Looking left

Submitted by AWL on 22 July, 2005 - 5:45

SWP on MAB; Respect's money; Labourstart; the Socialist Alliance's money; "Unite against terror"

SWP: DON'T KILL PEOPLE, JOIN MAB

Up till now the SWP’s promotion of the Muslim Association of Britain has been mostly indirect — co-sponsoring anti-war demos, endorsing MAB members as Respect candidates and so on. Now they are promoting their friends in this offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood explicitly.

“Instead of killing ordinary people” (!!!), writes prominent SWPer John Molyneux in the Guardian on 14 July, “they [young Muslims] should channel their anger into political action. They should follow the lead of the Muslim Association of Britain, which helped organise the great anti-war demonstrations.”

As if “killing people” is just a misguided tactic or waste of time, like a focus on buying fair trade chocolate — or something that the vast majority of young Muslims would even consider!

Someone should demand an apology from John Molyneux for his almost racist patronising of Muslims. Meanwhile, contact the SWP office for an MAB membership form…

RESPECT DONOR BLAMES JEWS FOR 7/7

Under British law, political parties are required to inform the public of the names of their major donors. A visit to the Electoral Commission website reveals that most of the money donated to Respect came from one man, Dr Mohammed Naseem. Dr Naseem was a Respect candidate in Birmingham at the last general election; he is also a leading figure in the Islamic Party of Britain, a group whose website makes for some very interesting reading.
According to the IPB, Islamists were not responsible for the London bombings. “The Jews” did it, through Mossad working in tandem with the Blair government.

However, the IPB’s progressive views are not limited to this issue. The “Question forum” section of their site also rules out “intermarriage” between people of different religions, praises the Taliban for establishing “protection for ordinary people” in Afghanistan and advocates the death penalty for public displays of “homosexual lewdness”, which it compares to paedophilia.

Dr Naseem must be very much at home in Respect!

LABOURSTART A ZIONIST FRONT?

“Anti-Zionist” crusader Tony Greenstein has launched an attack on the trade union news website LabourStart and its founder Eric Lee — and works the AWL in there too. “Why don't you (AWL) and Labour Start just fuck off?” he says. “Nothing you write is of the slightest interest. LabourStart is just a Zionist front.” Moreover, Greenstein has posted to a variety of left-wing email lists claiming that Lee’s “coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian issue is avowedly [!] racist”.

The AWL has many disagreements with Eric Lee. However, LabourStart — which is in no way run by the AWL — is an extremely useful labour movement website which has greatly facilitated international working-class solidarity — including with Palestinian trade unionists harrassed by the Israeli army.

[By production mishap, a misedited version of this piece was printed, including this passage after "… with Eric Lee" - "not least concerning his softness on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. We have made these disagreements clear on many occasions, and will do so again in future". In fact, as far as we know, Eric Lee opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, as AWL does. As can be verified from the archives on this website, disputes we have in fact had with Eric have concerned Bolshevism vs Menshevism, and the run-up to the Iraq war. Apologies to Eric for this mistake].

WHERE'S THE MONEY GONE?

The last Socialist Alliance conference, at which the SWP forced through the decision to shut down in favour of Respect, agreed that any remaining funds should be used to pay off the SA’s debts, including £3000 borrowed from Walsall Democratic Labour Party for the 1999 West Midlands Euro-election campaign. This decision was taken against the wishes of the SWP, who wanted the money to go to Respect.

What a surprise that Nick Wrack and Rob Hoveman, the SWP-supporting Chair and National Secretary of the SA have failed to carry out the decision to pay back the DLP (or indeed any other decision taken by the conference)!

Seven members of the former SA executive have written to Wrack and Hoveman demanding to know what’s going on. Watch this space to see how the SWP tries to get out of it. . .

UNITE WITH WHO?

The founding statement of “Unite Against Terror”, a sub-group created by Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) in response to the London bombings, says some good things and is mostly unobjectionable waffle. About half way through, however, comes the punchline: “in the face of such an enemy, we believe it is vital that democratic political forces in all countries unite.”

