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In Celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of V.I. Lenin

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In Celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of V.I. Lenin on April 22, 2020
By Jose Maria Sison
Chairperson Emeritus, International League of Peoples’ Struggle

Celebrate Leninism and the 150th birth anniversary of the great Lenin!
Carry out the revolution under the leadership of the proletariat!
Long live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!
Long live the world proletarian revolution!
Long live proletarian internationalism and the solidarity of all peoples!

LENIN AT 150: LENIN LIVES!
In Celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of V.I. Lenin on April 22, 2020
By Jose Maria Sison
Chairperson Emeritus, International League of Peoples’ Struggle

Dear Comrades and Friends,

I thank the International League of Peoples’ Struggle for inviting me to keynote the event titled, “Lenin at 150: Lenin Lives!”, to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, or V.I. Lenin in Amsterdam on March 28. But the event has been aborted due to the rule of safe distancing, travel restrictions and other disruptions consequent to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The soonest and most appropriate alternative for me is to publish my paper on April 22, Lenin’s date of birth. I have also proposed to the organizers of the event to publish the other commemorative papers in a timely manner. All the papers can be collected and published as a book and launched in a gathering of the authors and their readers at the appropriate time.

The pandemic is regrettable but serves us well as a subject for study in connection with Lenin’s teachings on imperialism and the proletarian revolution. It coincides with, exposes further and aggravates the rapidly worsening crisis of the ruling system. It underscores the total bankruptcy of unbridled private greed under neoliberalism against the public good.

Even before the pandemic occurred, the world capitalist system was already on the verge of a big financial and economic crash. The indicators were the unsustainable debts of households, corporations and central banks, the overaccumulation and inflation of assets in the hands of the monopoly bourgeoisie, the depression of production and wage incomes and the increasing austerity measures adopted on a world scale.

The pandemic has considerably contributed to the worsening of the crisis of the world capitalist system. And it has exposed how the neoliberal economic policy has escalated the exploitation of the working people, how it has deprived them of sufficient public health systems by eroding these with privatization and how it has led to repressive measures and further loss of income and social services during a severe health crisis.

The forces of fascism are also using the pandemic, general lockdowns and business disruptions as pretext to take center stage, push for and impose emergency powers and military takeovers of civilian functions, heighten repressive measures and jostle for diminishing resources, thus creating a more explosive mix that could lead to more violent inter-imperialist rivalries and internal political wrangling among ruling class factions.

But the increasingly intolerable conditions of oppression and exploitation drive the proletariat and the broad masses of the people to wage the revolutionary struggle against imperialism and all reaction. In most countries affected by the pandemic, daily difficulties of the people in coping with the fast-developing health crisis, socio-economic crisis, bureaucratic venalities and repression, and ruling-class rivalries are driving the masses to quickly grasp the basic flaws of the capitalist-imperialist system and embrace the need for system change. We can expect more widespread and more intense people’s struggles in the months and years to come.

In the midst of this turbulent period, it is highly appropriate and urgently necessary that we revisit the great Lenin’s immense historical legacy regarding: (1) the importance of building a strong working-class movement, (2) the importance of revolutionary theory, and (3) the value of strategy and tactics appropriate to current conditions in each country.

It is of high importance and urgent necessity that we discuss the crucial role, the theory and strategy and tactics of the working class movement at this time when the crisis of the world capitalist system is conspicuously worsening and sharpening all major contradictions in the world.

I refer to such contradictions as those between labor and capital, those between the imperialist powers and the oppressed peoples and nations, those between the imperialist powers and states that assert national independence and the socialist cause and those among the imperialist powers.

The current crisis of the world capitalist system is generating the intolerable conditions of oppression and exploitation and is driving the proletariat and the rest of the people in both imperialist and nonimperialist countries, developed and underdeveloped, to wage various forms of mass resistance.

Since last year, we have seen the upsurge of the mass protests against neoliberalism, state terrorism, wars of aggression and destruction of the environment. The inciting moments of the mass protests are of wide variability but that they are manifestations of the crisis and bankruptcy of imperialism and all reaction.

