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Ricardo Flores Magón: Construction and Critique of His Liberation Utopia
Abstract: This article is an approach to Ricardo Flores Magon’s political thought. In the first place I establish how Magon’s thought is connected with the Philosophy of Liberation and insist on the importance of reading history in a new way. In the second part of this essay I explain the Utopia in the Magonist perspective and how it is built in order to conclude with a critique to Magón from Franz Hinkelammert.
Flores Magón: a Thinker of Liberation
The official history of Mexico remembers Francisco I. Madero as the central character of the Mexican Revolution. In this historical representation, Madero stands as the manifestation of the beginning of a democratic regime that opposed the centrality and imposition of the Porfiriato. Madero seemed to be an embodiment of a “new” democratic political power. As a tribute to Madero’s importance, Mexico commemorates the Mexican Revolution on November 20. On this date in 1910, Madero proclaimed the Plan of San Luis, a proclamation credited by Mexican history as the beginning of the revolutionary movement. This official history, however, reads as incomplete, providing a partial and selective account of the Mexican Revolution. In its glorification of the figure of Madero, it delegates those who facilitated the movement to supporting roles, at times ignoring them entirely. These actors contributed not only through their involvement in the beginning stages of the armed insurgency, but also as creators of the cultural revolution, without which the Mexican Revolution itself would not have been possible. A key figure in the latter, Ricardo Flores Flores Magón (1873-1922) was very important in the formation of a revolutionarily potent cultural environment. Not only did Flores Magón help to provide the basic ideological
*Rogelio Laguna is a graduate student in Philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2012. He is also managing editor of RevistaMilMesetas.com and author of “Segunda navegación” (2008) and “¿Quién es la noche?” (2009). His webpage is http://www.rogeliolaguna.com/
as such. in the face of overly simplified historical narratives that delegate events as either “good” or “bad. it is necessary. Flores Magón announced the "death" of the Constitution in a newspaper. the absence of a historical memory. Steadfastly he wrote: . The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies framework of the Mexican Revolution as chair and founding member of the group responsible for the Mexican Liberal Party program. inserting it as a cornerstone of Mexican liberation history. Enrique Dussel expounds upon this point. is not difficult to understand.i but he also aided in the awakening of political consciouness as founder of various newspapers aimed at the rural population. Despite his political relevance. Dussell proposes that the search for a people’s liberation must include the recovery and revision of their history. a history that critically remembers everything deliberately ignored and appropriated by official histories. in particular the passages that remind them of their capacity and right to transform reality. our aim is to remember the system of thought of Ricardo Flores Flores Magón. history—especially when positioned in an official context—often does not tell the entire story and instead recounts the past from a politically loaded perspective. Flores Magón’s absence from historical accounts.” to write a history from and for the liberation of a people. stating that it is often the dominating power that writes history from a standpoint that ignores or “erases” that which invites an emancipation of the oppressed. As such. Consequently. The Magonist Utopia In 1903. however.Américas. historical narrations serve as a means of political control that maintains a status quo in which the poor remain poor. In this project. As has been noted.ii In other words. Flores Magón’s historical legacy does not occupy the space of the revolutionary “heroes.iii According to Dussell. power structures are able to avoid threats against themselves and remain intact.” and occasionally merits no mention other tha n reference to his work as a journalist. provides an opportunity to dominate people. before the armed struggle began. as well as the assimilation of an altered one. The important role history plays in the identity of a people and its political actions allows history to function as an object of control. perpetually oppressed by their dominators.
