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Socialist Policy in East Europe: 1948 - Theses of a Group of Eastern European Marxists

Introduction

The introduction below, by the editor of The New International, calls itself for some explanation as a bridge over the passage of time.

First of all: The New International, which called itself in 1948 an "Organ of Revolutionary Marxism", was the monthly journal of the Independent Socialist League (ISL), which resulted from a split in the American Trotskyist movement in 1940, principally over the issue of the class nature of the USSR. Whilst the "official" Trotskyists (the Fourth International and Trotsky himself) maintained that the USSR was a "degenerated workers' state" and therefore had to be supported as a workers' state, albeit degenerate, the ISL held that a new, hitherto unknown, class society ("bureaucratic collectivism") had established itself in the USSR through a violent repression against the working class which amounted to a counter-revolution. Socialists therefore had to fight on two fronts: they constituted a "Third Camp" against both the American and the Russian camps in the Cold War.

In 1948 the editor of The New International was Hal Draper. The two main authors of the "theses" were Paul Barton and Valentin Toma.

Paul Barton was born Jiri Veltrusky in 1919 in Prague. He was a student at the time of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia; with the universities closed, he found a job as a metal worker and became active in the resistance movement. He resumed his studies in 1945, gained a doctorate in philosophy and became an assistant professor of the philosophy of aesthetics. He published a book entitled "Drama as Literature" and was a member of a group of intellectuals called the Prague Circle. He was also active in the Czech Trotskyist movement and had to exile himself in 1948, first to Austria, then to France. He worked as a writer and journalist and published several books – now under the name of Paul Barton – on the situation of the working class and on its struggles in the Soviet bloc. In the 1960s, he represented the ICFTU at the UN, travelling between New York and Geneva, and in 1968 he joined the AFL-CIO international department, working out of its Paris office. At the same time, he continued his work on aesthetics, lecturing on a variety of related topics and teaching at the Free Europe University in Exile in Strasbourg. His last book on aesthetics was published in Prague posthumously in 1994, the year of his death. Whilst rejoicing in the collapse of Stalinism, he remained fiercely critical of the "free market" ideology that replaced it in his country of origin and in the rest of the former Soviet bloc.

Valentin Toma was born in Czernowitz (Bucovina) in 1912 as Jacques Schärf, and was also known as Ion Serbeanu in the movement. He started his political life in the Independent Socialist Party (later United Socialist Party - PSU) of Romania, a left socialist organization originating in a split in the Social-Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR) over social-democratic coalition politics, later joined by groups splitting from the Communist Party in disagreement over Stalinist policies. The PSU, like its forerunners, was a member of the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity ("London Bureau"), together with the British ILP, the German SAP, the Spanish POUM, among others. In 1936 the PSU merged with the PSDR, but one year later the royal dictatorship, followed by the military dictatorship of Antonescu, dissolved all parties. The PSDR was reconstituted in 1944 at the fall of the dictatorship, but soon had to face extreme pressures from the Communist Party, supported by the Russian occupation authorities, to merge with it into a Communist-dominated "Workers' Party" .At that time, Schärf was international secretary of the party and editor of its journal Libertatea. In 1946 the PSDR split and the party chairman Constantin Titel Petrescu formed the Independent Social-Democratic Party (PSDI) to fight the Communist take-over bid. Schärf joined the new party. In 1948 the rump PSDR was merged with the Communist Party, the PSDI was suppressed and its leaders jailed after the usual frame-up trial. Jacques Schärf went into exile in 1948, remained active with other Romanian socialists in the Center of Exiled Trade Unionists in Paris and worked at the French Radio and Television (ORTF) until his death in 1974.

He contributed several articles to The New International and to the ISL weekly Labor Action on developments in Romania and in the Soviet bloc. He is also the author of a study on the impact of the October Revolution on the Balkan countries (La Révolution d'Octobre et le Mouvement ouvrier des pays balkaniques, in: La Révolution d'Octobre et le Mouvement ouvrier européen, Etudes et Documentation Internationales (EDI), Paris, 1967).

