Early Soviet children’s books, 1924-1932

The Young Polytechnician: Housing

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Out with bourgeois crocodiles!
How the Soviets rewrote children’s books

Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian
May 4, 2016

In 1925, Galina and Olga Chichagova il­lus­trated a two-pan­el poster that called for a re­volu­tion in chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tion in the new So­viet Uni­on. The left pan­el fea­tured tra­di­tion­al char­ac­ters from Rus­si­an fairytales and folk­lore — kings, queens, the Fire­bird, the witch Baba Yaga and, my fa­vor­ite, a cro­codile in el­eg­ant night­cap and dress­ing gown. “Out,” read the cap­tion, “with mys­ti­cism and fantasy of chil­dren’s books!!” Continue reading

Moscow Brain institute diagram

They saved Lenin’s brain


An autopsy was performed on Lenin the same night as his embalming, lasting four hours and forty minutes. “Approximately halfway through the process Lenin’s brain was opened, and the direct cause of death was ascertained… When Lenin suffered a stroke on January 21, 1924, a large amount of blood rushed into his brain, much more blood than the sclerotic arteries had been transmitting. This pressure was too great for the brain’s damaged vessels, and the walls of those vessels broke down, flooding the brain with blood.” An official report of the autopsy was published the day of Lenin’s funeral. One reader, a non-party intellectual, criticized it for conveying the message that “Lenin is only matter, nothing more than a combination of a cranial hemisphere, intestines, an abdominal cavity, a heart, kidneys, a spleen…”

The weight of Lenin’s brain was 1,340 grams.

In 1968, Paragon Films adapted one of its older theater releases for television. Madmen of Mandoras (1963) only ran for seventy minutes, so about twenty minutes of footage had to be added to fill an hour-and-a-half slot. The result was They Saved Hitler’s Brain, an awful potpourri of shitty sixties sci-fi, WWII nostalgia, and spy film.

Of course, no one actually saved Hitler’s brain. As everyone knows, most of it was left splattered over the walls of a Berlin bunker. What little remained could hardly be salvaged.

However, the brain of another world-historical figure — one who was comparable in stature, if politically his polar opposite — was in fact preserved. Vladimir Lenin’s brain is still soaking in a vat somewhere inside the Moscow Institute of Brain Research, founded shortly after his death. Nikolai Semashko, Commissar of Health, summoned a pair of internationally renowned neurologists to the Russian capital to examine Lenin’s brain. Cécile and Oskar Vogt were the ultimate brain cytology power couple in Paris at the time. Semashko and his Politburo ally, Stalin, ostensibly wanted to establish the genius of the deceased Soviet premier on a materialist basis.

Upon their arrival in 1925, the Vogts were warmly greeted by party officials. Given a team of understudies and laboratory aids, as well as a building in which they could conduct their research, the husband-and-wife tandem immediately set to work. Oskar in particular was impressed by Lenin’s neuronal arrangements. His brain apparently housed a high number of abnormally large pyramidal cells clustered near the cortex, supposedly indicating a strong associative faculty. Vogt referred to Lenin in private as an “association athlete.”

lenin's brain compared with another

But there was an ulterior motive behind their invitation to Moscow. Lenin had left a testament in which he commented upon the strengths and weaknesses of the leading Bolsheviks, many of whom were now vying to succeed him. While none emerged wholly unscathed, the sharpest criticisms were reserved for Stalin. In the final months before Lenin’s death, he and Stalin had fought vociferously. Things got so heated that Lenin recommended Stalin be removed from his position as General Secretary.

Krupskaya, Trotsky, and a few others hoped Vogt would find Lenin was compos mentis up to his death. Stalin of course hoped that Vogt would vindicate Lenin’s brilliance, but judge him to be not fully competent at the time he dictated his testament. At the end of the day, not much came of the inquiry. Provisional results were published in 1929, but no follow-up articles or essays immediately succeeded it. Not until 1967 would more information be released regarding the tests performed on Lenin’s brain.

