5. THE CASE FOR NATIONALISATION OF THE LAND
Normal man claims the whole earth as his own. He considers the whole earth, not merely part of it, as a member, a vital organ of man. And the problem is, how every man can attain the full use of this vital organ.
Division of the earth is out of the question since by division every man gets a part only, whereas he needs the whole. We cannot satisfy the claims of the members of a hungry family to the soup by smashing the soup-tureen and tossing a fragment to each. Moreover at every birth and burial the partition would have to be made afresh, quite apart from the fact that the shares for distribution all differ in situation, quality, climate, etc., so that everyone must choose for himself. One man would like to have his share on a sunny mountain height; another makes for the neighbourhood of a pub. Partition, at present usually by inheritance, takes no account of such wishes, so the beer-drinker must descend daily from his mountain height to quench his thirst, while the other longs for the sunny heights, and languishes mentally and physically in the air of the valley.
No one is satisfied by partition which chains men to their birthplace, especially if, as is usually the case, an exchange of shares is hampered by transfer taxes. Many a man would like to move off for his health's sake; many another has incurred the enmity of his neighbourhood and had better shift his quarters. But their landed property holds them fast.
The transfer tax in many parts of Germany amounts to 1 - 2 - 3%, and in Alsace to as much as 5%. If we consider that landed property is in most cases mortgaged up to three-quarters of its value, we can understand the seriousness of this obstacle; the transfer tax claims one-fifth of the sum received by the seller, one-fifth of the buyer's capital. So if a man changes his abode five times - which is not too often for his proper development - his whole fortune is absorbed in taxes. And the unearned increment tax advocated by the land reformers, which is collected only on transfer, makes matters still worse.
Young farmers thrive in the north; but when a man gets on in years and his blood circulates less vigorously, a temperate climate is often preferable, while old people feel happiest in the south. How are we to meet all these and a thousand other wishes by means of partition ? A man cannot carry his land about like his luggage. Is he to sell his share to buy another? Ask those who, without being able to keep a constant lookout on the market, have been forced by circumstances to sell their property repeatedly. They fare like the peasant who took a cow to market and after a series of exchanges brought home a canary bird. The owner of land is forced to wait for a chance of selling and a chance of buying, but when he is waiting time flies, and in the end he often prefers to renounce the advantages which he might have obtained from a change of abode. Many farmers would like to move to the neighbourhood of the city to enable their gifted children to attend the schools; many others would like to escape from the neighbourhood of the town to bring up their children amidst virgin nature. Many a good Catholic, forced by an inheritance to settle among Protestants, longs to get back to a Catholic neighbourhood. Landed property cuts off all these satisfactions, and converts all men into chained cattle, serfs, slaves of the soil.
On the other hand, many a farmer whose only desire is to cultivate to his dying day the field his forefathers have ploughed from time immemorial is evicted by a creditor or a usurer, or by the tax-gatherer. The laws of property drive him out of his property.
Or again, a farmer inherits a share of his father's land but to work it is forced to mortgage his "property" up to 90 % of its value to pay the shares of his brothers and sisters, and is crushed by the burden of the mortgage. A slight rise of wages, a slight decline in rent (which may be brought about simply by a reduction of shipping rates) suffices to make it impossible for him to pay the interest on his mortgage, and brings the whole farm under the hammer. The so-called "agricultural distress" which afflicted German landowners was a consequence of the debts inevitably contracted by the heir to land, and is an inseparable concomitant of private ownership of land. The "happy heir" of landed property drudges and calculates, seeks relief through pot-house politics, but his property gradually drags him down.
Still more disastrous are the consequences when the, earth is divided up in the form of collective or communal property, as advocated by the co-operative movement. The sale of a share is then impossible, so if a man leaves the community he loses his share. The transfer tax is here replaced by a removal tax of 100%. There are parishes that not only levy no taxes but actually distribute ready money. Not to forego this income many stay in the parish although climatic, political, religious or social conditions, or the beer or wages do not satisfy them. Nowhere is there more litigation, quarrelling, manslaughter, nowhere more wasted lives, than in these wealthy communes. Wages must also be lower in such communes than elsewhere, since liberty to choose a profession according to one's personal inclination, so necessary for success in any calling, is greatly restricted by lack of freedom of movement. Everyone is thrown back upon local industries, and a man who might have made his fortune as an astronomer or a dancing master keeps body and soul together as a woodman - simply because he cannot make up his mind to forego his share of the common property.
