Irish Marxism

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Does Ireland Need a New Left Party?

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This article is based on a talk given at conference “Local Resistance, Global Crisis” at National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 13th of June 2014

Does Ireland need a new left party?

Yes.

Why?

We are involved in a colossal class struggle and we are not winning.

We need to confront the very system that is demanding ever more drastic redistribution of wealth from below to above, accelerated accumulation by dispossession, continuing dismantling of the public sphere in favour of private property and commodified culture.

It is not enough to go issue to issue, to oppose cuts, to denounce austerity.

We need to win consent to a counter-narrative to the dominant view of the crisis. We need to break the grip of the belief that there is no alternative.

We need to fashion a force that will challenge for power that will make the long march through all the institutions of society: schools, universities, media, trade unions, local councils, national and international parliaments, production, distribution and exchange.

We need the best possible left. We need to maximise our efforts.

We need to build on electoral gains by the left in elections of 2011 and 2014. The last general election saw the greatest overturning in Dail Eireann in its history and the next will outdo it, we have every reason to believe. The last elections and recent polls indicate a huge shift, primarily to the left, in Irish politics.

We need to aim to form a left government in the next decade or so.

For this, we need a new left party. A party of a new type. By which I don’t mean a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. Traditionally parties of the left have been communist, Trotskyist or social democratic parties. This would be different.

We have a multiplicity of left parties of the traditional types, quite a few of them M-L vanguard parties. All of these have maxed out their potential in their present form. Some are still vital, while others have been in decline for some time.

In the first category are the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, each of which have formed broader fronts, the People Before Profit Alliance and Anti-Austerity Alliance. In the second category are the Communist Party of Ireland and Workers Party. The two Trotskyist parties and their broader fronts have been especially active on the streets and in electoral politics and they have achieved considerable success. They also built and broke the United Left Alliance.

None of these formations, in and of themselves, form the basis for the sort of new left party we need. They will be important in the future of any new left formation, but a new left party cannot be ULA 2.0.

We also have two bigger parties of the left, although some may contest whether they are left: the Labour Party and Sinn Fein. They are left, but not as left as what we need. This is primarily because they do not engage in systemic analysis and therefore they do not move in the direction of systemic transformation.

There is a big empty space where a big party to the left of LP and SF should be. We need a new left party to fill this space.

What kind of new left party should this be?

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Republicanism and Nationalism; What Have They Ever Done for the Workers?

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Fluther (angrily): What th’ hell do I care what he says? I’m Irishman enough not to lose me head be follyin’ foreigners!

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

In the Monty Python film the ‘Life of Brian’ one of the discontented lefty proletarians asks a very pertinent question – What have the Romans ever done for us?  The answer was apparently quite a lot.  Much of the humour in the scene derives from the questioner being reduced to a dumbstruck silence. Nevertheless it was a question well worth asking.  In the run up to the centenaries of the rising, the war of independence and the civil war the question, what have they ever done for the workers, needs to be asked again.

Republicanism in History

Republicanism has a long history stretching back to the ancient roman republic.

It was far from a harmonious state but riven by class conflict between patricians and plebeians.  Attempts at land reform and wealth redistribution ended with the respective murder and suicide of its two advocates (Boatwright et al, 2004).  Beyond that point the republic was dominated by an oligarchic gang of large land owners until its demise under the emperors.

Republicanism was to raise its head again in Britain between 1649 and 1660.  Cromwell had come to power through an alliance with middling disaffected landowners, merchants and artisans.  Yet he was aghast when the republican revolution and the associated political ferment spawned groups, such as Levellers, Diggers and 5th Monarchy Men, some preaching and attempting to practice a primitive form of millenarian communism.  Levellers demanded complete religious toleration, democratic control of the army and bi-annual parliamentary elections while the Diggers claimed that the land belonged to the whole people of England.  The republican Cromwell was having none of it and told his bourgeois supporters ‘you must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces’ (Morton, 1938)

After 1789 some of the French revolutionaries looked back to the roman republic as an exemplar. They abolished feudalism and the divine right of monarchy, proclaimed the rights of man and citizens and that great slogan Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  Almost immediately a difficulty arose as to how these slogans could be given a concrete realisation and were they to apply to those outside the ranks of the middling classes.  The answer was not long in coming.  In 1791 the convention passed a law (Loi Le Chapelier) outlawing combination of workers or trade unions (Hepple, 2010).  The ongoing conflict between bourgeois and proletarians was temporarily halted by Napoleon.  Dictatorship preserved the social and economic conquests of the revolution for its main beneficiaries – the middle classes (Goodwin, 1963).  Nonetheless the class conflict stirred up by the revolution was to figure prominently in the politics of the French Republic for a century and a half (Hampson, 1989).

