Andrew Cornell
Movement for a New Society and Contemporary Anarchism
part one
Article published on 27 April 2020
zuletzt geändert am 1 May 2020
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The international anarchist movement found new footings in the wake of the global insurrections of 1968, nearly all of which were decidedly libertarian in character (1). In the United States, the decade that followed was a time of experirnentation and consolidation, as a surprising variety of groups sought to develop and adapt different aspects of the anarchist tradition to contemporary conditions. Sam Dolgoff and others worked to revitalize the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) alongside new syndicalist formations like the Chicago-based Resurgence group and Boston’s Root and Branch. Murray Bookchin’s Anarchos journal collective deepened the theoretical links between ecological and anarchist thought. The Fifth Estate magazine drew heavily on French ultraleftist thinking and began pursuing a critique of technology by the decade’s end. Meanwhile, the Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation connected individuals and circles across the country through a mimeographed rnonthly discussion bulletin. Just as influential to the anarchist milieu that has taken shape in the decades that have followed, however, were the efforts of Movement for a New Society (MNS), a national network of feminist, radical pacifist collectives that existed from 1971 to 1988. (2)

Though MNS is rarely remembered by name today, its many new ways of doing radical politics have become central to contemporary antiauthoritarian social movements. MNS popularized consensus decision making, introduced the spokescouncil method of organization to radicals in the United States, and was a leading advocate of a variety of practices—such as communal living, unlearning oppressive behavior, and creating cooperatively owned businesses that are now often subsumed under the rubric of prefigurative politics. (3) MNS was significanty shaped by aspects of anarchist thought and practice developed both in the United States and abroad. Participants synthesized these elements with an array of others to develop an experimental revolutionary practice that attempted to combine multi-issue political analysis, organizing campaigns, and direct action with the creation of alternative institutions, community building, and personal transformation. (4) Although MNS never claimed more than three hundred members, it bore an influence on 1970s’ radicalism disproportionate to its size, owing to both the strategy and skills trainings in which the group specialized, and the ways in which MNS’s vision overlapped with significant developments in the broader feminist and environmental movements.

As antiauthoritarians have widely adopted practices and perspectives that MNS promoted, some—such as the use of consensus process and a focus on establishing new ways of living-have become so hegemonic within movement culture that they are frequently taken as transhistorical tenets of anarchist politics or radicalism more generally. A lack of critical historical evaluation has, unfortunately, led many groups to adopt basic elements that MNS tried out, without also taking up the important lessons that participants derived from the shortcomings of their political experiments. A brief exploration of MNS’s history, then, may offer insights into dilemmas faced by out contemporary movements.

Radical Pacifism and Anarchism

MNS grew out of a Quaker antiwar organization in 1971, but it built on traditions that radical pacifists had developed throughout the twentieth century. After World War I, a new form of pacifist movement developed in the United States that was socialist and based on secular, rather than religious, rationales for opposing violence. While a commitment to ending all forms of war remained the movement’s primary focus, participants recognized that this required them to oppose the underlying causes of war - namely, capitalism and the imperialism it spurred. Pacifists distinguished their methods from those of the major leftist parties by insisting on a correlation between means and ends, and encouraging adherents to live in a fashion as similar as possible in the ways they would in the ideal society they were striving for. (5)