The same disadvantages, magnified and more dangerous, result from the division of the earth between the different nations. No one nation is or can be satisfied with the share allotted to it, since every nation, just as every individual, needs for its proper development the whole earth. And if the share is insufficient, what is more natural than the desire for conquest ? But conquest requires military power, and history teaches us that military power decreases with the growth of the territory over which it is distributed; so there is not the slightest possibility of uniting all nations by conquest. Conquest, therefore, is usually limited to certain shreds and patches of the earth which change from hand to hand. For what one nation gains by conquest another nation is bound to lose; and as this other nation has the same desire for expansion, it prepares for reconquest and awaits a chance of falling on its neighbour.
In this way almost every nation has attempted to obtain possession of the globe by conquest, and always with the same negative result. The sword, like any other tool, becomes blunted with use. And what sacrifices are called for in these futile attempts Blood and sweat in streams; piled-up corpses; vast treasures squandered - and all in vain! Today the political map of the world looks as patched and ragged as a tinker's coat. New barriers are daily erected, and each nation guards more jealously than ever the beggar's mess it has inherited.
Is there any reasonable hope that some day a conqueror will arise who will unite us ? Let us not indulge in such pernicious fancies. Partition leads to war, and war results in patchwork. But man needs the whole earth, and not merely a patchwork of hostile nations. As long as this fundamental need of every individual and every people remains unsatisfied, there will be war; man against man, people against people, continent against continent. And it should be noted that wars arising from such causes must necessarily have an effect contrary to that intended by the belligerents; for war produces separation not union, diminution not enlargement, chasms not bridges.
It is true that there are people who feel at home in a smoky taproom, and uncomfortable on a mountain top. Prussians of the old school, for example, shrank from affiliation with the German Empire, frightened by the new splendour. For the partition of the earth has produced a poor-spirited race.
Away then with this foolish puppet-show of armaments, frontiers, tariff-barriers and registers of landed property ! Mankind requires something better than broken fragments of the globe. Suum cuique that is, to each the whole.
But how can this ideal be realised without communism, without affiliating all nations into one great World-State, without abolishing the national independence of the separate peoples ?
Our answer is: By the Free-Land reform.
With the introduction of Free-Land all the land situated within the national boundaries is made accessible to each inhabitant of the country and is proclaimed his property. Does not this proceeding grant everyone the kind of land he longs for, and consequently satisfy every desire, indeed every caprice ? In this way the impedimenta of removal are reduced by the whole weight of the landed property and freedom of movement and settlement becomes an economic as well as a legal reality.
Let us go into the matter more closely. A peasant is working a large farm with his sons on the north German plain. But the sons do not care for farming and go to the city to take up some trade. The farm becomes too large for the peasant whose strength is decreasing through age and failing health. He would prefer to take a smaller farm and at the same time realise the dream of his youth: to live in the mountains. He would also like to settle somewhere in the vicinity of Frankfort, because his sons are established there. Such a change would at present be difficult, for a peasant almost impossible to carry out.
With Free-Land the case is different. The peasant has no landed property, so he is free to move, like a bird of passage. He has not even to wait for the expiration of his lease, since he may cancel the contract any day by paying a fine. So he sends for the illustrated list, regularly issued by each province, of the farms to let, and marks the farms which seem most likely to suit his requirements. There will be no lack of choice. If the average duration of a lease is assumed to be 20 years, one farm out of every twenty would become vacant every year, that is, some 150,000 farms of an average area of 25 acres: large farms and small farms, to suit all requirements in the mountains, on the plain, on the Rhine, on the Elbe, on the Vistula, in Catholic and in Protestant localities, in Conservative, Liberal, Socialist constituencies, in marshy land, in sandy land, on the sea-coast, for cattle-breeding, for beet-root growing, in the forest, in foggy regions, on clear streams, in the smoky "Black Country", in the neighbourhood of the city, the brewery, the garrison, the bishop, the schools, in French or Polish speaking territory, for consumptives, for weak hearts, for strong men and for weak ones, for old and young - in short, 150,000 different farms annually to pick and choose from, waiting for him to come and try his luck. Cannot every man then say that he owns the whole of his country ? In any case he cannot possess more than one piece of land at a time, for to possess something means to sit on it. Even if he were alone on the earth, he would have to decide for one piece of land.
