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The Psychology Of Revolutionary Crowds

The crowd-mind is seen at its best and at its worst in revolution. To
many minds, revolution is so essentially a crowd phenomenon that the
terms revolution and crowd-rule are almost synonymous. "Hurrah, the mob
rules Russia," cried certain radicals in the spring of 1917--"Let the
people rule everywhere." Others, more conservative, saw in every
extravagant deed and atrocity alleged to have happened in Russia only
the thing logically to be expected where the mob rules. The idea of
revolution is itself so commonly a crowd-idea that the thinking--if
thinking it may be called--of most people on this subject depends
principally upon which crowd we happen to belong to, the crowd which
sustains the ego-feeling of its members by the hope of revolution, or
the crowd which, for similar reason, brands everything which opposes its
interests, real or imaginary, as "anarchy" and "Bolshevism."

If the word "revolution" be taken to mean fundamental change in men's
habits of thought, and life, and the forms of their relations to one
another, then it may be said that great "revolutions may be and have
been achieved with a relatively small degree of crowd-thinking and mob
violence." Much of the normal development of civilization, for instance,
the great scientific advance of the nineteenth century, the spread of
culture, the creation of artistic values, the rise in the standard of
living, is change of this sort. Such change is, however, gradual. It is
brought about by countless concrete adaptations, by thinking always
toward realizable ends. New and often unforeseeable results are thus
reached; but they are reached, as in all organic growth and in all sound
thinking, by a series of successful adjustments within the real. True
progress is doubtless made up of changes of this sort. But for the
course of progress to run on uninterrupted and undefeated we should have
to be, both in our individual and social behavior, the reasonable beings
which certain nineteenth-century utilitarians mistook us for.

It is the fool thing, the insincere thing, that more commonly happens in
matters social and political. The adjustment reached is not often a
solution of a social problem worked out deliberately on the
"greatest-happiness" principle. It is commonly a status quo, or
balance of power among contending crowds, each inspired by the fiction
of its own importance, by self-idealization, and desire to rule. It is
an unstable equilibrium usually held in place for the time by a dominant
crowd. This dominant crowd may itself be composed of quarreling
factions, but these parties, so long as they share enough of the
supremacy to keep up their self-feeling, so long, in fact, as their
members may even be able to make themselves believe that they, too, are
in the upper set, or so long as they continue to hope for success in the
social game as now played, unite in repeating the catchwords which
justify their crowd in its supremacy. The dominant group identifies its
own interests with the general welfare. And in the sense that some sort
of order, or any at all, is to be preferred to social chaos, there is an
element of truth in this identification.

The fact remains, however, that the dominant crowd possesses always much
of the crowd-spirit which originally secured for it its enviable
position. Its ideas, like those of all crowds, are devices for
sustaining the self-feeling of its members, for protecting itself, for
keeping the group together, for justification. They are only
secondarily, if at all, instruments for dealing with new and perplexing
social situations. It cannot be denied that a certain set of opinions,
prejudices, mannerisms, ceremonies "go with" the social position which
corresponds to them. They are the ready-made habits of the "set" or
class. They are badges by which the "gentleman" is distinguished, the
evening clothes of the psyche, as it were. Many of these crowd-forms
represent true values of living, some of them are useful in our dealings
with reality; if this were not so, if such spiritual tattooings or
ceremonial forms were wholly harmful, the crowd which performed them
would be at such a disadvantage that it could not hold its own. But that
considerations of utility--other than the function which such
ceremonialism is known to have for the unconscious always--do not
directly govern these forms of thought and behavior is seen in the fact
that so many of them, as Sumner says of "folkways," are either harmful
or useless in dealing with matters of fact.

The dominant crowd, therefore, in just so far as it must remain a crowd
in order to secure its own position of supremacy, must strive to force
all social realities into the forms of its own conflicts and dilemmas.
Inevitably the self-feeling of a great many people, who are forced by
the dominant crowd to conform and labor with no compensation, is hurt.
They cannot but contrast their own lot with that of their more fortunate
neighbors. Of all things, people probably resist most the feeling of
inferiority. Any suggestion that the difference in social position is
due to a similar difference in personal worth or in ability is hotly
resented. The resentment is in no wise abated by the fact that in some
cases this suggestion may be true. Compensations are at once created by
the unconscious. In mediaeval times "all men were brothers and were equal
before the altars of the Church and in heaven." Thus distinctions of
merit, other than those which prevailed in the social order, were set up
in the interest of the common man.

As the influence of the Renaissance directed general attention from the
realm of the spiritual to practical affairs of earth, these
compensations changed from thoughts of the future world to dreams of the
future of this world. The injured self-feeling dwells upon the economic
or political inequalities which flow from the dominance of the ruling
crowd. The injustices and acts of exploitation, which are certainly
neither new nor rare occurrences in human relations, are seized upon as
if it were these things, not the assumption to superiority, which were
the issue at stake.

At the time of the French Revolution the Third Estate, or Bourgeois,
which showed itself quite as capable of exploiting the poor as ever were
the older aristocrats, saw itself only as part of the wronged and
exploited "people." The sufferings of the poor, which it was frequently
even then profiting in quite as heartily, to say the least, as the
titled nobility, were represented as the grievance of all mankind
against the hated nobility. That the ideas of "liberty, equality, and
fraternity" which these good tradesmen preached may easily become the
sort of compensatory ideas we have been discussing is shown by the fact
of the genuine astonishment and indignation of the burghers when later
their employees made use of this same phrase in the struggles between
labor and capital. Sans-culottism had quite as many psychological
motives as economic behind it.

How pompous, hateful, and snobbish were those titled folk with their
powdered wigs, carriages, fine clothes, and their exclusive social
gatherings to which honest citizens, often quite as wealthy as
themselves, were not invited. If the "people"--that is, the burghers
themselves--only had a chance they would be just as fine ladies and
gentlemen as those who merely inherited their superiority. Down with the
aristocrats! All men were equal and always had been. There must be
fraternity and the carier ouvert les talents, in other words,
brotherhood and free competition.