Мозг Ильича Журнал «Смена» за 1925 год, рассказывает о «лучшем образце мозга человека с крупнейшим интеллектом»

Much has been written about this bizarre episode in the history of medical science and the early Soviet state. Tilman Spengler, a German author, novelized the story in 1991. Lenin’s Brain has since been widely translated. Paul R. Gregory, a Cold War liberal, included a chapter on it in his hokey collection Lenin’s Brain, and Other Stories from the Soviet Secret Archives. Igor Klatzo’s joint biography of Cécile and Oskar Vogt features a chapter about their time in Moscow. Jochen Richter’s “Pantheon of Brains: The Moscow Brain Research Institute, 1925-1936” can be read here.

Dubious though the science must seem, at nearly a century’s remove, the cult of genius within neuroscientific circles was not limited to Lenin. Vladimir Mayakovsky’s brain was also donated to the Institute and studied at length. Following the death of Albert Einstein in 1955, the great physicist’s brain was removed, mapped, cut into cross-sections, and scrutinized at length. Like Lenin, Einstein considered himself a socialist (albeit of a different stripe). Go figure.

Communist cranial capacity crushes cretinous capitalism.

The first building of the Moscow Brain Institute "Mozga" DETAIL_PICTURE_697657_80754362untitledVogt, Oskar *06.04.1870-+Hirnforscher, D- in seinem Forschungsinstitut im Schwarzwald bei der Betrachtung einer Filfolie aus einer Serie von Gehirnschnitten- 1943

Das neue Frankfurt - Deutsche Bauen in der UdSSR (September 1930)_Page_01

German builders in the USSR, 1930-1937

Adventures of the avant-garde

Manfredo Tafuri
The Sphere and the

The attention with which figures such as [Siegfried] Kracauer, [Martin] Wagner, and [Bruno] Taut follow the realization of the Soviet First Five-Year Plan and May’s work in the USSR must, however, be considered in another light with respect to the observations made so far.[1] In the Tagebuch of 25 July 1931, Wagner writes:

The irony of destiny: the same day in which more than a thousand city planners, after having witnessed for five days an autopsy of the cadaver of the European urban organism, agreed, in their final meeting, on their inability to do something, the municipal assessor of city planning, Ernst May, gave his report on Russian city planning before a circle of enthusiastic young architects and interested builders…The young instinctively feel that a new vitality is springing forth from Russia, that there new possibilities are maturing and will bear fruit, that there the creative joy of city planning, freed from all the obstacles of property and of private profit, can fully expand.[2]

And Wagner concludes his hymn to realized socialism with an indicative expression, which puts in the forefront the “ethical” value of global planning: in the Soviet city, “there must be contained the greatest and noblest moments of a socialist Zeitgeist…as the Cathedral of the people.” The mythical “cathedral of socialism” makes its last appearance here. Wagner, like May, Hannes Meyer, Mart Stam, and Hans Schmidt, sees in the USSR of the Five-Year Plans the only possible checkpoint for the hypotheses of city planning put forward in Germany from 1924 on. In the experiment of global planning, the intellectuals of the Weimar Republic believe that they can recognize the “exact” arrangement of technical-operative work, denied them by a capitalist system in regression. But behind this widespread hymn to the oneness of the decision-making.

The dissolution of the “social pacts” on which the “contract democracy” of the Weimar Republic was based becomes evident in the course of the Brüning’s government by presidential degree and in particular after the breaking up of the Parliament of July 1930. In the face of this collapse of the compromises that had held together fragilely the heap of contradictions in which the Weimar culture had found its own spaces, the USSR of the First Five-Year Plan can be considered in a new light: no longer a place of collective catharsis, but rather the place where the State seems to assume the role assigned by [Rudolf] Hilferding and by the Congress of Kiel to the connection “political form/social organization of capital.” This role, note well, is still claimed in 1932 by the ADGB and the Afa-Bund, in the pamphlet Umbau der Wirtschaft, the last significant document of Weimar syndicalism.[3]

Das neue Frankfurt - Neue Stadte im Russland (July 1931)_Page_01 Continue reading

Wir sehen von links, Max Horkheimer, Maidon Horkheimer, Felix Weil, eine schöne Unbekannte (Lucille?), Friedrich Pollock1d

On the work of Friedrich Pollock

Jake Bellone, a comrade currently living in Canadian exile, has scanned the early Frankfurt School economist Friedrich Pollock’s 1956 work
 Automation: A Study of Its Social and Economic Consequences. I’ve digitized and uploaded it here for anyone who’s interested. You can download it by clicking on the link in the title above.