iv Let us emphasize two things from above. before their fight. Flores Magón questions whether constitutional order can do justice to the people or if it is merely a way to maintain an already established political and economic hierarchy for the benefit of a few. from this perspective. worse. need someone to remind them of their power. heroes. speaking not to the few to whom it is addressed.”vii The people. martyrs. Revolutions have many voices: leaders.” the people endure hunger and injustice before taking up arms. students and all those involved in the unfair and classist Porfirio Díaz regime. . so they can find the true motor and force of social change. Franz Hinkelammert says that Flores Magón's texts have the “spirit of awakening effervescence.Américas. At the same time that Flores Magón announces the death of the Mexican Constitution of 1857. others try to stop any thoughts of rebellion. . he also makes a strong criticism of a non-local political system.when Justice has been thrown out of the temple by nefarious merchants and when an unprecedented theocracy stands with cynicism on the tomb of the Constitution. wait for someone to plant the seeds of conviction. Faced with all these voices. They are mere things available to the powerful. First. he uses the tools and language of journalism to raise criticism. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies The Constitution is dead. These are ‘hot’ books that are trying to drag humanity toward its new destination. it is neither in academia nor in political circles where this thinker makes such a proclamation. that the people were betrayed by this pact from the beginning. the people stand on the margins of the main actors. they don’t exist.”v Flores Magón calls the people to self-awareness. workers. and come to violence only when their situation is truly unbearable. why continue to hide the obscure reality? Why should we drown in our throat the cry of our honest opinion. Rather. and social equality.vi Dussel notes that “the people. which was intended to ensure justice.viii Another aspect of the phrase “the Constitution is dead” opens itself to the field of political philosophy. . As John Locke observes in his “Second Treatise on Government. since the political isolation in which they find themselves has prevented them from figuring out which path they should take. But. like cowardly courtiers? . but to the general population: the laborers. . freedom. . villains. . . Some are rallying cries for the struggle. The Magonist claim that “the Constitution is dead” is a reminder to the people that the civil pact. has expired and. . The people wait their turn to take action. are ignored. of spreading enthusiasm.
xi Although our thinker aims to defend the right to life.”xiii Flores Magón himself sees that it is neither ideals of justice nor the state. therefore. he calls for a struggle. It is the livelihood of the peasants. and as such. but a concrete reality. the here and now that requires a stand and fight: We revolutionaries are not pursing chimera. and to the conquest of the latter right the intelligent of all countries and races today address themselves. The peoples nowadays are not taking up arms to impose on others their special Gods or their holy books. but rather a dignified life. In place of transcendent ideas. He warns that the “French Revolution won the right to think. for which the people must fight. and divinity do not provide the foundations of human life.x The land guides Magonist thought. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies Flores Magón sees the injustice of the constitutional order. a life that functions as a possibility of truthfully affirming individual and communal existence. He protests against those responsible for this situation and complains about those who oppress and humiliate the people. Flores Magón proclaims himself against all metaphysics. We all. To live means to be free and happy.Américas. As Flores Magón believes that truth is contained in the land. while simultaneously indicating that the only path worth following is life. The religions are fading religions. have the right to freedom and happiness. the struggle must be realized in the immanence. The Gods are rotting in the away in the shadow of indifference. He urges the people to “come to life.”ix In affirming life. for mankind. He recognizes that the heavens.”xii Flores Magón argues that the right to life has yet to be conquered. Flores Magón seeks to achieve not an unobtainable utopia. He notes that the political order is corrupt and disjointed. sustained by a nostalgia that remains when everything else is lost. disputed and treasured as if it were the only thing that mattered. we are pursuing reality. the immortality of the soul. it is not life in and of itself that interests him. a nostalgia identified in another time as “nostalgia for the land” by the Spanish philosopher María Zambrano. as it remains ignored and forgotten in the formation of the state. should not be pursued with devotion. does not mean to vegetate. the supreme symbol of reason for Modern thought. separated from gods and dogmas. He explains that “to live. . as a way to defend land. but it did not win the right to live. Yesterday heaven was the aim of the people: now it is the land.