He must, indeed, pay a farm-rent, but in so doing he is merely giving back the rent of the land which is not the product of the soil, but of society (the word means what is given back). And man has a claim on the earth, but not on men. If, therefore, he restores to society, as rent for his farm, the rent that he collects from society in the prices of his farm products, he simply acts as an accountant or tax gatherer; his right to the soil remains intact. He gives back to society what it has paid him in advance in the price of the products of the soil, over and above his labour. But since the farmer himself is a member of society, he, also, receives his share of the farm rent. So in reality he pays no rent at all; he merely hands over the rent collected by him, in order that his account with society may be settled more accurately.
Free-Land realises completely the right of every individual to the whole land of his country. But the whole land of his country is not enough to satisfy a man conscious of his own worth. He demands the whole world as his property, as an integral part of his personality.
This difficulty, also, is overcome by Free-Land. For let us suppose that Free-Land is extended to all countries; a supposition by no means unreasonable when we consider how easily national institutions cross frontiers and are adopted by the whole world. Suppose, then, that Free-Land is universally adopted by international agreement, and that immigrants are given equal rights with citizens, as they are at present with regard to most laws. In that case has not every individual realised his right to possess the whole globe? The whole world from now on forms his absolute property wherein he may settle wherever he pleases (just as he can today, if he has money), and without expense, since the rent paid for the farm is, as we have seen, not a levy on the soil, but a return for the rent which he levies on society in the prices of his products. and which is given back to him in the services of the State.
Free-Land, then, puts every man in possession of the whole world which henceforward belongs to him and is, like his head, his absolute property. The world which he inhabits will have grown part of him and cannot be taken from him because of a dishonoured bill, a mortgage, or a security for a bankrupt friend. He can do as he pleases: drink, gamble, speculate, but his property is safe. The amount of his landed property is the same whether he has to share his heritage with twelve brothers and sisters, or whether he is an only child. Quite independently of his character and actions, the earth remains his property. If he does not deliver to society the rent collected in the prices of his field products, he will be placed under guardianship, but none the less the earth remains his property.
Through nationalisation of the land every child is born a landowner and more, for every child, legitimate or illegitimate, holds the globe in his hand, like the Christ-Child at Prague. No matter what the colour of a man's skin, black, brown, white or yellow, the undivided earth belongs to him.
Dust thou art and to dust returnest. It seems little, but beware of under-estimating the economic significance of this dust. For this dust is a part of the earth which belongs to the landowners. In order to come into being and to grow you need parts of the earth; even a small deficiency of iron in your blood will undermine your health. Without the earth and, if it belongs to the landowners, without their permission, no one is permitted to be born. This is no exaggeration. The analysis of your ashes shows a certain percentage of earthy matter which no one can draw out of the air. This earthy matter was at one time in the earth and it has either been bought from a landowner or stolen; there is no other possibility.
In Bavaria permission to marry was made dependent on a certain income. Permission to be born is denied by law to an those who cannot pay for the dust needed to construct a frame of bone.
But neither is anybody allowed to die without permission of the landowners. For to dust thou shalt return, and this dust takes up space upon the earth which the landowner may be unwilling to grant. If a man dies somewhere without permission of the landowner he robs the landowner, so those who are unable to pay for their burial-place go straight to hell. Hence the Spanish saying: He has no place whereon to drop down dead. And the Bible: The Son of Man has not where to lay His head.
But between the cradle and the coffin lies the whole of life, and life, we know, is a process of combustion. The body is a furnace in which a constant heat must be maintained, if the spark of life is not to be extinguished. This warmth we maintain inwardly by nutrition, outwardly by clothes and shelter. Food and clothing and building material are, however, products of the earth, and what happens if the owners of the earth refuse us these materials ?
Without permission of the owners of the earth, then, nobody may eat, or be clothed, or live at all.
This, also, is no exaggeration. The Americans deny the Chinese the right of immigration; the Australians keep all men whose skin is not pure white away from their coasts. Even shipwrecked Malayans seeking shelter on the Australian coast have been pitilessly turned away (*Land Values 1905 p. 138.) And how do our own police deal with those who do not possess the means to buy the products of the earth ? You have got nothing, yet you live, therefore you steal. The warmth of your body, a fire maintained with the products of the soil, is evidence of your misdeeds and reason enough for locking you up! That is why travelling journeymen always carry a sum of money which they never touch.