I am sure, from all I have ever seen or read of social revolt and
unrest, that this injured self-feeling, or defense against the sense of
personal inferiority, while not the only motive, is the most powerful
one at work. It crops out everywhere, in the layman's hatred of the
clergy during the Reformation, in that curious complex of ideas whereby
the uneducated often look upon a college diploma as something little
short of magical, and defend their ego against this ridiculously
exaggerated mark of distinction and accompanying feeling of
self-reproach by a slur at "high-brows." Few people realize how general
this feeling is; the trick of making fun of the educated is one of the
commonest forms of crowd-humor in America, both in vaudeville and in
popular oratory. I have previously pointed out the fact that the
religious revival in our day is to a great extent characterized by a
popular resistance to scholars. No one can read Mr. Sunday's sermons and
deny this fact. The City of New York gave the largest majority in its
history to the candidate for the office of mayor who made opposition to
"experts" the main issue in his campaign. Scores of times I have heard
popular speakers resort to this trick to gain favor with their
audiences, and I cannot remember ever having known such sentiments to
fail to gain applause--I am not speaking now of strictly academic
groups, but of general gatherings.

The point of interest here is that these same people have a most
extravagant notion of the value of the academic training which they
encourage the crowd speaker in ridiculing. I have made it a practice of
talking with a great many people personally and drawing them out on this
point, and I have found that this is almost uniformly the case. F. B., a
cigar maker by trade, says, "Oh, if I had only had sense enough to go on
to school when I had the opportunity!" E. L., a mechanic, says, "I might
have been somebody, if I had been given any chance to get an education."
R., a sort of jack-of-all-trades, says, "If I only had N.'s education,
I'd be a millionaire." B., a farmer with limited intellectual interests,
says, "I tell you, my boys are not going to be like me; they have got to
go to college." G., a waiter, says, "I don't know much," and then
proceeds to impress me with the latest bit of academic information which
he has picked up. C., a printer, who has been moderately successful,
says: "I'd give ten thousand dollars right this minute if I knew Greek;
now there is ---- and there is ----, neighbors of mine, they're highly
educated. When I'm with them I'm ashamed and feel like a dub."

When, on such occasions, I repeatedly say that the average academic
student really learns hardly anything at all of the classic languages,
and cite the small fruits of my own years of tedious study as an
example, the effect produced is invariably comforting--until I add that
one need not attend a university seven years or even four to become
educated, but that nearly everyone with ability to learn and with
genuine intellectual interests may achieve a remarkable degree of
learning. The answer of the perplexed person is then often an
extenuation. "Well, you see, a busy person or a working man is so tired
after the day's work that he has no energy left for study," or it is,
"Wait till the working class have more leisure, then they, too, can be
cultivated." Passing over this extenuation, which ignores the fact that
some of the best informed and clearest thinking people one meets are
working people, while the average university graduate leads anything but
an intellectual life, it can hardly be denied, I think, that our crowd
cult of anti-"highbrowism" is really a defense mechanism against an
inner feeling of inferiority. Now the interesting thing about this
feeling of inferiority is the exaggerated notion of the superiority of
the college-trained, which is entertained chiefly by the uneducated
themselves. What appears here is in fact nothing other than a cheapening
of the idea of superiority. Personal excellence is something which
anyone may attain; it is not something congenital, but something to be
added on; one "gets an education," possesses something of advantage,
merely by a few years of conventional study of books. Anyone might do
that, therefore. "I, too, if I only cared to, or had been given
opportunity, might now be famous." "The difference between myself and
the world's greatest genius is not a spiritual chasm which I could not
myself, at least hypothetically, cross." "It is rather an 'acquired
character,' a mere fruit of special opportunity--which in a few cases it
doubtless may be--but it is something external; at bottom we are all

Many facts may be advanced to corroborate the results of our analysis
here. The crowd always resents the Carlyle, William James, Nietzsche,
Goethe theory of genius. Genius is not congenital superiority. It is the
result of hard work. The genius is not a unique personal fact, he is a
"representative man." He says just what his age is thinking. The
inarticulate message of his contemporaries simply becomes articulate in
some one, and behold a genius. In other words, I suppose, all Vienna,
messenger boys and bootblacks especially, were suddenly fascinated by
Schiller's "Ode to Joy" and went about whistling improvised musical
renderings of the theme of this poem, till the deaf Beethoven heard and
wrote these whistlings down in the form of the Ninth Symphony.

According to the crowd, Luther did not create the Reformation, or
Petrarch the Renaissance; these movements themselves created their
leaders and founders; all that the genius did was to interpret and
faithfully obey the People's will. Ergo, to be a genius one need only
study hard enough to be able to tell the people what they already think.
The superiority of genius is therefore no different from that of any
educated person; except in degree of application. Anyone of us might
possess this superiority. In other words, the "intellectual
snobbishness" which the crowd resents is nothing else than the
crowd-man's own fiction of self-importance, projected upon those whose
imagined superiority he envies. It is recognized, even exaggerated by
the unlearned, because it is precisely the sort of superiority which the
ignorant man himself, in his ignorance, imagines that he himself would
display if he "only had the chance," and even now possesses

We have made the foregoing detour because I think it serves to
illustrate, in a way, the psychic processes behind much revolutionary
propaganda and activity. I would not attempt to minimize the extent of
the social injustice and economic slavery which a dominant crowd,
whether ecclesiastical, feudal, or capitalistic, is guilty of in its
dealings with its subjects. But every dominant crowd, certain sections
of the "proletariat" as quickly as any other, will resort to such
practices, and will alike justify them by moral catchwords the minute
its supremacy over other crowds gives it opportunity. Therefore there is
a certain amount of tautology in denouncing the "master class" for its
monstrous abuses. That the real point at issue between the dominant
crowd and the under crowd is the assumed personal superiority of the
members of the former, rather than the economic "exploitation" which it
practices, is shown by the fact that the French Revolution was led by
wealthy bourgeois, and that the leading revolutionary element in the
working class to-day consists, not of the "down and out" victims of
capitalist exploitation, but of the members of the more highly skilled
and better paid trades, also of certain intellectuals who are not
"proletarians" at all.

And now we come to our point: the fiction of superiority of the dominant
crowd, just as in the case of the assumed personal superiority of the
intellectuals, is resented by the under crowd because it is secretly
recognized by the under crowd. Of course the dominant crowd, like all
crowds, is obsessed by its feelings of self-importance, and this feeling
is apparently vindicated by its very social position. But the fiction is
recognized at its full face value, and therefore resented by the under
crowds, because that is precisely the sort of personal supremacy to
which they also aspire.