The foreword mentions "the fraternal collaboration of comrades from Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and Bulgaria". The Greek contribution came from Dimitri Yotopoulos (1901-1965). Yotopoulos was a chemist by profession and a leader of the Archeiomarxist Organization (a group named after its periodical "Archives of Marxism"). The Archeiomarxists were expelled from the Communist Party in 1924, joined the Fourth International (where Yotopoulos was known as Witte) in 1930, withdrew from it in 1934 and joined the London Bureau. Yotopoulos went to Spain in 1936 where he worked with the POUM, escaped the Stalinist repression in Barcelona in 1937, went to France where he survived the Nazi occupation and war together with comrades from the POUM. He returned to Greece after the war and became the advisor and international representative of a group of trade unions in the General Confederation of Labour, representing mostly food and transport workers.

It has not been possible so far to identify the contributors from Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. The Polish contributor might have been Andrzej Rudzienski, a Polish exile who lived in Latin America (Bolivia or Chile) and frequently contributed to Labor Action and to The New International in the 1940s and 1950s. He commented on Latin American developments as Juan Rey, Juan Robles or Luis Velasco, and wrote on European issues, principally on Eastern Europe, as Andrzej Rudzienski.

The foreword states that one of the purposes of the document is to clearly differentiate a "real socialist policy" from one "tail-ending the Green International". What is meant here is the international organization of peasant parties, which were democratic parties, in some cases with center-left politics, and influential in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia in the inter-war years. There is no relationship with the contemporary "green" parties arising from the ecological movement. The social-democratic parties in exile tended to form "national committees" (virtual exile governments) with the exiled leaders of the bourgeois parties of their country, including those of the peasant parties, thus creating the "union sacrée" denounced by Barton and Toma.

Dan Gallin, April 2011


Introduction by the Editor of The New International

The following document, whose origin is explained in the foreword below, is presented to our readers first of all because of its inherent interest is the product of a group of Marxist collaborators themselves hailing from the countries of the Russian Eastern European empire. Indeed, it is probably the first attempt by Marxist socialists from beyond the Iron Curtain to grapple with the problem of giving “a systematic presentation of the situation” in the Russian satellite zone.

While we would criticize it on the score of inadequacy it is to be judged as a rounded analysis, the foreword emphasizes that it is only a “first contribution” toward that end by its authors. What is most obviously lacking, of course, is a clear presentation of the nature of the state and social system in the Russian satellites (and necessarily therefore in Russia itself). Naturally, to repair this lack would have required a much longer document.

We wish also to note a feature of the documents which is perhaps an example of that “asymmetry” of which the foreword speaks. On the one had, in several places the context seems to make clear enough that the “third way proposed – against both Washington and Moscow – is that of the fight for the socialist way out. But in the explicit formulations on this point, namely those in Section IV, we find the slogan given is “a Federation of Peoples”, “Danubian and Balkan Federation in the framework of a United States of Europe”, etc. In view of the context we do not understand why the slogan of Socialist United States of Europe is avoided – these being the accepted ones among Marxists.

The number of interesting and significant point made by the document, however, it is sufficient to recommend it to the attention of our reader. We are indeed concerned to follow the development of socialist thinking on the other side of the Iron Curtain and shall take every opportunity to present it in our pages – ED.

Foreword

Meeting in advance of the Congress of the Peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa in June 1948, several socialist comrades adhering to the militant Marxist movement of Eastern Europe decided to offer a systematic presentation of the situation in the Russian satellite zone before this international anti-imperialist gathering. The aim of these comrades who remained faithful to the principles of internationalism was to counterpose a rounded point of view and a socialist policy as against the so-called policy of anti-Bolshevik “union sacrée” of the émigré social-democratic groups organized in the International Socialist Bureau of Paris.

It was all the more important to make a stand in order to draw a line of demarcation between the position of real socialism and the pseudo-socialist policy which tail-ended the Green International. The socialist road in Eastern Europe as in the rest of the world is the consistent struggle for peace, against the war, for the institution of a revolutionary democracy against imperialism and totalitarianism. It is the struggle against the illusion about liberation coming from outside the international working-class forces and popular masses, from the “democratic” imperialist powers. Neither Washington nor Moscow!

Like every collective work, these theses give evidence of asymmetry. But they do not pretend to be anything else than a first contribution on one of the most important problems of international socialist strategy. The very sympathetic welcome accorded them by socialist comrades at the congress proves that they correspond to an unquestionable need for clarification.

