A true story. Stalin (1878-1953) was the original model for Superman. The alien from Krypton, created American-born writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster in 1932, the comic Superman was originally drawn with a walrus like moustache and wore a peaked cap. Whether this was a joke or a play on Stalin's name which means 'steel' in Russian is not exactly known but within a year the cartoon's features were altered to resemble the now familiar jut-jawed hero with the slicked down black hair and thrusting, clean-cut profile. However, the cape, underpants and boots stayed 'revolutionary red' and certainly the supposed link between Superman and the Soviet leader were enough for Edgar.J.Hoover to set up a secret unit to check on any signs of communist subversion in the comic art industry.
Georgia on my mind
To understand Stalin you have to recognise that he started out in life as Ioseb (Joseph) Besarionis dze Jughashvili, born in a backwater's backwater in 1878 in Georgia, then part of the Russian Empire. He spoke Georgian, a language so tough for outsiders to understand and write (as they had their own alphabet too) that Joseph took years trying to downplay his obvious outsider status. Stalin only started to learn Russian when he was 12 and it was a language he was never fully at ease with. He kept his native language only for his most immediate cronies if they came from Georgia but otherwise Stalin had nothing but contempt for his native tongue.
Known at this time as Jughashvili, Stalin trained to be a priest but he was forever getting into trouble. His looks at this time also marked him out, the large shock of thick black hair and narrow eyes made it difficult for him to hide or blend in. In other times Jughashvili/Stalin's wild looks would have earned him a life as a career criminal but by chance he read a newspaper article about a certain Lenin and his call for a new society based on socialism and finger wagging. This appealed to Stalin who around this time adopted his mock-heroic moniker. Joseph liked the sound of Stalin which promised hardness and an anticipation of the industrial revolution then hitting Russia. It was a name that drew strength from the past but also looked ahead to the future.
Meet the Bolsheviks
Since the revolutionaries were always on the run or getting arrested and sent to Siberia, Stalin had no chance to meet Lenin or any other of the leaders of the movement he had got to know about in the newspapers and the WANTED posters. He wanted to be part of their world but to do that, he had to leave Russia for the first time.
The only safe place for the rebels to meet, smoke, drink and argue was outside Russia. The Tsarist government was always badgering other countries not to give any help to these 'subversives' but for the British this was no problem. A long standing mood of Russophobia since the Crimean War and other conflicts had made the British sympathetic to anyone who wanted to cause problems for the government of Tsar Nicholas II. So it was in London that Stalin first met Lenin and the strange, hyperactive Leon Trotsky who spoke excitedly whilst wheeling his arms like a mad windmill. Stalin and Trotsky took an instant and profound dislike to each other.
Stalin's distinct discomfort of sharing anything with Trotsky got a lot better when the 'Russian Social Democrats' (their fake name the Communists liked to use so that they could book halls and back rooms in pubs for their interminable discussions) split into two groups. Those who supported Lenin were called Bolsheviks (Russian for Majority) whilst Trotsky went with the rival Mensheviks (Minority) - both names given to the other as insults at a particularly angry meeting even though the Mensheviks had more members. For tax deductible reasons, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks kept up a public face of unity to outsiders so that they looked like a strong and united 'workers party' but in private, the two factions played cruel political tricks on each other. This was made worse when the Tsarist secret police placed a few agents in there as well to keep the pot boiling. Years later Trotsky suggested Stalin was one of these, learning how to undermine and destroy an organisation with methods (if not the outcome) witnessed with the Soviet Communist party in the 1930s.
By going with Lenin at this early stage, Stalin was earning himself future Bolshevik brownie points. This came in very handy with his future struggle with Trotsky who had stuck with the Mensheviks and then went solo at the start of World War One. Trotsky only got back in with Lenin when the latter returned to Russia in 1917, a fact Stalin liked to remind everyone at party meetings.
Compared to the well read Lenin and the multi-talented Trotsky, Stalin really looked just like hired Bolshevik muscle. In return Stalin thought his party colleagues were 'cafe bar talkers' and preferred a more direct approach, assassinating opponents or arranging bank heists to raise party funds. Fed up, Stalin got arrested and dispatched to Siberia to dig snow with his bare hands like a polar bear.