The ongoing anti-imperialist mass struggles have the potential of bringing about the resurgence of the world proletarian revolution. In this regard, we need to review the philosophical and political teachings of the great Lenin to seek guidance in knowing what must be done to ensure the revolutionary advance of the proletariat and people of the world.

We must comprehend and deepen our understanding of the philosophical framework of dialectical materialism and the proletarian revolutionary standpoint that provided Lenin with the scientific outlook and sharpest tools of analysis and methods of work to advance the revolutionary tasks in his own time.

  1. The importance of building a strong working-class movement

In the era of free competition capitalism in the 19th century, Marx and Engels studied and laid bare the laws of motion of capitalism and predicted that the recurrent crisis of overproduction would lead ultimately to the proletariat burying the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and establishing socialism.

It looked like monopoly capitalism or imperialism would prolong the life of capitalism in the 20th century without any serious interruption. But Lenin led the Great October Socialist Revolution to victory in Russia, at the weakest link of the chain of imperialist powers. Thus, he confirmed in theory and practice the conditions that defined the era of modern imperialism and the world proletarian revolution.

We owe to Lenin the teaching that for the proletarian revolution to win victory the crisis of the ruling system must be so severe as to disable the bourgeoisie from ruling in the old way, the people are desirous of revolutionary change and the revolutionary party of the proletariat must be strong enough to lead the revolution.

There is no debate that a revolutionary mass movement of the workers and the broad masses of the people is necessary. But there must be a strong revolutionary party of the proletariat to lead the revolutionary mass movement. It must be the vanguard party to ensure the defeat of the bourgeoisie and the socialist direction and future of the movement.

Lenin clearly established, in the last decade of the 19th century, that the class consciousness and potential energy of the Russian proletariat were fast-growing and overtaking the influence of the liberal bourgeoisie, which was becoming a mere appendage of Tsarism and imperialism, and of the petty-bourgeoisie which tended to romanticize the peasantry. Lenin’s early ideological struggles against the Narodniks and “legal Marxists” had a great practical impact in the work of laying the foundations of the revolutionary working-class party and mass movement.

Lenin wrote What Is To Be Done in 1902 in order to clarify what is the vanguard party of the proletariat and how to go about building it. It must have a revolutionary theory and political program by which to mentor, lead and guide the revolutionary mass movement. It must consist of the most conscious and most militant individuals from the mass movement, who are organized and well-disciplined under the principle of democratic centralism.

Lenin opposed the line of that the working class movement would spontaneously move in the direction of socialism and that it was only a matter of coordinating the trade unions. He argued and fought for the line that there should be a vanguard party of the proletariat, dedicated to bring about socialist consciousness among the workers and wage the revolutionary struggle to emancipate the working class and the rest of the people by overthrowing the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Lenin opposed the line of Martov that trade unions should compose the proletarian revolutionary party. He argued that the party cannot arise from the confines of the trade union movement and from the spontaneous economic struggle about wages and hours of work. He stood up for the line that the party must be led by professional revolutionaries, conscious and disciplined under the principle of democratic centralism. Thus, such new type of a party must come from the “outside” of the trade unions and go inside the working class and the entire mass movement.

At the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in 1903, Lenin was in the minority in the early sessions until the Jewish Social Democrats (the Bund) walked out. He and his followers gained the majority (and the name Bolsheviks) over the minority (Mensheviks) in the split of the party. Especially after the Revolution of 1905, the split widened over the revolutionary role of the proletariat and over how to respond to the mix of repression and limited reforms from the tsarist regime. The split was later finalized at the Prague Conference of the Bolshevik Party in 1912.

Lenin’s emphasis on building the party’s core of professional revolutionaries, unrestrained by the narrow confines of the trade union movement, did not mean that he belittled the economic and other union-based struggles of the working class and those of non-proletarian toiling masses as well. He warned that the revolutionary party, even the most clandestine, must not be mere conspiratorial work of “a few dozen who can overturn the world” but who are detached from the practical mass movement. From their early St. Petersburg days onwards, Lenin and his comrades sought out countless ways of reaching out to the toiling masses in order to gradually build the revolutionary party and its mass base.

