1970s >> 1975 >> no-856-december-1975

Facing the Facts in Russia

There’s an old saying that “the daughter of Time is Truth”. In Russia at last we have indications that people are beginning to discover the truth that capitalism exists in that country as much as in the rest of the world.

Granted it’s a rather different form of capitalism, without Stock Exchanges. State capitalism is the term often used for the type of capitalism existing in Russia and in most other “developing nations”. In the Socialist Standard and the Western Socialist we have recorded in recent years several instances of Russian dissenters whose conclusion is that Russia is a state-capitalist country.

“Our system is state capitalism . . .”
Two underground leaflets from Moscow were reproduced in the Socialist Standard in January and March 1973.

Both said that not Socialism but state capitalism was the system in Russia (though the solution was said to be the establishment of a “social democratic” party). The present ruling class in Russia maintains dictatorial control of the State apparatus and thus the struggle for democratic “rights” is bound to be the form which protests take. What should be understood is that the appearance of a reform or opposition party, failing to have Socialism as its objective, would only further the interests of some new or rising capitalist group.

We are hardly surprised to find that Solzhenitsyn, the darling of the Liberal establishment, takes the Kremlin line (Western Socialist, No. 5, 1974). That is to say, he takes the line that Russia is a socialist country. An awful abuse of what Socialism really means. By labelling Russia’s tyrants “socialists”, he joins the Tories and their like who see the whole world as a Wild-West all-action movie, goodies versus baddies, with “socialism” cast in the role of villain.

After Solzhenitsyn’s superficial prejudice, it is refreshing to read Sakharov’s view (Time, Aug. 4, ’75). Sakharov is active as a champion of the civil rights movement and a liberal, not a revolutionary. He describes himself as “a confirmed evolutionist and a reformist”, from which we may infer that he sees the struggle for Socialism as not important at the present time. In the meantime there are lots of things to put right, like putting Sellotape on the ceiling when the problem is caused by slates falling off the roof and letting the weather in.

But he does start out with something which is worth noting:

 Contemporary Soviet society is based on state capitalism, a total party-government monopoly over economy, culture, ideology and the other basic spheres of life. In periods of crisis, such a system engenders rule by terror; in quieter periods, it engenders the dominance of bungling bureaucracy, mediocrity, apathy and dissipation among the people, and the permanent militarization of our economy . . . Much of our financial resources provide a high standard of living for the privileged strata of society that Djilas called the “new class”. Every day radio loudspeakers tell the ordinary Soviet citizen that he is the master of his country, but he knows perfectly well that the real masters are “the bosses” who, morning and evening, are whisked along quiet, closed-off streets in their armoured limousines.

The Dog-Meat Society
For decades now Socialists have been declaring that Russia is a capitalist (or “state”-capitalist) country, with wage-workers exploited just as much as those in this country. Indeed, if the evidence of my own eyes is anything to go by, the Russian workers are worse off than those here. A view which Sakharov appears to share:

  You (in the West) do not have your backs to the wall; even if you reduced your standard of living to one-fifth of what it is, you would still be better off than people in the world’s wealthiest socialist country. Workers in the Soviet Union have the right neither to strike nor to appeal to higher authorities.
The average apartment building in this country resembles a low-income housing project in America, though ours has fewer conveniences and is more crowded. In most parts of the country one has to stand in line for hours to get meat, and even then it is sometimes not fit for a dog.

I seem to have heard that bit about dog-meat somewhere else. A Roman Catholic Community Services worker in Los Angeles was quoted in the Western Socialist (No. 3, 1975) as saying: “Our people have so little, they don’t have the money to buy dog-food. Dog-food would be a luxury.”

So the dictators of the Kremlin cause workers to queue for offal, and the world’s wealthiest and best- fed state, a so-called democracy, reduces some of its workers to the degraded and half-starved state where even dog-food would be a luxury. And they actually expect these same workers to rise up patriotically to defend their way of life. To fight a war to defend dog-meat — ye gods!

At last we have evidence lasting over a period of years that some people in Russia have begun to realize that they are not in a socialist society, only in a state capitalist one, and at the same time they are realizing increasingly the very real drawbacks to state capitalism. Some of these are mentioned by Sakharov, such as corruption and inefficiency among managers, indifference, apathy and appalling conditions for workers, and wasteful military expenditure. He did not mention, although others have done so, the lack of flexibility in responding to market demands.

The Need for Change
Increasingly the Russian government has had to allow foreign trade to take a key rôle in the economy. Russia exports and imports on a very large scale now, and not only wheat. The result is that the Russian economy must become adapted to the ups and downs of world trade cycles. The Iron Curtain is in tatters: détente has taken over.

 

With economic change there will have to be political change. Mostly the dissenters see this in terms of progressing forward to private enterprise capitalism: after all, if Western free enterprise is so good at turning out cars, freezers and the tellypop, it can’t be as bad as Lenin thought, can it? There have been indications and rumours of demands for a multi-party system, for more press freedom, the right to strike, shorter hours, the right to demonstrate, and many other civil rights, all of which indicate the development of resentment against the regime.

 

At present most of the demands seem to be for reform as an end in itself. In time we are confident that Socialist understanding will develop, as it has done elsewhere. Why are we so confident, you ask? After all, the Socialist movement even in Britain and America is still very small and many workers reject our message.

 

Our answer is that socialist understanding derives from the experienced, known facts of capitalist life; from the fact that you are living in that certain sort of society where everything you make belongs to “them”, where all the housing is controlled by “them”, where food and all other necessities can only be bought from “them”, where you struggle to hold down your jobs — tedious, mindless, monotonous, maddening, boring chores, but at least still receive your meal-tickets — where you see the youngsters drift to the cities — who wants to hoe turnips on Cold Comfort Kolkhoz anyway?, where you queue wearily while you know that “they” live comfortably and what’s more are regarded with awe and respect, or perhaps fear, by all their subordinates.

 

“They” are the surplus-value eaters. Although they have no legal title to ownership of factories, farms or mines, nevertheless they control everything produced by you and your like.

 

Worm’s Eye View
For the worker the state-capitalist system works very like private-enterprise capitalism. The working class are “free”: we own no land and no tools, so we are free to sell our labour-power or put it another way, we absolutely have to sell our labour-power if we want to go on living. Those who control the factories also control what we produce while working at the boss-class’s machinery with the boss-class’s raw materials. In modern conditions, with the high productivity achieved by having large numbers of people working together and by the use of power-driven machinery, we are capable of producing the value of our pay-packets many times over in the course of the week. The difference between what we produce and what we get paid (surplus-value) is used by the boss-class for their own purposes — more capital, profits including puffed-up directors’ salaries, distribution costs including advertizing and market research, limousines, law ’n’ order and defence estimates, to name but a few

 

This system operates all over the world. It is nothing but exploitation. The quest for profits has turned the world into such a dreadful place that the very word civilization stinks. “Where there’s muck there’s brass” can be turned on its head to make better sense: “where there’s brass there’s muck”. In other words, profits pollute. We say this system only lasts because most people are contented with it and continue to go on voting for the likes of “them” to run our lives.

 

We say democracy can be used in our interests, to get rid of the whole profits and prices system, West or East. We say, the dog-meat system stinks and the only way out is the Socialist way.

 

Charmian Skelton