First World War
When war was declared against Germany and Austria-Hungary, Stalin volunteered for the Russian airforce. Despite his revolutionary activies, the great hero of the future was rejected for military service as he was in bad health and minus a lot of teeth. Stalin - with his genius for remembering faces - would many years later have all those who had said he was 'unfit' shot without trial. But perhaps Stalin should have thanked them instead. At least he wasn't sent to Poland to share the fate of Russian armies who were crushed and destroyed in a number of set piece battles.
Now discharged from Siberia, Stalin was allowed to return from internal exile and moved to St.Petersburg. There he lived with an old friend Vyacheslev who was running a secret explosive apertifs distillery One of the drinks 'the Molotov Cocktail' was designed to undermine the Russian war effort by diverting materials required to make armaments into lethal vodka beverages which were served in the exclusive clubs where Russian generals liked to unwind and unbutton their uniforms after fighting against the Central Powers. A series of explosions led to the closure of Molotov's cocktail business but by then it was too late for the Tsarist government, a revolution had broken out and Tsar Nicholas II was deposed.
As Stalin was one of the few Bolshevik leaders to be in Russia (Lenin was in exile in Switzerland and Trotsky in the USA trying to earn extra money as an actor), he was elected by his fellow revolutionaries to be in charge of the committees to keep pressure on the new Russian government. It was here that Stalin grew to love the intricacies of running an organisation with a faceless bureaucratic ruthlessness he was use much later on. In this way Stalin differed so much from his later rivals Mussolini whose only pre-dictatorship job had been that of as an incendiary writer of Italian tabloid gutter news sheets and Adolf Hitler who had loafed around Austria and Bavaria with his arse hanging out of his rancid leather shorts, living off cakes, pastries and sticky Viennese buns.
Revolution Part Two
The war in 1917 hadn't improved for the new Russian Republic and their decision to carry on fighting annoyed the Germans. This growing mood for withdrawl encouraged Stalin and the other Bolsheviks to persuade Lenin to return. When Lenin finally appeared (thanks to the Germans supplying him a one way ticket), he urged that the time for a second (workers) revolution was now needed to supplant the earlier 'bourgeois' one. Some of the other Bolsheviks were unsure with the speed of the timetable but Stalin agreed to Lenin's plan. So when eventually a second revolution in 1917 overthrew the government of Alexander Kerensky, Stalin volunteered to 'defend the new regime' in the south. He was told to organise the defence of Tsaritsyn against the White Armies. It was here where Stalin's naked steel was revealed for the first time. Those who opposed Stalin were therefore counter revolutionaries and liable to be shot. Lenin and Trotsky agreed that all necessary methods are required to defend the Workers and Peasants...Stalin understood this clearly enough. Anyone not a friend of him or Lenin was a dead man (or woman) walking. Stalin was happy to make that decision.
Certainly by so firmly nailing himself as an active revolutionary, Stalin was in great danger if the Bolshevik revolution failed. The Russian empire had dissolved and a restoration of the Tsar was always a possibility. But if Stalin had learnt anything was that installing fear in your own side - plus a network of efficient spies - would see you win. And so it was proved, the White Russians were defeated and the Tsar and his family massacred. Stalin had meantime become General Secretary of the Communist Party and responsible for making appointments. He would often choose the most illiterate or thuggish for the job, his long running distrust of any new Trotsky emerging even lead to Lenin making objections about some of the choices. But in 1922 Lenin suffered his first stroke and now remained hidden from the Russian people as he underwent 'recovery'. Stalin was often round for tea but as he outlined his plan to run the Soviet Union in the spirit of Ivan the Terrible, the more Lenin grew afraid his colleague was going to destroy the gains of the revolution. Killing or exiling political enemies were fine but Lenin couldn't fail to notice how Stalin's eyes blazed when he spoke of Trotsky. In the end there was nothing Lenin could do, another stroke finished him off for good in 1924. The Father of the Russian Revolution was dead, which of his revolutionary 'sons' would succeed?
Joe v Leon
Trotsky should have got the top revolutionary job when Lenin died but he judged that perhaps his mad professor look would not go down well with dour sense of humour the Russians normally exhibited to anyone who looked like him. Probably Trotsky also didn't want it either, hoping that very soon there would be a world revolution and the job of Universal Liberator/Leader/Dictator would be his. Russia was a peasant backwater to Trotsky, useful only as a bastion against the 'capitalists and fascists'.
