From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
To begin with, there is no such thing as a socialist country on the face of the earth. They are all, including Russia, China, Cuba, capitalist. Every country operates the wages system and in every country there are two classes—the majority who have to sell their energies in order to live and another class which buys those energies and pays me wages. In all countries, the state takes part in the process by adopting the role of employer. In England, for example, the state is the employer in the Post Office, the steel industry, the coal mines (made state property comparatively recently by Labour governments which thought — or rather said — they were introducing pieces of socialism). In many industries, however, there is no state ownership. Private capitalists run the bakeries, the clothing trade, the shops (though the state does own some shops—the betting shops known as the Tote). This system is known as the mixed economy and is of course a mixture of capitalism and capitalism rather like a bread sandwich.
In Russia, almost the entire economy is state-owned. Just as a British steel worker is the same kind of wage slave whether he works for the nationalised British Steel Corporation or for the small proportion of the industry in private hands, so it is with a steel worker in Russia. The only difference is that in Russia all workers, for practical purposes, work for the state; it is state capitalism as compared with the “mixed” economy. A distinction without a difference.
But, say those silly people in the Communist Party (and indeed in the entire press), there still remains a difference. In the west there is a capitalist class. We even know them by name. They are called Weinstock, Rockefeller, Thompson. They really do own the industries where the wage-slaves work. Can anyone name a comparable owner in Russia? Therefore there is no capitalist class there. Therefore it is not capitalism
There is of course a facet of truth here, in that individual capitalists do not own the means of life in Russia. The state does. The 64,000 dollar question then becomes: who owns the state? The answer is: A mixed bag of exploiters including the Communist Party high- ups; the top bureaucrats (apparatchiks); the top managers, artists and literateurs (those who write stuff approved by the state machine—the “dissidents” are lucky if they can scrounge enough paper to print their secret publications).
We are then told that in the bourgeois west you can see the capitalists. They are fat and well-fed and wear mink. They have yachts and country homes. But it is precisely the same in Russia. For a small minority, there are black Mercedes limousines, dachas in the country, villas on the Black Sea where it’s nice and warm. And even something that the western capitalists would not dare to claim for themselves: shops and stores where the workers are not even allowed in. Shops where they sell the caviare and the fine clothes. Such things would cause riots in London.
Anyone can go into Harrods or Fortnums and buy a Mars bar or a cup of coffee (and nobody would stop them buying vicuna coats at a thousand quid a time; for some reason the workers don’t seem to do that). Indeed a worker can lounge about at Harrods all day long and not buy a thing. But you have to have a special pass to go into the Harrods of Moscow. And the pass is not for you, chum. It is for the people who own the world.
The Russian workers have to shop in the stores where the cheap and nasty is sold. But the sheer contempt the Russian rulers have for their slaves is shown in ways that would shock western wage-slaves. A socialist propagandist went on a package tour to Russia last November, when the icy winds were blowing into Moscow from the frozen steppes. And he saw that the Russian workers were compelled to stand and freeze in queues outside the low-class stores, morning and evening.
In between they had to get themselves exploited for their pittance. And while scrabbling for their shopping they have the pleasure of seeing the capitalist class riding past in their chauffeur-driven cars to their posh warm stores where other slaves serve their needs.
History’s Carnival, the autobiography of expelled dissident Leonid Plyusch, describes how the children of the upper class have fresh fruit flown in during the winter from the Black Sea region to their opulent kindergartens.
The officer class in the armed forces has privileges which make those of their counterparts here pale into insignificance. They even have special parachutes so that their chances of landing in one piece are better than the workers’ in the ranks—who are expendable. Not long ago, the Russians made a great fuss about reducing the numbers of troops in their colonies like East Germany and the papers contained reports of trainloads of soldiers going eastwards. And when they stopped at the stations it could be seen that certain carriages were nothing better than cattle trucks. It must be so nice for the other ranks to know that they have got a Communist Party dictatorship ruling over them instead of the wicked Tsarist one. Too bad the cattle trucks are the same.
Actually, examples are not needed to show there is a capitalist class in Russia. If the majority of the people own nothing but their mental and physical energies, they have to sell them for a so-called living wage. But the workers produce a lot more wealth than they get back in wages. So where else can that wealth go except to the class that pays the wages—the ruling class, the capitalist class? An analogy is with the mediaeval Church, which was the extremely wealthy owner of the riches wrung from the peasants. Nobody owned the Church in the same way that, say, Isaac Wolfson owns a vast share in GUS but this did not alter the fact that the cardinals and the bishops and the abbots lived off the fat of the land.
It is true that the bishops could not bequeath a couple of churches to their children (they weren't supposed to have any, of course). And Brezhnev can’t leave a Fiat-run car factory in the Urals to his offspring. But if your children have all the best food and the best schools and the influence and contacts that well-placed families can provide it is more than likely that they will take their places as members of the ruling class in their turn. In any event, the vast majority of the population will remain wage slaves.
L. E. Weidberg