One commonly hears it said to-day, by those who have made the catchwords
of democracy their crowd cult, that the issue in modern society is
between democracy and capitalism. In a sense this may be true, but only
in a superficial sense; the real issue is between the personal self as a
social entity and the crowd. Capitalism is, to my mind, the logical
first fruit of so-called democracy. Capitalism is simply the social
supremacy of the trader-man crowd. For a hundred years and more
commercial ability--that of organizing industry and selling goods--has
been rewarded out of all proportion to any other kind of ability,
because, in the first place, it leads to the kind of success which the
ordinary man most readily recognizes and envies--large houses, fine
clothes, automobiles, exclusive clubs, etc. A Whittier may be ever so
great a poet, and yet sit beside the stove in the general store of his
little country village, and no one thinks he is so very wonderful. Some
may envy him his fame, but few will envy and therefore be fascinated by
that in him which they do not understand. But a multimillionaire in
their community is understood; everyone can see and envy his success; he
is at once both envied and admired.

Moreover, the commercial ability is the sort which the average man most
commonly thinks he possesses in some degree. While, therefore, he
grumbles at the unjust inequalities in wealth which exist in modern
society, and denounces the successful business man as an exploiter and
fears his power, the average man will nevertheless endure all this, much
in the same spirit that a student being initiated into a fraternity will
take the drubbing, knowing well that his own turn at the fun will come
later. It is not until the members of the under crowd begin to suspect
that their own dreams of "aping the rich" may never come true that they
begin to entertain revolutionary ideas. In other words, forced to
abandon the hope of joining the present dominating crowd, they begin to
dream of supplanting and so dispossessing this crowd by their own crowd.

That the dominant crowd is just as much to blame for this state of
affairs as the under crowd, perhaps more so, is shown by the history of
every period preceding a revolutionary outbreak. I will dwell at some
length on this fact later. My point here is that, first, a revolution,
in the sense that the word means a violent uprising against the existing
order, is a psychological crowd-phenomenon--and second, that it takes
two crowds to make a revolution.

Writers, like Le Bon, have ignored the part which the dominant crowd
plays in such events. They have thought of revolution only as the
behavior of the under crowd. They have assumed that the crowd and the
people were the same. Their writings are hardly more than conservative
warnings against the excess and wickedness of the popular mind once it
is aroused. Sumner says:

Moral traditions are the guides which no one can afford to
neglect. They are in the mores, and they are lost in every great
revolution of the mores. Then the men are morally lost.

Le Bon says, writing of the French Revolution:

The people may kill, burn, ravage, commit the most frightful
cruelties, glorify its hero to-day and throw him into the gutter
to-morrow; it is all one; the politicians will not cease to
vaunt its virtues, its high wisdom, and to bow to its every

Now in what does this entity really consist, this mysterious
fetich which revolutionists have revered for more than a

It may be decomposed into two distinct categories. The first
includes the peasants, traders, and workers of all sorts who
need tranquillity and order that they may exercise their
calling. This people forms the majority, but a majority which
never caused a revolution. Living in laborious silence, it is
ignored by historians.

The second category, which plays a capital part in all national
disturbances, consists of a subversive social residue dominated
by a criminal mentality. Degenerates of alcoholism and poverty,
thieves, beggars, destitute "casuals," indifferent workers
without employment--these constitute the dangerous bulk of the
armies of insurrection.... To this sinister substratum are due
the massacres which stain all revolutions.... To elements
recruited from the lowest dregs of the populace are added by
contagion a host of idle and indifferent persons who are simply
drawn into the movement. They shout because there are men
shouting, and revolt because there is a revolt, without having
the vaguest idea of the cause of the shouting or revolution. The
suggestive power of the environment absolutely hypnotized them.

This idea, which is held with some variation by Sumner, Gobineau,
Faguet, and Conway, is, I believe, both unhistorical and
unpsychological, because it is but a half-truth. This substratum of the
population does at the moment of revolution become a dangerous mob. Such
people are unadjusted to any social order, and the least deviation from
the routine of daily life throws them off their balance. The relaxation
of authority at the moment when one group is supplanting another in
position of social control, is to these people like the two or three
days of interregnum between the pontificates of Julius and Leo,
described by Cellini. Those who need some one to govern them, and they
are many, find their opportunity in the general disturbance. They
suddenly react to the revolutionary propaganda which up to this minute
they have not heeded, they are controlled by revolutionary crowd-ideas
in a somnambulistic manner, and like automatons carry these ideas
precipitately to their deadly conclusion. But this mob is not the really
revolutionary crowd and in the end it is always put back in its place by
the newly dominant crowd. The really revolutionary crowd consists of the
group who are near enough the dominant crowd to be able to envy its
"airs" with some show of justification, and are strong enough to dare
try issue with it for supreme position. Madame Rolland, it will be
remembered, justified her opposition to aristocrats on the principle of
equality and fraternity, but she could never forget her resentment at
being made, in the home of a member of this aristocracy, to eat with the

What Le Bon and others seem to ignore is that the ruling class may be
just as truly a crowd as the insurrectionary mob, and that the violent
behavior of revolutionary crowds is simply the logic of crowd-thinking
carried to its swift practical conclusion.

It is generally assumed that a revolution is a sudden and violent change
in the form of government. From what has been said it will be seen that
this definition is too narrow. History will bear me out in this. The
Protestant Reformation was certainly a revolution, as Le Bon has shown,
but it affected more than the government or even the organization of the
Church. The French Revolution changed the form of the government in
France several times before it was done, passing through a period of
imperial rule and even a restoration of the monarchy. But the revolution
as such survived. Even though later a Bourbon or a prince of the House
of Orleans sat on the throne of France, the restored king or his
successor was hardly more than a figurehead. A new class, the Third
Estate, remained in fact master of France. There had been a change in
the ownership of the land; power through the control of vested property
rested with the group which in 1789 began its revolt under the
leadership of Mirabeau. A new dictatorship had succeeded the old. And
this is what a revolution is--the dictatorship of a new crowd. The
Russian revolutionists now candidly admit this fact in their use of the
phrase "the dictatorship of the proletariat." Of course it is claimed
that this dictatorship is really the dictatorship of "all the people."
But this is simply the old fiction with which every dominant crowd
disguises seizure of power. Capitalist republicanism is also the rule of
all the people, and the pope and the king, deriving their authority from
God, are really but "the servants of all."