The theses were drawn up by Comrades Paul Barton of Czechoslovakia and Valentin Toma of Romania, with the fraternal collaboration of comrades from Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and Bulgaria.

Theses

I. Introduction

(1) The importance of Central and Southeastern Europe in world politics is underlined by the fact that twice within the lifetime of the last generation it has been the starting place of two world wars (1914 – Sarajevo; 1938 – Czechoslovakia and Munich; 1939 – Poland).

(2) The formal independence of the small Danubian and Balkan countries has always been illusory. After the First World War the greatest continental power, France, created in these areas its own satellite system by means of two systems of alliance, the “Little Entente” and the “Balkan Entente”. Only Greece remained under the direct influence of Great Britain because of its special situation, which was important for British Mediterranean strategy.

(3) But it was only with the German and then with the Russian occupation that an open subjugation of these countries took place. The premises for these two occupations were created by the mutually opposed revisionist demands of these states as well as by continuous political concessions on the part of the Western powers.

(4) The Second World War stimulated deep political and economic changes in these countries which led to a weakening of the traditional bourgeois agrarian groups. These changes were made possible by the radical change in the relation of forces between the great powers in this part of Europe. The Yalta and Potsdam conferences sanctioned the relation of forces among the states; this necessarily led to a partition of Europe and of the world into two rival blocs and to the total incorporation of Central and Southeastern Europe within the Eastern bloc.

II. The Russian Buffer Zone

(5) The resurrection of the traditional Russian policy of expansion in Eastern Europe was introduced by the Stalin-Hitler Pact of 1939. The defeat of Hitlerite aggression opened unlimited possibilities of development for this policy, because it gave the Soviet Union a monopolistic position in this region.

(6) Aside from the military factors, Russian power is founded on distinct problems of internal policy and on national rivalries among the victimized states.

The violent pan-Slavic reaction against oppression and danger of national suppression by Nazi imperialist policy played a substantial role in the dynamics of Stalinist expansion. This chauvinist wave is continually swelled artificially, in new forms, with accomplished art, by the Stalinist rulers. Any means, including the most barbarous, are good enough to serve this purpose.

The depopulation of whole regions entirely inhabited by Germans (Sudetenland, Silesia, Pomerania, etc.) was one of these means. The inhabitants were robbed of all their belongings and forcibly deported by the thousands to ruined Germany. Under cover of punishing Nazi war criminals, crimes of the same order were committed against defenceless people. The practice of the inhuman system of concentration camps was maintained, and indeed extended to the physical liquidation of the German minority, for example in Yugoslavia.

Deportation to slave labor in the Soviet Union and systematic expropriation were utilized against the German-speaking population in the two non-Slav satellites, Rumania and Hungary. By annexing enormous territories to Poland and by deporting the Germans from the rich regions and border territories of Czechoslovakia, there was created in these peoples a psychotic fear of revenge which tied them closely to the Russian policy. Important parts of the population were corrupted by giving them confiscated German properties.

(7) In their effort to expand their social basis in the countryside, all the governments of the Russian buffer states instituted agrarian reforms. These reforms, arising from bureaucratic tendencies, possessed progressive aspects only where they liquidated the feudal forms of agrarian property relations (Schlachta in Poland, the Junkers in Eastern Germany, the landlords in Hungary).

But in some countries, like Rumania and Bulgaria, the area of the divided lots is not even as sizable as that allotted by the bourgeois regimes after the First World War. Agrarian reform in countries with a large rural overpopulation does not solve the need for land. Rumania, for example, will have five million landless peasants within fifteen to twenty years.

When the agrarian reform destroys not the remnants of feudalism but rather the developed forms of large-scale capitalist land ownership, consciously distorting cooperative forms and creating unproductive economic sectors, technically and culturally backward, it thereby assumes a visibly reactionary character. It creates, on the one hand, the social basis for a small-peasant reaction, and on the other it repels a big section of the peasantry and pushes them in the direction marked out b their traditional self-seeking instincts and lack of political interest (Czechoslovakia).

(8) On the industrial field the Russian policy is founded on the idea of placing the whole industrial capacity of Central and Southeastern Europe at the services of the Russian war economy.

