Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 31, 2014

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 11:59 am

(An article by Kirill Medvedev, a Russian revolutionary socialist, poet and translator of Charles Bukowski. Here’s a link to another article by Medvedev.)

LEFT EAST31 July 2014

Peace-Fighters: Kirill Medvedev on the Need for a New Democratic Opposition

Kirill Medvedev

The need for a “third way,” one that is different from the rabid support for one of the sides in the Ukrainian crisis, a way about which several of have written in the last few months, is especially evident today, because it is the only chance to reconstitute the almost completely broken democratic opposition in Russia.

Maidan, the loudest and most relentless mobilization in post-Soviet space, was, without doubt, a chance for a unique democratic breakthrough, capable of serving as an example to Western Europe, the CIS countries, and many others.

Anti-Maidan, the tumult in South-East Ukraine, was, without doubt, a chance for a “circuit break,” an occasion to imagine the development of Western Europe outside of that course (of de-industrialization, privatization, neoliberalization) guaranteed to it by the heads of the European Union and the IMF.

It appears that both chances have been lost. Revolution is made by an active minority, but its fate depends on that minority’s ability to attract a majority to its cause, to convince it that there is a commonality of interests. Maidan proved unable to convey to the South-East, even before its victory, a clear message: we are one nation, we have common interests, there will be room in the new Ukraine for different cultural-historical traditions and economic-political orientations. Instead, there was, at best, confidence that the residents of the South-East will accept anything the revolutionaries will achieve in Kiev, at worst – the most abhorrent social racism and chauvinism, which in the end became the ideological basis for the anti-terrorist operation (ATO).

The republics that came into being in South-East Ukraine are, without doubt, the result of a foreign policy adventure on the part of the Russian regime, which, risking and wavering, tried to turn to its advantage the entirely justified discontent of a huge part of the population in the South-East with the new Kiev establishment and its politics.

Many on the Left (myself included) hoped that the people of Donbas (like those of Maidan) could formulate and realize their own social and democratic program: this could have either brought the two movements closer together, bringing to the fore the progressive elements of both; or it could have made the question of the territorial integrity of Ukraine (and Russia, and that of any other country in a similar situation) insignificant.

Besides problems of self-organization, of political initiative, which really do exist in South-East Ukraine (as they do in Russia and in many other places), it is also important that the aggrieved people of Donbas didn’t have any well-defined political goals from the start. Therefore, it is entirely logical that at the head of the mobilization appeared a small cadre of people, primarily from Russia, with either military or administrative experience, with some (let it be uncertain and unstable) support from Moscow and a very specific political motive – the restoration and expansion of “the Russian World.” Yes, the rudimentary Soviet anti-fascism and egalitarianism that reside in the majority of people of Donbas are not, to put it mildly, the worst of values now diffused in post-Soviet space. But it is impossible to seriously take as signs of left-wing or democratic politics government-implanted ideas about nationalization, the “anti-fascism” of right-wing historical re-enactors and former members of the RNU (Russian National Unity Party), their anti-Western, anti-European rhetoric, which plays on the unambiguously reactionary sentiments of the masses. And there is nothing left-wing about anti-oligarchic declarations as such, which can easily be part of a Right-Left, even a National-Socialist program. And there can be no comparison with either the Cuban or the Bolivarian revolutions as long as we refuse to speak of Russia as a local imperialist, dispatching its cadres to neighboring republics with the following ideas:

“The borders of the Russian World are significantly wider than the borders of the Russian Federation. I am fulfilling a historical mission in the name of the Russian nation, the Russian super-ethnos, bound together by Orthodox Christianity. In the Ukraine, as in the Caucasus, I fight against separatists, this time Ukrainian, not Chechen. Because there is such a thing as Russia, great Russia, the Russian Empire. And now the Ukrainian separatists in Kiev are fighting against the Russian Empire” (Aleksandr Borodai).

It is perfectly clear that the majority of residents of Donbas do not live in the fantasy-world of historical re-enactment, but in a world with their own everyday problems, problems of life and work, their own interests, which differ from the interests of the visiting fighters and commanders, no matter what hopes might have been placed on them in the beginning. And this is just as clear: even if a left-wing, radical-democratic agenda would suddenly begin to break through from the bottom, it would immediately be either appropriated or simply crushed, with support from Moscow, by the builders of the “Russian World.”

Therefore, the only chance to break the vicious circuit in Ukraine is for there to be radical changes in Russia. Changes that would come to pass not under the banner of a struggle for the “Russian World” against juvenile justice, Eurosodom and the like, but under the banner of radical democratic and social changes inside the country, a re-orientation of the economy from the maintenance of an army of bureaucrats, policemen, FSB-men, and heaps of big businessmen, to the social sphere, science, industry.

Of course, it is hard to imagine such changes taking place today. The events in Ukraine have, on the one hand, almost completely demoralized and divided the Russian opposition, divided its flanks from within (the Left flank most of all); on the other hand, they have presented a new problem for the regime: What is to be done with those sentiments that were persistently fired up by Russian propaganda, with the leaders and fighters of the South-East, who have gained authority in the context of the “anti-fascist” hysteria in the mass media? And it is obvious that there is nothing left to do but to co-opt, in some way and measure, their leaders and the sentiments that stand behind, to bring them to power.

Here we approach the subject of fascism. While the phrase “Kiev junta,” planted by the Russian propagandists, does nothing to help shed light on the situation, distinct elements of fascism are evident in post-Revolutionary Ukraine. These are, first of all, military forces financed by oligarchs, comprised of fighters motivated by ultra-nationalist ideas, recruited largely from far-right organizations. Attempts on the part of the regime (which may not itself be “fascist”) to support and make use of such structures all too often lead to the loss of control or to the surrender of it as the only means of survival. Historically, the intrigue of relations between bourgeois power and fascism consists precisely in this, which is why there is no point in calling the Poroshenko regime or the Putin regime in themselves “fascist” for the purpose of immediate propaganda gains.