By the onset of World War II, this radical pacifist movement had incorporated a variety of crucial anarchist influences. Gandhian philosophy, which became the movement’s primary inspiration, was of course heavily influenced by Henry David Thoreau’s individualism and Leo Tolstoy’s Christian anarchism. Yet Dutch anarcho-pacifist Bart de Ligt’s 1936 treatise The Conquest of Violence (with its none-too-subtle allusion to Peter Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread) was also of signal importance. (6) These thinkers deepened the pacifist critique of war to question forms of institutional social violence, and highlighted the contradiction between the state’s "monopoly on legitimate violence" and pacifist tenets. Domestically, radical pacifist circles overlapped considerably with those of a small cohort of anarchists in the 1940s, including figures such as Ammon Hennacy, Paul Goodman, and Audrey Goodfriend. Young male anarchists such as David Wieck, Clfif Bennett, and Lowell Naeve resisted conscription during World War II, and found themselves imprisoned with Gandhian pacifists such as David Dellinger and Bill Sutherland. These war resisters protested segregation and other conditions in the federal penitentiaries through noncooperation, influencing one another’s politics in the process. Anarchists of this period departed from previous generations not only by embracing pacifism but also by devoting more energy to promoting avant-garde culture, preparing the ground for the beat generation in the process. (7) The editors of the anarchist journal Retort, for instance, produced a volume of writings by draft resisters imprisoned in Danbury, Connecticut, while regularly publishing the poetry and prose of writers such as Kenneth Rexroth and Norman Mailer. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the radical pacifist movement in the United States thus harbored both social democrats and anarchists, at a time when the anarchist movement itself seemed on its last legs. During these years, pacifists formed organizations such as the Committee for Nonviolent Revolution and Peacemakers, which experimented with network structures and consensus decision-making processes. (8) A pacifist wing has existed alongside other anarchist tendencies in the United States ever since. The concerns and approach adopted by MNS derive in large measure from the different itineraries taken by members of this earlier radical milieu during the 1960s.

Radical pacifists created the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942, and were important conduits of participatory deliberative styles and the tactics of Gandhian nonviolence to leaders of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King jr. and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) (9). Meanwhile, the beat culture, incubated by anarchists in the 1940s, fed into the more explicitly political counterculture of die 1960s. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) drew on SNCC’s participatory structure and the ethos of the counterculture to formulate two of the defining demands of the New Left: the implementation of participatory democracy, and the dissolution of alienating culture. (10) Yet in the later l960s, both the black freedom and student movements, smarting from repression, on the one hand, and elated by radical victories at home and abroad, on the other, moved away from this emergent, anarchistic, political space distinguished from both liberalism and Marxism. Many civil rights organizers took up nationalist politics in hierarchical organizations, while some of the most committed SDS members turned to variants of Marxist-Leninism and democratic socialism. (11)

If participatory democracy and cultural transformation could, together, be seen as a ball about to be dropped, MNS was one of the most important groups diving for it, working hard to keep it in play. The emergent women’s liberation movement likewise placed a premium on developing egalitarian internal relationships and making changes in daily life; not surprisingly, feminism also left an enduring impact on MNS. (12)

MNS emerged in 1971 as the new face of A Quaker Action Group (AQAG), a Philadelphia-based direct action group that had carried out creative "witnesses" against the devastation of the Vietnam War, hoping to "undermine the legicimacy ofthe [US.] government“. (13)
Perhaps most famously, members piloted a fifty-foot ship, the Phoenix, on three trips to North and South Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 with cargoes of donated medical supplies. (14) By 1969, however, AQAG leaders began to recognize that the movement should aim not only to end the war in Vietnam bot also to fundamentally reshape all aspects of U.S. life. AQAG presented a proposal to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in March 1971, arguing that the times—and Quaker principles—called for a broad program to combat ecological devastation, militarism, "corporate capitalism," racism, and sexism. The statement succinctly laid out a new vision for creating "fundamental change":

We hope to catalyze a movement for a new society, which will feature a vision of the new society, and how to get there; a critical analysis of the American political-economic system; a focus on expanding the consciousness and organizing the commitment of the middle class toward fundamental change through nonviolent struggle, often in concert with other change movemcnts; the organization and development of nonviolent revolutionary groups and life centers as bases for sustained struggle on the local as well as national and international levels; training for non-violent struggle; and a program rooted in changed lives and changed values . (15)

Although some members exrpressed considerable sympathy for the proposal, the AFSC declined to adopt it. Undeterred, the coterie of approximately two-dozen radicals continued to meet, renaming themselves MNS to reflect the broader aims and secular status of their new initiative. Beginning wich small collectives in Philadelphia and Eugene, Oregon, they set to work building membership and developing a program.