As far as I know, this book has been virtually forgotten in terms of the history of economic literature. It’s not the most thrilling read, but it’s a workmanlike survey of a number of studies and publications on the subject of automation. Counter to the prevailing optimism of the period, riding the long postwar boom, Pollock foresaw increasing technological unemployment ahead in the field of industry as automation became further generalized. Here he distinguished full-scale automation from the earlier phenomenon of mechanization, a process well known to political economists since Ricardo.

Pollock’s book has perhaps had a subterranean influence that has generally gone unnoticed. Ernest Mandel, the Belgian Trotskyist economist, cites it repeatedly in his celebrated book on Late Capitalism. An online acquaintance of mine, Elliot Eisenberg, who is close friends with Moishe Postone and studied with the brilliant Soviet Marxist economist Karl H. Niebyl back in 1961, went so far as to claim that “one cannot understand Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization without Pollock’s Automation.” This would seem to accord with Postone’s own estimation of Pollock’s significance:

Pollock’s work in the 1930s provided the implicit political-economic presuppositions of the pessimistic turn in Horkheimer’s theory and the changes in his conception of social critique. More generally, on the basis of an examination of Pollock’s investigations, I shall discuss the intrinsic relation of the political-economic dimension of Critical Theory to its social, political, and epistemological dimensions.

Here Postone mostly has in mind Pollock’s seminal 1941 essay on “State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations,” as well as his consideration of the question “Is National Socialism a New Order?” later that same year. But I see no reason not to extend this observation to the Institute’s work during the 1950s.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno dedicated their jointly-written Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) to Pollock. Now that I think of it, this work was translated and made available just a year after it was first published in German, in 1956, when Horkheimer and Adorno were still virtually unknown in the Anglophone world. (Outside of the few works they wrote in English, that is). Like Horkheimer and Adorno, Pollock is rather coy when it comes to openly expressing his Marxism. He never mentions Marx by name, but talks about “relative surplus population,” fixed vs. circulating capital, and other concepts clearly derived from the critique of classical political economy. Similarly, early members of the Frankfurt School used “critical theory” as a kind of codeword for Marxist theory, both in order to disguise their communist sympathies and to emphasize a critical dimension that had been lost in the dogmatization of DiaMat in Moscow during the 1930s.

What follows is Rolf Wiggerhaus’ brief biographical sketch of Pollock, taken from his monumental study of The Frankfurt School. My only comment is that Wiggerhaus misleadingly suggests that Pollock and Horkheimer came to agree with SDP’s position on organized “state capitalism,” as if Hilferding had anything original to say on the matter. The Bolsheviks would have readily agreed with Hilferding’s remarks — at least prior to 1928, when Stalin combined Preobrazhenskii’s position on collectivization from the Left with Bukharin’s theory of “socialism in one country” from the Right.

Friedrich Pollock

Friedrich Pollock

Rolf Wiggerhaus
The Frankfurt School
Munich, 1986 (1995)

The frank, limitless enthusiasm which the thirty-two-year-old Friedrich Pollock had for Karl Marx was somewhat artless, although it did have its own appeal. Marx, when he was thirty, had `worked out his philosophical, sociological and political views so clearly that, right to the end of his life, there was never anything he had to retract’, according to Pollock. Marx had “struggled untiringly right up to his death for the proletariat, regardless of obstacles.” This homage to Marx was published in 1926 in a discussion of a pamphlet on Proletarian Socialism [Der proletarische Sozialismus] by Werner Sombart, a former supporter of Marxism and correspondent of Engels. During the 1920s, Sombart had begun to support a “German” form of socialism, and had become an anti-Semite with intellectual links to Oswald Spengler, Johann Plenge, and Othmar Spann. Pollock objected to Sombart’s reference to the phenomenological “intuiting of general essences [Wesensschau],” demanding empirical research instead. He rejected Sombart’s claim that Marx and Engels subscribed to “plebeianism” as a “basic value,” asserting that scientific socialism had the character of a natural science. And he rejected the accusation that materialist dialectics was part of an exclusively proletarian metaphysics of history, mainly by appealing to references in Engels’s Anti-Dühring showing that Marx and Engels had been convinced that dialectics had universal validity.