As we have seen, the crowd mind as such wills to dominate. Society is
made up of struggle groups, or organized crowds, each seeking the
opportunity to make its catchwords realities and to establish itself in
the position of social control. The social order is always held intact
by some particular crowd which happens to be dominant. A revolution
occurs when a new crowd pushes the old one out and itself climbs into
the saddle. When the new crowd is only another faction within the
existing dominant crowd, like one of our established political parties,
the succession will be accomplished without resort to violence, since
both elements of the ruling crowd recognize the rules of the game. It
will also not result in far-reaching social changes for the same reason.
A true revolution occurs when the difference between the dominant crowd
and the one which supplants it is so great as to produce a general
social upheaval. The Reformation, the French Revolution, and the
"Bolshevist" coup d'etat in Russia, all were of this nature. A new
social leadership was established and secured by a change in each case
in the personnel of the ownership of such property as would give the
owners the desired control. In the first case there was a transfer of
property in the church estates, either to the local congregations, or
the state, or the denomination. In the second case the property
transferred was property in land, and with the Russian revolutionists
landed property was given to the peasants and vested capital turned
over to the control of industrial workers.

Those who lay all emphasis on this transfer of property naturally see
only economic causes in revolutionary movements. Economics, however, is
not a science of impersonal things. It treats rather of men's relations
to things, and hence to one another. It has to do with valuations and
principles of exchange and ownership, all of which need psychological
restatement. The transfer of the ownership of property in times of
revolution to a new class is not an end, it is a means to a new crowd's
social dominance. The doctrines, ideals, and principles believed by the
revolutionary crowd also serve this end of securing its dominance, as do
the social changes which it effects, once in power.

Revolutions do not occur directly from abuses of power, for in that case
there would be nothing but revolution all the time, since every dominant
crowd has abused its power. It is an interesting fact that revolution
generally occurs after the abuses of which the revolutionists complain
have been in great measure stopped--that is, after the ruling crowd has
begun to make efforts at reform. The Reformation occurred in the
pontificate of Leo X. If it had been the result of intolerable abuse
alone, it would have happened in the time of Alexander VI, Borgia. The
French Revolution fell upon the mild head of Louis XVI, though the
wrongs which it tried to right mostly happened in the reign of his
predecessor. In most cases the abuses, the existence of which a
revolutionary crowd uses for propaganda purposes, are in turn repeated
in new form by itself after it becomes dominant. The Reformers in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resorted to much the same kind of
persecution from which they had themselves earlier suffered. The
Constituent Assembly, though it had demanded liberty, soon set up a more
outrageous tyranny through its own committees than any that the Louies
had dreamed of. Bolshevists in capitalist countries are the greatest
advocates of free speech; in Russia they are the authors of a very
effective press-censorship.

No, it is hardly the abuses which men suffer from their ruling crowds
which cause insurrection. People have borne the most terrible outrages
and suffered in silence for centuries. Russia itself is a good example
of this.

A revolution occurs when the dominant crowd begins to weaken. I think
we find proof of this in the psychology of revolutionary propaganda. A
general revolution is not made in a day, each such cataclysm is preceded
by a long period of unrest and propaganda of opposition to the existing
order and its beneficiaries. The Roman Republic began going to pieces
about a hundred years before the battle of Actium. The social unrest
which followed the Punic Wars and led to the revolt of the brothers
Gracchi was never wholly checked during the century which followed. The
dominant party had scarcely rid itself of these troublesome "demagogues"
than revolt broke out among the slave population of Sicily. This was
followed by the revolt of the Italian peasants, then again by the
insurrection of Spartacus, and this in turn by the civil war between
Marius and Sulla, the conspiracy of Catiline, the brief triumph of
Julius Caesar over the Senate, the revenge of the latter in the
assassination of Caesar, and the years of turmoil during the Second

It is doubtful if there was at any time a very clear or widespread
consciousness of the issues which successively arose during that unhappy
century. It would seem that first one counter-crowd and then another,
representing various elements of the populace, tried issue with the
ruling crowd. The one factor which remained constant through all this
was the progressive disintegration of the dominant party. The supremacy
of the Patres Conscripti et Equites became in fact a social
anachronism the day that Tiberius Gracchus demanded the expropriation of
the landed aristocracy. The ideas whereby the dominant crowd sought to
justify its pre-emptions began to lose their functional value. Only the
undisguised use of brute force was left. Such ideas ceased to convince.
Men of unusual independence of mind, or men with ambitious motives, who
had grown up within the dominant crowd, began to throw off the spell of
its control-ideas, and, by leaving it, to weaken it further from within.
No sooner was this weakness detected by other groups than every sort of
grievance and partisan interest became a moral justification for efforts
to supplant the rulers. The attempt of the dominant crowd to retain its
hold by repeating its traditional justification-platitudes, unchanged,
but with greater emphasis, may be seen in the orations of Cicero. It
would be well if some one besides high-school students and their Latin
teachers were to take up the study of Cicero; the social and
psychological situation which this orator and writer of moral essays
reveals has some suggestive similarities to things which are happening

The century and more of unrest which preceded both the Reformation and
the French Revolution is in each instance a long story. But in both
there is the same gradual loss of prestige on the part of the dominant
crowd; the same inability of this crowd to change with the changes of
time; to find new sanctions for itself when the old ones were no longer
believed; the same unadaptability, the same intellectual and moral
bankruptcy, therefore, the same gradual disintegration from within; the
same resort to sentimentalism and ineffective use of force, the same
circle of hungry counter-crowds waiting around with their tongues
hanging out, ready to pounce upon that before which they had previously
groveled, and to justify their ravenousness as devotion to principle;
the same growing fearlessness, beginning as perfectly loyal desire to
reform certain abuses incidental to the existing order, and advancing,
with every sign of disillusionment or weakness, to moral indignation,
open attack upon fundamental control ideas, bitter hostility, augmented
by the repressive measures taken by the dominant crowd to conserve a
status quo which no longer gained assent in the minds of a growing
counter-crowd; finally force, and a new dominant crowd more successful
now in justifying old tyrannies by principles not yet successfully

In the light of these historical analogies the record of events during
the last seventy-five years in western Europe and America is rather
discomforting reading, and I fear the student of social psychology will
find little to reassure him in the pitiable lack of intellectual
leadership, the tendency to muddle through, the unteachableness and
general want of statesmanlike vision displayed by our present dominant
crowds. If a considerable number of people of all classes, those who
desire change as well as those who oppose it, could free their thinking
from the mechanisms of the crowd-mind, it might be possible to find the
working solution of some of our pressing social problems and save our
communities from the dreadful experience of another revolution. Our hope
lies in the socially minded person who is sufficiently in touch with
reality to be also a non-crowd man.