Analysis, Action, Community, and Training

Even though it was not officially sanctioned by the AFSC, MNS was able to draw on the support of an established network of Quaker institutions to enlist a critical mass of members in the new organization. This broader network helped ensure the group’s legitimacy, spread information, and provided monetary support crucial to attracting enough participants early on. Nevertheless, reliance on such a network for recruiting also contributed to the predominantly white and middle-class character of the organization’s membership in its early years (16).

MNS founders also undertook recruiting tours that presented the group’s approach as an alternative to the style and pace of 1960s’ movement work, which had taken a significant personal toll in the form of widespread burn-out by the early 1970s. Returning from one such trip, Berit Lakey and Paul Morrissey reported that "people were so varied—old people looking for new hope and young people trying not to become cynical.... The wholeness of die MNS approach - from analysis to action to community—generated excitement. More and more people are questioning the value of their scattered activities. Fewer and fewer are willing to put off their personal growth until ’after the revolution’ “ (17).


MNS’s multi-issue, multisided approach to radical change was first developed through a study group and collective writing project among AQAG leaders that resulted in two books, which then served as the primary statements of MNS’s politics: Moving toward a New Society and Strategy for a Living Revolution.(18) As the organization took shape, the founders expanded the process of collective political education and analysis to include any member who was interested by developing "macroanalysis seminars"—long-term collaborative study groups modeled after the popular education initiatives of the civil rights movement and the ideas of Paulo Freire. (19) MNS’s focus on an overarching analysis that sought to link seemingly disparate social problems and forms of inequality was innovative for a period in which theorists fought to assert the primacy of racial, gender, or class oppression, and the concept of "intersectionality“ was not yet widely accepted. (20)

Revolutionary nonviolence formed the bedrock of MNS’s political analysis and strategy. The group believed that war is inherent to capitalism and social inequality is itself a form of violence, maintained by the threat of direct state violence; this requires those who morally reject violence to become social revolutionaries. Members synthesized these core principles with recent developments in leftist thought. Foremost, this entailed a commitment to the principles of ecology and environmental sustainability emerging at the time. MNS, additionally, placed the United States’s neocolonial relationship with the countries of the global South at the center of its indictment of contemporary society. The group insisted on the need to "de-develop" the United States and other capitalist countries, as the members of these nations lived at consumption rates unattainable for the majority of the world’s population and unsustainable given ecological limits. (21) Influenced by the nascent women’s liberation movement, MNS incorporated from the outset a critique of sexism alongside its indictment ofracism (shaped by some members’ work in the civil rights movement). Yet white supremacy and patriarchy were given considerably less extensive treatment than political-economic concerns in the group`s early publications and statements. (22) Bringing together a mix of Gandhians, anarchists, and unaffiliated democratic socialists, MNS promoted the idea of a "decentralized socialism" that had much in common with the "participatory economics" others were developing at the time. (23)

Economic enterprises, as we see it, would be socially owned, decentralized and democratically controlled....Political decisions would be made by participatory means, starting with the smallest face-to-face communities of citizens and extending upward to the global level. Nation-states as we now know them would cease to exist, supplanted by regional groupings, perhaps of those with common economic interests. (24)