At first through secret Marxist study circles and workers’ literacy classes—in one of which he met his future wife and life-long comrade Nadezhda—then later through underground newspapers such as Iskra and its network of correspondent-agents, Lenin showed the fledgling party how to organize the practical movement through all-Russian propaganda and agitation, effectively bypassing Tsarist police repression and other limitations. Under Bolshevik leadership and Lenin’s guidance, the workers’ mass movement grew by leaps and bounds through the unions, through representatives in the Duma, and through such channels for extensive propaganda-agitation as the Bolshevik daily newspaper Pravda, especially from 1912 onwards.

We must understand the historical sequence of the industrial workers arising from the need of the bourgeoisie to employ them, put them to work and extract profits from them. Thus, they become a class in itself and consequently for the purpose of economic struggle they become a class for itself by organizing the trade unions. But for the proletariat to achieve the highest level of consciousness and activity for itself, it must have a revolutionary party that does not only make immediate economic and political demands but aims to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism.

Such a party must consist of cadres and members who assume the tasks of studying the objective social conditions and realizing the ideological, political and organizational requirements for building itself. It cannot arise spontaneously from the trade unions or from the spontaneous mass struggle. But of course, if it is indeed the revolutionary party of the proletariat, it must draw the majority of its cadres and members from the working class and the rural proletariat and must carry forward their rights and interests as well as those of the entire people.

The Bolsheviks could not have led the Great October Socialist Revolution to victory had they not differentiated themselves from the Mensheviks in 1903. The bourgeois democrats, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries had the headstart in constituting the Provisional Government after the overthrow of the Tsar. But the Bolsheviks led by Lenin had the correct line, the resoluteness and militancy to extend their leadership over the soviet of workers and soldiers to the widespread soviets of the peasants in winning the October revolution, Civil War, the war against foreign intervention and all subsequent struggles to expand and consolidate Red political power.

Relative to the ongoing mass protest actions worldwide, there must be a revolutionary party of the proletariat to lead them from one victory to another. Otherwise they will simply run against the wall of reaction and become dissipated. Before the current mass protest actions, we have seen so-called leaderless movements like the Occupy Movement disintegrate and fade away. In the first place, sections of such “leaderless” movements have been heavily influenced by supra-class notions that belittle the distinct role or even just the continued existence of the proletariat as a class while bloating up the appeal of so-called “intersectional” activism. But of course, the example of mass uprisings and the energy generated can be availed of by the revolutionary party of the proletariat in order to advance the revolution.

We must also guard against anarchist and fake “Maoist” groups that have the notion of creating or leading the mass movement by spouting ultra-Left slogans and merely seek to drive spontaneous mass protests into artificial explosions and conspiratorial heroics and which sideline or belittle the long-term and painstaking mass work and other legal-democratic actions and alliances required to sustain and further develop the workers’ and allied sectors’ mass movements.

As Lenin said in his work “Left-Wing” Communism—an Infantile Disorder:

The first questions to arise are: how is the discipline of the proletariat’s revolutionary party maintained? How is it tested? How is it reinforced? First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity, self-sacrifice and heroism. Second, by its ability to link up, maintain the closest contact, and—if you wish—merge, in certain measure, with the broadest masses of the working people—primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses of working people. Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own experience, that they are correct. … On the other hand, these conditions cannot emerge at once. They are created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience. Their creation is facilitated by a correct revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not a dogma, but assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement. (Lenin CW, Vol. 31 pp. 24-25)

  1. The importance of revolutionary theory in the revolutionary movement

Lenin declared that without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. Marx and Engels formulated the fundamental principles to lay down the foundation of Marxism and the world proletarian revolution. Thus, the Bolsheviks adhered to Marxism. But to make the proletarian revolution even more effective in his own time and for posterity, Lenin further developed Marxism and made his own theoretical contributions in philosophy, political economy and social science.