In case anyone is in doubt about what this means, the front page of the website includes a link to a speech by Tony Blair. And on Norman Geras’ website, statement-writer Alan Johnson gushes about Tony Blair’s “bloody marvellous” speech which he finds “strikingly similar” to his own text! (No doubt Blair went straight to the Labour Friends of Iraq site when he was told about the bombings. . )
By “democratic”, in other words, LFIQ and UAT are indicating anyone opposed to al-Qaeda — presumably including the Iraqi government, George Bush, the Tories and all sorts of other reactionaries. Little things like, you know, working-class politics don’t exist in universe of these ex-socialists.

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/07/2005 - 00:53

Alan Johnson

Can I respond to your note about the Unite Against Terror statement?

First, it is not true that the UAT statement (http://www.unite-against-terror.com/) is a Labour Friends of Iraq venture. Of the organisers only myself and Jane Ashworth are involved in LFIQ. The blogs Harrys Place and Hak Mao, and an individual, Adrian Cohen, are the other organisers.

Second, I did not write the statement alone. Harry and I co-wrote it with help and input from other people.

Third, to give you some information, the statement now has over 2000 signers, with people joining by the minute. It has been translated into many languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hebrew, Romanian, Portugese, with Japanese and German and Czech about to be completed). It has attracted a range of the democratic left from the USA (Todd Gitlin, Paul Berman, Steve Bronner) and the UK (Peter Tatchell, Robert Fine) Iraq and Europe. It has attracted MPs, Welsh assembly members, Iraqi bloggers and democratic activists, and Israellis who seek two states. Citizens from many many countries have signed. Plans are afoot to develop the statement and the site.

There was one AWL signer but as I understand it you made this person remove his name, invoking democratic centralism. It seems you feel the line “in the face of such an enemy, we believe it is vital that democratic political forces in all countries unite.” is so awful that it was a matter of discipline that he remove his name. But look, tell me what the difference is between that line and this line from the AWL's 'Tubeworker' bulletin: "We must stand together as a class and as a people against these murdering thugs". As a people, note. As a people. If anything our line is better (democratic forces as against people) but look, this quibbling is daft: of course all democratic forces should unite against suicide bombers inspired by a fascistic dystopia.

One of your writers - Sean Matgamna - held up the example of the ILP in World War Two as a model to follow. Fine. The ILP gave critical support to Churchill, a Tory. Yet because I give critical support to Blair, the leader of the Labour Party in this war you scream in horror 'popular front! popular front! ex-socialists! run away!'. Well, make your mind up. Was the ILPs critical support for Churchill in WW2 a scandolous popular front or ws it a model to follow? Make your mind up.

The UAT site links to the TUC statement, the Socialist International statement, and has the support of trade unionists from RMT, TGWU, Unison and other unions. And, yes, to a speech by the leader of the British Labour Party which offered, in my view, a clear account since 7/7 of the nature of the threat (far better than 'murderous thugs' at any rate)and the need for a political solution, for a battle of democratic ideas against totalitarian ideas.

You have not advanced any real reasons for your members not signing the statement. It could not be that your reaction is utterly subjective and that you would not support any initiative of OURS, could it?

Alan Johnson

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/08/2005 - 21:12

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Alan.

We've never met, but you might remember that we had a brief debate on this website about your position on Iraq, a position that you were - at the time - just developing, but one which has now evolved into what I don't think you could possibly deny is critical support for an imperialist occupation.

I said during that debate that I'd found your articles about Iraq and the third camp in New Politics during 2002/2003 an invaluable resource. The rapidity and intensity of your political u-turn has, therefore, been somewhat startling - even to someone like me who's never even spoken to you. Given that we are not acquainted, I hope you won't mind me replying to your latest disingenuous attack on the AWL.

You might remember that our debate about Iraq focused on the use - or otherwise - of the slogans "troops out" and "end the occupation." I said that political slogans like that don't mean very much in the abstract, but are given their character by the political context in which they're used. Ergo, in the context of the SWP's pro-Islamist politics, the slogans are reactionary, but in the context of the AWL's politics of working-class solidarity, they have a different character.

So it is with your reference to the "unity" of "democratic political forces." Fairly reasonable in and of itself, but taken in the context of your own "critical support for Blair," the statement takes on a different meaning.

