Ask an Anarcho-Communist

I’ve recently discovered the IAmA part of reddit which is basically a place for people to declare some kind of expertise or classification and allow people to ask whatever is on their mind on this particular concept. I’ve decided to see what kind of questions people might have for an Anarcho-Communist so I’ve made up a new thread.

There’s quite a few interesting questions already and people seem to have less initial hostility than I imagined. This is good. It shows that Anarcho-Communism (as opposed to simply ‘Communism’ which is basically the same thing anyway, even though most people misunderstand it) is not a slandered in the mind of the people yet.

So if you’ve got a question that’s been burning your mind and you’d like to ask to an Anarcho-Communist about it, head over to the thread and fire your lazers ask away!

Alternatively, feel free to ask in the comments of this post if you prefer it 😉

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67 thoughts on “Ask an Anarcho-Communist

  1. 1. How do you expect to set up a fair economic system without a process that ensures that fairness (such as a commodity-based currency based on labour-hours, for instance)?
    2. Why do communists try to distance themselves from free markets all the time, when the systems they propose are merely decoupled forms of value exchange?

    1. 1. Ensure that the things that may result in inequality are not possible, ie sticky property. If the problem is that people may not work for the same amount of stuff as much as someone else, then this isn't really a problem as we're always talking about working according to one's ability. As long as the result of work does not result in inequality, ie in rewards which give power of over humans, then if the actual result is a bit more or less than the workhours * intensity of any one person is not a big issue and in any case trying to achieve perfect equality in this point is going to end up with complex rules and laws that increase the level of bureaucracy and import a feeling of envy and competition between people.

      If the issue is simply about free riders, then I've already written about this particular issue.

      1. I don't think you understood the substance of my question. As I see
        it, the communist system decouples work from reward (so does
        capitalism, but in a different way), the only thing which in my
        opinion can make an economic system fair, and is rather based on
        direct planning on the part of the society as a whole. I don't see how
        such a system could possibly be fair.

        1. Why not? Under communism, all people are equal in power and can have whatever they wish for or the capacity to make it themselves. Do not forget also that "fair" is a general market-based word (As far as I remember its origins) and as such is of limited application to a communist system. So perhaps you need to explain what is "unfair" about it as, the way I see it, you're making a circular argument.

          1. To give a simplified example, let's take two different systems:

            1. A business with a labour-based currency, where everyone gets their
            full product on the basis of 1 labour-hour=1 labour-hour currency.
            2. A business where everyone decides what each worker receives.

            I expect 1 will be fairer than 2. You obviously think 2 is fairer than
            1. Why is that, is my question.

          2. I do not understand what you mean by "everyone decides what each worker receives.". As in a democratic vote? If so no, this is not what I suggest. Between the two options you mentioned, number 1 seems better to me.

            However, It's impossible to make an accurate repressentantion of the third option which I really suggest by looking only at an individual company, as communism is a full social sysem.

          3. All I'm saying is, I don't see how a communist system can be fairer,
            on the whole, than a systematic principle like “1 labour-hour = 1
            labour-hour, no ifs no buts.”

          4. Because while it might be somehow feasible to achieve this principle on a small scale (as in within a small company – and even then it might be tricky as you end up with people who are more intensive or simply better) the more factors you insert, the more difficult it is to say that you have a whole socioeconomic system which really repressents this principle. You end up with complex rules and laws to achieve it and prevent people from somehow getting more or less than what is "fair".

            Communism is the same principle on the abstract, in that people have the incentive to work as much as they can (ie a disincentive to free ride) and consume as much as they wish (ie a disincentive to be greedy). As such, we need not obsess about the labour hours and what is "fair" as long as the system remains egalitarian, and use this energy for more productive purposes.

            If we are to argue more on this, then I would really need you to define what "fair" is and how it differs from egalitarianism.

    2. 2. It's not really just that. A communist system is simply not based on exchange. We decide to make away with this whole concept and use communal control. For example we consider that land and productive means belong to the community and various people or group are simply using them for a period.

      Exchange does not come into the picture. Commodities are not exchanged, they are simply given to whoever needs them.

  2. At last! The thread I've been waiting for! Thanks alot for taking so much time to do this. I have several questions, and some of them will take some time to fully explain, so I appreciate your patience.