He wrote Materialism and Empirio-Criticism in 1909 to further explain dialectical materialism and contend with subjectivist idealism that is systematically narrowed down and limited to the empirical basis required by science and is presented as the third-party philosophy between materialism and idealism. The philosophical work is important because it debunks the bourgeois subjectivists who invoke empiricism and science to obscure the objective reality and inner contradictions of problematic social phenomena to be solved and deny the conscious capability of the people to solve the problems and change the status quo.

Lenin advanced our understanding of dialectical materialism by identifying the unity of opposites as the most fundamental among the laws of contradiction at work in society and nature and in the social and natural sciences. The simple expression of this is to divide one into two. One should not be dumbfounded by anything whole that is impressive or sacralized. Anything whole in the real world can be dissected, analyzed and critiqued. At the same time, anything that appears static, or anything that apparently emerges randomly from chaos, can be deeply understood in the movement of opposites that lurk within it. With his consciousness of the unity of opposites, Lenin was sharp and profound in his examination and analysis of events and issues in society and on both revolutionary and counterrevolution sides.

Consequent to reading and studying Das Kapital, he proceeded to study the Russian economy and wrote the Development of Capitalism in Russia in 1899. He recognized the character of Russia as a military-feudal type of imperialism, with a rising bourgeoisie establishing industrial enclaves and impacting on the rural communes. And he identified the industrial proletariat as the most progressive productive force capable of winning political power with the support of the peasant masses and leading the people to socialism.

He had a comprehensive grasp of the bourgeois democratic and socialist stages of the Russian revolution and the principles of socialist revolution and construction against the capitalist system. He always spelled out socialism as the ultimate goal at every point in the revolutionary advance of the Bolsheviks and the proletariat. It was the objective of achieving socialism that motivated the Bolsheviks to oppose and overthrow the bourgeois Provisional Government of Kerensky and his allies.

Even as he was preoccupied with the demands of leading the Bolsheviks under conditions of imperialist war, he was able to write Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism in 1916 and publish it in 1917. He explained the plundering, aggressive, decadent and moribund character of monopoly finance capitalism and the struggle for a redivision of the world among the imperialist powers. He also pointed out that the socialist parties of the Second International turned social chauvinists in support of the war policy of their respective imperialist countries because said parties represented the labor aristocracy serving as the tail of the big bourgeoisie.

Despite having to lead the Bolsheviks in the intensifying struggle for political power and despite the threats to his life and liberty, Lenin was able to write State and Revolution in 1917. It was a timely
work to explain the class character of the state and revolution and inspire and guide the Bolsheviks and the proletariat in intensifying the class struggle for socialism against the Kerensky government. It was a master work for future generations to learn that the essence of revolutionary struggle of the proletariat is to seize political power and build socialism.

After seizure of political power by the Bolsheviks, Lenin had to confront the inadequacies and difficulties in maintaining “war communism” which involved requisitioning food from the peasants and rationing under war conditions. He had to adopt the New Economic Policy as an expedient measure to respond to the peasant demand for compensation and give concessions even to the rich peasants, the traders and entrepreneurs in order to revive the economy ruined by the inter-imperialist war and the counterrevolutionary war. He adopted such a policy to save the rule of the Bolsheviks and the proletariat, stay on the road to socialism and prepare for advance.

Lenin had an unquenchable thirst to further his theoretical and practical understanding of the proletarian revolution and various contradictions in society, and led the Bolsheviks in raising the party’s capacity to combine theory and practice. The sheer volume and scale of his lifelong contributions are reflected in his prolific output of books, pamphlets, articles, party and state documents drafted by him, unpublished manuscripts, extensive commentaries and marginal notes on works by other authors, including statistical yearbooks and other informative materials.. Much of his teachings and insights remain resonant and enlightening to current-day revolutionaries.

Our appreciation of Lenin’s contributions include his principled personal conduct, comradely mien, simple lifestyle, and strict work regimen, which are not as easily measured as his written works and official acts as leader of the Bolshevik party and Soviet state but have been unassailable facts in his many biographies, except the worst anti-communist ones. These are integral to his teachings and have inspired the respect and admiration of succeeding generations of revolutionaries.