Yes - "democratic" forces should unite against terrorism. But since when did Marxists - or any half-decent socialists - include the administrators of capitalism in that category? When did the rapacious, brutal, imperialist ruling-class become a "democratic force"? Where is the connection between desiring the "unity" of "democratic forces" and "critical support" for the leader of a deeply reactionary anti-working class government?

For you, whether or not a person or organisation is a "democratic force" in society is now determined solely by their attitude to Islamist terrorism. For Marxists, it is determined by their attitude and relationship to the working-class.

Your politics are, unquestionably, melting into popular-frontism. If you genuinely believe that Tony Blair and the international workers' movement are suddenly on the same side in the "battle of democratic ideas against totalitarian ideas," I do not know a term for this other than popular-frontism.

You attempt to portray this implicit popular-frontism as simply a better-worded version of the line "we must stand together as a class and as a people against these murdering thugs" from our Tubeworker bulletin. But clearly you haven't read it too closely - the line comes from a letter to the bulletin, not an editorial. I think whoever wrote it was wrong to use that phrasing but quoting it doesn't prove very much.

You further attempt to muddy the waters by reference to Sean's position on the ILP. But you yourself refer to this as what it is - the position of "one of [our] writers." Secondly, even if I indulge your analogy it still makes no sense. Are you realistically comparing the situation today with an inter-imperialist conflict of global scale? Do you think this is World War 3, Alan? Is bourgeois-democracy involved in a full-scale war with clerical-fascism, in which the very existence of bourgeois-democracy is threatened? No - it is not.

Besides, seeing the victory of bourgeois-democratic, capitalist-imperialism over fascist imperialism as progressive does not equate to somehow seeing Winston Churchill as an ally or anti-fascist hero. Even Sean himself, in the article in which he discusses the ILP, makes it clear that they "supported the war while calling on the workers to fight in Britain immediately for socialism." They did not suspend the class struggle in the name of seeking "unity" with the "democratic forces" of Churchill's government against the "totalitarian ideas" of Hitlerism. They remained, ostensibly at least, revolutionary opponents of Churchill. This is much more than can be said for your attitude to Tony Blair or George Bush.

Unquestionably, the role of Islamism is very similar to the role of fascism, particularly in terms of its relationship to the workers' movement. But unlike you, I have no faith in imperialist capitalism to win that struggle on our behalf. Looking to Bush and Blair to defend us from Islamism - in London or in Baghdad - is like contracting cholera in order to avoid smallpox. Personally, I'd rather stay healthy.

These are the reasons why our members will not be signing your statement. As I've said, statements, slogans and forms of words are given a meaning by the political context in which they're used, and your politics of capitulatory critical support for one set of our class enemies in the vain hope that they might defend us from another set is utterly alien to the very tradition you yourself used to so eloquently advocate.

I also notice, incidently, that the UAT site also links to various articles and sites espousing religious and faith-based responses to the bombings. Is their isolated opposition to the 7/7 atrocities suddnely enough to make imams, priests and rabbis - horrendous reactionaries all - "democratic forces"? Have you also, then, abandoned secularism along with class-struggle socialism?

The political degeneration of so much of the revolutionary left has been characterised by an attempt to re-draw the lines of political and social division in society. As such, the SWP and co. have re-callibrated their political compass so it now reads "imperialists" and "anti-imperialist."

Your own degeneration is a tragic inversion of this same logic. Your compass now points to "democratic forces," - including the British and American bourgeoisie - and "totalitarian forces."

In your comments here and elsewhere, you seem edgy about being accused of popular-frontism and of being a supporter of an imperialist occupation. But you were once part of a tradition that places great value on calling things by their proper names - you should at least have the political guts to face up to the realities of your own positions.

Against the degeneration and re-callibrated political compasses of the pro-Islamist SWP and of yourself and the pro-Blairites, we stand for a political compass and an orientation that remains clear about where the real dividing line in society lies; not between "imperialists" and "anti-imperialists," or between "democratic forces" and "totalitarian forces," - but between exploited and exploiters, workers and bosses, labour and capital.

