“Nor prison bars a cage”

Since Russia became the main rival to Western Capitalism, the capitalists of the West have seen fit to acknowledge, indeed to publicise, the vicious acts of their counterparts in that country. Their purpose, as we shall see, is not in the noble cause of truth, for they could have told that at least fifteen years ago, but the far more practical reason of getting the workers “at it.” And. many of the workers who four and five years back were wearing hammer and sickle badges in their lapels and cheering the mention of Stalin, are now prepared or even eager to fight their ex-allies. Not so the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Just as we took the line in both 1914 and 1939, that the workers of this country had nothing to gain by slaying fellow workers in Germany, so do we point out that a future war with Russia will benefit neither British nor Russian workers, but will be no more than a further dispute between the capitalists of these countries. But in the meantime it is our bounden duty to lay these distortions of the truth and show up this propaganda for what it is really worth.

A few months ago the Daily Express carried the headline, “Britain publishes Russia’s forced labour laws,” the Evening Standard, “Soviet slave laws revealed,” and the Daily Herald, so different from the days of not so very long ago had the biggest headline of the lot saying, “Soviet slave camp code shown to world.” Many workers, who previously sympathised with the system of administration in capitalist Russia, rapidly changed their ideas. Those who looked just a little farther than the news put right on their plates by their masters, were not surprised. As long ago as 1935, a translation of the “Corrective Code ” was obtainable in Britain. It has taken the capitalist class a long while to find it!

Anyway up to this time, far from deploring this penal code, various spokesmen and apologists of Capitalism, both British and Russian, were quite vehement in applauding it. Sir Montague Burton said, “A better opportunity for prisoners to become useful members of society” (Yorkshire Evening News, 25710/35). Canon F. J. Shirley, in a sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, preached “Russia is reclaiming the criminals; the system is redemptive and men are restored to good moral life, assets once more to the community” (Kentish Gazette and Canterbury Press, 7/9/35). In March, 1937, the A.E.U. delegation published a report applauding the system, as did the Quakers in 1933. So we see that there has been a great deal of change in their ideas; there has been none in the Russian penal system.

But in slating the propagandists of Western Capitalism, we must not allow those of the East to escape scot free. Equal trickery comes from such Moscow henchmen as the Communist Party and its subsidiary Anglo-Soviet Society. While one group attacks the Russian system, the other attempts to defend it.

In its pamphlet “The Forced Labour Swindle” the British Soviet Society try to smooth over these revelations and get into such deep water that if their words were true the Russian worker would be better off in prison than out of it.

They begin by trying to establish a wealth of difference between the words “corrective” as used in the Russian text and “forced” in the newspapers. Surely this treatment is not voluntary?

Prisoners have much more freedom, we are told. When they are not performing their tasks, they are free to indulge in “political” education. In a country which recognises the need for only one political party, we can well imagine what form that education takes. Incidentally political prisoners are treated exactly the same as criminals.

Apart from these points it seems, in theory at least, that the conditions in Russian prisons are similar to those in the rest of the capitalist world so far as material conditions are concerned. In accordance with modern ideas they may attempt to rehabilitate the recalcitrant worker as an honest and servile wage-slave, but as a recent report by several psychologists pointed out, such systems are doomed to failure, for no matter how ideal the conditions in one of these centres may be, the subject must eventually return to the environment which was the cause of his misdemeanours.

The right of exile is excused by the author of this pamphlet and made to sound as if it doesn’t really matter. The exile is allowed to take his family with him and pays “only” five to fifteen per cent, of his income as cost. They are allowed twelve free days per year. They fail to emphasise the vast climatic and geographic difference between, say, Moscow or Kiev and the frozen wilds of Siberia.

It is, by the way, possible to imprison without a trial in Russia, and the writer compares this law with Defence Regulation 18B. Countering the argument that this Regulation is only enforced during a war, he says that Russia has been in peril for the whole thirty years of the Communist Party’s regime. But if the conditions in that country are as rosy as he would have us believe, who on earth would want to sabotage them?

As a conclusion the pamphlet points out that forced labour exists in many parts of the world, and cites the forced porterage in Tanganyika, Papua, Indonesia and Malaya. Attack, they say, is the best form of defence. But we know all this, and expose it wherever it exists, whether in Russia or Timbuctoo. And furthermore we know that wherever slaves exist there must be a class of masters, in other words, Socialism does not exist.

In 1917, the Russian revolution and what followed, transformed a semi-feudal society into an effective capitalist state. The fact that the particular organisation of Russia is worded with a hotch-potch of “left- wing” jargon counts for nothing. In Russia wage-labour exists as the counterpart of capital: there are armies, navies, airforces, police and prisons. All are hall-marks of Capitalism. That being so, the task which faces the Russian worker is similar to that which faces the workers throughout the modern world—the casting off of the yoke of exploitation and the establishment of Socialism.


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