In one way or another, the question of fascism in Ukraine must be discussed responsibly, including in the context of the pan-European situation with the far Right. We must discuss the relationship between the conduct of the pro-Kiev soldiers/fighters and ultra-nationalist ideology. But it must also be clear that racist hatred, torture, violence against peaceful residents are no less criminal if they take place under the Russian, Imperial or Soviet flag. And if we believe that a humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in South-East Ukraine, then we must demand the end of the anti-terrorist operation and the beginning of reconciliation under international control, not military support for our “brothers” coming from the right-wing, authoritarian Russian regime.

And, of course, we must discuss the question of fascism even more seriously in connection with Russia, for both the subsequent logic of events in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the example of, say, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, with his private battalions, give momentum to the formation of similar elements of classical fascism in our own country. It has been said more than once that, in the near term, regardless of how this whole Donbas story will end, we will likely see both the rise to power of several “heroes of the DPR” and the formation, from the ranks of militia returning to Russia, of some type of paramilitary structure under the patronage of patriotically inclined big businessmen and groups of the elite. Iconic DPR-men and their newly-recruited associates may very easily be employed in various political and economic conflicts and repressions, serve as examples of the regime’s “national-patriotic” character, be brought to the forefront in the event of crisis, and in the event of extreme danger – appointed to the highest posts.

Naturally, and in parallel to this, “anti-liberalism” will be strengthened, without, however, deviation from the general neoliberal economic course, but only in the guise of refining the figure of the liberal “national traitor” as a bogeyman for members of any kind of opposition. It appears that some on the Left are quite ready to lend a hand in this effort: some simply out of hatred for “liberals,” others wishing to find a small, but stable place for themselves in the new situation. They will be poured into the same anti-Western, “anti-liberal” sauce as the trash-conservative agenda. Let us look, for example, at the account of the “Yalta Conference of Resistance” on the site rabkor.ru:

“The struggle with the new Kiev regime is in effect a struggle against the EU, not in the form of challenging merely the politics of destroying the family and heterosexual relations, but in the form of challenging the entire anti-social neoliberal economic politics of the Western elites,” emphasized in his report the Head of the Centre for Economic Research (IGSO) Vasily Koltashov.

All those who are not satisfied with this dolled-up consensus, all those who want truly democratic, truly progressive social changes in Russia, who still hope that our country can become not just a petty regional predator, but an example of democracy, justice and education for all, need a new opposition. But for it to become possible, it is necessary, however difficult it may appear, to set aside differences of opinion with respect to Ukraine. Of course, it is impossible to set aside differences of opinion with those who, all these months, have had their teeth sunk into their computers, supporting the the anti-terrorist operation in their attacks on the “Colorados” (the pro-Russian insurgents) just as it is impossible to set aside differences of opinion with those who have hysterically called for a campaign on Kiev and Lviv in order to eradicate “Banderovism” and “Ukraino-fascism.” However, we can fully sympathize with those Ukrainians who do not want to live under today’s increasingly anti-democratic Ukrainian regime, and we can fully sympathize with those Ukrainians who want to protect their State from any kind of Russian interference. This is not our war, but our people are fighting in it – on both sides – besides a minority of ultra-right-wing thugs, their ideological and military leaders, patrons, and instigators on official TV. A great number of people from the most diverse social strata are fully capable of understanding and sharing this position, they are capable of conveying it to the majority.

We need a program of radical change that is oriented toward the majority, a program that brings together democratic and social demands, a program that proceeds from the fact that the exchange of one group of businessmen for another, more “democratic” one, does not lead to anything good, a program that is oriented simultaneously toward de-centralization and toward the unity of the country, for the Ukrainian example has once again shown everyone what results from the dream of “cozy national governments” under historical and cultural conditions that are unsuitable for them.

We must orient ourselves toward trade unions, which every day fight for labor rights, without which no democratic changes are possible.

We must orient ourselves toward the intelligentsia and toward everyone who cannot and who does not want to “hit the road,” but who wants to work in their own country under normal conditions.

We must orient ourselves toward the youth, which sooner or later will begin to rebel against idiotic conservative interdictions.

Such people are fully capable of constituting a real majority in defiance of today’s – in fact, ephemeral – ideological “for Putin, for Stalin, for the Russian World.”

And we must demand judgment upon those who with singular cynicism manipulated the psyches of millions of TV watchers all these months, demand free access to central TV channels for different political forces (besides those that promulgate ethnic and religious division), social movements, and trade unions.

Our enemy is in the Kremlin!

Kirill Мedvedev is a Moscow-based poet, translator, and activist. He is the founder of the Arkady Kots band. The text was published in Russian on OpenLeft and translated by Maksim Hanukai.

July 29, 2014

Civil disobedience led by Norman Finkelstein

Filed under: Palestine — louisproyect @ 10:02 pm

This took place today.

Bratton, De Blasio and the subway break-dancers

Filed under: crime,New York,racism — louisproyect @ 7:35 pm

Today’s NY Times reports on the crackdown on break-dancers in the subway.

The young dancers, Peppermint and Butterscotch, scanned the scattered faces aboard the New York City subway. One caught their eye.

“Are you a cop?” a performer asked, as their Q train rumbled toward Canal Street. The man waved them off. Peppermint and Butterscotch were satisfied.

“It’s showtime!” they shouted.

Music filled the train. Legs curled around the car’s graspable bars like creeping ivy. Then came a finale that surprised even the dancers: four plainclothes officers converging in tandem, and two sets of handcuffs.

Cheered by tourists, tolerated by regulars, feared by those who frown upon kicks in the face, subway dancers have unwittingly found themselves a top priority for the New York Police Department — a curious collision of a Giuliani-era policing approach, a Bloomberg-age dance craze and a new administration that has cast the mostly school-age entertainers as fresh-face avatars of urban disorder.

There’s probably nobody more opposed to being a captive audience on the subways than me. I have been riding NYC subways since they cost 15 cents a ride. When they were this cheap, they lacked air conditioning and were as noisy as hell, but you could at least be assured that you would never be forced to watch a musical performance, begged for spare change, or listen to a sermon.

