Book Review: The same everywhere

Message From Moscow, by “An Observer”. Cape 26s.


As life for workers of any country is one of wage slavery which influences them as a class more than all the local variations of that condition, the role of those who expose the evils of one country, with the implication that it is essentially different elsewhere, is that of the pot calling the kettle black. Capitalism provides no end of material for those so occupied. Those who would have us believe that ‘we’ in Britain are doing alright, have Russia and the so-called communist countries to point to. Message from Moscow helps to serve that purpose. It tells us, as we have been told many times, that life is tough for those who don’t see eye to eye with the government. ‘An Observer’ is claimed to be a non-communist Russian-speaking Westerner, who has penetrated the barriers preventing foreign visitors getting to know the people. He describes how tourists, business-men, and journalists, are kept isolated from the native population. His intimate contacts are mainly the so-called intellectuals and the type of manual worker in contact with them, such as waitresses, shop assistants and taxi drivers.


The starting point is the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The event was played down, an appendix is devoted to the front page of Pravda for 21 August 1968, to illustrate this. Most people showed little interest in the event. The author’s friends got the news from West European radio broadcasts, before the jamming became efficient enough to cut them out. They were outraged,


  Our bastards [the Soviet leadership] just couldn’t let the Czechs go on like that, making something civilised out of Socialism.

Most comments ‘An Observer’ heard were more loyal.

  Those bastards, we freed them from the Germans, spilled our blood for their freedom — and now look : they’re going behind our backs to the West Germans again.


Other comment shows more or less enlightenment, than those of workers elsewhere on the subject. For Socialists, this was a quarrel involving the security of the Russian-dominated Warsaw Pact. The interests at stake were capitalist, the question of Socialism did not arise and that working class interests were in opposition to those of their masters in any camp.


A chapter is devoted to the toughening attitude of the government to its critics, known as neo-stalinism. Things have changed somewhat;


  there have been no mass repressions and no trials unreported in the West. Mass terror and deportations, the infliction of direct physical pain and suffering, firing squads and torture techniques— in short, the horrifying aspects of Stalinism — play virtually no role in current measures of control: and in this sense, the comparison with genuine Stalinism is spurious . . . Punishment takes the form of personal and professional sanctions rather than imprisonment. The most common measures are dismissal from work, or demotion; expulsion from the party and Komsomol or severe censure, interference with academic and scientific careers; and retraction of privileges, including the privilege of living in Moscow.


It seems that the rulers of state capitalist Russia are beginning to learn that there are more ways of keeping control than by terror. The fact that workers are dependent on employers—state or private— for their living, makes them vulnerable to the kid glove type of coercion.


The most important fact about Russia which the author omits to mention is that the type of society existing there is state capitalism, a variation of the system of society that dominates the world.


Joe Carter