All of this was characteristic of Pollock. He was born in Freiburg in 1894, and it had originally been intended that he should take over his father’s business, as in Horkheimer’s case. With his indifference towards Judaism and certain conventions — qualities instilled by his upbringing and reinforced by his simple, phlegmatic manner — Pollock made a lasting impression on the sixteen-year-old Horkheimer, and they began a peculiar, but lifelong, friendship. Pollock was less horrified by social injustices than Horkheimer was, but he was also less apprehensive than Horkheimer about committing himself openly to Marxism and communism: when the Munich Soviet Republic was crushed in May 1919, he gave his passport to a Russian who was hoping to escape abroad; the refugee was caught, and Pollock got into trouble with the police. Although Pollock, like the others, studied philosophy, it was only a minor subject alongside his principal interest, economics, in which he took his doctorate in 1923 with a thesis on Marx’s monetary theory. In an article “On Marx’s Monetary Theory” published in 1928 in [Carl] Grünberg’s Archiv, he complained about the “unhappy division between the economic and philosophical elements in Marx’s system.”  But he had a lifelong, philistine contempt for philosophical theory, and held to a pre-Leninist form of Marxist orthodoxy.

At the invitation of David Riazanov, Pollock travelled to the Soviet Union in 1927 to take part in the celebrations on the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. One of the results of the visit was his book on Experiments in the Planned Economy in the Soviet Union, 1917-1927, with which he took his Habilitation in 1928. The book was published as the second volume in the Institute’s publications series, the Schriften des Instituts für Sozialforschung, and was written in a style similar to that of Carl Grünberg, the “master of historical realism in the investigation of social existence,” as Max Adler described him in 1932 in the Festschrift published on Grünberg’s seventieth birthday. In the preface to his book, Pollock acknowledged his debt to his “friend, teacher, and father-figure, Professor Carl Grünberg.” The reader was informed in the first sentence of the preface that “a theoretical analysis of the material will follow in a later work,” but this was never published. Pollock described the particularly unfavorable conditions which the Russian revolutionaries had faced at the outset, their tremendous, continuing difficulties, the often glaring mistakes they had made, and their constant changes of direction and frequent reorganizations. In the penultimate and longest chapter of the book, `The State Planning Commission [Gosplan] and its Work,” he used all of this to show how plans had been formulated in an absurdly inadequate way from the start, and had only gradually become more realistic. The book’s style was soberly informative, but it nevertheless clearly indicated the sympathy, patience, fascination, and even admiration which Pollock had for the “heroes and martyrs of the planned economy” and their tireless efforts to construct “a complete whole” out of various different plans, one which would, “at its fullest stage of development, consciously and totally incorporate the entire economic process” and gradually guarantee “the conscious structuring of the entire economic process and all of its parts.”

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Grigorii Barkhin, Izvestiia newspaper building in Moscow (1926-1928)

Some have noted the formal similarities between the original conception of Grigorii Barkhin’s Izvestiia newspaper building in Moscow and Walter Gropius’ proposed Chicago Tribune tower in Chicago. Barkhin himself attested to the latter’s influence on his own project. The initial plan for the building would have featured a base covering about a quarter of a city block, supporting a tall high-rise section that jutted suddenly skyward from it.