That was a function of the city being a lot more economically and socially viable than it has been ever since the fare reached the dollar level at least. In 1961 the city was home to a million and one small manufacturing plants that provided jobs for Blacks and Latinos. This is not to speak of the jobs in heavy industry just across the river in New Jersey, such as the Ford plant in Mahwah. In those days, jobs were like low-hanging fruit for recent immigrants from the Deep South or Puerto Rico. They disappeared long ago, forcing the grandchildren of those who worked in them to beg for change or to break dance just one step ahead of the law.

In some ways it is the subway preachers that make me the most crazy, even though they are probably certifiably insane themselves. When I used to take the number one train up to Columbia University, there was a guy who showed up about once a month and preach to us. He had a thick Jamaican accent and would always prattle on about how Jesus was coming to take the faithful up to heaven and send the sinful down to hell. I had to restrain myself from ranting about there being nothing but colliding atoms. What good would it do?

During the Giuliani administration, chief of police William Bratton implemented the “broken window theory”, one that posited petty crime as creating a climate for more serious crimes. This meant in practice arresting the homeless men who used squeegees on car windows when they were stopped for a red light. They generally didn’t say anything if you refused but hoped to get a dollar for their work. The cops also went after young men, mostly Black and Latino, who spray-painted graffiti on subway cars, including Michael Stewart who died in 1983 while under police custody. Despite eyewitnesses who saw the cops kicking and beating him, an all-white jury acquitted the six officers.

Eventually the “broken windows” policy led to the formation of a Street Crimes Unit that targeted young Blacks and Latinos for selling drugs or other minor offenses. This was really the beginning of “Stop and Frisk”, the policy that Bill De Blasio claimed he wanted to abolish. Obviously it has snuck back in through the back door. In a very good article on Bratton in the ISO newspaper, attorney David Bliven describes his experience with Bratton’s law and order:

As a young civil rights lawyer in Jamaica, Queens, at the time, I had more than a few victims of this police harassment come into my office. They were often Black teenagers who described how they were walking home from school, or from the store, or just hanging out with friends, when a car pulled up and out jumped the NYPD thugs. They’d throw the teen into their car, rough him up in the backseat, try to get drug sale information out of him, and when they determined the kid knew nothing, end up dumping the then utterly frightened kid on the other side of Queens.

The Street Crimes Unit was eventually disbanded–not because it wasn’t effective at its mission (intimidating and oppressing Blacks and Latinos)–but because it eventually made its way into the mainstream press and thus fell out of favor with the white liberal establishment. The idea behind the Street Crimes Unit lived on and was quickly replaced by Drug Sweep Teams, which were the precursor to the “stop-and-frisk” policy.

Now that Bratton is running the police department again, the “broken window theory” has been reinstituted. Besides break dancers, it seeks to protect the public from the mostly minority men and women who sell single cigarettes on the street at a cut-rate price. One of them was Eric Garner, an immense but sickly African-American who died as an illegal chokehold was being placed on him and as he cried out that he could not breathe:

To its credit, the NY Times editorialized against Bratton’s policy:

How terrible it would be if Eric Garner died for a theory, for the idea that aggressive police enforcement against minor offenders (he was a seller of loose, untaxed cigarettes) is the way to a safer, more orderly city. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton responded swiftly after Mr. Garner was fatally assaulted by officers on Staten Island. They reached out to his family, promising to retrain every officer about the rules against using chokeholds. Two officers have been put on desk duty pending investigations.

The mayor and the commissioner should also begin a serious discussion of the future of “broken windows” policing, the strategy of relentlessly attacking petty offenses to nurture a sense of safety and order in high-crime neighborhoods, which, in theory, leads to greater safety and order. In reality, the link is hypothetical, as many cities and towns across the country have enjoyed historic decreases in violent crime since the 1990s, whatever strategies they used. And the vast majority of its targets are not serious criminals, or criminals at all.

Bratton is a pioneer of broken windows policing and Mr. de Blasio is a stout defender. The tactic was embraced in the crime-plagued New York of 20 years ago. But while violence has ebbed, siege-based tactics have not. The Times reported on Friday that the Police Department made 394,539 arrests last year, near historical highs.

The mayor and the commissioner should acknowledge the heavy price paid for heavy enforcement. Broken windows and its variants — “zero-tolerance,” “quality-of-life,” “stop-and-frisk” practices — have pointlessly burdened thousands of young people, most of them black and Hispanic, with criminal records. These policies have filled courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders whose cases are often thrown out, though not before their lives are severely disrupted and their reputations blemished. They have caused thousands to lose their jobs, to be suspended from school, to be barred from housing or the military. They have ensnared immigrants who end up, through a federal fingerprinting program, being deported and losing everything.

No matter how much clout the “newspaper of record” has, the politician that the Nation Magazine, Salon.com, and the Huffington Post drooled over will likely ignore its recommendations. Once again from the NYT article we linked to at the beginning of this post:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended the approach even as some police reform advocates have called for big changes after the death of a Staten Island man, Eric Garner, during an arrest over accusations of selling untaxed cigarettes, a subject of complaints by local businesses.

“If you’re violating the law, I can understand why any New Yorker might say, well that might not be such a big offense or that might not be something that troubles any of us individually,” the mayor said, standing with Mr. Bratton on Monday at City Hall. “But breaking the law is breaking the law.”

And what exactly is the difference between Giuliani and De Blasio? I guess the same difference between Bush and Obama. In a period of declining economic opportunities, law and order will become more and more repressive. In the early stages of capitalism, vagabonds roamed the British countryside and prompted the equivalent of “stop and frisk” back then—draconian policies including being sentenced to a debtor’s prison.

Chapter 28 of V. 1 of Capital begins as follows:

The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this “free” proletariat could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their wonted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as “voluntary” criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed.

Now that we are in the period of capitalism’s senescence, we find that once again manufacturing cannot absorb the “free” proletariat. In the 18th century this was because it had not come into existence. In the 21st it is because it no longer exists.