The looting methods (dismantling, excessive reparations, forcible recruiting of skilled workers for Russia, etc.) initially practised in the defeated countries gave way gradually to the incorporation of these countries within the Russian economic system. Moreover, the relations of exploitation by Russia were maintained, since – by means of preferential customs agreements and commercial treaties – mixed native-Russian corporations and purely Soviet industrial corporations were set up for Russia in the decisive branches of economy, with a de facto monopoly of the principal raw materials.

Like their German predecessors, the Russians strive as far as possible to stifle the traditional economic relations of these countries with the non-Russian world. This policy makes the industrial reconstruction of these oppressed countries impossible; as a result, they can keep up their level of production only by means of very low wages and by lowering the standard of living of the working class.

(9) This is why the working class is systematically deprived of its most elementary rights and why all its former gains are liquidated, such as the democratically elected factory committees and the collective-bargaining agreements. The piece-work system is introduced everywhere. Production norms and working conditions a determined by governmental organs without any possible recourse by the workers. Strikes are broken up by the police. The unions are in fact statified and become state organs for raising production and spying on the workers. All these measures cannot be outweighed by the meager and sporadic gains conceded by the bureaucracy to the working class, such as, for example, improvements in the social-security system in Czechoslovakia.

(10) This destruction of the rights of the working class was made possible by the latter’s political paralysis, which results in the agrarian countries from its immaturity and in the industrial countries from the new forms of the system of technique and the organization of production. These new forms almost liquidated above all the skilled-workers categories, which used to form the most powerful cadres of the class struggle. A levelling of the working class downward, and at the same time the extraordinary rise of a thin labor-aristocracy layer on the Stakhanovite pattern, resulted from these changes.

This labor aristocracy, as well as the lack of combativity on the part of the overwhelming majority of the working class, is the basis for the total domination by the bureaucracy. The Communist Parties and the Russian occupation consciously promoted this process of weakening the working class and its trade-union organizations.

(11) The nationalizations, which were in many cases an economic necessity, were braked by the CP leaders as long as the socialist initiative and self-confidence of the working masses had not been completely broken. Meanwhile the Stalinist leadership pursued a policy of coalition with the bankrupt bourgeoisie against the working class (freezing of wages, speedup and even the lowering of real wages, abolition of workers’ control, etc.). Only when the bureaucracy was sure that it would not find any resistance to its domination among the working class did it proceed to put through the nationalizations and to liquidate the bourgeoisie.

But the economic form which results from this is by no means socialist. The division between the forces of labor and the means of production persists. The differences between the standard of living of the toilers and of the ruling strata have not diminished; on the contrary, they have been increased and have brought about a real system of privilege. Every attempt of the workers to defend their traditional rights is brutally suppressed.

The nationalized industries form a collectivist bureaucratic structure. In many countries the Soviet Union owns mixed state-capitalist corporations (Rumania, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Eastern Germany) after the classical pattern of the imperialist policy of investment and export of capital.

(12) In proportion to the advancing liquidation of the bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy assumes the functions of the ruling class. The whole setup of the nationalizations produces many sinecures which constitute, for the different sections of the bureaucracy, a center of attraction and competition, and at the same time the crucible for its amalgamation.

With the elimination of the bourgeoisie disappears also the necessity for the bureaucracy to utilize the class struggle for its own benefit. The police apparatus comes to the forefront, and the political, trade-union and economic rulers are subjected to it. The regime rests, more and more, on clubs and bayonets.

(13) The official claim according to which Central and Eastern Europe is an oasis of peace and prosperity, notwithstanding the brutal suppression of all the internal contradictions and the ruthless exploitation of the workers, is contrary to the truth. In none of these countries, does the government rest on the real confidence of the majority of the population.

None of the economic or political problems can be solved by such governments. In spite of the lowering of the working-class standard of living for the purpose of increasing the now completely worn-out constant capital, they are able to make only those investments which are absolutely indispensable, and they cannot help cutting into the very substance of the capital itself. In spite of the strictest planning, there exists a sizable disproportion between the various branches of production, manifested by different symptoms of crisis (lack of money on the one hand, inflationary pressure on the other, disorder in production, black market, etc.). In spite of the agrarian reform, the peasant problem is not solved in the countries with rural overpopulation.