    I think we can agree that we own ourselves, and that because of this, I have the right to do with my body as I like as long as I do not interfere with other people's right to do likewise. I think we can also agree that having the right to something, implies the right to use force in the name of said rights, (a.k.a. legitimacy) which makes defining rights/legitimacy an extremely critical task, and one that most governments, especially communist and fascist leaning ones, seem to fail miserably at both defining and respecting, in addition to being inherently illegitimate entities on their face, by their very nature. With this said, I think we can agree that the right to own ourselves is a self-evident right; after all, no one has the right to my kidney, even if means they are going to die. Does denying them my kidney make me a bad person? Maybe. But that doesn't change the fact that the person who needs my kidney still doesn't have the right to forcefully take it from my body either, and I have the right to use any means available against him, if he tries to do so.

    With this said, I find your distinction between possession vs private property somewhat ambiguous. Primarily, in the most critical concept of all: legitimacy. Libertarians of the capitalist variety don't necessarily embrace anarcho-capitalism on a utilitarian basis. They embrace it because, as far as they can tell, it is the only philosophy that truly respects their right to own anything other than themselves on an individual level—wether that item in question is a toothbrush, a piece of land, a nintendo wii, or a coffee shop (wether that right actually exist, is a different matter). After all, those things are all really the same thing— physical non human entities we use to sustain ourselves and enjoy life. Because ownership implies the right to exclude others from something, it is only natural that, if someone does in fact have the right to own something on an individual level, they also have the right to create arbitrary contracts regarding that item in question. The anarcho-capitlaist doesn't see anything in exploitive in offering his toothbrush to someone in exchange for labor, a chair, a funky dance, or whatever it might be. To the ancap, it is his toothbrush, and he can do whatever he wants with it, so long as he does not use the toothbrush in a way that denies others their right to ownership of the stuff they own. I'm under the impression, however, that the key difference between libertarian socialist (or anarcho-communist, I'm not really sure what the difference is) DO find this act and natural extension of the use of exclusion to be exploitive. Correct me if I'm wrong, but is not the reason libcoms find it exploitive, is because they believe the right to exclude physical resources from others simply does not exist? SImply put, libsocs believe that nobody really owns anything other than themselves. If this is true, than doesn't that mean the act of declaring your absolute right to exclude others from a toothbrush is not only illegitimate, but theft, since the only true owners of anything are either all people (or no people, depending how you look at it)? And if they do own all things ( or own nothing but themselves), then on what legitimate basis can resources be acquired or used? This is especially concerning when regarding items that only one person can effectively utilize at a time, like clothes, food, or guns. If someone crash lands on to a deserted island, is there any basis by which someone can effectively own anything on that island? And if so, is there any basis why anyone who crash lands on that island later should respect such a right?

    And if someone can, in fact, own a toothbrush, than doesn't that mean someone also can, in fact, own a business?

    Thanks again, and I look forward to your insight.

    1. I think we can agree that we own ourselves, and that because of this,

      Actually no, I find the concept of self-ownership severely flawed

      I think we can also agree that having the right to something, implies the right to use force in the name of said rights

      Maybe. I would possibly take issue with what one can righfully have rights to.

    2. With this said, I find your distinction between possession vs private property somewhat ambiguous. Primarily, in the most critical concept of all: legitimacy. Libertarians of the capitalist variety don't necessarily embrace anarcho-capitalism on a utilitarian basis. They embrace it because, as far as they can tell, it is the only philosophy that truly respects their right to own anything other than themselves on an individual level

      If you don't embrace your political movement from a utilitarian perspective, but rather from an ideological, then I would say that your premises are flawed. I wrote this piece in answer to such positions

  3. Since this still seems to be open, I'll ask a question that has bugged me and pushed me away from Kropotkin and towards Carson:

    How is a communist commune supposed to deal with scarcity? Presumably there will be some objects/commodities that there aren't enough to go around. And of course, things will wear out. I can't see how a gift-economy will manage this sort of thing without introducing quid-pro-quo, at which point it isn't communist anymore.

    I suppose there's also the fact that "to each according to his contribution" always seemed more just to me than "from each according to ability, to each according to need". It always seemed to me that care for those who can't contribute (young, sick, and elderly) was best left to natural sympathetic impulses.