In contrast, all Stalin held was the job of General Secretary of the Communist Party which the other former Bolshevik leaders had viewed as now unimportant. After all, the other political parties at the time of the revolution had been banned, chased out of the country or shot so there seemed little point in running a party when there would be no more contested elections. They also quite liked their new jobs and were largely unenthusiastic about firing up a new revolution anywhere. Trotsky just seemed to much trouble to follow right now..even communists needed down time they considered.
So Stalin cleverly isolated Trotsky as a 'cosmopolitan lunatic' and contrasted this with his own virtues as solidly proletarian and heroic. Trotsky's friends fell away and by 1928 the leader of the Red Army in 1919 had been reduced to looking after the Kremlin's car park. Even that was too much for Stalin who arranged for his rival to go away on a holiday and simply told Trotsky's chauffeur to keep on driving until they dumped him across the border in Turkey. Trotsky's passport was ripped up and he lost all rights to go back or collect a communist pension.
Front Men and Plans
Stalin had removed his great rival and Lenin's old comrades had let him do it, even when some knew Lenin had scrawled Stalin is a Georgian Shit all over his Last Will and Testament (First Version). Moreover, Stalin knew that his other old comrades like Nikolai Bukharin and Grigory Zinoviev both still considered him an uncouth pig shit shoveller and could perhaps one day bring Trotsky back or take over themselves. Stalin needed to create a new crisis, Russia needed some plans to implement to keep everyone busy and avoid conspiracies.
So in 1930 Stalin initiated the first Five-Year-Plan to work towards building factories to produce Four-Year-Plans in Soviet Grey. They were soon replaced by Three-Year-Plans and so on until one eager-beaver Bolshevik claimed he had 'gone through the other side' and was now producing plans before anyone wanted them. Stalin thought that was going to far and had him shot as an 'anti-realist'.
With everyone working on plans, there was no chance to grow food or collect the harvest. There had been famines before, during the revolution and the struggle to beat an alliance of enemies. But this time no obvious enemy existed. Was it just bad luck or was perhaps, did Comrade Stalin not know what was going on? Now a new, younger Russian communist Sergey Kirov. A solid revolutionary on the surface but one with an unusual taste in clothes: He liked working in ballet costumes, his extensively defined crotch area became the talk of Leningrad. When Kirov said he had a photo of him with Stalin in similar attire, a worried Stalin worked on his own plan: a Five Minute One. Shoot the bastard ballet man.
The Showtime Trials
The body of Kirov was found in Leningrad. He had a bullet hole in his head but had also taken the opportunity to strangle himself with his old leotard. Initial reports said Kirov had died from 'disappointment with his performance in Swan Lake'. Days later Stalin informed party colleagues that Kirov's death it was in fact part of an extensive 'Hollywood-Trotskyite-Fascist-Liberal-Bourgeois Conspiracy' against the merits of Soviet Communism and urged them to initiate an extensive criminal investigation. Fearing that the Russian Revolution would unravel faster than a bowl of spaghetti, the comrades agreed.
The Soviet secret police quickly came up with lists of enemies of the revolution. To the horror of many of those who had supported Stalin, they were shocked that so many Old Bolsheviks appeared to have been working as capitalist double agents since 1917. An even bigger surprise was when many stalwart communists found themselves included on the list. It was a remarkable story and had been ready to be published in 1934 by Kirov until he was found dangling.
To show that he was on top of the situation, Stalin approved a series of 'Show Trials' to be held in Moscow to bring the ring leaders to court. They were called Show Trials as Stalin had generously included a few juggling acts, clowns and singers to the bill so that the audience would be warmed up for the finale. So onto the stage of the First Show Trial in 1936 were Lenin's old friends Grigory Yevseyevich Zinoviev, Lev Borisovich Kamenev and others. They willingly admitted that they had been working with Trotsky to blow up Stalin in his private dacha but had only failed in their endeavour by guilt. All pleaded to be yanked off stage and taken care of in the wings. Stalin granted their request and everyone (including many invited guests from outside the Soviet Union) applauded the example of Soviet justice in action. It was also the first time 'Uncle Joe' got noticed in America and inspired cartoonists to come up Superman (though others consider Friedrich Nietzsche's earlier work UberSuperDuperMensch to be the true precursor).
