Russia—dissent under dictatorship

Anatoly Shcharansky (sentenced to thirteen years for ‘spying’), Alexander Ginzburg and Viktoras Pektus (sentenced for anti-Soviet activities) have been interned—possibly to face an ordeal through which they will not live, certainly to conditions of the utmost hardship and cruelty. They have dared to criticise publicly the totalitarian dictatorship of the Soviet Union. In mediaeval England, if a subject criticised or disobeyed the monarch, he was destined to incarceration or death; in Tsarist Russia the Siberian mines or the army was the fate of dissidents. As long as the State has supreme power—that is, control over the army and means of coercion, a monopoly over education, the press and ideology and, above all, the ownership and control of wealth production and distribution—the consequences for those who dissent from the ruling class ideology are bleak.

Shcharansky and Orlov (both sentenced to labour camps) were leaders of a group whose intention was to monitor the Soviet Union’s breaches of the Human Rights clauses in the Helsinki Final Act. The evidence gathered by this group has been of considerable interest to those trying to discover the extent of the tyranny of Russian State capitalism. But the quest for political liberty in a country dominated by a party dictatorship must not be seen as an end in itself. What Russian workers must fight for—as must their fellow workers of the world, be they living under dictatorships or in political democracies—is the genuine freedom which comes with Socialism. What the opponents of the Soviet regime must do is to couple their struggle for political liberties and free trade union organisation with a struggle for the establishment of Socialism.

Shcharansky, Ginzburg, Pektus (only the most recent of a series of dissidents interned by the Soviet government) will probably suffer in vain. The working class, far from learning the lessons of their efforts, are being fooled on every side. Capitalism is a system of profound hypocrisy and this is no better exemplified than by the world reaction to the trials of the Russian dissidents. From every part of the capitalist world which is presently opposed to the Soviet Union we hear empty cries of outrage at the unfairness of the Russian judiciary. That arch-defender of liberty— especially the liberty of capitalists to make huge profits and workers to take less pay—Jim Callaghan, has spoken of the recent trials as reminiscent of the injustices of the Stalin period. In the days of Stalin Mr. Callaghan was singing the praises of the Soviet system:

  “The rewards given to ability in the USSR at all levels are far greater than those given to the employed in Capitalist Britain. I have seen it and it works”.
Reynolds News 17 March 1946

Under capitalism the State fears criticism; when a majority understands and wants Socialism they will turn criticism into action. Shcharansky and most of the Russian dissidents have so far attempted to criticise, but not to recognise the nature of Russian State capitalism and the need for a revolutionary party to win political liberties for the purpose of overthrowing the dictatorial rule of the Communist party and joining with their fellow workers to organise for Socialism. In this the Socialist Party of Great Britain will give them every possible encouragement.