we to think of those who, more slyly* talk 
oi the "menace of dictatorships" and lump together Germany. 
Russia, Italy, and Japan? That is only to make the enemy look 
more powerful, throw panic among the democratic peoples, 
and deny to us the natural and inevitable cooperation of a 
natural and inalienable friend, in the most dangerous moment 
of world history. 

The brutal truth, which needs to be spoken with brutal 
frankness, is that every public man who agitates today against 
the Soviet Union is thereby taking the path toward the Berlin- 
Romc-Tokyo axis, toward submission to its plans of world 

conquest. 

* * * 

The issue i& submission or resistance. Can anyone think of 
resistance, but at the same time wish the United States to bear 
the burden of such resistance alone? Certainly not, for such 
ideas are clearly nothing but a disguised form of submission, 
putting off the decision until the rest of the world has been 
conquered. 

Can anyone think of resistance, and not want among Amer- 
ica's friends every power, great and small— but especially great 
—which can be aligned against the war-makers, for peace and 
international order? Certainly not, for to refuse friends in the 
14 



\ 



face of world cataclysm is only the road of self-destruction, of 
national suicide. 

Can anyone deny that the Soviet Union is a great powei;? 
Only those who take their thoughts ready-made Trom the 
Volkischer Beohachter of Berlin, as an increasing number of 
Republican spokesmen from Herbert Hoover down are doing. 

A nation that multiplied its national wealth and income by 
ten times since 1928, the same period in which even the United 
States declined in wealth and national income, cannot be 
described other than as a great power, A nation which oc- 
cupies the eastern half of Europe and the northern third of 
Asia, with half the surveyed mineral resources of the world, 
cannot be described other than as a great power. A nation 
which has raised its general standard of living five-fold in ten 
years cannot be described other than as a great power. A nation 
that stands second in wealth and income only to the United 
States itself cannot be described other than as a great power. 

This great power, the Soviet Union, has proved in its entire 
existence that it never broke an agreement, never deserted a 
friend, never uttered a threat, and never violated a border, 
In a world of chaos and destruction, a world in which the 
United States government with the overwhelming support of 
the people considers it necessary to multiply armaments to 
guarantee our simple national existence— in such a world, such 
a great power offers its friendship and cooperation to the 
American people and government. 

Should America accept, cultivate and cherish such a prof- 
fered friendship? Men are speaking in the name of religion 
and religious freedom to advise us no, to refuse this offer. 
May I be allowed to point out, to Catholics, Jews, and Prc^t- 
estants, to men and women of all religions and of none, that it 
was such advice, which was followed in Europe, which raised 
this Frankenstein that threatens our destruotfon, and if fol- 
lowed in the United States will destroy us also. 



J5 



SOCIAL AHD NATIONAL SECURITY 

liY EARL BROWDER 

What does the Munich Pact mean for the security 
o£ America? How can the American people meet the 
threat of reaction at home and fascist aggression 
abroad? 

These questions are answered in the report by 
Earl Browder, General Secretary, to the December, 
1938, meeting of the National Committee of the 
Communist Party, U.S.A. 

48 pages, price 5c 

\ 

THE DEMOCRATIC FRONT 

For Jobs, Security, Semocracy and Peace 

BY EARL BROWDER 

In Lhis brilliant, historic report, Earl Browder 
makes clear the main political problems confronting 
the people of America today. He deals extensively 
here with the offensive of reaction in the United 
States, and the growing forces of the democratic front, 
and with such vital questions as labor unity, foreign 
policy, the Communist Party, the Soviet Union, etc. 

96 pages, price 10c 



WORKERS LIBRARY PUBLISHERS 

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