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April Edition of The Socialist Voice is Out Now

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The April edition of the Socialist Voice is out now. Follow the links below or online here.

Contents:

At the same time, capitalist shock-troops are using different negotiating tactics: force and intimidation. On the one hand, employers’ organisations have been leaking stories about pay increases; however, they want the “pay increases” to come from a reduction in tax. In other words, everyone finances pay increases for employers, so they increase their profits, and there is a further reduction in public services.

Recent media reports suggest that, with a supposed “recovery” on the horizon, employers and unions are increasingly making noises about a return to some sort of partnership structure. The leadership of the unions, most notably Jack O’Connor and Shay Cody, have raised the idea of reconstituting some type of formal Employer-Labour Conference.

The offices of the Law Society in Chancery Lane, London, were the venue for the International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five; but the British government sought to scupper the event before it even began.

On the 19th and 20th of December last the European Council met; and to anyone who thinks that the EU is a benign body of people seeking to ease travel for all its citizens, and various other media-friendly soundbites, you are wrong—very wrong.

There was a major increase in the annual surpluses of the surplus countries between 2000 and 2009 and between 2010 and 2015, as can be seen in table 1. The mean for the countries was up from 4.2 to 6.8 per cent.

Did anyone read about the study partly funded by NASA that says “industrial civilisation is headed for irreversible collapse”? It was reported in the Guardian (London) in March.*

Following the threatened national dispute in the electrical contracting industry that prevented, once again, an attempt to cut the wages of electricians, the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union has employed significant resources to sustain the terms of the National Collective Agreement, formally registered with the Labour Court.

Enda Kenny has lost control of his government, and of his party, and now even his own position may be in question. The wretched man is thrashing around in despair as his government lurches aimlessly from one mishap to another.

At its recent meeting the National Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Ireland discussed the political and economic situation throughout the country.

Give ear to my words, O Lord
Hearken unto my moaning
Pay heed to my protest

“What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle.”

This month we celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. When Shakespeare wrote his great tragedies—yes, the ones studied at school, year in, year out—he had a very great and grave concern at heart.

Missing from many left-wing critiques of transnational corporations is the part played by cinema. We read daily about the depredations of the oil, financial and media giants. In Towards a Third Cinema by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino the cinema is described as “the most valuable tool of communication of our times.”

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The February issue of Socialist Voice Out Now

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The February issue of Socialist Voice is now available online.

Contents

  1.     No recovery for working people [TMK]
  2.     Pete Seeger: His songs go marching on [TR]
  3.     A Greek Obama [NL]
  4.     It’s about more than losing that “Bonny Bunch of Roses” [TMK]
  5.     Lessons of history: The 1966 seamen’s strike [NOM]
  6.     The euro and the balance of payments [KC]
  7.     Whose revolution? [DOC]
  8.     A “must read” book with a disappointing conclusion [FK]
  9.     Opinion: Creating a shared future [RMC]
  10.     Union news
  11.     Who’s afraid of Liam O’Flaherty?
  12.     Films: 15th Latin American Film Festival
  13.     Is it just me, or has the world gone mad? [EON]

 

No recovery for working people

Has the time arrived for unrestrained rejoicing? Have those mighty men and women of the coalition rescued us from economic and social calamity? Can we trust indicators that are supposedly pointing to recovery?

The Taoiseach gravely tells us we have exited the bail-out; hip hip hooray! Michael Noonan welcomes a report that the Republic’s government is no longer suffering under the lash of the Moody Blues, as our bond status has been upgraded from junk to investment level by the influential credit rating agency; more hip hooraying.

Nor do the celebrations end there. Frank Daly, chairperson of NAMA, has boasted that the Irish property crash has ended; so hats in the air as well as hip hip hooraying.

However, before we decide to put gilded images of Enda and Eamon on top of the Dublin Spire, let us enter a few words of caution. Eye-catching headlines about recovery are often misleading. A slight decline in the total rate of unemployment is heralded as proof of upturn but overlooks the reduction in the real value of incomes. The finding of the Irish League of Credit Unions that monthly disposable income increased by €50 in December 2013 masks its other discovery, that 1.6 million people had €100 or less left at the end of the month once all bills were paid, while half a million have nothing at all left after meeting their commitments…………….