Owen Hatherley parsed their relationship several years back on his Kino Fist blog:

The Soviet skyscraper designs of the 1920s were strippings and rationalisations of the USA’s huge, atavistic fantasy-palaces. Aware of the mystificatory absurdity of a Woolworth Building, the extension of the Gothic up into the sky, the USSR’s early architects took their cue from the factories behind the facade. In one particularly memorable instance, this centred on the 1922 competition for the Chicago Tribune skyscraper. Bauhaus director Walter Gropius proposed a tower based on the printworks at the back, extending their modules into a futurist vision of cool, precise technology. It was ridiculed, of course, in favour of flying buttresses and Gothicky ornament. So in another act of plunder, the Soviet architects Grigori and Mikhail Barkhin proposed to build a slightly modified version of Gropius’ Chicago in Moscow for the Izvestia newspaper — and got it built, albeit drastically reduced.

We’ll return to this reduction later.

Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer: Competition Entry for "Chicago Tribune" Tower (1922). Model, dynamic perspective.

Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer: Competition submission for
Chicago Tribune tower (1922). Model, dynamic perspective.

Grigorii Barkhin, original plan for Izvestiia newspaper building (1926)

Grigorii Barkhin, original plan for Izvestiia building (1926)

A more proximate source of inspiration for Barkhin’s design (drafted 1926) was likely the Vesnin brothers’ Palace of Industry competition entry from 1923, which came a year after Gropius’ 1922 piece. One immediately notices the even greater similarities between them.

Here again there was some influence of Gropius’ project on the Vesnins’. (Both ultimately went unrealized). Indeed, there would later be some controversy when the rationalist architect Nikolai Dokuchaev accused his constructivist colleagues at VKhUTEMAS, the Vesnins, of copying the tower by Gropius. Dokuchaev further insinuated that there was some ideological contamination as a result, with some of the capitalist ideology of the Chicago Tribune proposal seeping into the structurally similar Palace of Labor. Moisei Ginzburg, by then chief theoretician of the OSA group, eventually intervened by pointing out the completely different functional contexts of the two buildings, while admitting their superficial resemblance.

The Vesnin brothers' unrealized proposal for the Palace of Labor (1923)

The Vesnin brothers’ unrealized proposal for the Palace of Labor (1923)

To be sure, the actual productive role of Barkhin’s Izvestia building was close to Gropius’ Chicago Tribune tower than was the Vesnins’ Palace of Labor, given that the first two were explicitly intended as publishing centers. Gropius’ tower would have likely served more as an office building for the writing staff than an actual printing plant, however. At least, that’s the role that Raymond Hood’s winning entry ended up playing. Barkhin’s building performed both tasks. Regardless, some overlap may be admitted.

Concerning the reduction mentioned earlier: due to material supply shortages, Barkhin and his younger brother, Mikhail, were forced to scrap the uppermost elevation. Instead, the base would be preserved as a continuous block, with rectilinear glazed façades as well as a series of distinctive circular windows over the right side of the entrance. The building still stands today, overlooking Pushkin Square in Moscow, though it now houses a Kentucky Fried Chicken store and King Sushi restaurant. Many of the photos included below are from the perspective of the park.

Enjoy! Click any of the images to enlarge, and scroll through the gallery.

Grigorii and Mikhail Barkhin. Dom Izvestiia, 1926-1927. Perspective view. Ink, watercolor, & white ink on paper.F-Moscou-Maison du Journal IsvestiaСтроительство типографского корпуса %22Известий%22Мы думаем, что снимок сделан в 1946 году  (направление съемки − север)Большой Путинковский переулок,5barhin2 Continue reading

Aleksandr Deneika, workers' demonstration (1928)

May Day

Once there was an international, revolutionary workers’ movement. May Day was one of its central and most important holidays. Unfortunately, this movement is no more. Luxemburg rather sunnily surmised that “when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance, then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.” Today, however, these better days seem far more distant than they did when she first spoke of them in 1894.

Yesterday I linked to volumes 1-49 of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works. Below are two speeches, one by Rosa Luxemburg and the other by Vladimir Lenin, which at present must be regarded more as historical documents than anything that addresses a living reality.

Мая 1

Rosa Luxemburg

What are the origins
of May Day? (1894)

The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.

In fact, what could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves? What could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the workshops than the mustering of their own troops? Thus, the idea of a proletarian celebration was quickly accepted and, from Australia, began to spread to other countries until finally it had conquered the whole proletarian world.

