Coventry Socialist Group
ISVESTIA SUB-EDITOR VISITS COVENTRY. Thus ran the first line of a personal column ad. in the 22nd January issue of the Coventry Evening Telegraph. MEET MR. MATVEYEF the ad. went on. Well, the Coventry Socialist Group thought that it would be a better idea if Mr. Matveyef met us. So a few of us went along to the meeting which, we learned later, was organised by the British-Soviet Friendship Society.
The Soviet sub-editor’s speech was slow, halting and rather rambling—but this did nothing to diminish the applause which came at the end of it from the hundred or so Russophiles who were present. As soon as the applause had died down, one of our members was on his feet with some uncomfortable facts for Mr. Matveyef to digest about the Russian dictatorship and to remind him that, although the Communists claimed that the Soviet Union was different from Great Britain because it was a Socialist country, he had taken half an hour bef
Of course, the chairman had to intervene but this did not stop another member getting into the discussion later. He provoked considerable clamour by using the Soviet Weekly and the Russian Year Book to demonstrate that in the U.S.S.R. there are interest-bearing bonds, capital accumulation, profit and exploitation of wage-labour—all hallmarks of the capitalist social system.
Mr. Matveyef’s replies were evasive and lame. He begged our indulgence: he was not a professional lecturer (!) and was not equipped to take part in an ideological discussion. Socialism in Russia, he said, meant a planned economy and a rising standard of living—although he admitted that their standards were at present a long way below ours in Britain. Freedom of the press, he claimed, did exist in Russia – witness the readers’ letters which complain about this and that and which sometimes result in governmental action. He ended with a familiar-sounding tirade against the commercialism, sex-exploiting and sensation-hunting Western press and went down bravely, trying to defend the one-party State-capitalist dictatorship which is the Soviet Union today and trying to justify its imperialist exploits.
Did the Coventry Socialists impress Mr. Matveyef? Alas, we cannot tell. We can only say that he took his impassive face from the hall not looking at all happy. For our part, we were well contented with our evening’s work to dispel some of the illusions about Russia. We made one or two hopeful contacts and we sold six shillings worth of literature.
Coventry Socialist Group