A periodical called Britain-USSR which styles itself the Bulletin of the Great Britain-USSR Association is issued from 14 Grosvenor Place, London, SW1. Issue No. 44 has an article entitled “Participation in the USSR”.
It is clear from the periodical that a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing goes on between the Association in London and their counterparts in Moscow but it is not naive to suggest that this body and its periodical are not simple mouthpieces of Russian propaganda as one usually expects. For example, the first article is a piece about Meyerhold, the Russian theatre director, which does not pull punches about the murder in a Stalinist prison of this Russian Jewish intellectual, a matter which the usual propaganda rag would keep quiet about.
However, if this body is merely a forum for those studying the Russian language and literature, then it behoves them to watch for infiltration on the part of some members whose intentions are less innocent. Of course, readers of the Socialist Standard will not be surprised to find pro-communist propaganda worming its way into a journal like this. It succeeds in doing so in far less likely vehicles; so that the article with which we are here concerned would normally not warrant discussion. We are all used to tendentious stuff from friends of the Communist (i.e. red-fascist) democracies (i.e. dictatorships). The point in the present case is not merely what is in the article, but who and what the writer is: “Dr. Parker lectures on the Soviet Union at the University of Oxford”.
So here we have an Oxford Don who has the power to propagate his views, partial as they clearly are, among the students committed to his care. One knows, of course, that these days students are ’ess malleable than they used to be and are liable to put two fingers up to any lecturer whose views they don’t like. Nevertheless, one does not need to have a vivid imagination to realise that the Dr. Parkers are in a position to insinuate Moscow poison into the bloodstream of intellectuals in the making.
The word “participation” is fashionable these days. It would be so nice (for the ruling classes) if the ruled, the people who do the work which produces the wealth which the rulers are the only ones to really enjoy, could be made to feel that they were participating in their own exploitation. They would hardly feel so discontented about it and wouldn’t think about striking. (In Russia they can only think about it and not do it. I don’t suppose Dr. Parker goes out of his way to stress that to his students. That’s not the way the Don flows). Of course, the very fact that one has to discuss “participation” in regard to Russia in the same way as to western countries, gives the game away. If the workers owned society, who would talk about getting people to participate? You are given vague ideas about participation precisely because you don’t own. And if you don’t own, then it’s not Socialism, which is a society where people are not given the boon of participating (whatever that means): it’s all theirs, anyway. Of course our Don thinks Russia is a Socialist state, not realising that this is a contradiction in terms.
He tells us that in Russia, “membership of the Communist Party is the most obvious means of participation” and that the fifteen million members are all “activists” who have “the privilege and duty . . . to set the example of good citizenship”. Which leaves about 200 millions of non-members whose function in the Soviet paradise is to follow the party stooges. For those who don’t, there is “participation” in a labour camp in Siberia or some other delightful part of the Gulag Archipelago. Our Don proceeds to tell us (and doubtless tells his students) that the Soviets are the bodies in which “traditionally all power resides”; that “they are elected in the sense that all adults have the opportunity to endorse a pre-selected candidate, but do not vote as between several candidates”. Some election, some participation.
His article goes on to explain how eminently satisfactory this all is. Satisfactory to him, no doubt. No doubt Don Parker believes that things which would not go down here are perfectly acceptable to Russian wage-slaves. But the nub of his twisted argument comes in the following passage: “The Soviet system gives a high degree of satisfaction to millions who feel they are actively serving their country . . . This satisfaction doubtless outweighs any sense of deprivation that those same millions feel at that lack of those democratic freedoms which Western critics emphasise.” Doubtless, he says. How did he free himself from doubt? Did he take a secret poll among the millions he talks of so glibly to see if they really enjoy being deprived of democratic freedoms?
It is this sort of conjuring trick, slipping “doubtless” while the student isn’t looking, which is the real crime. Well, he may have no doubts but the rulers in the Kremlin, for whom people like this Don act as propagandists (not to say lickspittles) have doubts aplenty. Never once in the grisly history of Russia, have they allowed their wage-slaves the chance to say freely whether they feel satisfaction. “Doubtless” the Kremlin knows that any such experiment in democratic participation would result in rather unpleasant happenings; people might participate to the extent of hanging red-fascist thugs on lamp posts, as in Budapest in ’56. If university teachers in the comparatively free west fill their students with such dishonest stuff, what kind of filth is being pumped out in the land where the other Don flows?
L. E. Weidberg