Stalin was so happy out how well the show had gone that he repeated it 1937 and 1938. The added attraction for both of these was that Stalin now included those secret policemen who had apparently failed to spot the treason early on. It also meant that if somewhere along the line Stalin had made a mistake in selecting those who were traitors, it could be blamed on his subordinates (later known as the News International Defence).
With everyone denouncing each other as enemies of the revolution, only Stalin appeared to immune from ever having plans of destroying Lenin's revolutionary legacy. Though still just a humble party secretary, Stalin's vision and ideas now got equal billing with Lenin and Karl Marx as one of the great political theologians of communism. The only true path for the proletariat was under the banner of Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist and all other versions of communism and socialism were heresies that needed to be rooted out. When Stalin's last great political rival in the Soviet Union Nikolai Bukharin was executed in 1938, this left only Trotsky alive (besides Stalin) from the old revolutionary inner circle and momentarily beyond reach in Mexico and in the hairy arms of Frida Kahlo. Stalinism had become Communism and Communism was Stalinism. It was neat and had no room for nuances that had so infuriated Stalin with his party colleagues 20 years before. The old Georgian had done his 'Ivan the Terrible' as Lenin had once predicted.
The Nazi-Soviet Passive-Aggressive Pact
Stalin hadn't paid too much attention to Hitler's Germany whilst he was busy beating up his own side. The two regimes had got into indirect combat via the Spanish Civil War. Whereas Germany and Italy lent General Franco troops and aircraft, Stalin preferred to send in some expendable old crates and guns that were last fired in the Crimean War. Of more interest to Stalin had been his political enemies active on the side of the Spanish Republic. These included more of Trotsky's supposed or real followers and assorted anarchists, socialists and anyone who had dissed Stalin at any stage. No Russian volunteers were sent though plenty of local Communist party activists from the Soviet Union's sister parties were 'encouraged' to go and fill up their bodies with German-supplied lead.
It was around this time that Stalin decided to make the Red army a lot more 'redder' by shooting all its generals and staff on the grounds that they were all Trotsky's men. These self inflicted wounds were noticed by Germany (who had also posted off supposed letters from the Soviet Union's Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky supplying his Bank of England deposit account details). However, Hitler was finding Britain and France's opposition to his 'expansionism' annoying and when they both allied to Poland, the old Austrian vagabond and the Georgian outsider discovered that there was not a lot difference between 'Hitlerism' and 'Stalinism'. Perhaps there could be a meeting of something, if not minds. And since both were fed up getting lectured at by the British, perhaps it was a chance to close a deal.
In August 1939 German Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop landed in Moscow. The Nazis and their flag had arrived in Moscow. Stalin invited Ribbentrop over for cocktails with his old friend Molotov (not Molotov's wife as she was in jail for once knitting Trotsky's mittens during the revolution). Ribbentrop tried to stay calm and congratulated Stalin for shooting so many communists, more than the Nazis had achieved so far. Stalin thought that wasn't a bad joke and predicted that once news of a treaty between the two sides had come out that the British will shit themselves and the French will hide in their Maginot Line. Toasts to Der Fuehrer and Uncle Joe the Supreme Prole were met with the heavy clink of glasses, though Ribbentrop (who had once sold champagne in his pre-Nazi days) couldn't keep up and was carried out after a few bottles. The Nazi-Soviet Passive-Aggressive Pact was signed, half of it written in lemon juice so that outsiders wouldn't see the secret protocols which read Poland - 50/50, Baltic States - Russia, war munitions - Germany, signed photographs of Stalin..etc). The only real point of dispute would go first and start the carve up.
Er...You Weren't Supposed to do that Adolf...
With war averted with Germany, Stalin sent out his best men to bring the new territories acquired into Soviet line. Local communists were used when possible but others were accused of being Trotsky's troops and were killed. Then in 1940 Stalin finally got his man, the one person who had evaded him. Leon Trotsky was killed when he opened his fortified compound in Mexico to a man asking for funds for a polar expedition to the South Pole to spread communism to penguins. Stalin enjoyed the news that his agent had come up with an ingenious assassination weapon (an ice pick) and promptly gave him the Order of Stalin to celebrate.