In spite of police persecutions and unlimited state propaganda, numerous opposition currents are alive. These groups are strengthened by the disillusionment of wide sections of the people. Since the existing regime presents itself as authentic socialism while any really socialist activity is forbidden, there is great danger that the disillusionment of the masses of people and workers may end up by discrediting socialism itself. That is why there is a basis for restorationist attempts on the part of the eliminated feudal and bourgeois elements and for military intervention by Russia.

III. The Bourgeois-Restorationist Tendencies

(14) A restoration, which is more and more eagerly whished for in these countries, would mean the artificial return to power of the bankrupt feudal and bourgeois forces while the present repression of the working class would be maintained. The basic economic tasks – namely, the elimination of the backwardness of these countries, most of the useful changes in the present industries, the creation of new industries, the mechanization of agriculture and the new relations between town and country – these would become, in such circumstances, incapable of solution.

(15) Politically, such a restoration would only bring nationalist solutions, and consequently again atomize this region into pygmy sovereign states. All the traditional conflict between the different nationalities would be revived (Poles and Russians, Poles and Czechs, Poles and Germans, Serbs and Croats, Slovenes and Austrians, Rumanians and Hungarians, Hungarians and Slovaks, Czechs and Germans, etc.). One cannot even talk of democracy under such regimes, as is pertinently demonstrated by the case of Greece.

(16) The economic and political incapacity of such governments would condemn these apparently independent states to a parasitic existence. They could alleviate their economic difficulties only through extensive investments by foreign capital. They could temporarily overcome their internal and external contradictions only under the dictatorship of the great powers, after the Trieste pattern. In that way, this whole region would be transformed into a zone of conflict, not to speak of the fact that restoration would be necessarily linked with war and interventions, which would transform Central and Eastern Europe once more into a heap of ruins.

IV. The Third Way

(17) Neither “popular democracy” nor bourgeois restoration can solve the burning problems posed by the national, political and social life of the Danubian and Balkan peoples. The only road to progress, freedom and a better life for the great masses of Central and Eastern Europe is that proposed by the consistent socialists: a Federation of Peoples. At their Prague and Budapest conferences, the Eastern European socialist parties tried to find a way for the close economic, political and cultural cooperation of the Danubian countries. The brutal offensive of the Cominform for the destruction of these socialist parties, as well as the shameful capitulation of their leaderships, brought a premature end to this initiative.

(18) A federation of the Danubian and Balkan countries corresponds to the most vital interests of these peoples. It gives the small peoples the only possibility of keeping pace with modern progress in a world of extraordinary economic changes. By fusing them together it creates a barrier against intervention by the great powers, and, by voluntarily sacrificing illusory sovereignties preserves the intellectual and material existence and special culture of these small nations. The achievement of a federation of nationalities with equal rights, irrespective of their size, would eliminate from this part of Europe the insoluble problem of contested border regions, and would case the relations between the federated states on the basis of equality of national rights for the citizens of all the people, acknowledging their rights to national culture in their own language.

(19) Economically, the entry of such a Danubian and Balkan Federation into the framework of a United States of Europe – together with a planned coordination of these backward Eastern European countries, a sort of administration for the Danubian countries – would permit all of Europe to contribute to raising the living standard of this region. An indispensable condition for economic progress is the transformation of agricultural production to a mechanized basis, by means of a general spread of cooperatives for production, distribution and consumption. Without such a planned transformation of the village into a rational economic unity, any reform would be incapable of bringing about a solution.

(20) The idea of two Europes, one agricultural and one industrial, is static, corresponding to an imperialistic reality and to a conception which built its realm of profit on the backwardness of the peoples and the countries. The Eastern European countries have to pass through a natural process of industrialization. By its nature such an industrialization should be diametrically opposed to the attempts made up to now by the national bourgeoisies in creating some state-protected key industries which brought sizable profits to their capitalist owners by means of state orders and tariff protection and isolation from the world market. These non-profitable industries have never brought a rise in the standard of living of these small backward peoples.