The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the Americans. In 1886 they decided that May 1 should be the day of universal work stoppage. On this day 200,000 of them left their work and demanded the eight-hour day. Later, police and legal harassment prevented the workers for many years from repeating this [size of] demonstration. However in 1888 they renewed their decision and decided that the next celebration would be May 1, 1890. Continue reading


Lissitzky, Wolkenbügel (1924)

El Lissitzky’
s skyscrapers stood on great elevated piers above intersections of radial and ring-rods in Moscow. These piers with their open-faced lift-shafts, support the horizontally cantilevered building. Beneath them are metro stations and bus-stops. The building is supposed to be made of steel and glass, all the parts being standardized so that no scaffolding is needed for its erection.

Emil Roth, the Swiss architect, also helped in working out this design. He, as well as Mart Stam, were extraterritorial members of the Society of New Architects (ASNOVA) founded in Moscow in 1923. This society consisted mostly of architects connected with the VKhUTEMAS school in Moscow. The work of Ladovskii’s pupils from that school was published in the journal ABC.

Click any of the images below to enlarge them.

El_Lissitzky_in_Weimar1Emil Roth (left) and Mart Stam (right)

The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union (1929)

Old cities — New buildings
The future and utopia
El Lissitzky (1929)

The creation of an office complex that would respond to the demands of the new times within the context of the old Moscow urban fabric was the basic idea leading to the concept of the so-called “sky-hook.” Moscow is a centralized city, characterized by a number of concentric ring boulevards connected by radial main streets emanating from the Kremlin. The proposal intends to place these structures at the intersections of the radials and the boulevards, where the most intense traffic is generated. Everything delivered to the building by horizontal traffic is subsequently transported vertically by elevator and then redistributed in a horizontal direction.

Compared to the prevalent American high-rise system the innovation consists in the fact that the horizontal (the useful) is clearly separated from the vertical (the support, the necessary). This in turn allows for clarity in the interior layout, which is essential for office structures and is usually predicated by the structural system. The resulting external building volume achieves elementary diversity in all six visual directions.

The problems connected with the development of these building types, including the scientific organization of work and business, are being dealt with on an international level. In this field, as in others, reconstruction will pose new demands.

In these times we must be very objective, very practical, and totally unromantic, so that we can catch up with the rest of the world and overtake it. But we also know that even the best “business” will not of itself advance us to a higher level of culture. The next stage of cultural development will encompass all aspects of life: human productivity and creativity, the most precious faculties of man. And not in order to accumulate profits for individuals, but to produce works that belong to everybody. If we just consider all the accomplishments of our own generation, we are certainly justified in taking for granted a technology capable of solving all the tasks mentioned earlier. One of our utopian ideas is the desire to overcome the limitations of the substructure, of the earthbound. We have developed this idea in a series of proposals (sky-hooks, stadium grandstands, Paris garage).

It is the task of technology to make sure that all these elementary volumes that produce new relationships and tensions in space will be structurally safe.

The idea of the conquest of the substructure, the earthbound, can be extended even further and calls for the conquest of gravity as such. It demands floating structures, a physical-dynamic architecture.

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Monument in memory of the once popular “Bulgarian-Soviet-friendship”1

Violent turns of the imagination

Mariann Tihane from Tartu Ülikool writes:

Where do you dig up these stunning photos?

Being from the milder western corner of the Soviet Union, these post-apocalyptic shots simultaneously trigger a hyperreal sense of nostalgia and stir uncanny feelings in me. An almost ethereal sort of distance-closeness. Some of the photos resemble my own back-alley streets. Others take still more violent turns in the imagination.

An amazing assortment.

Спасибо большое, Марянн! Thanks, but for now the secret to my #doomporn database must remain classified.

Author unknown, axonometric view of a train station in Saratov, 1929

Train stations, bread factories, and the “New City”

Student projects at VKhUTEMAS
and VKhUTEIN from the studios
of Vesnin & Ladovskii, 19251929

.Train stations

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