To be able to lead the socialist revolution and construction effectively, Stalin learned from Lenin the principles and general methods of carrying them out. Lenin always explained in the context of preserving and strengthening the revolutionary forces and preparing the way for a further advance whenever there was the need to adopt a certain policy or course of action that involved a retreat or appeared to delay the advance of socialism.

He had the foresight to found the Third or Communist International against the social-chauvinist Socialist International as early as 1919. It was a necessary step to amplify the victory of the October Revolution, reject the revisionist line of the Second International, encourage the revolutionary movement under the spirit of proletarian internationalism and widen the latitude for the consolidation of Soviet power. But he also had diplomatic flexibility in approving the Brest-Litovsk Treaty to consolidate power and neutralize further attacks by the imperialist powers.

He exercised profound theoretical leadership in founding and steering the Soviet state through its early years of development, as well as engaging in its most critical tasks and practical policy questions, until his work was cut short by severe illness and death in 1924. The same was true in his exercise of leadership within the Third International.

Relative to the current wave of mass protests against imperialism and reaction on a global scale, we must learn from the history of the Bolsheviks that they could win victory because of the theoretical and practical leadership of Lenin. He applied his own dictum that the revolutionary mass movement can become strong and advance further if there is a revolutionary theory that can guide the masses and there is the revolutionary party of the proletariat that upholds and applies such theory to the revolutionary struggle against the counterrevolutionary state of the bourgeoisie.

  1. The value of strategy and tactics appropriate to current conditions in each country

Ahead of Lenin, Plekhanov held the view that the Russian revolution needed to pass through the bourgeois democratic stage before the socialist stage because the industrial proletariat in Russia was still a small minority class, incapable of carrying out a socialist revolution immediately. The Mensheviks took the line that the bourgeois democratic revolution had to be led by the bourgeoisie which would develop capitalism further and thereby enlarge the industrial proletariat.

Indeed, the industrial proletariat amounted to a small percentage of the Russian population and was in a few enclaves in an ocean of feudalism and medievalism. But Lenin asserted that the proletariat and its revolutionary party could lead the Russian revolution in both the bourgeois democratic revolution and socialist stages by having for its main ally the peasantry, win over the middle social strata and take advantage of contradictions among the reactionaries in order to overthrow Tsarist rule. Thus, he set the revolutionary class line in drawing up the strategy and tactics of the Russian revolution.

In the February revolution of 1917, the leaders of the bourgeois democratic parties, the Mensheviks and the peasant-based Socialist Revolutionary Party had the initiative in taking power and installing the Provisional Government. They were supported by the Petrograd soviets of workers and soldiers which were then led by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries who bowed to the bourgeois leadership of Kerensky.

Upon his arrival in Petrograd in April 1917, Lenin called for all power to the soviets even as the soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers were still under the leadership of the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. But he persuaded the Bolshevik Party Central Committee to approve his line and program: to withhold support from the Provisional Government and win a majority in the soviets in favor of soviet power.

He proposed that upon its establishment the Soviet government would begin immediate negotiations for a general peace on all fronts and the soviets would confiscate the landlords’ estates without compensation, nationalize all land, and divide it among the peasants. And the government would put privately owned industry under strict control for the benefit of labor.

From March to September 1917, the Bolsheviks successfully engaged in propaganda and agitation and eventually gained the majority in the soviets. The Kerensky government became discredited by the breakdown of the economy and deterioration of the living conditions of the workers, peasants, and soldiers and the refusal of Kerensky to withdraw from the war and complete the revolution. He could only feebly promise a freely elected constituent assembly upon the return of order.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks won the support of the soviets and the masses as they demanded peace, land, and bread. By September, the soviets elected a Bolshevik majority in the Petrograd Soviet and in the soviets of the major cities and towns throughout the country. The line and program put forward by Lenin proved to be correct and successful.

