1940s >> 1943 >> no-461-january-1943

Inequality in Russia

Sir Rowland Evans, a Liberal politician, in a letter to ‘The Times’, stated that

    “Whereas statistics indicate that in Britain before the war the upper 10 per cent, of the population received 45 per cent, of the national income, an authoritative analysis of statistics published in the Soviet Press in 1939 showed that the upper 11 per cent, or 12 per cent, of the Soviet population then received approximately 50 per cent, of the national income.” (Times, December 15, 1942)

One correspondent challenged the figures on the ground that the rural population ought to be excluded as it is impossible in rural areas to find members of an upper category. He claimed therefore that what the figures would really show would be that in the towns

    “every third worker or employee or member of their families . . . belongs to an upper category, similar to the upper 10 per cent, of the population in Great Britain.” (Times, December 16, 1942)

The figures were then challenged by Andrew Rothstein, Chief Correspondent of the Russian Official Tass News Agency (Times, December 21, 1942). His principal ground of objection was that the estimate came from “an article by a counter-revolutionary terrorist, anti-Soviet propagandist and agent of Hitler.” This is relevant, but it does not settle the real question, which is “was the estimate accurate?” Rothstein had the opportunity of answering Sir Rowland Evans’s demand for his own figures. Rothstein is in a position to give the Russian Government’s own figures about inequality of income, but though he gave various other pieces of information he did not answer the question. Instead, he dwelt on the point that “in the Soviet Union the share of the national income which comes to the individual depends exclusively (unless he is a criminal) on the work which he does.”

He did not question that artists, scientists, engineers, factory managers and State officials, etc., receive larger incomes than the mass of the population, but maintained that this group is certainly not large enough to account for 50 per cent, of the national income or anything like it.

One significant feature of Rothstein’s letter was that it nowhere even mentioned the fact that millions of Russian citizens draw income from their investment in Government bonds. Rothstein may, of course, argue that income derived from interest on such investments is indirectly the result of the work originally performed, but why did he not mention it? At January 1, 1934. the amount of Government loans outstanding was about 14,000 million roubles (about £560 million at 25 roubles to the £—Whitaker’s Almanack, 1942, page 944). This figure will have been greatly increased since 1934 as thousands of millions of roubles are raised each year. In April, 1942, a new War Loan of 10,000 million roubles (£400 million) was raised (Soviet War News, April 16. 1942, and Evening Standard, April 15, 1942). The interest is 2 per cent, but in addition each holder of a 100-rouble certificate has a chance of winning a prize of 50,000 roubles (£2,000), or smaller amounts.

It was also announced (People, December 7, 1941) that the Russian Government were to run a lottery to help the war effort, tickets being issued to the amount of £40 million.

With regard to inequality of income, it was stated in the Sunday Dispatch (August 17, 1941) that the “average minimum wage is 250 roubles monthly, though specialists may receive an average as high as 2,000 roubles a month.” (This article was shown to the Soviet Ambassador before publication.)

Other ways of obtaining large sums of money are indicated by the announcement that Ilya Ehrenburg, the Russian journalist, received the Stalin prize of 100,000 roubles for his book, ‘The Fall of France’. (Evening Standard, May 19, 1912)

With regard to the Russian Income Tax, Mr. J. C. Jagger, Honorary Secretary of the British Association of Officers of Taxes, who visited Russia in 1936, made the following statement:—

    “Earnings up to 250 roubles per month are exempt but sums in excess of that figure are charged at progressively increasing rates, commencing at 80 kopecs per 100 roubles (100 kopecs—1 rouble) to a maximum of 260 kopecs per 100 roubles at 800 roubles a month. Tax is not charged on earnings in excess of 800 roubles and, in these days of output or sales in excess of the “plan” many of the citizens escape taxation at a point for which we have no legal parallel.” (Taxes, October, 1936)

In conclusion here ore two statements which throw further light on inequality in Russia. One is from the American journalist. Negley Farson, cabling from Moscow in Feb., 1942 (Daily Mail, February 28). He remarked on the “ beggars, the halt, the blind, mewling their woes and thanks ” in gratitude for gifts obtained from a queue of people waiting to go into the Cathedral.

The second is from the Daily Worker (September 25, 1942) from the pen of John Gibbons, writing from Moscow. He explains that in addition to the ordinary vegetable ration at fixed pre-war prices, workers in factories and offices buy extra vegetables from their place of work. There are, however. other markets of tin rationed goods “for those who have money and inclination”—

    “For those who have money and inclination, collective farm markets, of which there are dozens in Moscow, contain a rich and varied assortment of un-rationed farm products. Here prices are higher, varying according to the season. Potatoes, for instance, now cost less than half what they did six weeks ago.”

It certainly seems that Mr. Rothstein might usefully have added many things to his statement made in answer to Sir Rowland Evans.

Edgar Hardcastle

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