Yet Stalin was now becoming concerned with his new best friend Adolf Hitler. Expecting a re-run of World War One with trenches and sentimental ballads about girlfriends in Ireland, the Nazi war machine had crushed France and penned the British behind the English channel. Winston Churchill kept sending messages to Stalin about 'beware of the swastika' but Stalin recalled Churchill's role in Russia's civil war funding the White armies. Perhaps the German Nazi party would collapse as Stalin had written and be replaced by a true workers state. Stalin was sure of his reading of the Austrian, surely Adolf wouldn't emulate Napoleon and take on Russia? Oh...he did.
Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 so shocked Stalin that he hid in his bedroom for a week. But Adolf promised not to this he was heard behind the closed door and every hour the Russian leader who had ruled the country like an absolute despot expected to be taken away and executed. But no one came. There was no other Stalin-like left figure amongst the Bolsheviks to do this. For Stalin this was now absolute proof that he was supreme, he was a political untouchable. He had done his 1930s homework very well. There would be no rival to take power off him.
The Red Army of 1941 that was on the frontiers were either killed or captured, only back up units kept further back survived. Stalin sent out orders for units to stand and fight and anyone who didn't, were disarmed by the secret police and forced to go back to the front line to attack Panzers with their bare fists.
The German army quickly advance forwards, finding recruits from anti-Communist Russians and others who had long complained about taking orders from Stalin. It seemed the Russian revolution was about to fail big time and there would be no hiding for the great leader.
It was looking very bad for Stalin but had luck with his opponent. Hitler kept nightclubbing hours, sleeping during the day and then working at night when those who around him were tired and confused and more used to regular employment patterns. So it's not surprising that Hitler got his way about where the Nazi jackboot was going to be aimed at next. Stalin did like his vodka but his tough constitution allowed him to drink anyone - including his politburo and the whisky bottle emptier Winston Churchill under the table if need be. Yet Stalin would always be at work early next day, reading the latest reports on who needed shooting to improve the tank production figures and the latest spy information obtained from agents in Britain and the USA.
Hitler was also taking his war with Stalin far too personally and wanted to rub out the city that bore his enemy's name. So the main German war effort was now changed from taking Moscow to head for the south and seize Stalingrad. Well, to be more accurate, demolish it brick by brick. Stalin wasn't one for sentiment, it was after all, not the city of his birth and if it was destroyed in the fight, so be it.
So like a gambler, Hitler threw every resource available to take the city. Nazi tunnel vision allowed the Russians to concentrate their troops in a counter attack again the Romanian and Hungarian allies on either flank of the main German force and surround Hitler's army in Stalingrad. That was it for them, and in the long run, for Hitler too. Stalin knew that, the war would be won and so he now considered what the postwar situation would look like.
For someone who project zero charisma, Stalin was now cuddily old 'Uncle Joe'. He was a Super Mario Stalin, the man with the real moustache rather than the smudge Hitler wore on his upper lip. Whilst the British and Americans were sneaking around the back of the Nazi war machine with peripheral attacks, Stalin insisted on a full blown mash up. The Western Allies hoped Russia would be worn down in that conflict not to cause trouble later but as the Russian army rumbled closer to Germany, the USA, Britain, Canada realised that if they didn't hurry up, there was a chance Stalin would get to Paris. The Russians had done it before against Napoleon, they could do it again.
Stalin therefore made it known he would be a bit more modest this time and at a meeting in Yalta, he put down his demands. Roosevelt was by now death warmed up and Churchill had drank and smoked so much since he became British Prime Minister, he wasn't in much shape than his American ally. Sharing a cigar with 'the old imperialist' as he described Churchill, the two men divided up Eastern Europe. The Poles were abandoned to Russia and those foolish enough like Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria to be active allies of Hitler were also consigned to the Russian sphere. Only what to do with Germany (and Austria) remained a problem but Stalin would go 50-50 if no agreement could be reached. Roosevelt was finally wheeled in and agreed to the deal, anything to get away from Russian cuisine. It was too late, Roosevelt died suddenly two months later. Long time Russian agent Harry.S.Truman became US President and let the deal stand. 
