1960s >> 1967 >> no-750-february-1967

Russian Prisons

One of the more abhorrent features of capitalism is its need for a penal system. Workers who through one reason or another prefer a life of crime to one of so called honesty, when caught, are subjected to varying periods of preventive detention in the name of law and order.

It is interesting however to see that this system not only applies to countries which are avowedly capitalist, but is also a feature of Soviet Russia. Rather embarrassing for those who would have us believe that Russia is busy building the new socialist society.

In an attempt to outdo what is described as “western decadence’’ the Russian penal system has recently been streamlined in the interest of efficiency. According to Sir Leslie Scarman, chairman of the Law Commission and leader of a recent legal delegation to the Soviet Union, “Russia’s imaginative use of prisoners in labour camps was something Britain could incorporate into its legal system.”

This report, which was summarised in a recent edition of the Guardian, quoted Sir Leslie as saying that the labour camps, which he preferred to call colonies, “Were making a positive contribution to Russia’s productivity plan” and that the “Emphasis was on training them for a job.”

Gone apparently are the repressive dogmas of uncle Joe Stalin, famous for his treatment of political opponents most of whom ended up in one or other of Sir Leslie’s “colonies”. A new era of professionalism has been adopted. Why allow perfectly fit units of production to rot in the cells of labour camps, when according to Sir Leslie they could be making a “positive contribution to Russia’s productivity”?

In all capitalist countries, including Russia, the efficient use of labour is essential to survival in the competitive nature of World capitalism. Sound economics, not sentiment, demand that Russia’s prison population be allowed to play a “positive” role in the Russian productivity effort.

It has been estimated that 75 per cent of all crime has an economic basis. Prisons are the end result of private property. How often is heard the legal platitude that “This court must protect private property” or, “Private property — no trespassing”. What is required is a fundamental change in the structure of society. The conversion of private property into common ownership would make crime redundant. In a society of free access to the means of life food, clothing, shelter, etc., the need to steal these things would be removed, for why should anyone take the time and trouble to steal what can be freely obtained?

R. J.