    1. >How is a communist commune supposed to deal with scarcity?

      Make more? If there is a high demand for a scarce resource, then more labour will be extended by those who want it, in order to create some.

      In the hypothetical scenario of some kind of rerouce which is in high demand but cannot be replicated, some kind of sharing would be created, so that all who want it have a chance.

      1. I suck at keeping multiple threads straight, so I'd prefer if we didn't split this one up.

        [quote]
        >It always seemed to me that care for those who can't contribute (young, sick, and elderly) was best left to natural sympathetic impulses.

        That leaves all the load to close relatives and family, needlessly stressing their lives. Alternatively, it leaves people uncared for and thus creating a host of social ills.
        [/quote]

        The load has to be born by someone, who would be “needlessly stressed” anyway. I think family, friends, and voluntary mutual aid/benefit societies would be the best support system since no one would be coerced into supporting it.

        [quote]
        >I suppose there's also the fact that "to each according to his contribution"

        How much one can contribute is generally a matter of luck. Why should I get more stuff just because the biological roulette made me faster or stronger or smarter? Why would someone get more stuff just because they do something that is easy for them? And that is without taking into account that in a healthy system, "work" would not be a chore for people, so rewarding them for doing what they want to do anyway would make little sense.
        [/quote]

        Any activity, regardless of enjoyability, is exhausting. It's also time that could be spent otherwise in less exhausting or more enjoyable ways.

        As to winning the genetic lottery, note that “to each according to his contribution” means that they have to contribute. They aren't getting a reward for doing something on top of their contribution, they are getting the value of their contribution in a different form.

        The problem with Capitalism is that the workers don't get to dispose of the value of their contribution as they desire, the boss does it (almost always keeping more value than they contributed for themselves).

        [quote]
        >How is a communist commune supposed to deal with scarcity?

        Make more? If there is a high demand for a scarce resource, then more labour will be extended by those who want it, in order to create some.

        In the hypothetical scenario of some kind of rerouce which is in high demand but cannot be replicated, some kind of sharing would be created, so that all who want it have a chance.
        [/quote]

        What if it's the shoe maker who wants to upgrade their computer? He makes shoes, any computer part he makes would be much worse than if the people who specialized at making computer parts did it for him. However, without some sort of quid-pro-quo, I'm not seeing the enticement for them to produce unless they're really good friends or family or something like that.

        1. >I suck at keeping multiple threads straight, so I'd prefer if we didn't split this one up.

          I don't want this actually. This would just force us to repeat our quotes all the time and make the end result unreadable. Check the comment policy. Please continue replying to the individual comments and do not quote unless you have to split the comments again.

        2. >The load has to be born by someone, who would be “needlessly stressed” anyway. I think family, friends, and voluntary mutual aid/benefit societies would be the best support system since no one would be coerced into supporting it.

          When the load is socialized and specialized services are created to deal with it the load is negligible, especially when those working those services are those who *want* to do it.

          1. Hence why I said voluntary mutual aid/benefit societies. The NHS is much better than what is had in America, but the emerging network of mutual benefit societies that the NHS crowded out was even better.

          2. I don't disagree, I'm just saying that in AnCom such mutual aid societies would be there to take care of those in need and they will be funded by community resources because people will know it's in their benefit to fund them. And in this case, "funding" might just mean that those caring for those people are considered to be productive and thus can receive according to their needs like anyone else.

          3. And I have no doubt that in an Individualist Anarchist commune, such mutual aid societies would also exist.

          4. I don't doubt it either. But that's not the issue I have with free market socialism 🙂

          5. Maaan, that's a whole different (and big) discussion that is definitelly not suitable for comments 🙂

        3. >They aren't getting a reward for doing something on top of their contribution, they are getting the value of their contribution in a different form.

          You're not saying anything different. Those that are lucky enough to be able to contribute more of something, or contribute something which only a few people can do (and thus more scarce and more valuable) get more stuff. It's all just a biological roulette.

          1. Right, I messed up where my replies go.

            The biological roulette is part of who we are. Deny the motivation for using our better abilities to contribute more, and that part of ourselves is effectively denied. Perhaps it would be possible to set up social structures that make it a matter of honor to contribute as much as possible, but I doubt that would be possible until long after the Reaction would be crushed.