On the contrary, socialist industrialization presupposes above all suppression of national partitions. Only after such a measure can the creation of wide markets be possible. The international character of an industrialization drive facilitates the creation of big industrial units. The creation of regional hydro-electric centers will form the basis of an investment program permitting a profitable utilization of the industrial capacities of each country. By industrialization a rise in the purchasing power of wide masses of the people is assured by their own labor.

Economic unification of the Danubian and Balkan regions on a socialist basis must not, in any case, be conceived as a regional autarchy. Any scheme of industrialization must avoid nationalist prejudices and must be conceived and realized according to the principle of choosing the most suitable location and on the basis of unlimited interregional and international division of labor. Without linking such regional units to a world socialist economy, there can be no progress.

(21) The political premises for realizing these plans are: Strengthening of the socialist front in the leadership of world affairs. Guaranteeing the Labor Party regime in Great Britain and widening its socialist basis. Entry of the peoples of all the continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and America) into the socialist front of the subjugated colonial peoples and of the socialist working class. An economic and political strengthening of socialism will show clearly the people’s initiative in world politics; it brings about a weakening of the totalitarian tendencies toward expansion.

(22) The political instrumentality for realizing these plans is: a people’s democratic movement, the central axis of which is formed by the socialist movement of the working class. The adherence of the progressive political forces, unions, cooperatives, the agrarian democratic movements and groups of intellectuals must be realized under socialist leadership.

Within the framework of this resistance movement of the Eastern countries the following policy must be pursued:

Liquidation of the conflicts of the great powers, which utilize our peoples as mere instruments for their expansionist policies.

Liquidation of the Russian “buffer zone” and the dictatorship of the “popular democracy”, and the re-establishment of the social gains and free organizations of the working class.

Liquidation of the reactionary regimes of Greece and Turkey.

Creation of a Danube and Balkan Federation, including all the peoples of this region on the basis of equality.

V. Tactical Means

(23) The only weapon with which to fight the existing regime is presented to us by a new flowering of the class struggle. The working class of the Russian buffer zone will surmount its present weakness and paralysis only if it recovers, above all, its self-confidence. It will do so only after many direct victories in daily economic struggles (against overtime of any sort, against the institution of piecework, against the abolition of social-security laws in the factories and mines, against arbitrary curtailment of vacations, etc.). The resurrection of these struggles can come from two sources:

· the discontent of the hardest-hit categories of workers directed against the abolition of all their gains;

· the enmity of the overwhelming majority of the working class against the economic bureaucracy. Of course this enmity must not be directed toward a fruitless struggle to wrest a few functions in the management of the productive forces, but to achieve its more equitable utilization in the interests of the workers.

It is only with the aid of the experience of the defeated former vanguard that these wide currents in the great masses can acquire a precise physiognomy. A unification of the two oppositional tendencies must clearly formulate the demand for workers’ control of production, which alone can bring a clear-sighted perspective to be partial demands of these two tendencies.

(24) On the political field, the working class of the Russian satellites can be mobilized only to fight every provocation and preparation for war. This struggle can be closely linked wit the struggle for improving economic conditions; for war preparations are the main cause of the precarious economic situation. This anti-war struggle must no be confused with whining pacifism, which is based on illusions about an appeasement policy to be derived from hagglings among the great powers. Rather, this fight must be led as a consistent class struggle unleashing unceasing activity for the enlightenment and education of the masses.

In these two fields, economic and political, the resurrection of the working class can be achieved only if the working class west of the Iron Curtain enters on the same road of consistent class-struggle policy. Any policy of conciliation with the bourgeoisie, any attempt by democratic socialism to participate in the war preparations of the Western powers, and any weakness on the part of the western socialist parties with regard to the oppression of the African and Asiatic peoples, thrust the working class of Central and Eastern Europe into the arms of the Stalinist bureaucracy, of its police apparatus and the Russian war machine.

(25) Only the internationalisation of the class struggle can bring the Russian working class back into the arena of the class struggle. It must not be a merely verbal internationalism which limits itself to declarations at international conventions, but an active internationalism, establishing common demands, economic, social and political, such as the demand for eight-hour day was in its day – demands for which the working class of the whole world can fight. This is the only way, not only for the resurrection of the working class of Central Europe but also for the resurrection of the workers’ International against the permanent threat of war, for the abolition of colonial oppression and all other forms of oppression.

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