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From Alpha to Omega: #044 Sins Of The Father

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This week our guest is Conor McCabe. Conor is a Research Fellow in the School of Social Justice in University College Dublin, and has just released the second edition of his book, ‘Sins of the Father: Tracing the Decisions That Shaped the Irish Economy’.

The book is a brilliant class analysis of the Irish economy since the origins of the state, and seeks to give a deep systemic structural analysis to the causes of the crisis, and to help explain why things panned out the way they did.

We discuss the Garden Cities of Ebenezer Howard, Irish economic policy and the British Empire, the rise of land speculation in Ireland, an extravagantly pointless Irish hotel, NAMA – the worlds largest property company, which owns all the worthless toxic commercial property in Ireland. Amongst other things…

You can find Conor’s book here. (It’s well worth the read…)

Happy New Year!

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The November Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now

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The November issue of Socialist Voice is out now. Download it here, or view it online. Also available to read below.

  • Will we or won’t we? [EMC]
  • Departments I, II and III and economic crisis [NL]
  • Pension benefits wiped (part 2) [Brendan Ogle]
  • Printing money to support the debt bubble [NL]
  • James Connolly and 1916 [NOM]
  • There is an alternative (part 2) [EON]
  • Time for more independent leadership [NOM]
  • Rail and bus transport: Why nationalisation was the obvious answer [RNC]
  • Political statement
  • International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties, Lisbon: Speech by Eugene McCartan, general secretary, CPI
  • The unseemly rise of Qatar [BG]
  • A serious defeat for workers and their union [TMK]
  • Willie Walsh floats again [MA]
  • Letter: Ionad Buail Isteach

Will we or won’t we?

It is now clear that the Irish state will leave the “bail-out” or restructuring programme some time in December. The Government is spinning the argument that when we eventually get the EU-ECB-IMF supervision off our backs we will “regain our sovereignty” and independent action.

The question has to be asked, When have we ever had full sovereignty and independence?

They are claiming that Government policies have worked to such a degree that they may not need any “precautionary credit line” from the European Stability Mechanism, the euro-zone rescue fund. For this state to get access to such funds would require parliamentary approval from a number of countries, including Germany.

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The Euro – exit stage Left?

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Paul Murphy MEP (Socialist Party) contributes to a discussion on what position the Left should take on the euro.

It hasn’t gone away, you know. Although much of the media and political commentary would suggest otherwise, the eurozone crisis is very far from resolved. The economies on the periphery of Europe all face deep economic crisis, the burden for which has been heaped upon working class and poor people, with the devastating social consequences seen at their most extreme in Greece. The situation in much of the rest of Europe is not much better. The political consequences of this ongoing crisis have been seen with near government collapse in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy over the course of the summer – with mass disillusionment with austerity a key underlying feature in all cases.

The Irish capitalist class has long tried to separate itself from the other peripheral countries – repeating the mantra that Ireland is not Greece and trying to demonstrate it by more effectively implementing austerity. It has been assisted in that task by the leadership of the trade union movement, which tied to the Labour Party, has attempted to stifle opposition

However, the facts and the crisis remain. The debt to GDP ratio is now at 125% in Ireland and rising. Another dramatic wave of the eurozone crisis could be unleashed at anytime by political or economic developments, the effects of which would be strongly felt in Ireland. The euro will again be at the centre of political developments.

As Ireland moves into primary surplus, the euro could become an important justification for austerity used by the political establishment and a battering ram against the Left. An important reason given not to default on debt or break from austerity policies may be the possible consequence of Ireland being forced out of the common currency. If the experience of Greece tells us anything, it is that an important argument of right wing forces in the next local and European elections, but in particular in the next general elections could well be – if you implement left or socialist policies, Ireland will be out of the euro and economic disaster will result.

Socialists and the Left must prepare to tackle this scaremongering, to demystify the euro and to put forward a left ‘exit strategy’ from the crisis that accepts the possibility of exiting the euro and puts forward radical socialist economic measures to deal with the consequences. There are two pitfalls common on much of the left to be avoided here.