The Mole People

Filed under: Palestine — louisproyect @ 1:20 pm

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 9.46.53 AM

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 9.15.58 AM

 

“It takes us a little bit to our childhood fairy tales of demons,” said Eyal Brandeis, 50, a political scientist who lives on Kibbutz Sufa, a mile from where 13 militants emerged from a tunnel at dawn July 17. “It’s a very pastoral environment I live in, the quiet, the green grass, the trees. It’s not a pleasant thought that you sit one day on the patio drinking coffee with your wife and a bunch of terrorists will rise from the ground.”

My email to Eyal Brandeis after reading this article in today’s NY Times:

Terrorists rising from the ground?

The real terror is IDF jets blowing up schools, power stations and hospitals; murdering Palestinian children playing soccer on the beach.

You fucking Israelis make me sick to my stomach, worse than the Afrikaners.

I say that as a bar mitzvahed Jew and the son of a woman who was president of her local Hadassah chapter. God damn your eyes.

Louis Proyect

July 28, 2014

Fallen City

Filed under: China,television — louisproyect @ 7:57 pm

This shows tonight on WNET in NYC at 10pm. Check your local PBS station to see if it is being screened in your city. This is from the PBS website:

http://www.pbs.org/pov/fallencity/film_description.php

Even for a country historically plagued by earthquakes, the 2008 quake in the Sichuan province was devastating. Nearly 70,000 people were killed and thousands more were missing and never found, making it the deadliest quake in the country in three decades. The old town of Beichuan, home to 20,000 people, was reduced to rubble. Fallen City is a revealing account of contemporary China’s response to the disaster: Within a scant two years, the government built a new and apparently improved town close to the old Beichuan.

Fallen City is the haunting story of the survivors, whose grief over the past and anxiety about the future cannot be resolved in bricks and mortar or erased by cheerful government propaganda about “the new Beichuan.” In today’s China, even the worst disaster can be an occasion for celebrating the country’s achievements and its anticipated great future. Yet in China, as elsewhere—and as movingly captured by Fallen City—suffering in the face of death and displacement follows a path determined more by humanity’s search for meaning than by the politics of the day.

—-

The film is the first directed by Qi Zhao, whose last credit was executive producing “Last Train Home”, about which I wrote:

“Last Train Home” is the latest movie that departs from the globalization-is-wonderful ideology of Thomas Friedman, Jagdish Bhagwati, and other prophets of neoliberalism. Some are fictional, such as “Blind Shaft”, a movie about miners forced to work in virtual slavery. Others are documentaries like “Still Life” that depict the loss of livelihood and ties to the land that the Three Gorges Dam posed.

Directed by a Canadian Lixin Fan, whose last film “Up the Yangtze” explored the same issues as “Still Life”, “Last Train Home” focuses on a single family whose life has been torn apart by China’s rapid industrialization.

Changhua Zhan and his wife Suqin Chen both work on sewing machines in a typical export-oriented factory in the Guangdong province. Each New Year’s holiday, they take a train back to their rural village to see their teenaged daughter Qin Zhang and her younger brother Yang Zhang. This is not as easy as it seems since there are far more people trying to get a ticket than are available. The train station is a sea of humanity with cops and soldiers trying to keep order. Although the film does not comment on why this is the case (it sticks to a cinéma vérité format), it strikes this reviewer as the likely outcome of a society that no longer places much emphasis on public transportation as it once did. (There are signs that this is beginning to change recently, but one doubts that it will have any impact on the poorer migrant workers for a while.)

full: http://louisproyect.org/2010/11/28/last-train-home/

I expect this to be a very important film.

July 26, 2014

The Kill Team

Filed under: Afghanistan,Film — louisproyect @ 7:28 pm

Arguably, the only good things to come out of the war in Afghanistan are the more than 30 documentaries depicting the American role as nothing less than heinous. Joining “Restrepo” and “The Tillman Story” in the top ranks is “The Kill Team”, which opened yesterday at Lincoln Center (full schedule information, including a nationwide rollout is here: http://killteammovie.com/see-the-film).

Dan Krauss’s documentary has an eerie resemblance to the tale told by Oliver Stone in “The Platoon”. An idealistic young Floridian named Adam Winfield joins the army to “do some good”, which in his mind meant helping villagers build wells and roads while protecting them from the Taliban.

Calvin Gibbs, his sergeant, has other goals, which are best indicated by the skull and crossbones tattooed on his calf. After being assigned to his unit, Winfield learns that Sergeant Gibbs, who has served in Iraq where he obviously learned his tricks, is determined to add notches to his gun barrel whether or not his victims are Taliban or not. Winfield is horrified to witness Gibbs killing an Afghan in cold blood and then planting an AK-47 near his dead body, after the fashion of New York cops planting a pistol on someone they have just blown away. Afterwards he cuts off the man’s finger and adds to a necklace he has fashioned, reminiscent of how Indian scalps were collected in the Wild West.

When Winfield begins to tell other men in his unit that he can’t abide such killings, and even urges his ex-Marine father to contact military investigators, Gibbs gets wind of his subordinate’s intentions and warns him that he will be next if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut.

If you have seen “Platoon”, you will recognize the similarity to the conflict between the character played by Charlie Sheen and his murderous sergeant played by Tom Berenger. Unlike “Platoon”, the two men in Krauss’s films are nowhere near equal. Winfield was about 100 pounds when he was enlisted, so light that he drank a gallon of water just to make the minimum weight while his sergeant was over 200 pounds.

Pressure built on Winfield to the point that he finally relented and joined Gibbs’s death squad for one hit that was eventually discovered during an investigation about hashish smoking in his unit.

Most of the film consists of testimony by Winfield and the men in his unit (except for Gibbs) who while not being proud of their role in the killings argue that this is what the army is about. It was Winfield’s misfortune to be caught in an untenable situation, one in which he would be a loser whatever choice he made. If he succumbed to Gibbs’s pressure, he would become a killer himself. If he became a whistle-blower, he would be killed.

The main message of the film is that the real kill team was not the group under Gibbs’s command but the entire military. It is to director Dan Krauss’s credit that he has made a highly dramatic and necessary documentary. It will make you both sad and angry, just the way that the long, long war in Afghanistan does.