MNS members were significantly influenced by a variety of anarchist titles published in the 1970s. Bookchin’s 1971 Post-Scarcity Anarchism was a mainstay of the group’s macroanalysis seminars, not only for its ecological arguments, but also for the history of alternative forms of radical organizing described in the essay "Listen, Marxist!". Seminar participants also read selections from the Black Rose volume The Case for Participatory Democracy, edited by Dimitri Roussopoulos, early works on libertarian socialism by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, and even selections from Alexander Berkman and Kropotkin. The discovery of Dolgoff’s The Anarchist Collectives, a history of worker self-management during die Spanish Civil War, was important to MNS members’ ability to imagine a process by which its collectives might develop into an entire social system. (25)
Still, many members were unaware of the influence of anarchist ideas on their organization, as attested to by a paper circulated internally in 1976, in which Bob Irwin, a member of the Philadelphia Macroanalysis Collective, argued that "the time has come to make explicit and evaluate the organization theory by which we have been operating.... That organization theory, I contend, is anarchism."(26) Although some members individually identified as anarchists, MNS never did so as an organisation, and it doesn’t appear to have had direct ties with any of the selfidentified anarchist organizations of the 1970s. In its early years, MNS was sympathetic toward socialist initiatives such as the New American Movement and the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. Yet MNS hewed toward anarchist strategy by expressing "grave reservations" about electoralism or the potential for reradicalizing the labor movement in the United States. (27) The group believed that it could best contribute to ehe goal of establishing a self-managed economy by creating worker-owned cooperatives and other alternative institutions while working to foment a broad nonviolent insurrection, organized on the basis of directly democratic councils, capable of toppling the current political-economic order.

Anarchism was perhaps most influential on the organization’s structure. MNS saw that in starting fresh, it had the chance to incorporate in its struceure the principle expressed most recentely by the New Left, but earlier by anarchists and radical pacifists—that the movement should prefigure, or anticipate and .model, its goals in its own work. MNS’ s introductory pamphlet declared its opposition to "traditional forms of organization, from [the multinational corporation] ITT to the PTA [Parent-Teacher Association] .. for they exhibit the sexism and authoritarianism we seek to supplant. Our goals must be incorporated into the way we organize. Thus the movement we build must be egalitarian and non-centralized. (28) Accordingly, the group developed a network structure that was directly influenced by a Dutch anarchist federation, Shalom, which had impressed founding member George Lakey during his travels across Europe in 1969. (29)

From the outset, MNS members relied on a consensus decision-making process and rejected the domineering forms of leadership prevalent in 1960s’ radical groups. The impetus to change the internal dynamics of radical organizations stemmed from a variety of sources. Inspired by SNCC—which in turn, had been influenced by pacifises such as James Lawson and Bayard Rustin—SDS had promoted the demand for a participatory form of democracy, but had never formalized the concept into a procedure. The early women’s liberation movement responded to the sexism that marred New Left groups by roundly criticizing patriarchal leadership tendencies and attempting to craft egalitarian organizations of its own. The MNS founders sought to build on both these initiatives by developing and teaching a formal model of "democratic group process" that drew on the Quaker tradition in which many were steeped as well as the conflict resolution techniques that some early MNS members practiced as professional mediators.(30) Beyond adopting a formal consensus procedure with delineated roles, MNS drew on "sensitivity training" techniques, "role playing.. listening exercises, and trust garnes" to increase awareness of group dynamics and challenge members to excise oppressive aspects of their traditional patterns of behavior. (31) Members saw at least three benefits to this process: it helped empower more reserved and less experienced participants; lt kept in check the sometirnes-competing egos of movement veterans involved in the organization; and finaily, the highly deliberative aspect of consensus was useful in the group’s early stage when it was "searching" for new ideas and building unity among its members. (32)

MNS’s committment to prefiguration was most frequently expressed in its injunction to "live the revolution now"—a reformulation of Mahatma Gandhi´s classic instruction for his followers to "be the change you want to see". In its early statements, however, MNS was clear that "living the revolution" served as only one practical aspect of a multipronged revolutionary strategy, not an end in itself. "We need to simplify and organize our life together so there is time for the confrontations that are needed if the old order is to fall,’ begins the "Community" section of the group’s introductory pamphlet. Like many other radical theorists in the early 1970s, the MNS founders believed that structural contradictions would create a crisis situation in the United States by the end of the century, if not the end of the decade.(33) Whether that crisis could be turned to revolutionary ends, though, would depend on the consciousness of the majority of the U.S. population.