We frequently hear the phrase: Man has a natural right to the earth. But that is absurd, for it would be just as correct to say that man has a right to his limbs. If we talk of rights in this connection we must also say that a pine-tree has the right to sink its roots in the earth. Can man spend his life in a balloon ? The earth belongs to, and is an organic part of man. We cannot conceive man without the earth any more than without a head or a stomach. The earth is just as much a part, an organ, of man as his head. Where do the digestive organs of man begin and end ? They have no beginning and no end, but form a closed system without beginning or end. The substances which man requires to maintain life are indigestible in their raw state and must go through a preparatory digestive process. And this preparatory work is not done by the mouth, but by the plant. It is the plant which collects and transmutes the substances so that they may become nutriment in their further progress through the digestive canal. Plants and the space they occupy are just as much a part of man as his mouth, his teeth or his stomach.
But man, unlike the plant, cannot remain satisfied with part of the earth; he needs the whole; every individual needs the whole undivided earth. Nations living in valleys or islands, or shut off by tariff-barriers, languish and become extinct. Trading nations, on the other hand, that spice their blood with all the products of the earth, remain vigorous and populate the world. The bodily and spiritual needs of men put out roots in every square foot of the earth's surface, embracing the globe as with the arms of an octopus. Man needs the fruits of the tropics, of the temperate zones and of the north; and for his health he needs the air of the mountains, the sea and desert. To stimulate his mind and enrich his experience he needs intercourse with all the nations of the earth. He even needs the gods of other nations as objects with which to compare his own religion. The whole globe in splendid flight around the sun is a part, an organ, of every individual man.
How, then, can we suffer individual men to confiscate for themselves parts of the earth as their exclusive property, to erect barriers and with the help of watchdogs and trained slaves to keep us away from parts of the earth, from parts of ourselves - to tear, as it were, whole limbs from our bodies ? Is not such a proceeding equivalent to self-mutilation ?
The reader may be unable to accept this comparison on the ground that amputation of a piece of land causes no loss of blood. But would that it caused no more than ordinary loss of blood ! An ordinary wound heals. You lose an ear or a hand; the flow of blood is staunched and the wound closes. But the wound left in our body by the amputation of a piece of land festers for ever, and never closes. At every term for the payment of rent, on every Quarter Day, the wound opens and the golden blood gushes out. Man is bled white and goes staggering forward. The amputation of a piece of land from our body is the bloodiest of all operations; it leaves a gaping. festering wound which cannot heal unless the stolen limb is grafted on again.
But how ? Is not the earth already torn into fragments, cut up and parcelled out ? And have not title-deeds been drafted that record this parcelling and must be respected ?
But this is nonsense. For who was it that drew up and signed these title-deeds ? I myself have never consented to the partition of the earth, to the amputation of my limbs. And what others have done without my consent cannot bind me. For me these documents are scraps of paper. I have never consented to the amputation that makes me a cripple. Therefore I demand back my stolen property and declare war on whoever withholds part of the earth from me.
"But there, on these faded parchments, stands the signature of your ancestors !" It is true that my name occurs there, but whether the signature was forged or genuine, who knows ? And even if the signature on the parchment is genuine, I can read between the lines that it was extorted by force, since no one will sacrifice his limbs unless in immediate danger of his life. Only a trapped fox bites off its own leg. Again, is anybody in duty bound to recognise the debts of his forbears ? Are children to be held responsible for the sins of their forefathers? Are parents to be allowed to mutilate their children ? May a father sell his daughter ?
One suspects that our ancestors tippled away the earth, like the old Germans who, in their cups, staked their wives and children. For only drunken fools sell themselves or their limbs; only drunken fools could have voluntarily signed the documents that gave away the land. If an inhabitant of Mars came among us for the purpose of buying land here to take with him, is conceivable that he would be allowed to carry off parts of the earth, great or small ? Yet it makes no difference whatever to the bulk of the population whether the riches of the earth are carried off to Mars, or whether a landowner takes possession of them. For when the landowner has collected his rent he leaves nothing behind but waste and desert. If our landowners were to roll up the whole of the arable surface of Germany and carry it off to Mars - it would make no difference to the rest of the population. During a period of famine Russian landlords living in luxury in Paris exported great quantities of wheat from Russia, until even the Cossacks felt the pinch, and exports had to be prohibited to maintain order.