Highly recommended.

July 25, 2014

The anti-Semitism canard

Filed under: anti-Semitism,zionism — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

Israel right-wing protesters attack left-wing activists after they protested in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Google search on “Gaza”, “protests” and “anti-Semitism” produces a jaw-dropping 5,300,000 results. Among them, you can find the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, reporting:

Jewish people are being attacked and abused on the streets of Germany as though the country were back in the Nazi era, political and religious leaders warned yesterday.

Escalating violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has prompted a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe in the last few days.

Murderous slogans dating back to the days of Hitler have been chanted at pro-Palestinian rallies in Germany. Jewish-owned shops were attacked and burned in riots in France at the weekend.

The Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, said: ‘They pursue the Jews in the streets of Berlin… as if we were in 1938.’

That this sort of thing can be reported while the death toll in Gaza tops 500 strikes me as obscene New York City has about 4 times as many people as Gaza. Can you imagine if bombs and artillery shells had killed 2000 people here in a month? The Zionists direct a lot of their hasbara to New Yorkers, arguing that they should consider what it would feel like if they were being shelled from New Jersey. Since the rockets from Gaza kill nobody, that seems like a piss-poor analogy but what else would expect from a regime drenched in blood and bullshit?

Even more in the spotlight is France, which has experienced the most massive protests against the Israeli blitzkrieg. Vox.net informed its readers:

France has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after the United States and Israel. It appears to have seen the worst anti-Semitic violence in recent days.

“Eight synagogues in France have been targeted in the past week,” The New York Times reports. Over the July 19-20th weekend, “a radical fringe among pro-Palestinian protesters in the French capital clashed with police, targeting Jewish shops, lighting smoke bombs, and throwing stones and bottles at riot police,” the Times reported.

“They are not screaming ‘death to the Israelis’ on the streets of Paris, ” Roger Cuikerman, head of French Jewish political group CRIF, said. “They are screaming ‘death to the Jews.'”

According to The Independent, a peaceful protest in the northern Paris suburb Saracelles “degenerated” into anti-Semitic violence. “Several cars were burned,” the Independent reported, and “three shops, including a Kosher grocery, were burned and pillaged. A railway station was severely damaged.”

For an alternative take on France, I recommend this article that appears on the Quartiers Libres blog:

In the hours following the skirmish between protesters and JDL members, more messages were posted by JDL members and supporters saying the JDL had acted out of self-defence using only their bare hands against pro-Palestinian thugs, a version that is fully inconsistent with the many pictures and videos of the scene that were widely circulated by independent media websites and militants.

The JDL is banned in the USA and in Israel on account of its extremism and explicit racism. In France, where it is legal, the organisation is regularly guilty of taunts and attacks, as was the case only the week before, when they targeted a rally in support of Gaza. On July 13, by jeopardizing the safety of people gathered in a Synagogue, the JDL has shown it’s now moving on to a new tactical step. Yet although the street fight outside the Synagogue was all over the media, journalists first failed to so much as mention the JDL’s provocations or even the rally itself, sometimes making it sound as though the pro-Palestinian protesters had intentionally planned to attack a Synagogue.

There was never an attack against a Synagogue in previous pro-Palestinian demonstrations, just like there wasn‘t one on July 13: the skirmish broke out in the street between the JDL and antifascist protesters, and there was never an attack on either the Synagogue or the people inside, which all videos shot on that day bring evidence of.

Why didn’t Jewish authorities and non-extremist organizations such as the UEJF condemn the JDL’s rally and why did the police protect the JDL? Could it be that the French authorities are hoping to criminalize pro-Palestinian support?

Ever since I have been involved with the left, I have heard the charge that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are the same.

Beyond that, there is also a tendency to smear African-Americans as anti-Semitic any time they step out of line. When Jesse Jackson’s campaign was gathering steam, they crucified him for referring to New York as “Hymietown” in an unguarded chat with a Black reporter.

When a limousine carrying a Hasidic rabbi ran over a Black child in Brooklyn in 1991, the protests were routinely labeled as anti-Semitic even though they were primarily directed at Jewish privilege. When a troubled Black youth stabbed a rabbinical student, the press howled at the Black community, treating it as if it were bent on genocide. The hysteria paved the way for Mayor Giuliani’s administration that had the deaths of a number of Black men and the torture of Abner Louima to account for.

Stepping back from the immediate furor over Gaza, it would be worthwhile to examine the question of anti-Semitism in a dispassionate and historical materialist fashion.

When I was in the SWP, I developed an understanding of racism quite different from the one I had absorbed growing up in a relatively liberal household and attending an even more liberal college. The issue was not about “intolerance”; it was about institutions that kept Black people in a subordinate position. This included red-lining that made it impossible to get a mortgage in the Black community, white owned businesses in the ghetto that gouged their customers, police brutality, underfunding of primarily Black public schools, etc. In other words, what might be called institutional racism.

There was a time when Jews suffered from institutional racism. At the turn of the century, Jews lived in the slums on the Lower East Side and could easily identified by their Yiddish accent. They suffered from discrimination and poverty on a level that matched that of Blacks or other oppressed groups historically. In Germany they were less oppressed despite the specious arguments of Daniel Goldhagen. It was only the Great Depression and the massive influx of Eastern European Jews into Germany that allowed Hitler to make use of the Jews as a scapegoat.

All that changed after WWII when Jews moved out of the tenements and into the mainstream. The second generation (my mom and dad’s) opened small businesses, went to colleges (most often state universities), lost their Yiddish accent, and even changed their last name to fit in. Bernard Schwartz became Tony Curtis and Issur Danielovitch became Kirk Douglas. If you were fortunate enough to make big bucks on Wall Street, you didn’t even have to change your name.