MNS members believed they could serve as a "leaven in the bread" of the mass social movements responding to this crisis, giving them the tools and nonviolent principles they would need to effectively make a social revolution. (34) In the short term, they believed, radicals needed to develop strategic campaigns that combined organizing and direct action to win "revolutionary reforms" while simultaneously building alternative institutions based on radical principles, which could serve to model the future society. (35) For these efforts to be sustained throughout a long struggle and to ultimately be successful, organizers needed training and to experience new kinds of community supportive of their work.

You find the continuation of this part one
Movement for a New Society and Contemporary Anarchism
Part two: action, community and training

1. On the international and libertarian aspects of the movements of 1968, see George Katsiafikas, The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968 (Boston; South End Press, 1987).
2. Throughout this book, I refer to the organization as MNS rather than the MNS in accordance with the preferences of its former members. Since their efforts never reached the scale of a mass social movement, these members feel it is more accurate and modest to emphasize that "MNS" is a proper noun, the name of the organization, rather than a historical phenomenon, as "the Movement for a New Socicty" might imply.
3. The sociologist Wini Breines coined the term prefigurative politics to describe a central feature of the approach taken by the Students for a Democratic Society: the attempt to "create and sustain within the lived practice of the rnovernent, relationships and political forms that ’prefigured’ and embodied the desired society“. Wini Breines, Community and Organization in the New Left 1962-1968: The Great Refusal, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989), 6.
See also Francesca Polletta, Freedom lt an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002), 6-12; Cindy Milstein, Anarchism and its Aspirations (Oakland, CA: Institute für Anarchist Studies and AK Press, 2010), 68-70.
4 . Throughout this chapter, I refer to "alternative institutions"’ created by MNS. In the next chapter, former MNS member Robert Irwin argues that "counterinstitutions’ is a preferable term. I agree with him, and further distinguish between the two in the conclusion. I have left the term "alternative institutions" intact in this chapter so as not to confuse the reader and to make transparent the dialogic nature of this research project.
5. See Scott H. Bennett, Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003); Marian Mollin, Radical Pacifism in Modern America: Egalitarianism and Protest (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); Jarnes Tracy, Direct Action: Radical Pacifism from the Union Eight to the Chicago Seven (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
6. Bart de Ligt, The Conquest of Violence: An Essay on War and Revolution (1937; repr., London: Pluto Press, 1989).
7. See Alan Antliff, Anarchy and Art: From the Paris Commune to the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007); Dachine Rainer, "Holley Cantine: February 14, 1916—January 2, 1977“ Drunken Boot- Art, Rebellion, Anarchy 2, (1994):177-85; Taylor, Stoehr, Preface to Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodmans Anarchist Writings, ed. Taylor Stoehr, 5-18 (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010).
8. I examine these developments in detail in "A New Anarchism Emerges, 1940-1954",Journal for the Study of Radicalism 5, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 105-32.
9. Poletta, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting, 26-54.
10. See Maurice Isserman, If l Had a Hammer: The Death of the 0ld Left and the Birth of the New Left (Urbana: University of lllinois Press, 1987); Van Gosse, Rethinking the New Left: An Interpretative History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
11. See Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che (New York: Verso, 2002); Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of solidarity (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005).
12. See Polletta, Freedom ls an Endless Meeting, 149-75; Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York: Vintage.1979); Alice Echols, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).
13. George Lakey, personal communication with author, July 9, 2008.
14. See George Lakey, Strategy for a Living Revolution (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1973), xiii—xviii.