For Stalin 1945 was his victory. For the purposes of crunching up Hitler, he had worked with the British and Americans capitalists. A necessity that could be now sidelined. He arrived in Potsdam, Germany with the sure knowledge his army was all around the allies. He wasn't upset to see that Churchill had to leave the party early (a pesky election in Britain had seen the Labour Party win and now faced the distinctly uncharismatic Clement Attlee. Neither did Truman seem to be much of a personality either, who had heard of either men thought Stalin as he sat at the table in his military style uniform. This was going to be Joe's show.
Facts on the ground meant the Russian army was now in the middle of Europe. The British were bankrupt, the Americans seemed eager to leave and those countries like France and Italy which had either collaborated or had been active allies of Germany were well and truly compromised. Both also had strong Communist parties, led by Moscow trained leaders who would follow Stalin's line. He now dominated Europe like a modern day Attila the Hun. Yet Stalin's own innate caution and watchfulness meant he wasn't ready to become the new Red Emperor. His own distrust of anything (or anyone) outside his Russian comfort zone meant he preferred to wait for the 'rotten capitalist system' to fall over rather than give it a vigorous kick. Also, more inconveniently, the Americans had this new bomb and he needed one of his own now.
Though what to do with Germany unresolved, Stalin wasn't happy that he wasn't able to put his own man in to run Yugoslavia. Nor was he on the best of terms with Mao Zedong when he took over China, the Chinese leader made it plain he got into Beijing without 'Uncle Joe's help. In fact Stalin had hoped secretly Mao would fail, once again his old suspicions about communists who didn't follow his lead made him unwilling to share the limelight. Not that the Americans were aware of this, the fall of China and the defeat of the nationalists was seen as a hefty slap to the USA's influence. This more than anything else made the Americans now think twice about leaving Europe and perhaps now staying for a longer weekend.
Though you would have thought Stalin would now 'relax', the old paranoid was convinced his fellow communists were in danger of going soft. Thanks to his quartet of English spies (known by the code names, Tinky Winky, Laa-Laa, Dipsy and Po, the Russian leader was made fully aware of all the nuclear secrets held by the allies. At the same time in the USA, the FBI brought in everyone connected with Superman as he was (A) an alien foreigner, (B) Not a christian and (C) the tag 'Man of Steel' persuaded J.Edgar Hoover that the comic book hero was really a 'communist book hero' and that the Russians were sending subversive messages to their agents in the USA via the regular strips. Stalin thought this was ironic as he had made it a shootable offence for anyone to possess the magazine.
Meantime Stalin's closest drinking buddies became alarmed when Stalin ordred everyone to his private dacha outside Moscow. There Stalin let it be known he had plans for a 'new purge' to clear out the dead wood and recruit only those who had grown up with him as leader. As Stalin drank and watched the colour from his colleagues drain away, he felt a bit unsteady and retired to his room to 'nap'. That was the last time anyone saw the old warhorse alive but no one felt strong enough to check on him. The next day Stalin was found dead on the floor - the strong Russian rot gut vodka had did for him in the end.
The news that the Communist Pope had died saw all the leading Communist party leaders turn up to view the dead dictator. It was a cold March in Moscow and everyone kept their bodies (and thoughts) well wrapped up as everyone wondered who would replace Stalin. In the ensuring scrap, the balding and round Nikita Khrushchev came out on top, arranging with his other colleagues to have Stalin's secret police buddy Lavrentiy Beira shot for his supposed intention to become the next 'genial Soviet Uncle'. Stalin's own body was placed in Lenin's tomb, the two stuffed communists lying next to each other in their glass coffins. He wasn't to stay there long. Khrushchev had it removed after the spirit of Lenin came to him in a stupor complaining about the Georgian's excessive post-death 'snoring'. So in the dead of night, Stalin was secretly taken outside and buried in a vegetable patch. For years the grave was ignored but now in the new Russia, Stalin's reputation has been largely restored. Perhaps one day Lenin will once again find himself sharing his low brick platform with the old rogue once again.
- He was also known as Koba-Kola as he fizzed a lot when speaking in Russian.
- Or was that arranged? All evidence has now disappeared.
- There wasn't one in 1914.
- Code for Jew.
- Only the missionary John Birch knew this which is why he was killed in China in mid demonstration of the Christian position on sex.
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