Editorial: Russian Illusions
It is claimed by many that the Russian Government has discovered a means of developing Russian industry on Socialist lines and free from the disturbing effects of the world trading conditions that affect the other capitalist countries. Actually, the more Russian industry enters into the world market as importer and exporter, the more Russian industrial conditions will be affected by conditions outside.
For example, the world slump in prices has hit Russian industry as badly as any, and has necessitated hasty and difficult modifications of the so-called Five-Year Plan. Estimates were based upon the exporting of certain quantities of goods at certain prices, the yield from which was to be used for machinery and other imports. Owing to the unforeseen slump, Russian exports in January and February of 1931 decreased in value by nearly one-fifth as compared with the corresponding period of 1930, and this in spite of a big increase in the quantities of goods exported. The output of the exporting industries had to be increased above the planned amount owing to the fall in the prices obtained for the exported goods in the world market, and in order to pay for the imports. The machinery and other imports either have not fallen in price at all, have not fallen as heavily, or have been contracted for at a stated price. The final result has been that imports have had to be curtailed. The imports for January and February, 1931, were one-third below those for January and February, 1930. Thus does capitalism frustrate attempts at planning.
Mr. Fenner Brockway, the new Chairman of the I.L.P., writing in the New Leader (April 17th), assumes that Russian industry is being run on a “ Socialist basis.” This is quite incorrect and indicates either a misreading of the Russian industrial system or—more probably—a failure to grasp what constitutes Socialism. In Russia, as elsewhere, goods are produced, not for use, but for sale. The producers are a wage-earning class with no effective control over the machinery of production. There is great inequality, as in other capitalist countries. The first charge on industry is the payment of interest to the investors in the State loans. The way in which inequality of wealth is growing is shown by the increasing yield from the graduated income tax. Already the yield is over £60 millions a year. The Government is now itself catering for the wants of monied people by opening shops at which goods are sold at rates far above the official prices.
Mr. Walter Duranty, of the New York Times, telegraphing from Moscow, says:
In the large cities, industrial centres and construction camps the food ration of the masses is adequate for health and can readily be supplemented by anyone with money . . . In the larger centres the authorities are attempting to meet the situation by opening a kind of “ State NEP” stores, where food and commodities are sold well above ration prices but below the rates of the “free markets” which the “State NEP ” stores are intended to replace.
(New York Times, April 3.)
The Moscow Correspondent of the News-Chronicle (April 13th) gives further information about these stores :—
New State-owned profiteering stores—selling to anybody with no questions asked about your ration book or whether, you are an “economic outlaw” — went on charging 8s. a pound for frozen chickens; 25s. a pound for an inferior sort of cheese; and 6s. a pound for poor salt herrings.
Mr. Albert Coates, the musical conductor, who recently returned from Russia, gives information about the prices a section of the population are able to pay for seats at the opera. Speaking to a Daily Telegraph representative, he said:—
Many people still have a great deal of money in Russia, but they have to be careful. There is little or no actual starvation, but there is a system of food rationing.
The price of seats in the.theatre ranged from 24s. downwards. At every performance—and there is one every night and two on Sundays for nine months in the year—the opera theatres are packed, although the majority of the populace are said to be penniless . . .
Beautifully gowned women and well-dressed men still continue to adorn the front rows of the Grand Theatre, Moscow, every night.
(Daily Telegraph, April 1.)
While the Russian workers are told that they must pull in their belts and reap their reward later on when the Five-War later on when the Five-Year Plan (or the second Five-Year Plan) is completed, the highly paid administrative and technical officials and the investors in State loans get their benefit now.
These are not the features of Socialism, but of capitalism. Before they get Socialism, the Russian workers will have to tread the same path of disillusionment leading to knowledge that is being trodden by the workers in other countries.