            Still, as a fan of competition, I am in favor of, in fact I demand that, every possible organizational form compatible with justice be tried.

          2. Not giving you more stuff for the more you contribute does not deny you the motivation to contribute. You are mistakenly assuming that the primary motivation of humans is to get more stuff, but that is very far from the truth.

            No honour system is needed, people will contribute in order to feel useful, and in order to become better at what they do. The Free Software movement is an example of this principle in action.

          3. People have many different motivations, I very much doubt that there is such a thing as a "primary human motivation". Nonetheless, "more stuff" is a motivation. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be states in the first place.

            Also, Software, and ideas in general, are anti-scarce. The more they are spread, the more there is, and generally the better quality there is.

          4. >"more stuff" is a motivation. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be states in the first place.

            While "more stuff" is a motivation, it's a particularly weak one and while it motivated some to oppress others, it's the environment that allowed them to do so. More specifically "more stuff" requires a lot of propaganda in order to be widespread as a motivation. In fact this is where marketing comes from and before it, capitalism was actually facing a crisis because people didn't care about "more stuff".

            So while I do not deny that wealth and consumerism can be a motivation, I deny that it is stronger or more effective than motivation coming from co-operation, self-drive and self-management.

          5. >Also, Software, and ideas in general, are anti-scarce. The more they are spread, the more there is, and generally the better quality there is.

            That doesn't change my main argument that people are motivated to create (software) even when they have no motivation due to wealth or consumerism. I mentioned this just to show that no honour system is required

        4. >What if it's the shoe maker who wants to upgrade their computer? He makes shoes, any computer part he makes would be much worse than if the people who specialized at making computer parts did it for him. However, without some sort of quid-pro-quo, I'm not seeing the enticement for them to produce unless they're really good friends or family or something like that.

          This is not an argument about scarcity at all though. This just shows that you do not understand how distribution and production in a communist society is going to work. Please read up on it.

          In very few words, the computer part makers would create those parts and give them out to however has their need of them. They would likewise take from society whatever they need, which would include shoes. You are unnecessarily limiting your context only within the computer makers and the shoe maker.

          1. Technically it's about production and distribution of things more scarce than air, but but then my benchmark for non-scarce is air.

            Anyway, this severs effort from reward. When I make three apple pies, I expect to get the enjoyment of three apple pies out of the deal (either myself, or from watching those close to me enjoy them). If I consistently am only able to enjoy two apple pies because the commune has agreed that the third is a surplus that goes to the community fridge, then unless I am well and truly committed to seeing this communist thing work, I'm going to eventually start only making batches of two.

          2. The community would not force you to give your apple pies away, but if you enjoy making apple pies, you could simply make as many as possible and hand them out to those who want them. You would in return be allowed to get all the materials for apple pies as you want, plus anything else you need.

          3. Okay. That makes sense, although what if I was a bad cook with almost no talent who really wanted to become a good cook? It seems to me that those materials would be a loss unless I was to contribute to the community stock an equal or greater amount than I took out of it. Money and markets seem to me the least costly way to keep track of such things. I'm not implying any purposeful wrongdoing on my part, simply that in my enthusiasm for something I'm bad at I may deplete the common stock.

          4. >Okay. That makes sense, although what if I was a bad cook with almost no talent who really wanted to become a good cook? It seems to me that those materials would be a loss unless I was to contribute to the community stock an equal or greater amount than I took out of it.

            The resources it would take to train you into a good cook (especially under the guidance of other cooks) would be trivial in the larger picture. No need to nitpick like that.

    2. >I suppose there's also the fact that "to each according to his contribution"

      How much one can contribute is generally a matter of luck. Why should I get more stuff just because the biological roulette made me faster or stronger or smarter? Why would someone get more stuff just because they do something that is easy for them? And that is without taking into account that in a healthy system, "work" would not be a chore for people, so rewarding them for doing what they want to do anyway would make little sense.

      1. Irrelevant. What Alice makes belongs to no one save her. If Alice and Bob bring a new value into the world, then Joseph, who did not participate in this creation, has no claim to a portion of that value, be he prince or pauper. One hopes that Alice or Bob would be moved by sympathy to help Joseph the starving orphan, but if they want to be selfish then that is their prerogative, and Joseph is no worse off than the case where Alice and Bob had not brought that value into the world.

