From the August 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the early years after the Russian revolution most people who went there went looking for something and they usually succeeded in finding what they looked for. It often depended on their prejudice or ignorance whether they found good or evil. Some claimed to see Socialism there but the S.P.G.B. said that the new rulers of Russia could not do otherwise than build up capitalism in Russia at that time and in that stage of economic and historic development. We rejected then as now all claims that Socialism was being introduced.
What to others has been miraculous achievement has to us been the normal course of capitalist industrial expansion; in a country which arrived late on the capitalist scene and had a lot of catching up to do.
If people who go to Russia believe that Socialism or Communism exists there, they will look at Russian institutions and see differences which don’t really exist or they will magnify superficial differences out of all proportion. This self-deception or misguided observation undoubtedly exists, quite apart from deliberately coloured press, screen and radio propaganda.
Mr. Harold Wilson, President of the Board of Trade in the Labour government, recently returned from Russia and wrote two articles for the Dally Mirror (June 8th-9th, 1953) on what he saw.
On the whole Mr. Wilson painted quite a rosy picture of Russia but he shows very clearly what is his own standpoint. The report opens with the revealing statement that “ten years from now Russian Production—unless China absorbs some of it—will be challenging us in the world markets.”
“The Russians are behind us now—but they are catching up.”
Although the articles were open to be read by something over 4,000,000 members of the working class, the “us” referred to is the British capitalist class because “world markets” are not the assets or interests of the workers. This fact holds good for our fellow workers in Russia too.
We are told “most women work, and old men too.”
“Of two old men, waiters at my hotel, one was nearly eighty.”
Piece-work in Russia
Mr. Wilson, when in the Labour Government, was thereby associated with government propaganda to encourage “piece-work” as a means of stepping up production. He also used to be on the staff of the Ministry of Labour and must be familiar with the complaints of British workers that as output rises piece-rates are cut by employers. He found the same in Russia.
“They are on piece-rate there. But the piece-rate changes. As some people work faster and earn bonuses so the rate is cut—and all workers have to keep pace so that they can earn a living wage.”
The ex-Labour leader was not kind enough to tell us if in his opinion this sort of thing is Socialism, but if it is then they had better insert another “ S” in the U.S.A. and call that socialist too for exactly the same conditions prevail there. Of course we know that the Daily Worker will tell us it is “socialist wages” and “socialist competition” but they never say where it differs from capitalist wages and competition.
It seems that the Russian propaganda agencies have got the workers at it to even a worse degree there than ours have here.
"Anyone not pulling his weight would not only be reported to the factory committees. He would be taken into a corner by his fellow-workers and get rough treatment. He would be letting the side down, perhaps imperiling the wage-rate—and hampering production." (Mr. Wilson's italics.)
Those capitalist powers ranged up against the Russian bloc MUST of necessity pretend that a totally different set-up obtains there, and the Russian bloc of capitalist nations must play the same game.
How else could they kid their respective wage-slaves to treat each other as enemies. It was exactly the same old story about Germany. If the workers of both sides got the idea that it was fundamentally the same system the world over, when they were told it must be fought they might think of fighting it at home, only with knowledge and understanding instead of bombs and guns.
Wages, Prices and Capitalism in Russia
In comparing prices of goods in Russia with their equivalents here, Mr. Wilson unavoidably makes obvious the fact that workers in Russia do the same with their wages as they do here—eke out an existence from pay-day to pay-day. “A man’s suit of the lowest price and quality costs £8 17s., a pair of low-grade shoes £1 14s. 6d. Medium quality rayon stockings—only the well-to-do wear the Russian equivalent of nylons—were 16s.” He puts the wage rate for an “unskilled worker” at roughly £5 and says “ Rents are low. They are fixed in relation to wages—usually between three and five per cent, of the weekly wage. Even so it takes hard work to provide any margin of extras.”
So there are low-grades and high-grades, low-qualities and higher-qualities, the well-to-do and the not so well-to-do.
The first thing to be straight about when ascertaining what social system prevails in any given country, is a definition and an understanding of what constitutes a social system and how to tell one system of society from another.
A system of society is the particular form under which men come together with the means of production and the sum of social relationships arising therefrom at a given stage of historic and material development. The fundamental feature which distinguishes capitalism from all other systems is the "relationship of wage labour to capital.