Anyone who is acquainted with the state of the public mind at present,
knows that a priori arguments against revolution as such are not
convincing, except to those who are already convinced on other ground.
The dominant crowd in each historical epoch gained its original
supremacy by means of revolution. One can hardly make effective use of
the commonplace antirevolutionary propaganda of defense of a certain
order which has among its most ardent supporters people who are proud to
call themselves sons and daughters of the Revolution. Skeptics at once
raise the question whether, according to such abstract social ethics,
revolutionists become respectable only after they are successful or have
been a long time dead. In fact, the tendency to resort to such reasoning
is one among many symptoms that the conservative mind has permitted
itself to become quite as much a crowd-phenomenon as has the radical

The correct approach here is psychological and pragmatic. There is an
increasingly critical social situation, demanding far-reaching
reconstructive change; only the most hopeless crowd-man would presume to
deny this fact. The future all depends upon the mental processes with
which we attempt to meet this situation. Nothing but useless misery can
result from dividing crowd against crowd. Crowd-thinking, as I have
said, does not solve problems. It only creates ideal compensations and
defense devices for our inner conflicts. Conservative crowd-behavior has
always done quite as much as anything else to precipitate a
revolutionary outbreak. Radical crowd-behavior does not resolve the
situation, it only inverts it. Any real solution lies wholly outside
present crowd-dilemmas. What the social situation demands most is a
different kind of thinking, a new education, an increasing number of
people who understand themselves and are intellectually and morally
independent of the tyranny of crowd-ideas.

From what has been said above, it follows that revolutionary propaganda
is not directly the cause of insurrection. Such propaganda is itself an
effect of the unconscious reaction between a waning and a crescent
crowd. It is a symptom of the fact that a large number of people have
ceased to believe in or assent to the continued dominance of the present
controlling crowd and are looking to another.

There is always a tendency among conservative crowds to hasten their own
downfall by the manner in which they deal with revolutionary propaganda.
The seriousness of the new issue is denied; the crowd seeks to draw
attention back to the old issue which it fought and won years ago in the
hour of its ascendancy. The fact that the old charms and shibboleths no
longer work, that they do not now apply, that the growing counter-crowd
is able to psychoanalyze them, discover the hidden motives which they
disguise, and laugh at them, is stoutly denied. The fiction is
maintained to the effect that present unrest is wholly uncalled-for,
that everything is all right, that the agitators who "make people
discontented" are alien and foreign and need only be silenced with a
time-worn phrase, or, that failing, shut up by force or deported, and
all will be well.

I do not doubt that before the Reformation and the French Revolution
there were ecclesiastics and nobles aplenty who were quite sure that the
masses would never have known they were miserable if meddling disturbers
had not taken the trouble to tell them so. Even an honest critical
understanding of the demands of the opposing crowd is discouraged,
possibly because it is rightly felt that the critical habit of mind is
as destructive of one crowd-complex as the other and the old crowd
prefers to remain intact and die in the last ditch rather than risk
dissolution, even with the promise of averting a revolution. Hence the
Romans were willing to believe that the Christians worshiped the head of
an ass. The mediaeval Catholics, even at Leo's court, failed to grasp the
meaning of the outbreak in north Germany. Thousands saw in the
Reformation only the alleged fact that the monk Luther wanted to marry a
wife. To-day one looks almost in vain among business men, editors, and
politicians for a more intelligent understanding of socialism. A crowd
goes down to its death fighting bogies, and actually running upon the
sword of its real enemy, because a crowd, once its constellation of
ideas is formed, never learns anything.

The crowd-group contains in itself, in the very nature of
crowd-thinking, the germs which sooner or later lay it low. When a crowd
first becomes dominant, it carries into a place of power a number of
heterogeneous elements which have, up to this time, been united in a
great counter-crowd because of their common dissatisfaction with the old
order. Gradually the special interests of these several groups become
separated. The struggle for place is continued as a factional fight
within the newly ruling crowd. This factional struggle greatly
complicates every revolutionary movement. We witness this in the
murderously hostile partisan conflicts which broke out in the
revolutionary Assemblies in France. It is seen again in the Reformation,
which had hardly established itself when the movement was rent by
intense sectarian rivalries of all sorts. The same is true of Russia
since the fall of the Tsar, and of Mexico ever since the overthrow of
the Diaz regime. If these factional struggles go so far as to result in
schism--that is, in a conscious repudiation by one or more factions of
the revolutionary creed which had formerly united them all, there is
disintegration and in all probability a return to the old ruling crowd.

This reaction may also be made possible by a refusal of one faction to
recognize the others as integral parts of the newly triumphant crowd. If
the new crowd after its victory can hold itself together, the revolution
is established. It then becomes the task of the leading faction in the
newly dominant crowd to grab the lion's share of the spoils for itself,
give the other factions only so much prestige as will keep alive in
their minds the belief that they, too, share in the new victory for
"humanity" and hold the new social order together, while at the same
time justifying its own leadership by the compulsive power of the idea
which they all alike believe. This belief, as we have seen, is the sine
qua non of the continued existence of any crowd. A dominant crowd
survives so long as its belief is held uncritically and repeated and
acted upon automatically both by the members of the crowd and its
victims. When the factions which have been put at a disadvantage by the
leading faction renounce the belief, or awake to the fact that they
"have been cheated," disintegration begins.