        1. >What Alice makes belongs to no one save her.

          Debatable. It depends on how one views the benefits one gets from belonging into a society. I can very well argue that unless Alice and Bob magically popped into existence, they still have a social debt to the community that raised and educated them and provided them with the resources needed to create surplus value with their labour.

          1. I would vehemently disagree, for under that conception the individual owes the community EVERYTHING. Alice and Bob then have no right to ANY of the value they make, for they owe to the community a debt they can never repay, like the miners in the company towns.

            My argument against that that conception would begin by claiming that no one can have obligations they did not both understand and consent to (where consent is impossible under any form of duress). Considering the condition of children, they cannot have understood these obligations, nor were they in a position to consent, for they were in no position to refuse.

          2. I would vehemently disagree, for under that conception the individual owes the community EVERYTHING. Alice and Bob then have no right to ANY of the value they make, for they owe to the community a debt they can never repay, like the miners in the company towns.

            In communism, ownership is not important so whether she "owes" anything to the community or not doesn't matter.She will still receive the same amount of wealth as anyone else. She's simply not allowed to claim some absolute ownership on anything she creates via community resources.

          3. So, does this mean that if Alice the Baker is being considered stingy with her gifts, the community is able to take from her what she made?

          4. Being "stingy" is not even applicable. Either Alice will produce something and allow others to take it according to their needs, or she won't. If she doesn't, then she would be considered antisocial by the community and appropriate peer pressure would be brough to bear.

          5. My argument against that that conception would begin by claiming that no one can have obligations they did not both understand and consent to (where consent is impossible under any form of duress).

            That doesn't change the fact that they benefited from being raised in such a society and they need this benefit to create any sort of surplus labour. To claim absolute ownership rights on all their surplus labour, just so that they can start avoiding their communal duties would be just egoistically disruptive.

            Naturally nobody prevents them from leaving a anarcho-communist society and becoming loners and then try to create a community where "their surplus labour belongs to nobody but them" and all social ills are left to the individual, but I doubt such a community would manage stay healthy.

          6. Freedom is having the wherewithall to tell the ones trying to boss you around to go to hell. Will the baker who wants to leave for an individualist anarchist commune be allowed to bring the oven she's been using for the past five years with her? If not, she is effectively prevented from leaving, just as dependent on the community as the wage-slave baker is on the capitalist.

          7. Nobody would be bossing others around. However, saying to the community that support and provides for you to go to hell because you'd rather accumulate wealth and avoid helping with communal chores however would be seriously looked down upon by your social circle.

          8. Okay, I think there's been a miscommunication somewhere along the line. When I say people should own the value they create, I mean they should have control over how that value is distributed. That whether it be kept to themselves, exchanged under conditions of equality, or freely given as a gift to others, be purely up to themselves as the creators of the value in question. I do not mean the shunning of freely accepted obligations or anything like that.

            And so what if people want to save up most of what value they make? People aren't so different that dangerous levels of inequality can develop without stealing from others.

          9. Possibly not, but the necessary materials to create stuff don't just come by themselves, if someone starts to accumulate the surplus value created on these materials for some mysterious purpose, the community would be concerned.

          10. That depends on the form this accumulation takes. If they're accumulating in the form of food, or clothes, or consumption items, or tools, then there really isn't anything to fear. The rest of the individuals in the community have ready enough access to means of production and subsistence on their own that any attempt to re-initiate wage-slavery via negotiation would fail hilariously. You had a great article on why primitive accumulation can't be peaceful. Given the prevailing social structure, they're more likely to be saving for some expensive luxury item that's only made in some communes that use money.

            If they're accumulating weapons beyond what could possibly be reasonable for self-defense, then the people of the community should worry.

          11. I generally agree with you although it probably all depends on the context. If for example they are accumulating resources for the purpose of trading it to other communties in exchange for luxuries, then it's likely that the community would't have an issue unless they stop providing anything back to their own community or if the resources being traded away are adverselly affecting the community.

            In fact, in the case of luxury goods, it's more likely that such trades will be done on a community level so that everyone who wants has a chance to enjoy them and what is being traded away for them can be brought into sync with the needs of the community.

