Report From Moscow
In recent months a mass of articles has appeared in the press dealing with Russia today. But most of these give very little concrete information on the subjects which are of crucial importance—the class structure of Russian society and the living conditions of working men and women in that country.
The working class in Russia, like workers throughout the world, sells its labour power for a wage (usually paid monthly there). The state-decreed minimum has recently been raised by ten roubles to 60 roubles a month. At the official exchange rate of £1 = 2.50 (before devaluation), this is equivalent to a monthly salary of £24. Such comparisons, however, are of limited value; what is necessary is to illustrate what this means in terms of real wages by giving the prices of goods on sale in the shops. The following list was compiled during the first half of November 1967, from commodities being sold in the stores in Leningrad and Moscow. We concentrated mainly on clothes because these are a basic essential (along with food and housing). At the same time it is fairly easy to assess the quality of articles of clothing, unlike much food which is wrapped or in packets.
Man’s suit (poor quality) 64.00 roubles
Man’s suit (poor quality but better than above) 82.00r.
Men’s overcoats (various styles and qualities) 75-124r.
Men’s long-sleeved shirts (cotton) 4.50-9.00r.
Man’s short-sleeved shirt (nylon) 12.50r.
Women’s slips (nylon and various qualities) 10.00-17.00r.
Woman’s headscarf (cheapest) 1.33r.
Women’s knitted suits 27.00-31.60r.
Child’s overcoat (4 year old) 22.85r.
Child’s windcheater (nylon) 20.00r.
Children’s frocks (for 2-3 years old various
1 kilo (2.2 lb) apples or pears 1.00r.
1 kilo (1.1 lb) bread 0.15r.
Eggs (sold in tens) 0.90r.
1 kilo (12 lb) cheese 3.00r.
2-course meal at student’s restaurant 0.40r.
Bicycle (very poor quality) 54.50r.
c. 17″ screen 234.00r.
c. 20″ screen 401.00r.
Motor cars (vary according to size & comfort) 2500-5000r.
It is clear from the above that workers in Russia have to be just as adept as those elsewhere in the art of eking out their wages. But, however much they may skimp and scrape, there are many luxury commodities on sale in the shops which they can never reasonably hope to buy. For example, just off Red Square in Moscow there is a store specialising in expensive shoes. Among the footwear displayed in its window were a pair of very elegant lady’s suede ankle-boots, selling at fifty roubles. When it is remembered that this sum represents nearly a month’s wages for the lowest paid, it is obvious that the Moscow working man stands about as much chance of buying these shoes as a worker in London does of purchasing a Savile Row suit.
The question arises—who are the people, then, in a country like Russia who can afford such prices? One who springs to mind is Nikita Kruschev, the ousted first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Living in retirement, he has a five-roomed flat in Moscow as well as a country house on what used to be Prince Golytsin’s estate. Standing in seven acres of grounds, this building has four bedrooms and two reception rooms, while the Kruschevs are looked after by a staff of servants (two cooks, two chauffeurs, maid, gardener). As the Sunday Times put it: “Kruschev has 550 roubles a month, and with virtually all his bills paid by the State he lives at a level that could only be matched in the West by someone with a comfortable private income.” 
It might be objected that we are relying here on Western newspapers which are inclined to distort the situation in Russia. But such reports on the easy life of the ruling class there and the other state-capitalist countries of eastern Europe are confirmed by information that can be gleaned from their own official sources. Thus the Belgrade Evening News (20 December, 1961) talked about individuals in Jugoslavia who have an annual income reaching 70 million dinars ‘about $100,000 at the official exchange rate). 
In contrast to Kruschev’s town and country residences, working class housing in general conforms to the twin standards of cheap and nasty. Despite the vast blocks of new flats which have been built since the war, some of the slums in Moscow can rival those of the East End of London for squalor and ugliness, while many of the tenements in Leningrad are without baths and date from the nineteenth century. The usual features of inadequate accommodation can be seen everywhere—children playing in gloomy backyards, washing hung from windows because there is nowhere else to dry it, buildings dilapidated and unpainted. No doubt, the occupants of these dwellings would be interested to learn that:
The Soviet state is very successfully solving its housing problem.
Though the current five-year plan period will not yet satisfy the housing needs of all the Soviet people, even the sceptics agree that the tiresome housing problem is nearing its solution. 
As in Britain, it is quite possible for families to buy their own apartments and, in fact, they are encouraged to do so: reports indicate that state credits for housing loans will be expanded by 200-300 per cent during the present plan. A normal flat costs from 2,000 to 6,000 roubles—depending on size and facilities—and deposit/repayment arrangements are strangely reminiscent of those in England. An initial deposit of forty per cent of the price is required, while the remaining sixty per cent is covered by monthly instalments spread over ten or fifteen years. This makes it clear that although the better-paid Russian worker can often manage to buy his own flat, it is just as much an uphill struggle for him to do so as it is for his counterpart in the West.
. . . the monthly rent usually makes up less than four per cent of the wages earned by the head of the family and is actually a symbolic cost only.
The Soviet Union has the lowest rents in the world. (their emphasis). 
As a rule, the worker has the advantage of living very inexpensively in a government-owned building. His lodging is therefore part free. But to live and produce he must stay somewhere. At any rate, his apartment rarely has any luxuries and in most cases not even the elementary comforts. It is part of his subsistence minimum, supplied to him in addition to his wages.
The workers receive medical care free and can buy medicines at a discount, but these are necessary in order to preserve his labour power: they are ingredients of his subsistence minimum. If free medical care were abolished and rents increased, the worker’s wages, would have to be raised in proportion to the increase in his necessary expenses. These non-returnable benefits and services are a necessary purl of the worker’s subsistence minimum, a wage supplement as necessary to the worker as the wages themselves, and therefore a constituent of production cost. 
Pacing up and down the deck before dinner I saw old ladies with black shawls round their heads looking for a sheltered place for themselves and their bundles on the boards against the iron bulwarks. I saw them looking out of patient, peering eyes through the windows at the stewards in white, starched jackets laying the tables in the first-class dining-saloon, candlelit, sparkling cut glass for white and red wine as well as water, ornate silver cutlery and peaked napkins spotless as Arctic snow by each place . . . Later I saw them lying on the hard deck, heads propped against their bundles, sleeping more peacefully than I was to sleep in my de-luxe cabin that night . . . I remembered Fitzroy Maclean’s account of a Black Sea cruise—it might very well have been in this very ship—telling how, as the passengers were nearing Odessa, the loudspeakers suddenly called: “Olga Ivanova, we are calling Olga Ivanova. This is to inform Olga Ivanova that her car and maid are waiting on the quay for her.” 
It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.
If the working-class has remained “poor”, only “less poor” in proportion as it produces for the wealthy class “an intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power”, then it has remained relatively just as poor. If the extremes of poverty have not lessened, they have increased, because the extremes of wealth have.