The stage was already set for the seizure of political power in October. But Lenin still had to take grave personal risk by slipping into Petrograd in order to attend the secret meeting of the Bolshevik Party Central Committee to persuade his comrades to prepare for the seizure of political power. The plan was to muster the support of soldiers and sailors and to train the Red Guards, the Bolshevik-led workers’ militia, for carrying out the October revolution.

After the overthrow of the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks and their Left Socialist Revolutionary allies became the absolute majority of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. Consequently, the delegates voted overwhelmingly to accept full power and elected Lenin as chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, the new Soviet Government, and approved his Peace Decree and Land Decree.

In forging the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty with the Central Powers, the Soviet Government was prepared to fight and defeat the Russian counterrevolutionary armies led by former Tsarist allies and the foreign interventionists from the Allied Powers. The soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers became a bulwark of revolutionary strength as the fighting moved from the cities and trunklines to the expanse of the countryside. The Leninist line of upholding and respecting the right of the non-Russian nationalities to national self-determination enabled the formation of the Soviet Union as a multi-national federation.

Lenin founded the Third International in order to unite all workers of the world for the cause of socialism and proletarian internationalism and fight against imperialism, revisionism and all reaction. It aimed to encourage the proletarian parties to wage revolution or at the least counter aggression by the imperialist powers against the Soviet Union. Shortly after the death of Lenin, the Soviet Union was recognized by most governments. In the long run, the Comintern had great success in inspiring the rise of communist parties capable of establishing several socialist countries and leading national liberation movements in colonies and semi-colonies.

Relative to the anti-imperialist organizations and movements that are now involved in the worldwide mass protests, we must understand that for the revolutionary movement to win victory against imperialism and establish socialism it must have a revolutionary class line and the correct strategy and tactics in order to build the strength of the basic revolutionary forces led by the proletariat, win over allies and take advantage of the splits among the class adversaries at home and abroad in order to isolate and defeat the enemy.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks applied the theory and practice of Marxism in the concrete conditions of Russia in order to arrive at the correct strategy and tactics and win the revolution in the biggest country of the world. So would the Communist Party of China and other proletarian revolutionary parties apply Marxism-Leninism in their respective countries and win the revolution among one-third of humankind.

Leninism’s valuable legacy of universal applicability includes the deepgoing class basis of strategy and tactics in terms of identifying and accurately characterizing the contradictions among classes, how these have changed from one historical stage to the next, how these are expressed in the arena of economic, political and ideological struggles, in the specific roles of party platforms and movements. Lenin’s significant contributions to the peasant-agrarian and national-colonial questions have been of immense value to succeeding generations of revolutionaries worldwide.

So many proletarian parties have drawn lessons of strategy and tactics from Lenin and his worthy successors Stalin, Mao and others. They creatively applied these lessons to their own victorious revolutionary movements. The treasury of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, rather than remain static, has thus been tremendously enriched by genuine Marxost-Leninists in the past several decades amidst the changing global conditions, including the setbacks suffered by the world proletarian revolution and despite the global offensives of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

Proletarian parties that are seriously preparing for or actually waging armed revolution understand that many other aspects and elements of strategy and tactics must be worked out in the context of concrete conditions prevailing in their respective countries, which may vary widely from country to country. These may include questions on agrarian or preindustrial conditions, certain new elements of capitalist development or imperialist control, changing characteristics of the land and people, growing and waning geopolitical factors, and so on—which will impact strategy and tactics and be of wider interest when shared and discussed between or among parties.

We are now in transit to the great resurgence of anti-imperialist struggles and the world proletarian revolution. We look forward to the application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism by proletarian revolutionary parties in more countries than ever before. We expect these parties to achieve unprecedentedly greater victories for the cause of socialism.

The epochal struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and between socialism and imperialism continues. So long as the proletariat and people of the world are oppressed and exploited, they will rise up time and again in order to liberate themselves from the shackles of oppression and exploitation.

Celebrate Leninism and the 150th birth anniversary of the great Lenin!
Carry out the revolution under the leadership of the proletariat!
Long live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!
Long live the world proletarian revolution!
Long live proletarian internationalism and the solidarity of all peoples!

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