I strongly urge those who have doubts about this to get their hands on Lenni Brenner’s 1986 “Jews in America Today”. I wish some of it was online but unfortunately the only place to go to get a handle on his analysis is a 2003 article he wrote for CounterPunch titled “The Demographics of American Jews”. He writes:

Why then is the Zionist lobby so powerful when their own scholars write endlessly about the alienation of their youth from the movement? The answer is simple: the Jews are the richest ethnic or religious stratum in the US. Because their standard of living is so high, they are the most educated. Because they are the most educated, they are the most scientific oriented, hence most inclined towards atheism or religious skepticism. But the true believer minority still has an unbelievable amount of money to throw at the politicians.

In 1991, I interviewed Harold Seneker, then the editor of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, for an article in The Nation. I told him that I found Jews, 2.2% of the population, to be about 25% of the 400. He told me that he thought this a success story, both for American capitalism and for the Jews, and that he wanted to write a story on it. But Forbes wouldn’t let him. The then publisher had gone thru the Hitler era, when talking about Jewish money was an anti-Semitic specialty.

This mentality is still common on the left as well, and it is wide spread among elderly Jews. Forbes, much of the left, and old Jews share what must be called a ‘folk Marxist’ mentality. Despite the differences in their politics, they all believe that history repeats itself. Someday there is going to be another 1929 Depression. The capitalists will, once again, call up central casting and get another Hitler to smash the left.

This is fantasy. It’s a projection of the past, and Germany’s past at that, into America’s future. In reality, journalists constantly turn out articles for Zionist publications about how Jewish campaign contributors play a major role in funding both parties and, very rarely, the topic is touched on in the mainstream media. “The Political Future of American Jews,” a1985 American Jewish Congress pamphlet by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, declared that “While there have been few reliable statistics on the subject — and some reluctance to gather any — the journalistic and anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that more than a majority of Democratic funds on a national level, and as much as a quarter of Republican funds have come from Jewish sources.” They were referring to private contributions, as was an article in the 1/5/93 NY Times announcing that “Jews contributed about 60 percent of Mr. Clinton’s noninstitutional campaign funds.”

My estimate is that 84 of the latest 400 are Jews. The magazine doesn’t list religious affiliations unless the person involved is distinctive in giving to religious charities, etc. And not all of the Jews are pro-Zionists. Some listees are among the educated disaffiliated we are discussing. But Zionist money is prodigious. James Tisch, chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations isn’t on the list, altho he is CEO of Loews Corp., listed on the Fortune 500 list. But daddy, Laurence, is, at $2 billion, and uncle Preston is worth $2.3 billion. His predecessors at the Conference were Ronald Lauder, $1.8 billion, and Mort Zuckerman, who struggles along with a penny ante $1.2 billion. Chaim Sabon, $1.7 billion, is a University of California regent. Mayhaps he got the job because he gave the Democrats the largest campaign contribution in American history?

If you really care about anti-Semitism in Europe, the place to go is where you would expect it, not in the Paris banlieues but in the neo-Nazi movements that are growing rapidly in a period of economic hardship.

To put things into perspective, the Anti-Defamation League issued a report on anti-Semitics attacks in 2013 that covered the entire world. Not a single death was reported. Most of the incidents were of the sort that turns up in New York routinely, a swastika scrawled on a Synagogue wall or a gravestone overturned. Compare that to the fate of Muslims who face racism and murder every where they look, from Burma to Kashmir.

In the unlikely event that Jews ever become targets of the ultraright again, I would strongly advise my brethren to think twice about whether to align themselves with the POV expressed in the Daily Mail, the tabloid I quoted at the beginning of this article in light of what Wikipedia reports:

[The publisher] Lord Rothermere was a friend of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, and directed the Mail’s editorial stance towards them in the early 1930s. Rothermere’s 1933 leader “Youth Triumphant” praised the new Nazi regime’s accomplishments, and was subsequently used as propaganda by them. In it, Rothermere predicted that “The minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany”. Journalist John Simpson, in a book on journalism, suggested that Rothermere was referring to the violence against Jews and Communists rather than the detention of political prisoners.

Rothermere and the Mail were also editorially sympathetic to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. Rothermere wrote an article entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in January 1934, praising Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine”, and pointing out that: “Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, S.W.”

 

Enough!

Filed under: Palestine — louisproyect @ 5:50 pm

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Smoking hot soap operas

Filed under: Counterpunch,popular culture,television — louisproyect @ 12:01 pm

Smoking Hot Soap Operas

by LOUIS PROYECT

For most of my life I have remained immune to the dubious charms of the soap opera, either the daytime or evening varieties.

In the 1970s and 80s when shows like “Dynasty” and “Dallas” captivated the nation, I much preferred to listen to the radio. TV held very little interest for me except for football games on Sunday or shows like “All in the Family” that spoke to American social realities.

More recently a couple of evening soaps struck a chord in a way that nothing in the past ever did. I say this even as the creative team behind them would most likely disavow the term soap opera. After making their case to CounterPunch readers looking for some mindless entertainment (god knows how bad that it needed in these horrific times), I want to offer some reflections on why this genre retains such a powerful hold.

A couple of weeks ago, while scraping through the bottom of the Netflix barrel, I came across “Grand Hotel”, a Spanish TV show that has been compared to “Downton Abbey” on the basis of being set in the early 20th century and its preoccupation with class differences. Having seen only the very first episode of “Downton Abbey”, I was left with the impression that it was typical Masterpiece Theater fare, where class distinctions mattered less than costume and architecture.

 

read full article

July 24, 2014

A short history of the Syrian revolution

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:50 pm

As Syrians commemorate the first anniversary of the chemical attacks, we the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the millions of Syrians who have been struggling for dignity and freedom since March 2011. We call on the people of the world to act in support of the revolution and its goals, demanding the immediate end of the violence and the end of the illegitimate Assad regime.