In Sean's article on the ILP, he wrote that capitalism "is, even in the best conditions, a system of brutal exploitation, of socially and culturally corrosive commercialism, and of grotesque ecosystem-destroying waste," and that "we must replace it [with] socialism!" That revolutionary hostility to the system that plunges millions of people into utter misery is absent from your politics. If it still exists anywhere in your political consciousness, it has been submerged and subsumed by your staggeringly naive faith in capitalist-imperialism to fight in any consistent or even deliberate way for progress against reaction.

Before he became a "democratic" supporter of imperialism, Max Shachtman was one of the most brilliant Marxist writers of the 20th century. His enormous contribution to class-struggle socialism and his role in building a significant Trotskyist movement amongst the American working-class go some way to redeeming him from the reactionary depths to which he plummetted.

The extent and character of your political degeneration, Alan, is similar. However I'm not sure if, 60 years from now, your articles in New Politics will be enough to rescue your political legacy...

-

Daniel Randall

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2005 - 00:37

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Daniel,

This is an exchange on another blog between Clive Bradley and myself:

Hi Clive,

Some thoughts.

Season beckons and, if I may, Ill be asking you to walk to Highbury and get away tickets for my lad and I soon. But politics for now.

I think people will sign the UAT statement if they feel the statement represents their views. That's fine. Debating the issues is also important. It should never be a question of a loyalty test. Chris Bertram is right about that.

But on the issue, Clive, you say you dont want to unite with 'all democratic forces'.

a)Why not? The threat we face is fascistic and all democrats should unite to oppose it. 'Unite with' does not mean 'dissolve into'. What's the problem?

(b) UAT isn't the same as the kind of grand pop front the CPs built, you know. Thinking by analogy is probably a bad idea. We are not 'holding back' anyone. We are not 'subordinating' any forces to 'the bourgeoisie'. There is no equivalent of 'turning on the Barcelona radicals' here!

(c) Do you think your real objection is BLAIR?. We posted Blair's 'battle of ideas' speech. I know how much flak that has caused. Well, I think it was a brave speech, ahead - understatement! - of his party ranks and the malady that is UK/European liberal-left opinion, basically correct in its analysis of both threat and solution (security, yes, but mainly politics, mainly a battle of ideas, with development also key).

But as I hear it Martin Thomas told AWLers that this was 'like posting Thatcher's speeches against the Polish CP'. That is really very wooden (no suprise there, then).

I think you are making, so to speak, a category error. Blair is the leader of the British labour movement. Thatcher was the leader of the Tory party. It really does make a difference. (unless you think they are 'siamese twins'...?)

Blair met yesterday with Zapatero, the Spanish social democrat leader, and both refused talk of a clash of civilisations in favour of talk of an alliance of civilisations against the fascists. Here also was the anti-war / pro-war moving-on-alliance-on the-centre-left we have been calling for. I think that's progress. If we leave this fight - I am happy to call it a war, with sides, one of which I stand with and work for the victory of, just as, say, the ILP did in WW2 - to the political right then we wont deserve a hearing. Yes, I give CRITICAL support to Blair-Bush in the war on terror, just as ILP gave it to Churchill in WW2. No, I dont back Bush on the rest anymore than the ILP backed Churchill on the rest in WW2. Best to just say these things out loud. So I have. Bring it on.

I really dont think the inter-war categories of pop front / united front are going to do it for us, anymore than 'imperialist nation / imperialised nation' can (or could ever, in their case). The old categories were developed in a age before we were really aware of genocide and crimes against humanity, for one thing. I (now) think this is tremendously important. There are many times when human/ist categories have to replace class categories. The UAT statement reflects that. And that 'move' is going to render the old 'classing' of every question...well, if not redundant, then certainly only one discourse that will have to take its place alongside others (such as the duty to rescue, the democracy/totalitarian frame, and others).

Take our old position on WW2, Clive. Both of us have disagreed with that for decades. (actually as I remember it we told each other one time that we had NEVER agreed with it)But have we thought through the full implications of that disagreement, that refusal? We can't just treat it as a sui generis one-off, can we? What is the 'logic' of that disagreement?

I also (now) think that socialist ideas have to take their place alongside liberal ideas. Norman Geras has done most, I think, to work out the articles of reconciliation but there are many many other labouring at that. Irving Howe was one. Norbert Bobbio another. Was Chris Bertram's book on Rousseau fired by the hope of that reconciliation? He can say.

