Running Commentary: Behind the Iron Curtain

On 8 June, Panorama (BBC television) showed a film called “Behind The Curtain” made by Antoine Fournier, which consisted of interviews with workers in Moscow. The similarity with life in the West was quite remarkable, as the camera panned over Coca-Cola adverts, horse- and car-racing and amusement arcades. One assistant salesman on £45 a month explained how he is forced to try to earn some money “on the side” dealing in the black market. Another, dealing in the foreign clothes market, explained:

  Underground market is a very popular thing in the Soviet Union. All the young people I know do the things I do because, for two reasons. The first is a great profit, and the second is a simple interest to connect with foreigners. But there are lots of police in civil clothes who control the situation and if they catch you with the clothes, they never take you to the police station, they simply take your clothes and then resell them. Policemen have a little salary too, so we can understand them.

Here are some more excerpts from the interviews.

Can we film you at work? The bosses would never allow it.
Do you get good wages? Good pay? You must be joking . . . If I make 150 roubles a month. I’m doing alright . . . I’m just slaving away.
Do many women do your job? What can I say? There are so many of them. They need money, or they want to get a flat. But we’re told a pack of lies. They’ve been lying for five years now about the flat, saying they’re going to give it to us. But we’re still living in a room like this one, we still haven’t a flat, just a room. When will you get your flat? We haven’t any idea. That depends on the boss. Go and ask him yourself. Looks like we haven’t earned it yet so they haven’t given it to us.
Are you going to vote tomorrow? Of course (they laugh) what a stupid question!
And who are you going to vote for? Don’t you have an easier question? (They all laugh cynically.) The portrait of our deputy is already hung up in the entrance!
What about Party members? If somebody joins the Party, either that means he’s a careerist, that he’s already decided he wants to make a career of it, or, well it means that he’s just no good.
And Western people? First of all, I think they shouldn’t be afraid of us. We are people just like them. We live like they do.


The hysteria over the Brixton riots has faded now, but with unemployment and resentment mounting all the time, it is quite possible that there will be further outbreaks of violence in inner-city areas. Brixton was quite clearly not a “race riot”; the police were attacked as representatives of state harassment and authority. But in the aftermath, references to the “black community” in the press suggested that the main division is between blacks and whites. In fact, the whole community, black and white, is divided into two classes. There are both black and white investors, property-owners, who profit from the poverty suffered by black and white workers.


For example, a Nigerian called Chief Francis Nzeribe has said he wants to invest money in Brixton. Some people in Brixton will be allowed to have jobs, to get wages which are just enough to live one, while Nzeribe will own all of the wealth they produce for him. He owns £50 million worth of assets around the world, and heads twenty-seven companies. He has been a private arms dealer and lives in a flat in Mayfair. He has said of his plans for Brixton: “I see this as an opportunity to make money” (New Standard, 5/5/81). Colour is irrelevant.


A few years ago, the media were stirring up a popular fear that oil resources were going to run out. There was a danger of a shortage. Now the tune has changed, and they are getting worried about a “glut”. OPFC and other representatives of oil interests are complaining about the threat of falling prices and profits as hundreds of barrels of oil pour out from the Middle Fast each week, to say nothing of all of the other sources in the world. Because of the recession, world market demand is down, so supply seems to be too high to satisfy the profit demands of the owners.


Resources today are not measured by simple human needs, any more than production is controlled by them. The market rules. This is why today’s glut becomes tomorrow’s scarcity. The present crisis in world capitalism is not just affecting oil, though. America has a “butter mountain” which is “growing by ten million pounds a week” (Guardian, 30/5/81); and on 26 May a Guardian article entitled: “There’s an awful lot of coffee” referred to “the prospect that the world is likely to be oversupplied with coffee during the next twelve months or so”. But in today’s insane system, that will not prevent millions of people from starving to death this year, and millions more from drinking tea because it is cheaper.


China is supposed to be a People’s Republic. Its government claims to have saved its workers from the ravages of capitalist exploitation. So it is rather odd that on 15 April, Coca-Cola, the epitome of world capitalism, opened a bottling plant in Peking. But the Chinese workers will, it seems, be saved from this danger by their benevolent masters after all. At first, the drink will only be sold to people with hard currency (the Chinese ruling class). Later it may be available for “ordinary” Chinese people (the working class), but probably at a price well over what most of them could afford, (Times, 16/4/81) so thoroughly are they being drained dry by the “People’s” Parasites.


Capitalism’s Casualties
Dr. Jay Herbert, chairman of the Hospital Doctors’ Association, remarked recently that more than half the country’s junior doctors work more than eighty hours a week, and that their resulting tiredness was a major cause of death in hospitals (Guardian 30/5/81). He pointed to Sunday evenings as a critical time, and said that the massive amount of overtime worked by doctors was allowed to continue for economic reasons: “Juniors are still expected to work for an overtime rate of one-third the basic rate. It is cheaper for hospitals to employ fewer doctors for longer hours than more doctors.”


Clifford Slapper