The signatures in the land register were extorted by the dagger, or procured through fraud or through the brandy bottle. The land register is the criminal record of Sodom and Gomorrah and if landowners, in their turn, were to declare themselves willing to assume responsibility for the actions of their ancestors, they would have to be clapped into prison for fraud and extortion.
Jacob defrauded Esau of his pastures by means of a mess of pottage, when the latter returned famished from the wolf hunt. Are we to give our moral sanction to this transaction by keeping the descendants of Esau from the use of these pastures with the help of the police ?
We need not however go back to Esau to discover the origin of such title-deeds. "The settlement of most countries originally took place by way of conquest, and even in modern times the existing division of the land was often enough again changed by the sword." (* Anton Menger: The Right to the Full Proceeds of Labour.)
And how is the occupation of a country carried out to-day, before our eyes ? For a bottle of brandy for himself and some finery for his consort, the Herero king sold the land which he had taken from the Hottentots. Millions of acres which his people used as pasture for their herds ! Did he know what he was doing when, bemuddled with the fumes of alcohol, he put the treacherous cross at the foot of the document ? Did he know that this document would be kept as a precious relic in a steel safe and guarded day and night by sentinels ? Did he know that his whole people would be nailed to that cross; that henceforward he would have to pay a rent for each head of cattle - he, his children, his grandchildren, today, tomorrow, for ever ? He did not know this when he drew on the document the sign of the cross, taught him by the missionaries, for how can a man be cheated and defrauded by the sign of Christ ? If he had signed the document knowingly he would have been a traitor deserving to be hanged on the nearest tree. But he did not know, for when practice taught him what the document meant, he took up arms to drive away "the treacherous savages" (in the German press the unhappy natives, who were carrying on their "war of independence" with the only weapons at their disposal, were usually styled incendiaries, thieves, treacherous savages and so forth). Of course it availed the Hereros nothing. They were hunted down, and the few that escaped were driven into the desert where they will starve. (See General Trotha's proclamation).
The land occupied in this manner was then distributed as follows, according to an official report: (*Deutsche Volksstimme, 20 December 1904.)
What have the six proprietors given for these 70 million acres of land ? A brandy bottle, a mess of pottage. This is what is being done in Africa, in Asia, in Australia.
In South America matters were still further simplified; the document with the sign of the cross for a signature was dispensed with. General Roca, afterwards President, was sent out with a horde of soldiers to drive the Indians off the fertile grazing grounds of the Pampas. The majority of the Indians were shot down, the women and children were dragged to the capital as cheap labour, and the remainder were hunted across the Rio Negro. The land was then distributed among the soldiers, most of whom hastened to sell their claims for brandy or trinkets.
(* "The Argentine consul general reports that recent sales of large estates in Argentina show clearly how greatly the values of landed property have risen in that country. In the Pampa territory Antonio Devoto bought an area of 116 leguas with 12,000 head of homed cattle, 300,000 sheep etc. from the British South American Land Company for 61 million dollars, or about 50,000 dollars a legua of 2,500 hectares. - José Guazzone known as the wheat king, bought 5 leguas at 200,000 dollars a legua in the district of Navaria in the province of Buenos Aires. - The Jewish Colonisation Company bought 40 leguas, partly in Piqué, partly in the Pampa Central, for 80.000 dollars a logua, which the seller, Federico Leloir had bought in 1879 for 400 dollars a legua. - All this land in the Pampa was liberated from the Indians in 1878 and sold publicly by the in 1879-80 for 400 dollars a legua. It is specially suitable for cattle-breeding and its value has meanwhile increased 150 to 200-fold, which is a good index of the prosperity of the country". Hamburger Fremdenblatt, Dec. 22, 1904.
This is how the sacred, inviolable rights of the present owners to what is probably the most fertile soil in the world were acquired. The pasture of millions of sheep, horses, cattle, the land for a great nation which is coming into existence, is today the private property of a handful of men who obtained it for a few quarts of brandy.