Her's what I think. I think there may be a new political persuasion emerging. It does not have self-awareness yet. It might never. It is rooted in the left but is willing to question most orthodoxies. It wants to hold to social democracy and render it fit for this world not the fantasy world that most left-liberal public opinion lives in. It might be called neo-progressivism (though who cares about names?). It is a loose network of academics, bloggers, journalists, activists, MPs, trade unionists. And citizens who keep writing emails saying 'thank you, I know I am not alone!'. Its campaighing orgaisations that have bested the pro-tyrant left in battle and a host of blogs that are turning the tables on the left-liberal orthodoxy. Next steps? Who knows, but there will be next steps. It would be bloody marvellous to have you and your voice as part of that network, Clive.

Come on. Move on.

best,

Alan
Hi Alan

(I’ve replied to this once already, but it wouldn’t save my comment...)

Let’s forget the terms Pop vs United Front. I wasn’t arguing by analogy. Surely there is a basic strategic argument.

We have in Britain, and in much of the rest of the world, a working class movement which remains very powerful, in fact. Worldwide, the working class is the biggest it has ever been, with far more people organised than ever before. In Britain, years of defeat, spinelessness, the inadequacies of the left, anti-union laws (kept in place by this government) and other factors, have weakened it and diminished its voice. But I remain of the opinion that radical change will come from and through this movement, and that therefore the task of socialists is to encourage it to assert itself.

I also think, which is relevant, that at some point there will be a ‘spontaneous’ revival of good old-fashioned class struggle; that the quiet times of the past couple of decades in Britain are just that, not an existential result of the decline of the working class as such, or whatever. (I don’t know what this revival will look like, but I think there will be one).

And I’m sure your community of bloggers, and so on, can play a fructifying role, to some extent, in this self-assertion, in the prevailing ideas which will shape political revival.

If all you mean by ‘democrats’ is a general term for people who defend democratic values and rights but aren’t necessarily socialists – well, of course.

But UAT appears to mean more than this. Blair’s approach, for which you express such enthusiasm, is – surely – unity with, among others, the American ruling class, the Liberals and Tories, and religious authorities in the Muslim community. The value of each alliance can be assessed independently; but I can’t accept that this kind of unity is simply benign and obvious. ‘Unite’, not ‘dissolve into’ – okay. But what exactly does ‘unite’ mean, then?

(And yes, of course I have a problem with Blair. The category mistake, surely, isn’t that big, anyway, unless you doubt that the Labour government is a bourgeois government... Do you doubt that?)

There are lots of orthodoxies to question. And I am the last person to suggest there are easy answers. But I’m sceptical that the new ground you think you’re treading is as firm as you think.

Clive

PS. Sure I’ll get you Arsenal tickets.
Clive Bradley | 07.28.05 - 1:57 pm | #

Clive,

Thanks for the tickets offer. We are about 15,000th in line for season tickets so we may be some time...

Just to pick up one point. I agree with the weight you place on a revived working class movement / labour movement. Absolutely. But...

I have become persuaded that something kicked in around 1914 and after, something that Trotsky's Transitional Programme was the apogee of, and that something changed the way socialists thought about the relation between that wc movement and the rest of society, and about that movement and social change.

A kind of catastrophism took root (its not hard to see why it did of course)in which capitalism and bourgeois society more generally was depicted as having no future - literally and immediately none - and was only able to produce various forms of decay (fascism, stalinism). The entire theory of bureaucratic collectivism, especially as extended by Draper to the west, for instance, rests on that death agony perspective.

In consequence, the working class movement was urged to position itself in relation to a 'death agony' and to expect wars and revolutions around corners. Organisational forms, spirit, attitude to other forces, parties, classes, and to law and rights and liberties and 'bourgeois' forms, was all dictated by this basic stance and so became something, well, I want to say something quite different to what Marx stood for. But that would be daft of me. I really mean different than what I think can have any purchase on reality today.