xviii “The people no longer expect the word of God engraved on a couple of tablets to descend from some Sinai. Flores Magón points to the people who have experienced centuries of domination. . Only in that way can struggle achieve a transformation of the social order.”xix And when the people realize their own power to liberate themselves from injustice. we can lift a people. without heroes herding them. and cultural poverty nevertheless rise from their position of social exclusion: Poor as we are. a thousand nervous hands caress the gun and a thousand impatient breasts consider centuries the days left until this man's cry is heard: rebellion!xx . . who enjoy the shelter of the law. we are the mob rebelling against the yoke. the mob that burns Granaditas with Hidalgo. the mob that proclaims Münzer equality. without the fatherly figure of the state guiding them.xvii Flores Magón remembers in his writings that people have the right to claim liberty and happiness. the absence of capitals. Flores Magón urges the death of metaphysics in political thought.”xiv Flores Magón remembers over and over again that “we do not fight for abstractions.”xv Happiness for all can only be achieved through liberty and equality. He considers it time for the people to affirm themselves. a ray of hope comes in. we are the mob that with Juárez sustains the Reforma. where those who make happiness for those above are piled up and rot. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies food. but for material realities. then: In the dark pigsties. We want land for everyone. the mob of Spartacus. He notes that even those who live in political misery. bread for everyone.xvi It is useless to proclaim social equality and rights in the law. and labor. He claims that “social inequality died in theory when metaphysics died in the revolution of thought. In the dark. the rich. when in practice there are only a few.Américas. Camille Desmoulins’ mob that crushes the Bastille. Heard everywhere is the panting breath of those who will rebel. It is necessary that it also die in practice. subject to the deception of the laws. In the womb of the land the miner repeats the phrase of his comrades in chains. In the furrows the pawn ponders.
and clergy.Américas. claiming that although it was the sacrifice of countless workers and peasants who won the Constitution. The leaders encouraged the proletariat to take up arms for a Constitution. as every political order is sustained by injustice. the acquisition of which stole the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers. Rebellion aims to re-humanize those faces that “misery and pain have made ugly. . authority. . So says Flores Magón: “The abyss does not stop: water is more beautiful falling over a cliff. according to Flores Magón. exploitation. Flores Magón believes that his doubts are exemplified by the process that ended with the 1857 Mexican Constitution. better death than this nefarious peace. of a group of people who want for themselves that which no state can provide. which is the basis of all tyrannies. we will die like the sun: emanating light. Flores Magón points to the irony of the situation. who rebels against God and his hierarchical order. Against the assertion that the state is the pinnacle of human rationality. . that was because it was not written for the emancipation of the working class.xxiii .fasten their chains. and the proletariat fought on the side of good to. since with victory came the legalization of individual property. is the cry of Luzbel. and all imposition. The Constitution betrayed. The path. doubting both its capacity and its interests. even into the abyss. If we die. It is the cry of the fallen angels. but to legalize the theft committed by the employing class and strengthen its authority. telling them that the Constitution would make them free and happy. . . If the Constitution of 1857 did not benefit the working class. As such. the revolutionaries continue forward. . all those who fought for it. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies The cry of men. claims Flores Magón. on account of a social contract that asks the people to surrender their power and obey. . No more peace. .”xxi Rebellion transforms the face of humanity. its enactment benefitted only the capital. Flores Magón points out that man does not affirm himself only by reason. he needs to break with the prudish disciplines and the persecutory morals that load chains and burn stakes. . is a simple and anarchic life.”xxii The struggle of Flores Magón is against the state. in short. He needs life and flowers. . touches it with the sacred fire of struggle and encourages it to regain vitality. He questions its ability to guarantee justice and liberty to those it governs.
The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies Flores Magón thus believes that as long as a constitution affirms private property. and he identifies as the aim of his struggle a regime in which men wrest for their economic freedom. Originally [says Flores Magón] the land belonged to everyone. He pursues a regime that is not based on the individual. says Flores Magón. clothes. liberty was just as scant under the Empire as it was under the Dictatorship. to the essential goods for human life. and goes so far as to grant the authority. He contests that the Constitution is and will continue to be a lie as long as it remains without laws that guarantee the right to a dignified life.Américas. and shelter. because such rights are and should be essential to mankind. The poor cannot enjoy the privileges that are conceded to the citizens in the political orders. How has private property emerged? It has not always existed.xxvi The land belongs to everyone. taking possession of the land. but on the solidarity .xxiv Flores Magón observes that the Constitution and the laws that emanate from it have not fulfilled the expectations of the people. and transport goods. and justice. machinery.xxv Flores Magón continues to demand that the government grant food. and they will tell you that for the worker. . bread has been scant under all the government reformations and that. regardless of the differences between liberal and conservative regimes: Ask the poor if they ate more bread on account of their work during the simple democracy of Benito Juárez than under the Empire of Maximiliano or the dictatorship of Santa-Anna. prestige. empowers the subjugation and enslavement of man. It instead guarantees to a select few the acquisition and protection of their capital. it cannot sustain social equality. liberty. furthermore. and moral force that allow that few to be obeyed and feared. who vote for leaders who will maintain the law and thus a political order that serves as the basis of social inequality because it aims to protect the property of the rich: Behind capital and the struggle of everyone against everybody lies the root of the problem: private property. Private property. . as an institution.