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The Bottom Dog Bites Back – Call for Articles

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The Bottom Dog, a publication of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, was first published on 20th October 1917. The paper brought together the forces of industrial unionism and radical elements among the craft unions. By the time the Dog's first editor, Ben Dineen, died in November 1918, forty-eight editions of the paper had been published. The Dog began its life in order to represent the interests of the oppressed (the “bottom dog”), whether oppressed in terms of class, race, nation, sex or otherwise.

Always and everywhere the Dog worked to expose social injustice and to highlight the plight of those whose stories are omitted in polite society, insisting that the “bottom dog would only come into his own when every worker, male and female, was thoroughly organised”. The Dog has always attempted to give voice to the oppressed and has always focused its attention on issues such as bad housing, low pay, unemployment and poor working conditions.

Since the attacks on the working class are as fierce as they have ever been, The Dog is now ready to return as a quarterly publication (from December 2013). The current editorial team is determined that when the Dog returns it will bite hard. With sincere respect to the history and spirit of the publication we take the 1975 editorial statement as our starting point:

“The Bottom Dog is not a platform for any political party or faction. It is rather a forum open to all workers who wish to contribute articles or ideas etc. The paper covers issues where the working class is under attack or on the advance e.g. redundancies, unemployment, wage freezes and attacks on workers' rights, repression, sex discrimination and womens' rights, strikes, sit-ins and trade-unionisation, especially when they relate to, affect, teach lessons or show the way forward for workers in this country.”

The Dog aspires to be a voice of, and for, the working class – a space where workers, activists, scholars and all others committed to furthering the interests of the working class as a class, can develop and disseminate ideas, and prepare for the struggles ahead.

To this end, The Bottom Dog is currently inviting article contributions. These will normally be 250-700 words. All submissions and expressions of interest can be sent to bottomdog@limerickcounciloftradeunions.com. Accepted articles will be published in the printed edition or/and on our website: http://www.limerickcounciloftradeunions.com/apps/blog/

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The Fairy Tales of Kildare Street

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From The Trade Union Left Forum

The fanfares for the minister’s budget speech in the Dáil are now over. It was a cleverly written speech, with lots of spin, incomplete figures, and a drip-feed of cuts in the days following it.

The orchestrated sound-bites are designed to cover what is yet another savage attack on the ill, the old, youth, women, and workers in general. It gives priority to private health over public health, so driving people to private insurers and monopoly health-providers. Cuts to the subvention to public transport will only benefit private transport operators.

The budget is a further consolidation of the drive to make Irish workers a reservoir of cheap labour and to make Ireland a zone of precarious employment and retain it as a tax haven. In particular, young people have been the main targets of this strategy. The attack on young people and the cuts they will be forced to endure, including “workfare,” have now effectually reduced the minimum wage for those under twenty-five to €3.50 per hour.

But this budget is not merely a set of cuts: it is also a further consolidation of the strategy of making austerity permanent and irreversible that is being imposed by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which are loyal lieutenants and handmaidens of the ruling economic elite and the interests of the EU.

The Labour Party is now beyond repair and is paying the price for propping up the establishment. Opportunist forces will, predictably, attack the Labour Party and its representatives in the trade union movement, solely for their own electoral advantage. For what is clear is that, for all their detailed criticism of the nuts and bolts and the percentages, their critiques are firmly within the framework of the system itself and do not pose any real challenge.

The EU, ECB and IMF will be happy enough with this continued approach of making working people pay the price for the crisis. There is a total commitment to paying the odious debt and, more importantly, servicing that debt to the tune of €8 or 9 billion per year. They are guaranteeing a permanent return to the holders of debt bonds and monopoly finance capital and a massive transfer of capital out of the country into their coffers, an outflow of the people’s money so necessary for proper economic and social development.

The majority of organisations in the so-called “social pillar” are hopelessly caught up in the food chain, silenced or muted by their dependence on dwindling government money.

The Trade Union Left Forum believes that only a politically and organisationally rejuvenated trade union movement will have the strength to mount any challenge to the present course. The basic question regarding this budget and the establishment’s strategy, when you strip away the spin, is, Who stands to win and who loses? The movement needs to realise which side it is on.