Marx on Capitalism
All kinds of things have been falsely attributed to Karl Marx. Lip-service has been paid to his teachings by those who try to pass as socialists. In Russia his name has been used to justify and bolster up state-capitalism. In the western bloc his name has been dragged through the gutter as a means to discredit something Marx never stood for. Both sides have freely adapted him to suit their ends, to stabilise their positions in the propaganda war.
How few have ever attempted to study the works of Marx and other socialist writers is made plain by the wide-spread confusion of the working-class. Consequent ignorance and confusion make it immensely difficult to put over the real socialist case, and people like Harold Wilson only foster that ignorance and confusion.
Marx spent the better part of his life attacking the wages-system and seeking as we do, its abolition. In “Capital” (William Reeves 5th edition) he asserts:—
“Capital is only produced where the holder of the means of production and of subsistence meets on the market the free labourer who comes there to sell his labour-power, and that single historic condition includes an entirely new world. From that point capital proclaims itself as an epoch of social production.”
“That which characterises the capitalist epoch is this, that labour-power acquires for the labourer the form of a commodify which belongs to him, and his labour consequently assumes the form of wage-labour.” (page 131- 132.)
In “Wage Labour and Capital ” Marx wrote:—
"Wages, therefore, are not a share of the worker in the commodities produced by himself. Wages are that part of already existing commodities, with which the capitalist buys a certain amount of productive labour-power."
(Page 12. Marx’s Italics.)“If the silkworm's object in spinning were to prolong its existence as caterpillar, it would be a perfect example of a wage-worker.”
After showing how exploitation takes place under capitalism (through the working-class creating greater values than they receive in wages), Marx goes on to say, in his own italics:—
"Capital therefore presupposes wage-labour; wage-labour presupposes capital. They condition each other: each brings the other into existence."
The only reason for workers needing a wage packet at the end of the week is because they are a propertyless class. Owning no means of production they therefore, in order to live, must hire themselves to those who do own. The State is the administrative and coercive apparatus of class rule, and only exists in societies torn with class struggles waged over property in the means of production.
Housing and Hovels
Further similarities between capitalism in Russia and capitalism (State or Private) in the rest of the world come out when Mr. Wilson tells us:—
“I saw some of the houses. Housing is Moscow’s black spot
“In the city centre, a stone's throw from the Kremlin, there are over-crowded hovels far worse than anything in our big cities. In most of these whole families live in a room 15 ft. square. But re-housing is going on fast with skyscrapers springing up. The homes I went to see on a suburban estate were much better.”
Looking round the shops and meeting the people Mr. Wilson observes:— “Sunday in a Moscow department store is like Saturday in a British department store.” The people he met were not “ sinister men with guns in their pockets nor shivering wrecks waiting to be thrown into the salt mines.”
The masses there seem to have the standard working-class outlook:— “Next to production, they talked about football.”
Mr. Wilson did not say anything about the weighty allegations of the widespread use made of forced labour by the Russian Government and we can well understand that Russian workers who resent the dictatorship may have considered it safer not to express such views to him.
He was there before the sudden removal from office of Beria so we do not know what explanation he would have given for the political set-up that renders such events inevitable.
Perhaps he ponders on how much safer it is to be a Minister administering capitalism in Britain than to be doing the same in Russia. Russia in fact is going through the phase of catching up with capitalism in the Western countries. As Mr. Wilson puts it:— “In a generation they have carried through an industrial revolution that took us 150 years.”
Being first to appear the British capitalist-class had it all their own way for a while and could allow the development of more than one party to represent sectional interests of the ruling class, land-owners and industrialists.
Some of the early struggles the workers had here are yet to be won by their fellows in Russia. A good point is made by Mr. Wilson in closing: — “remember that the ordinary people of Russia are just—ordinary people.” This can be said for every country in the world.
We want the “ordinary people” i.e„ the workers of the world to equip themselves with socialist understanding and put an end to the system that robs them, by bringing about Socialism, a wage-less, class-less world based on common ownership of the means of production.
To this end once again the Socialist Party of Great Britain extends the hand of socialist fraternity to the workers of the world.