the main problem is the passage from the present reality into a future prosperity. no concept of praxis. is to waive any law and any government. however. As the future is conceptualized without any kind of institutional mediation. Present death and future life. the anarchist is unable to rationalize the transition to that future in mediated terms. Critique of Utopia The Magonist utopia.Américas. he at the same time returns to the absolutism against which he proclaims himself.xxix there is no clear organizational form. due to the fact that institutions are against liberty and the naturalness of the individual. according to Hinkelammert.”xxx Such force would be liberated with the abolition of capital and state to give birth to a new society.xxvii This bipolarity is repeated in terms of a present subdued reality and a future of liberation: “Ultimately it is bipolarity between life and death. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies of the community. The main problem for Hinkelammer is that in anarchist utopia a bipolar analysis is made. he claims. As such it does not seem like the proclamation of a new regime. However. The solution to social problems. it proclaims at the same time that sentence of Saint Just: No freedom for the enemies of freedom. but the reversal of the regime against which he fights: With its [Flores Magón’s] rejection of an institutional mediation of the passage towards a society and with its insistence on direct action. How can we get to the future? “Between the present and the futures lies an abyss without any institutional bridge. because under them liberty and spontaneity are subjected and oppressed. would this be enough for the birth of a new social order? Hinkelammert continues his critique of anarchist thought. a force that is fettered by the property and state institutions. That is to say. while the anarchist seeks a stunning image of liberty.”xxviii In the anarchist utopia of Flores Magón.” says Hinkelammert. is not free of philosophical difficulties. claiming that while it proclaims absolute liberty. Flores Magón seems to have no concept of the construction of the future. it only . “It supposes rather that there is a big spontaneous force easily mobilized in people. In other words. Franz Hinkelammert addresses Flores Magón in his “Critique of Utopian Reason” and analyzes the anarchist ideal. in which the state and freedom are opposed in an absolute way. of capital and authority.
To accomplish that. This context affirms neither the abolition of the state nor of capital blindly. As such. disguises the impossible as possible and leads to a Manichaean dualism. a reference point for judgment. the primacy of capital.xxxii Conclusion: Towards Life The critique by Hinkelammert highlights the important issues in the Magonist formulation. and in cancelling the state it stands as the only option. According to capitalist thought. but rather allows these ideas to enter the utopian ideal as regulative and not absolute. The problem is that utopias need to build an impossible other against which they can construct the only possible path. conversely. The utopia is a source of ideas of good life. and it is the only way to social welfare. it is necessary to recognize a reflection on liberty. that even in the radicalism of the Magonist stance.. Against this critic we should say. because there can´t be any other path. it leads to theoretical absolutism. he denounces the emergence of the multiple . Another virtue of Magonist anarchism is that it does not fail to denounce the injustices that have arisen since the establishment of political orders. and thus avoids the effervescence of a radical reading produced by an unmediated reception of Magonist thought. Flores Magón presents a liberty that calls for spontaneity and human creation to rise against private property and the state. utopia must never become an end to be asymptotically performed [. for example. even it seems to proclaim the end of history. Such dualism ends up threatening what is possible in reality. entities characterized more often as repressors of the spontaneity of thought and action. for socialism. like any utopia. Utopia. says Hinkelammert. the only way is its own. In other words. when it is not autocritical. even if the whole humanity resolved to do it. moves between the realms of the possible and the impossible. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies achieves to reverse the polarization and the Manichaeism of the bourgeois society against which it arises. a reflection of sense.Américas. in which there is no room for other possibilities. Although he does not reject the Magonist utopia. however. socialism is what is impossible.xxxi Hinkelammert observes that anarchist utopia. and private property.] The utopia describes goals that are impossible to achieve. and what is impossible is capitalism.. Anarchism does not stray far from this model. Hinkelammert believes it should be accepted within a political realism.