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October Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now

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he October issue of Socialist Voice is out now.   It can also be viewed online at :
http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/SV-106.pdf

Contents

  1. Debt is a means of attacking your rights and wages [EMC]
  2. Ireland’s housing crisis worsens [MA]
  3. How austerity is working [PD]
  4. Haass unlikely to succeed [TMK]
  5. Norn Ireland as seen from Britland [NW]
  6. Capitalist growth and environmental crisis [NL]
  7. A true son of the Vietnamese people
  8. There is an alternative (Part 1)[EON]
  9. US meddling led to Westgate massacre [TMS]
  10. A century of working-class life [TR]
  11. A day in the life of a bookshop [PD]
  12. Guantánamo poems [LC, JF]
  13. Who would be a whistle-blower? [RNC]

Debt is a means of attacking your rights and wages
The system is determined to overcome its crisis by continuing to reduce workers’ wages and living standards, to undo the welfare provisions won by workers over a century of hard, bitter struggles. The establishment—both the EU and the main Irish establishment parties—continue to argue that we are living beyond our means and that we need to pay the debt and bring government spending under control.

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Peadar O’Donnell Socialist – Republican Forum, Sat 28 Sept @2pm, New Theatre, East Essex St

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Peadar O’Donnell Socialist – Republican Forum


Launch of Pamphlet

“Undoing the Conquest: Renewing the Struggle”

Main speaker: Bernadette McAliskey

Other speakers:

Tommy McKearney
Eugene McCartan

Chairperson: Mick O’Reilly

2.00pm, Saturday 28 September 2013

The New Theatre, 43 East Essex Street, Dublin 2

The pamphlet contains the papers presented to the seminars organised in Dublin in 2012.  

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A Bridge for Rosie

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An article on Rosie Hackett and the naming of the Marlborough street bridge by Angelina Cox, Jeni Gartland, & Lisa Connell.

The bridges arching over the sleepy river Liffey project the memories of cherished historical and cultural figures; the Butt Bridge, named after the founder of the Home Rule movement in Ireland; the Grattan Bridge, named after Henry Grattan, an 18th century Irish politician, the Sean O’Casey Bridge, named after the enlightened dramatist, and the Fr. Mathew Bridge, named after Fr. Theobold Mathew, an teetotaller priest from the 18th century.  Every bridge in Dublin city centre is named after an important historical or cultural figure and every bridge in Dublin city centre is named after a man.

The practice of naming streets, bridges and other landmarks after cherished historical and cultural figures is an important form of recognition for their contributions. Lamentably, however, women’s contributions to historic struggles for independence, the trade union movement, the arts and culture have not received elucidation in Dublin city’s landscape.

The Marlborough Street Bridge is presently under construction. The naming of this new bridge is a timely opportunity to redress the gender imbalance projected in the architecture and infrastructure of Dublin city centre

The job of christening the bridge falls to Dublin city council which has produced a shortlist of five names; including two women – Rosie Hackett and Kay Mills. Given the bridge is located near Liberty Hall, naming the bridge in memory of Rosie Hackett, who lived and worked in the area, seems most fitting. 

Born in 1892, Rosie dedicated her life to the trade union movement and struggle for workers’ rights.

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The July Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now

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The July issue of Socialist Voice is now available online.

Articles in this issue include: 

  1. Belfast says No to G8
  2. Haddington Road rebranded, or I’m all right, Jack [NOM]
  3. What’s “left” for Ireland? [EON]
  4. Ireland’s ruling class [NL]
  5. Government to abolish people’s right to cut their own turf [MH]
  6. Credit unions a target for carpetbaggers [MA]
  7. G8: A club of the rich to protect the interests of the rich
  8. An honest citizen criminalised [TMS]
  9. Getting a handle on events in Brazil [RCN]
  10. Repression and criminalisation in Colombia [JAG]
  11. Tax justice for the rich! [NL]
  12. Letter: The iron heel of capitalism

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What’s Left After the ULA?

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Originally posted on Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on the 29th of April.

This brief report intends to outline the situation within the Irish left following the slow implosion of the United Left Alliance (ULA).

The ULA was an alliance made up of the Socialist Party (affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International, CWI), the Socialist Workers Party (the International Socialist Tendency, IST), the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG, a locally based group with public representation including a member of Ireland’s parliament [TD] and numerous municipal councillors). It also included smaller groups such as the Irish Socialist Network and Socialist Democracy.

The ULA was initially very successful by Irish left standards and won five TDs. Though, it should be understood most, if not all, of these victories did not come only from the unity project itself but from literally decades of work by the various groups.

However, seeing the left under a single banner with a serious electoral challenge did initially attract many activists to its banner.

The ULA unfortunately lasted less than two years and today exists in name only.

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