15. "Program for a New Society: A Statement by A Quaker Action Group“, leaflet, Wisconsin Historical Society, Social Action vertical file, box 1, A Quaker Action Group folder.
16. Lynne-Shivers. "Short-term Trainer’s Collective at the Life Center," Dandelion, December 1971. n.p.; Dandelion, December 1973, n.p.; "Movement Building - National," Dandelion, October 1972, n.p.; Betsy Raasch-Gilman, "The Movement for a New Society: One Participant’s Account," unpublished memoir, 17, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Movement for a New Society Collection, DG 154, acc. 02-A-025, box 6.
17. Berit Lakey and Paul Morrisey, "Hello.. Goodbye, I Say Hello’ Dandelion, June 1973, n.p.
18. Susanne Gowan, George Lakey, William Moyer, and Richard Taylor, Moving toward a New Society (Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1976); George Lakey, Strategy for a Living Revolution.
19. "Finding Out“ Dandelion, October 1973, n.p.
20. lntersectionality is a concept developed by feminist women of color to theorize the experience of having one’s life shaped by multiple forms of oppression that operate simultaneously, and coconstitute and reinforce one another. See Kimberlé Crenshaw Williams, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color," in The Public Nature of Private Violence, ed. Martha Albertson Fineman and Rixanne Mykitiuk, 93-118 (New York: Routledge, 1994); Combahee River Collective, "A Black Feminist Statement," in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, ed. Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, 210-18 (Boston; Kitchen Table Press, 1982).
21. See, for example, Gowan, Lakey, Moyer, and Taylor, Moving toward a New Society, 21-62.
22. "Analysis" MNS Packet, Wisconsin Historical Society Movement for a New Society Records, 1974-77, box 1.
23. On participatory economics, see Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, Looking Forward: Participary Economics for theTwenty-First Century (Boston: South End Press, 1991). An earlier work by Albert and Hahnel, Unorthodox Marxism: An Essay an Capitalism, Socialism and Revolution (Boston: South End Press, 1978), was used regularly in the vision section of macroanalysis seminars after it was released.
24. "Vision,“ MNS Packet, Wisconsin Historical Society, Movement for a New Society Records, 1974-77, box 1.
25. "Macro-Analysis Reading List, Revision 9/76" and "Organizing Macro-Analysis Seminars: Study and Action for a New Society, Updated Reading List" (1981), Swarthmore College Peace Collection, MNS Collection, acc. 90A-55, box 6; Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1971); Dimitri Roussopoulos and C. George Benello, eds., The Case for Participatory Democracy: Some Prospects for a Radical Society (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1972); Sam Dolgoff, The Anarchist Collectives: Worker’s SeIf-management in Spain, 1936-1939 (New York: Free Life Editions, 1974),
26. Bob Irwin, "On the Organization Question" February 17, 1976, photocopied manuscript, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, MNS Collection, acc. 90A-55, box 9. -
27. See Lakey, Strategy for a Living Revolution, 67-72; Gowan, Lakey, Moyer, and Taylor, Moving toward a New Society, 263-68.
28. "Structure“ MNS Packet, Wisconsin Historical Society, Movement for a New Society Records, 1974-77, box 1.
29. George Lakey, interview by author and Andrew Willis Garcés, tape recording. Philadelphia. June 28, 2008.
30. Ibid.
31. "Training for Nonviolent Social Change", MNS Packet, Wisconsin Historical Society. Movement for a New Society Records, 1974-77, box 1.
32. Lakey, interview.
33. See Lakey, Strategy for a Living Revolution, 1-28; Gowan, Lakey, Moyer, and Taylor Moving toward a New Society, 217-36.
34. This metaphor is quite similar to Kropotkin’s belief that anarchists would serve as "the midwife to the revolution." Both assume a facilitatory rather than an instigative role.
35. Gowan, Lakey, Moyer, and Taylor, Moving toward a New Society, 270-81. MNS’s conception of revolutionary reforms drew on André Gorz, Strategy for Labor (Boston; Beacon Press, 1967).

P.S. :

Extract from: Oppose and Propose! by Andrew Cornell
AK Press Oakland, CA 2011
ISBN 978 1 849350 66 2 / E book : 978 1 849350 67 9

See also the review by Chris Rossdale in Peace News:
Andrew Cornell’s Oppose and Propose offers an extraordinarily well-researched
examination of the 1971-1988 US-based organisation Movement for a New Society (MNS).

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