as Hinkelammert says. Flores Magón offers another possible order that comes from the concrete life of a human being. and there he also finds the job he likes. and liberty is something to achieve and claim. What Hinkelammert does see is that Flores Magón’s thought is not merely arbitrary. Ricardo Flores Magón seeks to save everyday life in his utopia. yet no one is lacking anything. and that our own temporal and concrete lives are subjugated through power. then it would be the solidarity of a community that would lead to this new social state. If it is true that Magon does not seek to create new institutions. we can still erect a new social and economic reality. This is a point that Hinkelammert’s critique of anarchist utopia does not take into account. We do not believe that Flores Magón’s though lacks praxis. It provides that. present reality exists as an order of slavery. A person lives where he likes to live. In Flores Magón’s conception of the world.”xxxiv This is a society of living as opposed to a society of owning.Américas. and colonized as we are.” says Hinkelammert. an “infinite progress of abstraction. towards perfect spontaneity. [Translation into English by Oscar Zoletto] Bibliography: . oppressed. the Magonist utopia manifests as a liberation process that realizes itself indefinitely. and necessities can be satisfied according to the views of each person. not from institutionalization.xxxiii As such. Anarchist liberty seeks the way in which each individual can decide what he wants in the margins of communal solidarity. Magonist utopia opposes dominant power and allows us to conceptualize a history in which the people are able to defeat the injustices of capitalism and domination. “no one prohibits anything to anyone. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies mediations that prevent the people’s development and their immediate participation in politics. controlled by capital. as they are mediations of life. reminding us that the land is what is valuable. Therefore. as poor. without the pressures of the state or the market.
Hinkelammert. Franz. 2001. Mexico: Driada. El frío y el cruel. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing. Enrique Flores Magón as Treasurer. “Discurso filosófico contemporáneo (anarquista y antisocialista). Mexico: Editores Mexicanos Unidos. 2006. 429-451. 2002. Manuel Sarabia. Juan Sarabia as Vice Chairman. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies Dussel. Una aproximación al pensamiento de Enrique Dussel. Filosofía de la liberación.B. 1980. 1995. planes y testimonios. Pedro Enrique. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. María “Nostalgia de la tierra.Centro de cooperación regional para la educación de adultos en América Latina y el Caribe. 2nd ed. Madrid: Taurus. comp. Missouri on July 1. Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer. 2003. Crítica de la razón utópica. 2002. Crónica. Second Treatise of Government. 1906. John. Locke. by a commission led by Flores Magón as Chairman. Ética de la liberación en la edad de la globalización y de la exclusion. with an Introduction. no. edited. Gilles. documentos. Villareal as Secretary. McPherson. Deleuze. . and Librado Rivera. 2 (April 1933):108-113. Garciadiego. La revolución mexicana. edited by María del Carmen Rovira and Arturo Almaguer. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.” Revista Los Cuatro Vientos. García Ruiz. Ricardo. 2nd ed. and Rosalío Bustamante as members. Tomo 3.” In Pensamiento filosófico mexicano del siglo XIX y primeros años del siglo XX. . Antonio I. 20 tesis de política. 1973.Américas. 2008. Javier. Zambrano. Flores Magón. ____. Enrique. Mexico: Siglo XXI. i The Program of the Partido Liberal Mexicano was written in Saint Louis. Madrid: Trotta. Presentación de Sacher-Masoch. La revolución mexicana. by C. 4th ed.