August 21st marks the frst anniversary of the chemical attacks on Eastern Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus. Several hundred people, including many children, died within minutes of the attacks. A few hours later, the Syrian regime launched a massive media campaign accusing the opposition of perpetrating the attacks. The regime and its allies knew they wouldn’t be able to win the heart and minds of people around the world but they could confuse them and tarnish the image of the revolution. That has been the regime’s strategy since the beginning of the uprising. Even renowned journalist Seymour Hersh became a victims of said strategy. He wrote a long article where he argued al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliated group, of being behind the attack. The intention of the terrorist organization, he explained, was to blame the regime and trigger Western intervention that would ultimately topple Assad. His argument was not only implausible but also illogical. Knowing it would be the target of any Western airstrikes, al-Nusra threatened to kill anyone showing support for intervention. In the following months, a number of independent organizations and experts showed that only the Syrian regime could have planned and executed the chemical attacks in al-Ghouta. Despite overwhelming evidence of the Syrian army’s role in the attacks, the regime was able to turn the table, reshuffe the cards, and even gain a certain respectability in international arenas, after agreeing to surrender its chemical arsenal. The unraveling of events and the debates surrounding the chemical attacks are paradigmatic of the Syrian tragedy and the regime’s ability to effectively manage its horrific war against Syrians.

Progressive intellectuals, concerned citizens, and humanists were shocked on August 21st but they felt powerless. Their neutrality, under the pretext that both sides are evil, and their silences and inactivity allowed the Syrian regime to isolate and besiege the Syrian revolution. As the revolution became increasingly invisible, the regime’s narrative became more hegemonic. Many progressive intellectuals dismissed the revolutionary struggle of several hundred thousands Syrians in a myriad different arenas, and portrayed the situation as a civil war between Shia and Sunnis, a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, or a violent conflict between global Jihadists and a regular army. As the revolution became unthinkable, the regime propaganda turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sadly, in such a conjuncture the silence of progressive intellectuals became a license to kill Syrians.

The dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons program was very good news for Israel and the West but a tragedy for most Syrians. It means a despotic regime could use all types of what is euphemistically referred to as conventional weapons against its population, as long as it cooperates with the West. Tens of thousands of Syrians were killed in a thousand different ways by conventional weapons after August 21, 2013. This new chapter in the Syrian conflict created confusion in the West and parts of the Arab World. In Syria however, people who endured the Assad family’s rule for more than forty years, are aware the root of the problem is dictatorship. This confusion affected many cultures and political groups. For example, in the weeks following August 21st, the anti-war movement in the US and Europe demonstrated against potential airstrikes that were to target Syria, but was silent about Assad’s siege of entire neighborhoods, and other atrocities. Syrians living in besieged areas were puzzled by these movements political alignment with the regime. How can anyone dismiss the siege of around 20,000 Palestinians in Yarmouk camp for more than a year and the starvation to death of 128 residents? While certain Western and Arab journalists argue that the main issue is the increasing number of al-Qaeda sympathizers in Northern Syria, many secular and pious inhabitants in Aleppo, Azaz, Anadan, and other cities in the North think about how to escape the terrifying death of explosive barrels dropped on them by Assad’s cruel war machine. Often times, pilots drop a second bomb on the same location, a few minutes later, to kill rescuers and cause more damage. While professionals in humanitarian assistance discuss useless strategies to compel Assad to distribute UN aid more fairly, poor families who never received assistance from the regime, leave their villages and seek better opportunities elsewhere. For some of them the journey ends in al-Zaatari camp in Jordan where the most unfortunate who can’t buy blankets will be powerless as they watch the freezing body of their child gesticulate before surrendering to a treacherous death. While self-described impartial observers argue the problem in Syria is not the regime’s monumental savagery but ISIS’s medieval barbarism, most Syrians know this is a false dichotomy and both forms of violence are cruel and should end. While progressive intellectuals explain in Manichean fashion, that neutrality in Syria’s turmoil is the preferred position because both sides of the conflict are war criminals, Syrian activists feel such a stance is based on false equivalence and a flawed logic. Their struggles cannot be equated to the regime’s collective punishment of entire cities or the killing of revolutionaries after long and painful hours of torture in a dark cell at the Palestine Branch of military intelligence.

Creating confusion is part of Assad’s brutal war against Syrians but it is always combined with other strategies. To kill the revolution, the Syrian regime pursued four strategies: 1) militarization of the revolts through a six-months long campaign of violent repression of peaceful protests 2) islamization of the uprising by targeting secular groups and empowering Jihadists, 3) sectarianization of the conflict through the recruitment of an increasing number of Shia fighters from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan, coupled with the targeting of Sunnis cities and villages, and 4) internationalization of the war by inviting Iran, China, and Russia to play a central role in the conflict and consequently inciting the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to use Syria as a battleground against these forces.

Since the first week of the protests the Syrian regime launched a massive campaign of repression by kidnapping and torturing intellectuals and peaceful activists. The goal was to delegitimize the uprising by arresting or killing the most experienced grassroots activists. During this initial period, the regime killed between 6,000 and 7,000 protesters. Assad was sending a clear message: either the end of the protests or military confrontation. While the frst option was preferred, the regime didn’t mind the militarization of the revolt since it felt only a minority would fight, and the uprising would quickly lose legitimacy, and would therefore be easily crushed. It is in this context that revolutionaries started forming the first brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The initial role of the FSA was to defend protests in certain neighborhood. It gradually evolved into a regular army whose aim was to liberate and protect various areas. It was a vicious cycle since the violence of the regime and the cruelty of its intelligence apparatuses pushed for increased militarization of the revolt.