In North America territories quite recently settled were largely uninhabited. Everyone could take as much as he pleased. Every adult, man or woman had a claim to 160 acres of land, so that families with six grown-up children were able to claim 1000 acres. Anyone who agreed to plant a few trees was allowed to claim double the amount, 320 acres. After six years the occupiers were given title-deeds, and the land was then saleable. Through the purchase of such homesteads for trifling sums (much could not be asked for something that could be claimed elsewhere for nothing) latifundia of many thousands of acres were formed. Price: A quart of brandy, a dishonoured bill, a mess of pottage. In California two Luxembourg farmers, Muller and Lux, today own an estate so large that Prussia could easily be fitted into it. Price: A quart of brandy, a mess of pottage.
The Northern Pacific Railway obtained gratis from the Canadian Government permission to construct the railway, and in addition to this privilege it received as a gift a strip of land 40 miles wide on each side of the railway. Consider what that means: 40 miles right and left of a line 2000 miles long! Price: Nothing at all !
With the Canadian Pacific it was much the same. In a pamphlet issued by this company it is stated that "The company took over the construction of the 1920 miles, for which it obtained from the Government valuable privileges and liberties and, further, 25 million dollars in money, 25 million acres of land, and 638 miles of railroad already constructed".
Let it not be imagined that the projected railway was to be considered the return for these gifts. The above pamphlet states that the railway is to remain the property of the company. But where, then, it will be asked, is the return for the 25 million acres of land, the 25 million dollars, the 638 miles of railroad already constructed and the valuable privileges ? The answer is, a mere bagatelle, namely, the risk in connection with the interest to be paid on the capital.
Thus by a stroke of the pen 25 million acres of arable soil in one of the most fertile, most beautiful and healthiest of countries passed into private ownership. No one even took the trouble of looking at the land that was to be given away as a gift. Only during the construction of the railway was the extraordinary fertility of the soil, its wealth in minerals, and the beauty of the landscape "discovered". And this happened not in Africa, but in Canada, which is renowned for its excellent administration.
Such is the origin of private ownership of land at the present day in countries upon which Europe is as dependent as upon its own fields.
Knowing therefore how private ownership of land is established today, need we investigate how it originated yesterday ? "Peor es menearlo", says the Spaniard: The more you move it about, the worse it becomes. Are we to inquire of the Church in what colours hell was painted when the dying dame bequeathed her landed the property to the Church ? Are we to inquire of the counts, the dukes, the barons by what treasonable means they obtained from a weak emperor the transformation into their absolute property of the land which they only held as wages for military service ? Or how they availed themselves of the incursions of marauding neighbours as a welcome opportunity for extorting privileges and landed property from the emperor? "Peor es menearlo". The more you stir it up, the more it stinks. Are we to ask the English landlords how they came by their landed property in Ireland ? Pillage, rapine, murder, high treason and legacy hunting: these would be the answers to our queries. Anyone not satisfied with these answers can collect full information about the origin of landed property in the old ballads and drinking songs, and from observation of the pitiful physical and moral decay of the race. He will be convinced that our ancestors were a band of drunkards who tippled away the heritage of their descendants, careless of the fate of the coming generations. After us the Deluge, was their motto.
Are we, then, to maintain this venerable institution bequeathed to us by these drunken Falstaffs, out of pious veneration of the bottles that were emptied at its origin, or out of gratitude for the degenerate blood and crippled limbs which they have bequeathed ?
The deeds of the dead are not the measure of our actions. Every age has its own tasks to accomplish, which demand its whole strength. Dead leaves are swept from the trees by autumn gales; dead mole on the field track, the droppings of the grazing herds are carried underground by Nature's scavengers. Nature, in short, takes care that dead matter shall be removed from sight, so that the earth may remain eternally fresh and young. Nature hates mementoes of death. The pallid skeleton of a pine tree never serves as support and ladder for new vegetation; before seeds can germinate, dead tree must be felled by the storm. In the shadow of old trees young vegetation cannot prosper; but no sooner are they gone than everything begins to grow and flourish.
Let us bury with the dead their title-deeds and laws. Let us pile up the registers of landed property as a pyre for the dead. A coffin is too narrow for a bed, and what are our land-laws and land-registers but coffins in which the corpses of our ancestors lie buried ?
Burn, then, such mouldering rubbish! It is from the ashes, not from the corpse, that the Phoenix arises.
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