Between the crowd's professed belief and the things which it puts into
practice there is a great chasm. Yet the fiction is uniformly maintained
that the things done are the correct and faithful application of the
great principles to which the crowd is devoted. We saw in our study of
crowd-ideas in general that such ideas are not working programs, but are
screens which disguise and apparently justify the real unconscious
motive of crowd-behavior. The crowd secures its control, first, by
proclaiming in the most abstract form certain generally accepted
principles, such as freedom, righteousness, brotherly love--as though
these universal "truths" were its own invention and exclusive monopoly.
Next, certain logical deductions are made from these principles which,
when carried to their logical conclusions regardless of fact or the
effect produced, make the thing which the crowd really wants and does
appear to be a vindication of the first principles. It is these
inferences which go to make up the conscious thinking or belief of the
crowd. Thus in the revolutionary convention in France all agree to the
principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Fidelity to these
principles would to a non-crowd mean that the believer should not try to
dictate to his fellows what they must believe and choose, that he would
exercise good will in his dealings with them and show them the same
respect which he wished them to have for himself. But the crowd does not
understand principles in this manner. Do all agree to the great slogan
of the revolution? Well, then, fidelity to Liberty, Equality, and
Fraternity demands that the enemies of these principles and the crowd's
definition of them be overthrown. The Mountain is the truly faithful
party, hence to the guillotine with the Gironde. This chasm between
crowd faith and crowd practice is well illustrated in the case of those
Southern patriots in America who were ready to fight and die for the
rights of man as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, but
refused to apply the principle of the inalienable rights of all men to
their own black slaves. Or, again in the case of nineteenth-century
capitalism, liberty must be given to all alike. Liberty means equal
opportunity. Equal opportunity means free competition in business. Free
competition exists only where there is an "incentive"; hence the
investor must be encouraged and his gains protected by law. Therefore
anti-capitalistic doctrines must be suppressed as subversive of our free
institutions. Immigrants to whom for a generation we have extended the
hospitality of our slums and labor camps, and the opportunity of freely
competing with our well-intrenched corporations, must be made to feel
their ingratitude if they are so misguided as to conclude, from the fact
that hundreds of leading radicals have been made to serve jail
sentences, while after thirty years of enforcing the antitrust law not a
single person has ever been sent to prison, that possibly this is not a
free land.

Or again--one convicts himself of being a crowd-man who shows partiality
among crowds--the principle of democracy is generally accepted. Then
there should be industrial democracy as well as political--hence the
"Dictatorship of the Proletariat"--for the workers are "the people."
Parliamentary assemblies elected by all the people do not necessarily
represent labor. Organized labor, therefore, though a minority of the
whole, should establish "industrial democracy" by force. So, according
to Bolshevist crowd-logic, democracy means the rule of a minority by
means of force.

Now it is this fictitious, paranoiac, crowd-logic which one must be able
to dispel before he can extricate himself from the clutches of his
crowd. If he subjects the whole fabric of abstractions to critical
analysis, revalues it, puts himself above it, assumes a pragmatic
attitude toward whatever truths it contains, dares to test these truths
by their results in experience and to use them for desired ends; if, in
short, he scrutinizes his own disguised impulses, brings them to
consciousness as what they are, and refuses to be deceived as to their
real import, even when they appear dressed in such sheep's clothing as
absolutes and first principles, he becomes a non-crowd man, a social
being in the best sense.

Those, however, who continue to give assent to the crowd's first
principles, who still accept its habit of a priori reasoning, merely
substituting for its accepted deductions others of their own which in
turn serve to conceal and justify their own unconscious desires, will
turn from the old crowd only to be gobbled up by a new and
counter-crowd. Such people have not really changed. They denounce the
old crowd on the ground that "it has not lived up to its principles." It
is a significant fact that a crowd's rule is generally challenged in
the name of the very abstract ideas of which it has long posed as the

For instance, there is liberty. Every crowd demands it when it is
seeking power; no crowd permits it when it is in power. A crowd which is
struggling for supremacy is really trying to free itself and as many
people as possible from the control of another crowd. Naturally, the
struggle for power appears to consciousness as a struggle for liberty as
such. The controlling crowd is correctly seen to be a tyrant and
oppressor. What the opposition crowd does not recognize is its own wish
to oppress, hidden under its struggle for power. We have had occasion to
note the intolerance of the crowd-mind as such. A revolutionary crowd,
with all its lofty idealism about liberty, is commonly just as
intolerant as a reactionary crowd. It must be so in order to remain a
crowd. Once it is triumphant it may exert its pressure in a different
direction, but the pinch is there just the same. Like its predecessor,
it must resort to measures of restraint, possibly even a "reign of
terror," in order that the new-won "liberty"--which is to say, its own
place at the head of the procession--may be preserved. The denial of
freedom appears therefore as its triumph, and for a time people are
deceived. They think they are free because everyone is talking about

Eventually some one makes the discovery that people do not become free
just by repeating the magic word "liberty." A disappointed faction of
the newly emancipated humanity begins to demand its "rights." The crowd
hears its own catchwords quoted against itself. It proceeds to prove
that freedom exists by denouncing the disturbers and silencing them, if
necessary, by force. The once radical crowd has now become reactionary.
Its dream of world emancipation is seen to be a hoax. Lovers of freedom
now yoke themselves in a new rebel crowd so that oppressed humanity may
be liberated from the liberators. Again, the will to power is clothed in
the dream symbols of an emancipated society, and so on around and around
the circle, until people learn that with crowds freedom is impossible.
For men to attain to mastery of themselves is as abhorrent to one crowd
as to another. The crowd merely wants freedom to be a crowd--that is, to
set up its own tyranny in the place of that which offends the
self-feeling of its members.

The social idealism of revolutionary crowds is very significant for our
view of the crowd-mind. There are certain forms of revolutionary belief
which are repeated again and again with such uniformity that it would
seem the unconscious of the race changes very little from age to age.
The wish-fancy which motivates revolutionary activity always appears to
consciousness as the dream of an ideal society, a world set free; the
reign of brotherly love, peace, and justice. The folly and wickedness of
man is to cease. There will be no more incentive for men to do evil. The
lion and the lamb shall lie down together. Old extortions and tyrannies
are to be left behind. There is to be a new beginning, poverty is to be
abolished, God's will is to be done in earth, or men are at last to live
according to reason, and the inalienable rights of all are to be
secured; or the co-operative commonwealth is to be established, with no
more profit-seeking and each working gladly for the good of all. In
other words, the mind of revolutionary crowds is essentially
eschatological, or Messianic. The crowd always imagines its own social
dominance is a millennium. And this trait is common to revolutionary
crowds in all historical periods.

We have here the psychological explanation of the Messianic faith which
is set forth with tremendous vividness in Biblical literature. The
revolutionary import of the social teaching of both the Hebrew and
Christian religions is so plain that I do not see how any honest and
well-informed person can even attempt to deny it. The telling
effectiveness with which this element in religious teaching may be used
by clever radicals to convict the apologists of the present social
order by the words out of their own mouths is evident in much of the
socialist propaganda to-day. The tendency of the will to revolt, to
express itself in accepted religious symbols, is a thing to be expected
if the unconscious plays the important part in crowd-behavior that we
have contended that it does.