I think this is understood on a 'domestic' level by many people who then seem to keep the old religion alive 'overseas' in their discussion of international politics. The political attack on the IFTU for doing what had to be done in Iraq would be a case in point, I think. Martin Thomas called the IFTU policy 'de facto support for Bush's slaughter'. In fact the IFTU were just building the workers movement on a given terrain marked by extreme weakness on their part, a political process which held out a possibility of democracy and space to organise, and a facistic 'resistance'. Their policy is so obviously the right one (it seems to me) that one wonders what could lie behind the assault on it. I think it might, at one level, be this theory of catastrophism and death agony: to admit a contradictory role to capitalism or to bourgeois forces - and to develop a strategy for that contradictory complex mess - is to throw over the entire epochal 'perspective'. But maybe doing that is the passport for reconnecting our theory to the world?

best,

Alan

Alan

Actually, Martin Thomas (for those who are finding this discussiona bit cliquey, a member of the AWL), has articulated the 'not catastrophist' notion of post-war capitalism about as much if not more than any Marxist I am aware of. It's certainly true that bureaucratic collectivism a la Shachtman, as well as Draper, is at least implicitly catastrophist, which is one of the things wrong with it.

I don't think Martin was referring to the whole policy of the IFTU, or of the CP which leads it. The basic idea that trade unions are pretty much by definition 'collaborationist', in the sense of negotiating etc, is common ground. But you, it seems to me, write out the entire history of the CP, and the politics which necessarily flow from that history, in any assessment of its current policy.

It's not reasonable to take particular comments out of context. We (and Iraq Union Solidarity) have certainly spent more time defending the IFTU than criticising it.

To suggest that there might be a more independent approach to current politics in Iraq than that taken by the IFTU (ie, regarding the government - although actually their line seems a lot more conflicted of late, as far as I understand it) is not to say that socialist revolution is on the immediate agenda. It's that the more independent the unions are, the more likely they are to affect the kind of government and society that develops in Iraq.

I agree that there's stuff to discuss about Trotsky and what have you; I'm not convinced your alternatives make sense.

Best

Clive

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 03/08/2005 - 02:41

Alan –

Your debate with Clive was interesting, and I don’t want to turn this into a circuitous re-hash of that discussion. So I’ll limit myself to asking one or two simple questions.

The British ruling-class (you do still have a class analysis of society, right? I don’t want to make any assumptions…) has been an ally of the barbaric Saudi Arabian monarchy, the autocratic feudal nightmare in reaction to which radical Islamism has been nurtured in the region.

It has pursued friendly diplomatic relations with Iran, the beating heart of Islamism internationally.

It participates in an occupation of Iraq which represses the Iraqi labour movement, the force at the frontline of the struggle against Islamism.

It helped to power in Iraq – even before the quasi-democratic elections – the worst kind of sectarian religious bigots, including the ultra-reactionary Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Why is it, then, that in your analysis leaders of the same class responsible for all of that have suddenly become allies of “democratic ideas” in the fight against clerical fascism? (And please don’t pretend that you think that Blair’s position as “the leader of the labour movement” – a position you know full well he does not hold in any meaningful sense – means he is somehow politically or socially divorced from the ruling-class.)

Please spell out for me exactly what you mean by “democratic forces.” Forces with that record are not “democratic.”

I think the difference between us here is that we do want the unity of “democratic forces” to fight Islamism; forces brought together by their common support for basic democratic values such as secularism, universal human rights, social justice and workers’ rights.

You, on the other, want the unity of all forces notionally opposed to Islamist terrorism, even if (like the Blair government) they’re not opposed to Islamism in any consistent way, and even if (like the clerical figures whose statements the UAT website links to) they peddle soft-soap religious bigotry themselves. You use the term “democratic” to mean “having a condemnatory stance on the 7/7 bombings,” and in doing so you leave the term utterly bankrupt.

You impel Clive to "move on," but from what? From Marxism? From a class analysis of society? From a belief in revolutionary socialism and not "centre-left, neo-progressivism"? From a belief in the working-class as the agency of social change? From a belief that the bourgeoisie is not a "democratic force"? From a belief that we fight capitalism and imperialism even when they are "progressive" against more reactionary social systems or movements? Rather I think it is you who needs to move back to all those beliefs.

Anyway, thanks for posting the exchange between you and Clive, and if you could find the time to come back on the above questions, that’d be nice.

-

Daniel Randall

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