Second, in parallel to its campaign of incarceration, torture, and assassination of journalists, human right activists, and protesters, the regime released more than a thousand jihadists from the notorious Sednaya prison, many of whom became leaders in the largest factions of the Islamic Front, al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These groups gradually isolated and weakened the already decentralized and heterogenous FSA. Activists working with the revolutionary councils, journalists, and the FSA fighters found themselves fighting on two front: the regime and ISIS. ISIS rarely fought the regime and focused instead on taking over areas already liberated by the revolutionaries in Northern Syria. It was arresting, torturing, and publicly executing activists and innocent civilians. While Jihadists were fighting and suffocating secular struggles, the Assad regime played the terrorism card very effectively, claiming the vast majority of its opponents belong to al-Qaeda and its offshoots. Domestically, the regime used this narrative to scare secular groups and religious minorities and effectively neutralize them. Internationally, the regime’s effort to tarnish the image of the revolution and present it as a sectarian war was also successful. It didn’t matter that the FSA was actually fighting ISIS, while the regime hardly ever targeted its headquarters in the liberated North. In January 2014, the entire opposition declared war to the terrorist group, which cost the lives of 8000 to 9000 fighters so far. The regime’s official position about fighting terrorism didn’t deter it from buying oil from al-Nusra Front in Mayadin, an eastern city close to the Iraqi borders. Despite these facts and the regime’s reluctance to fight ISIS, Assad was increasingly seen in the West as the only effective barrage against Jihadists, while the revolutionaries were depicted as extremists or affiliated to al-Qaeda. Assad’s media war reinforced al-Qaeda Manichean narrative, according to which Syria is the first line of defense of Islamic values and the Mecca of global jihadism. Saudi Arabia and Qatar played a central role in backing the most reactionary Jihadist groups and in facilitating their journey to Syria.

Third, Assad ordered his militias to massacre Sunnis civilians in Darayya, Baniyas, and Houla, to provoke a Sunni reaction and interpellate sectarian impulses on both sides. It wasn’t long before al-Nusra and ISIS jumped on the opportunity to turn the revolution into a sectarian confict by killing Shiite civilians in Aqrab and Hatla. Once again the revolutionaries were caught in-between unable to stop an infernal spiral towards sectarianism. Iran, the regime’s main ally understood that the only way to maintain its hegemony in the region was to impose a sectarian logic to the confict. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar played the exact same role from the other side. Iran provided weapons and logistical assistance early on, while the Hezbollah sent fighters initially covertly, and overtly since May 2013. Iran claims the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is fighting extremists in Syria and protecting Shiite holy sites, an argument it is now using in Iraq. Despite the support of Iran and Hezbollah, Assad was unable to stop the revolutionaries’ advances in several regions in 2012-13. The regime sought the support of Nuri al-Maliki, Iran’s protege in Iraq, who responded promptly by sending more than 10,000 Shia fghters. These takfri death squads, whose violence is only matched by Al-Nusra and ISIS, fght under the banners of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas. Their sectarian rampage is well documented in places such an-Nabek, Homs, and Damascus.

Finally, the Syrian regime prospered under advantageous regional and international contexts codified by a common interest to end the momentum of the Arab revolts. The group of countries who unabashedly call themselves “the friends of Syria” have crucified the Syrian revolution a thousand time. This group includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, France, and the United States, some of which are as totalitarian as the Syrian regime, and yet they claim to support a revolution for freedom and dignity. In reality, these countries have their divergent agendas, but what they had in common is hatred toward the Syrian regime and fear from a successful revolution that would have lasting impact on their respective societies, and more generally on the world order. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, funded the most fundamentalist groups and sought their allegiance because of their destructive impact on the terrain. By strengthening various Salafist and Wahhabi groups, they created rivalry, but perhaps more importantly, they prepared the terrain to destroy nationalist and progressive struggles. After initially supporting the Syrian regime for several months in 2011, Saudi Arabia felt it would gain more by pushing for militarization and jihadist holy wars, thereby sending a clear message to the populations of the Arabian Gulf about the high cost of starting a revolt there. In the past three years, Saudi Arabia showed, on multiple occasions, that it can repress violently any populations with aspiration for freedom as it did in Bahrain or Qatif in Saudi Arabia. It also built a tripartite alliance with like-minded regimes, Egypt and Algeria, and openly declared its intensions to suppress the Tunisian and Yemeni revolutions after temporarily crushing the Egyptian revolution. The government of Erdogan played a more subtle role in undermining the revolution. While it welcomed many refugees for pragmatic reasons, it was more interested in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood than helping Syrians establish an authentic democracy. Finally, the United States and Europe were more worried about scoring points against Iran, the security of Israel, and regional stability to maintain a smooth flow of oil, than any real democracy in Syria or the Arab World. The Syrian stalemate was actually not a bad option for the West and Israel since it involved an open war between al-Qaeda and its offshoots on the one hand, and Hezbollah and Iran on the other, all of whom are despised by the West.

Despite the complexity of the Syrian situation and the large number of players involved in the conflict, what is taking place in Syria is quite simple: people rose up to overthrow a tyrant. The past three years have shown that ruling elites in the West and the Arab World have done everything to crush the Syrian Revolution. They have done so either through a complicit silence, a well orchestrated campaign that tarnished the image of the revolution, the funding of the most reactionary factions, or barring refugees from reaching Europe or the US. No government was genuinely willing to help Syrians in their struggle. While some Syrians believed their salvation would come from the West, the vast majority had no such illusion as the slogans and songs of the revolution had amply shown. The banners created by activists in Kafranbel are indicative of such popular mood. One of the banners they were holding in 2011 read, “Down with the regime, down with the opposition, down with the Arab and Islamic nation all together. Down with the security council, down with the world. Down with everything!”

The first anniversary of the chemical attacks is an occasion to reaffirm the importance of the revolution not only for Syrians but for the entire Arab World. The Syrians’ struggle against dictatorship, global jihadism, and western imperialism should not be viewed as local or even regional. It is part of an insurrectionary moment where the world has become the battlefield. The new development in Iraq, among other developments, have shown that the fate of the Syrian revolution will have tremendous implication on the new world order. The struggle of Syrians for dignity, freedom, and self determination cannot therefore be delinked from the Palestinian historic rebellion against Zionism, Egyptian women struggles against military despotism and sexual harassment, the Bahraini courageous uprising against totalitarianism, the Kurdish battles for justice, and the Zapatista and other indigenous populations’ resistance against racism and neoliberalism. Failure to stop the counter­revolutionary wave in Syria will have tremendous repercussions on the revolutions in Egypt, Yemen, or Bahrain. A successful revolution in Syria however would unleash long-repressed revolutionary aspirations in the Arab world and beyond.

Signatories

  • The Global Campaign of Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution
  • Syrian Revolution Bases of Support
  • MENA Solidarity Network-US
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