The eighth-century Hebrew prophet mingles his denunciations of those who
join house to house and field to field, who turn aside the way of the
meek, and sit in Samaria in the corner of a couch and on the silken
cushions of a bed, who have turned justice to wormwood and cast down
righteousness to the earth, etc., etc.,--reserving his choicest woes of
course for the foreign oppressors of "my people"--with promises of "the
day of the Lord" with all that such a day implies, not only of triumph
of the oppressed over their enemies, but of universal happiness.

Similarly the same complex of ideas appears in the writings which deal
with the Hebrew "Captivity" in the sixth century B.C., with the revolt
of the Maccabeans, and again in the impotent hatred against the Romans
about the time of the origin of Christianity.

The New Testament dwells upon some phase of this theme on nearly every
page. Blessed are ye poor, and woe unto you who are rich, you who laugh
now. The Messiah has come and with him the Kingdom of the Heavens, but
at present the kingdom is revealed only to the believing few, who are in
the world, but not of it. However, the Lord is soon to return; in fact,
this generation shall not pass away until all these things be
accomplished. After a period of great trial and suffering there is to be
a new world, and a new and holy Jerusalem, coming down from the skies
and establishing itself in place of the old. All the wicked, chiefly
those who oppress the poor, shall be cast into a lake of fire. There
shall be great rejoicing, and weeping and darkness and death shall be no

The above sketch of the Messianic hope is so brief as to be hardly more
than a caricature, but it will serve to make my point clear, that
Messianism is a revolutionary crowd phenomenon. This subject has been
presented in great detail by religious writers in recent years, so that
there is hardly a member of the reading public who is not more or less
familiar with the "social gospel." My point is that all revolutionary
propaganda is "social gospel." Even when revolutionists profess an
antireligious creed, as did the Deists of the eighteenth century, and as
do many modern socialists with their "materialist interpretation of
history," nevertheless the element of irreligion extends only to the
superficial trappings of the revolutionary crowd-faith, and even here
is not consistent. At bottom the revolutionists' dream of a new world is

I am using the word "religious" in this connection in its popular sense,
meaning no more than that the revolutionary crowd rationalizes its dream
of a new world-order in imagery which repeats over and over again the
essentials of the Biblical "day of the Lord," or "kingdom of heaven" to
be established in earth. This notion of cosmic regeneration is very
evident in the various "utopian" socialist theories. The Fourierists and
St. Simonists of the early part of the nineteenth century were extremely
Messianic. So-called "scientific socialists" are now inclined to
ridicule such idealistic speculation, but one has only to scratch
beneath the surface of present-day socialist propaganda to find under
its materialist jargon the same old dream of the ages. A great
world-change is to come suddenly. With the triumph of the workers there
will be no more poverty or ignorance, no longer any incentive to men to
do evil to one another. The famous "Manifesto" is filled with such
ideas. Bourgeois society is doomed and about to fall. Forces of social
evolution inevitably point to the world-wide supremacy of the working
class, under whose mild sway the laborer is to be given the full product
of his toil, the exploitation of children is to cease, true liberty
will be achieved, prostitution, which is somehow a bourgeois
institution, is to be abolished, everyone will be educated, production
increased till there is enough for all, the cities shall no more lord it
over the rural communities, all alike will perform useful labor, waste
places of the earth will become cultivated lands and the fertility of
the soil will be increased in accordance with a common plan, the state,
an instrument of bourgeois exploitation, will cease to exist; in fact,
the whole wicked past is to be left behind, for as

The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with
traditional property relations, no wonder that its development
involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.

In fine,

In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class
antagonisms we shall have an association in which the free
development of each is the condition for the free development of

Le Bon says of the French Revolution:

The principles of the Revolution speedily inspired a wave of
mystic enthusiasm analogous to those provoked by the various
religious beliefs which had preceded it. All they did was to
change the orientation of a mental ancestry which the centuries
had solidified.

So there is nothing astonishing in the savage zeal of the men of
the Convention. Their mystic mentality was the same as that of
the Protestants at the time of the Reformation. The principal
heroes of the Terror--Couthon, Saint Just, Robespierre,
etc.--were apostles. Like Polyeuctes destroying the altars of
the false gods to propagate his faith, they dreamed of
converting the globe.... The mystic spirit of the leaders of the
Revolution was betrayed in the least details of their public
life. Robespierre, convinced that he was supported by the
Almighty, assured his hearers in a speech that the Supreme Being
had "decreed the Republic since the beginning of time."

A recent writer, after showing that the Russian revolution has failed to
put the Marxian principles into actual operation, says of Lenin and his

They have caught a formula of glittering words; they have
learned the verbal cadences which move the masses to ecstasy;
they have learned to paint a vision of heaven that shall
outflare in the minds of their followers the shabby realities of
a Bolshevik earth. They are master phraseocrats, and in Russia
they have reared an empire on phraseocracy.

The alarmists who shriek of Russia would do well to turn their
thoughts from Russia's socialistic menace. The peril of Russia
is not to our industries, but to our states. The menace of the
Bolsheviki is not an economic one, it is a political menace. It
is the menace of fanatic armies, drunken with phrases and
sweeping forward under Lenin like a Muscovite scourge. It is the
menace of intoxicated proletarians, goaded by invented visions
to seek to conquer the world.

In Nicolai Lenin the Socialist, we have naught to fear. In
Nicolai Lenin the political chief of Russia's millions, we may
well find a menace, for his figure looms over the world. His
Bolshevik abracadabra has seduced the workers of every race. His
stealthy propaganda has shattered the morale of every army in
the world. His dreams are winging to Napoleonic flights, and
well he may dream of destiny; for in an age when we bow to
phrases, it is Lenin who is the master phraseocrat of the world.

Passing over the question of Lenin's personal ambitions, and whether our
own crowd-stupidity, panic, and wrong-headed Allied diplomacy may not
have been contributing causes of the menace of Bolshevism, it can hardly
be denied that Bolshevism, like all other revolutionary crowd-movements,
is swayed by a painted vision of heaven which outflares the miseries of
earth. Every revolutionary crowd of every description is a pilgrimage
set out to regain our lost Paradise.