            It would also likely be an issue if someone is just accumulating core resources for some unspecified reason. Say if someone is accumulating food, in expectation of a natural disaster under the auspice of which they can extort everyone else in exchange for domination, it's likely that their accumulation will not be respected 🙂

          12. That sort of power only lasts while the famine lasts. And starts getting eroded when food merchants from other communes arrive (yay competition). Also, I'd expect every commune to have an emergency store of food, which means it's unlikely the food guy will have time to consolidate his extortion into something sustainable in between the time when the food starts running out and outsiders arrive with food.

            As to inter-commune trade, can't surprise your partner with a fancy piece of expensive jewelry if it's going through the official commune channels.

          13. Depends on the famine or catastrophe and even then it can create needless sufferring, which I do not see why people should go through just to respect some notion of rights to accumulation.

            As to inter-commune trade, can't surprise your partner with a fancy piece of expensive jewelry if it's going through the official commune channels.

            Depends on how it's handled

          14. There's less needless suffering than if the guy hadn't saved up and people starved instead. It's not optimal, but in any kind of hypothetical disaster scenario, nothing is.

          15. I was talking about accumulating enough resources to abuse them during a disaster. There's an order of magnitude of difference between that and saving some for a rainy day.

          16. No. There are several orders of magnitude. Having done some quick math on the back of a napkin, I'm honestly not sure that it would be possible to accumulate that much in an anarchist society. Even if it were, I'd think it'd be harder to do so in a commune where the dominant form of distribution was exchange rather than gift.

            This was an enjoyable conversation.

          17. As for taking with you your own means of production (or at least an equal amount of wealth to start somewhere else), that would naturally be allowed since you would be considered to own them. But of course it depends on how valuable they are to the community. So it's unlikely that you'll be allowed to bring over your oven, since you'll likely be collectively owning it along with the other bakers or their syndicate. Unless it's like a personal one-person oven or something.

          18. "As for taking with you your own means of production (or at least an equal amount of wealth to start somewhere else), that would naturally be allowed since you would be considered to own them."

            Cool. As to the oven example, I was thinking that Alice and Bob bringing their family oven with them when they move. Not the unilateral taking of tools used and hence managed collectively. That would be to deprive the other bakers of their livelihood (Can't consistently worry about Alice while not caring about Jack, who's also a baker).

    3. >It always seemed to me that care for those who can't contribute (young, sick, and elderly) was best left to natural sympathetic impulses.

      That leaves all the load to close relatives and family, needlessly stressing their lives. Alternatively, it leaves people uncared for and thus creating a host of social ills.

  4. >Any activity, regardless of enjoyability, is exhausting. It's also time that could be spent otherwise in less exhausting or more enjoyable ways.

    That is false. If one does what they like, it is not work. The only reason why work is currently "exhausting" is because market forces make people do it more than they want to, or with more intensity than they like, or so long that they get sick of it, or because they have no self-management while doing it. OTOH, people rarely get bored of their hobbies because they control their use. AnCom aims to make "work" more like that. More fun and self-managed and thus enjoyable.

    1. I didn't say "work", I said "exhausting". The reason why people don't get tired of hobbies is that they have control and are able to stop when it becomes too exhausting. Any healthy economic system will have self-management as the predominant organizational form, but Individualist Anarchism is every bit as much about self-management as AnCom is.

      Talk about the benefits of self-management and worker control, and I will nod along and say Amen. Our disagreement lies elsewhere.

      1. >The reason why people don't get tired of hobbies is that they have control and are able to stop when it becomes too exhausting

        And they would have the same control over their jobs, so why would they be exhausting?

        1. Under self-management, jobs would not be burdensome, this is different than not being exhausting. Regardless, intrinsic motivation is not always going to be enough for what the community needs. While there are certainly people who enjoy cleaning toilets, I doubt there are enough of those people to keep the community's toilets in sufficiently hygienic condition without some sort of extrinsic motivation.

          1. If there are not enough people who want to clean toilets, then either they're going to find a way to automate it (being disconnected from the profit motive allows one to pursue goals that help them personally), or make toilet cleaning a shared chore, so that everyone has to do a little of it, so that nobody has to do a lot of it (think of it how you share toilet cleaning at home)

  5. How can anarcho-communism be practically realized without having at least some sort of governing body to regulate things and keep everyone safe and satisfied? How can we avoid chaos without comprising creativity and individualism?

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