of the marginalized. 193. chapter 19.. “No one is tyrannized but through the law” (p. 2006: 96 -97). the establishment of eight-hour work days and minimum wages. chapter 4. . eds. (Madrid: Trotta. 2002: 220). ed. xxviii Hinkelammert.. v Franz Hinkelammert. . 440. xxvi Hinkelammert. 1980). “Discurso filosófico contemporáneo. not in anarchy. Abril de 1933. because “to be free we must be happy. en la edad de la globalización y de la exclusión. intimidated. viii Dussel describes: "The people then become ‘consciousness-for-itself.” In Second Treatise of Government. protection for the indigenous. 186. to find it a place in world history. anti-racists.” 433. in such way that it cannot express itself” (Dussel. Ética de la liberación. The tyrant is the one who speaks the language of the law and needs its shelter. the prohibition of child labor. the multiplication of schools. xxv Flores Magón. ii Enrique Dussel. Crítica de la razón utópica. xxiv This last point that Flores Magón denounces is pointed out too by Gilles Deleuze in Presentación de Sacher Masoch (1973) referring to the Marquis de Sade. Consciousness of being people [pueblo]. the abolition of the tiendas de raya. Madrid. capitalism then seems to be the only society that is today possible” (Hinkelammert. It has it always even when it is weak.’ It was necessary. 2nd ed. perceived since my childhood in the desert country. This is exemplified by the tension between the utopia formulated by Marx and the capitalist utopia: “Marx showed that capitalist society i s impossible and incompatible with the conditions of human survival and of nature. 2001). there can be no freedom” (Hinkelammert. of all those ghosts that roam in the externality of the system. Crítica de la razón utópica." (Garcia Ruiz.” 432.” Revista Los Cuatro Vientos. xxii Ibid. declared as the ‘only alternative’.” 440.Centro de cooperación regional para la educación de adultos en América Latina y el Caribe. vi John Locke. . xxiii Ibid. 4th ed. Law is a hoax. always linked to the requirements of conservation that take away sovereignty form individuals. C. . harassed. xv Ibid. discovering its hidden being. xvii Flores Magón. xx Ibid. I discovered. 2003: 24). xiv Ibid. (Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer. . Where there is no happiness. the suppression of conscription. España. . . the indigenous peoples. . xiii Ibid. The new bourgeois theory reverses this argument and says that socialism is impossible. “Discurso filosófico contemporáneo. “The power is owned always and exclusively by the political community. feminists. xix Flores Magón. 434. brought me from Europe to Israel. McPherson (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing. . 2006: 96-97). It is the consciousness of the peasant class. . Therefore. as the only viable alternative to capitalism there is a society that is called socialism. 2002: 184). 88).B. “Discurso filosófico contemporáneo. 95.Américas. from its poverty. 431. vii Enrique Dussel. forgotten and hidden facts in the history of the winners. chapter 1. . 20 tesis de política (Mexico: Siglo XXI. . xvi Hinkelammert puts special emphasis on this relationship that Flores Magón formulates between freedom and happiness. Tyrants appear in law or taking advantage f rom it. iv Ricardo Flores Magón. 2006). “Discurso filosófico contemporáneo. 2002). the people.’ They reconstruct the memory of their deeds. Crítica de la razón utópica. The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies The Program’s main demands included the reduction of the presidential term from six to four years. Deleuze explains that Sade is clear that any kind of law is a second nature. . that ‘Latin America is outside history. xviii Cfr. determined all action to a social order and a determinate ethics.” 432-433. “Discurso filosófico contemporáneo. xxi Ibid. x Ibid. “Discurso filosófico contemporáneo (anarquista y antisocialista). as indicated by the Mexican philosopher Leopoldo Zea in his book America in History. “Of the Dissolution of Government. xi “Nostalgia de la tierra. through it power is not delegated but usurped in the complicity of slaves an d masters.” 432. ix Flores Magón. xxviiHinkelammert criticizes the notion of “utopia” itself. 2002). iii Enrique Dussel makes explicit the importance of history to the project of liberation in his dialogue with Paul Ricoeur in 1993: "The discovery of the misery of my people. compulsory education until age 14. María del Carmen Rovira and Arturo Almaguer (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. xii Flores Magón. and the formulation of bonds with the Latin American nations.” in Pensamiento filosófico mexicano del siglo XIX y primeros años del siglo XX. Tomo 3. "(Dussel.
The Johns Hopkins University Journal of Latin American Studies xxix xxx Ibid.Américas. xxxi Ibid. 211.. xxxiii Ibid. Ibid. Introduction. 202. xxxii Ibid. .... xxxiv Ibid.
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