Now it is this dream of paradise, or ideal society, which deserves
analytical study. Why does it always appear the minute a crowd is
sufficiently powerful to dream of world-power? It will readily be
conceded that this dream has some function in creating certain really
desirable social values. But such values cannot be the psychogenesis of
the dream. If the dream were ever realized, I think William James was
correct in saying that we should find it to be but a "sheep's heaven
and lubberland of joy," and that life in it would be so "mawkish and
dishwatery" that we should gladly return to this world of struggle and
challenge, or anywhere else, if only to escape the deadly inanity.

We have already noted the fact that this dream has the function of
justifying the crowd in its revolt and will to rule. But this is by no
means all. The social idealism has well been called a dream, for that is
just what it is, the daydream of the ages. It is like belief in fairies,
or the Cinderella myth. It is the Jack-and-the-beanstalk philosophy. The
dream has exactly the same function as the Absolute, and the ideal
world-systems of the paranoiac; it is an imaginary refuge from the
real. Like all other dreams, it is the realization of a wish. I have
long been impressed with the static character of this dream; not only is
it much the same in all ages, but it is always regarded as the great
culmination beyond which the imagination cannot stretch. Even those who
hold the evolutionary view of reality and know well that life is
continuous change, and that progress cannot be fixed in any passing
moment, however sweet, are generally unable to imagine progress going on
after the establishment of the ideal society and leaving it behind.

Revolutionary propaganda habitually stops, like the nineteenth-century
love story, with a general statement, "and so they lived happily ever
after." It is really the end, not the beginning or middle of the story.
It is the divine event toward which the whole creation moves, and having
reached it, stops. Evolution having been wound up to run to just this
end, time and change and effort may now be discontinued. There is
nothing further to do. In other words, the ideal is lifted clear out of
time and all historical connections. As in other dreams, the empirically
known sequence of events is ignored. Whole centuries of progress and
struggle and piecemeal experience are telescoped into one imaginary
symbolic moment. The moment now stands for the whole process, or rather
it is substituted for the process. We have taken refuge from the real
into the ideal. The "Kingdom of Heaven," "Paradise," "The Return to Man
in the State of Nature," "Back to Primitive New Testament Christianity,"
"The Age of Reason," "Utopia," the "Revolution," the "Co-operative
Commonwealth," all mean psychologically the same thing. And that thing
is not at all a scientific social program, but a symbol of an easier and
better world where desires are realized by magic, and everyone's check
drawn upon the bank of existence is cashed. Social idealism of
revolutionary crowds is a mechanism of compensation and escape for
suppressed desires.

Is there any easier way of denying the true nature and significance of
our objective world than by persuading ourselves that that world is even
now doomed, and is bound suddenly to be transformed into the land of our
heart's desire? Is it not to be expected that people would soon learn
how to give those desires greater unction, and to encourage one another
in holding to the fictions by which those desires could find their
compensation and escape, by resorting to precisely the crowd-devices
which we have been discussing?

The Messianists of Bible times expected the great transformation and
world cataclysm to come by means of a divine miracle. Those who are
affected by the wave of premillennialism which is now running through
certain evangelical Christian communions are experiencing a revival of
this faith with much of its primitive terminology.

Evolutionary social revolutionists expect the great day to come as the
culmination of a process of economic evolution. This is what is meant by
"evolutionary and revolutionary socialism." The wish-fancy is here
rationalized as a doctrine of evolution by revolution. Thus the
difference between the social revolutionist and the Second Adventist is
much smaller than either of them suspects. As Freud would doubtless say,
the difference extends only to the "secondary elaboration of the
manifest dream formation"--the latent dream thought is the same in both
cases. The Adventist expresses the wish in the terminology of a
prescientific age, while the social revolutionist makes use of modern
scientific jargon. Each alike finds escape from reality in the
contemplation of a new-world system. The faith of each is a scheme of
redemption--that is, of "compensation." Each contemplates the sudden,
cataclysmic destruction of the "present evil world," and its replacement
by a new order in which the meek shall inherit the earth. To both alike
the great event is destined, in the fullness of time, to come as a thief
in the night. In the one case it is to come as the fulfillment of
prophecy; in the other the promise is underwritten and guaranteed by
impersonal forces of "economic evolution."

This determinism is in the one case what Bergson calls "radical
finalism," and in the other "radical mechanism." But whether the
universe exists but to reel off a divine plan conceived before all
worlds, or be but the mechanical swinging of the shuttle of cause and
effect, what difference is there if the point arrived at is the same? In
both cases this point was fixed before the beginning of time, and the
meaning of the universe is just that and nothing else, since that is
what it all comes to in the end.

Whether the hand which turns the crank of the world-machine be called
that of God or merely "Evolution," it is only a verbal difference; it is
in both cases "a power not ourselves which makes for righteousness." And
the righteousness? Why, it is just the righteousness of our own
crowd--in other words, the crowd's bill of rights painted in the sky by
our own wish-fancy, and dancing over our heads like an aurora borealis.
It is the history of all crowds that this dazzling pillar of fire in the
Arctic night is hailed as the "rosy-fingered dawn" of the Day of the

Or, to change the figure somewhat, the faithful crowd has but to follow
its fiery cloud to the promised land which flows with milk and honey;
then march for an appointed time about the walls of the wicked bourgeois
Jericho, playing its propaganda tune until the walls fall down by magic
and the world is ours. No revolution is possible without a miracle and
a brass band.

I have no desire to discourage those who have gone to work at the real
tasks of social reconstruction--certainly no wish to make this study an
apology for the existing social order. In the face of the ugly facts
which on every hand stand as indictments of what is called "capitalism,"
it is doubtful if anyone could defend the present system without
recourse to a certain amount of cynicism or cant. The widespread social
unrest which has enlisted in its service so much of the intellectual
spirit of this generation surely could never have come about without
provocation more real than the work of a mere handful of
"mischief-making agitators." The challenge to modern society is not
wholly of crowd origin.

But it is one thing to face seriously the manifold problems of
reconstruction of our social relations, and it is quite another thing to
persuade oneself that all these entangled problems have but one
imaginary neck which is waiting to be cut with a single stroke of the
sword of revolution in the hands of "the people." Hundreds of times I
have heard radicals, while discussing certain evils of present society,
say, "All these things are but symptoms, effects; to get rid of them you
must remove the cause." That cause

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