The Notes By The Way column from the January 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard
Wages in Russia
In view of the popular misconceptions about the social system in Russia, the following recent statements are of interest.
The first, relating to the great inequality of wages, was published in the Sunday Dispatch (August 17th, 1941), along with much other information about Russia. It was prefaced by a personal message from the Soviet Ambassador in London, in which he congratulated the Dispatch on publishing the information.
Wages or salaries are paid according to ability and the type of work. Specialists are highly paid, but lower grades receive what may be termed a subsistence level, corresponding to the social status of their type of labour. . . . Some workers get quite low wages, but, as there are rarely less than three or four wage-earners in a family, discrepancies may be evened out. Average minimum wage is 250 roubles monthly, though specialists may receive an average as high as 2,000 roubles a month.
The second is a news item in the Evening News (December 30th, 1941), stating that a special war tax was to be introduced in Russia. It ended as follows:
Persons with specially large incomes will pay double the normal rate.
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The Landworker's £3 Wage
When it was announced that the Central Agricultural Wages Board had agreed unanimously to recommend a £3 minimum wage for men on the land, Mr. A. C. Dann, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Land workers, told a Daily Express reporter how, during the last war, he was sent as a soldier to work on the land in Norfolk and how he was appalled at the horrible conditions under which the farm worker lived. It will doubtless not have escaped Mr. Dann’s notice that the newspapers which under war conditions of food shortage and restricted imports all agreed quite enthusiastically that the landworker ought to have £3, were mostly quite cold and silent in peace-time and not at all disturbed about the horrible conditions. They may be expected to suffer a relapse when peace comes again and when the fight is on between the agricultural interests which want subsidies continued, and the manufacturing interests who will want cheap home produced food and cheap imports because they mean lower wages to factory workers.
Already a start has been made at reducing the value of the £3 minimum. At present the landworker gets his tied cottage at a restricted rent of 1s. or 4s. So the demand is now being made that this restriction of rent should cease, and the landworker be compelled to pay an "economic rent.” Even this pill is sugared with the promise that if he does pay more he will get something better than what the Times (November 18th) describes as his “often slummy " cottage.
A sidelight on the life of freeborn rural Englishmen is provided by a comment in the Times (November 17th) on the difficulty of providing clothes in war-time.
In ordinary times his wife managed to replenish his working wardrobe economically from the jumble sales, which used to be a regular feature of village life. Now no one turns out clothing that has any virtue. . .
It seems that what, in our urban ignorance, we take for scarecrows on the countryside are the local squirearchy wearing out their own jumble-sale clobber.
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A Bagatelle of £100 Million
In a speech in the House of Commons on October 1st, 1941 (“Hansard," Col. 616) the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Kingsley Wood, explained why it is not expedient to “soak the rich" by lopping off in taxation all incomes in excess of £1,000 a year:—
It is probably not realised that if we so increased taxation that no one was left with more than £1,000 a year or his present net income after taxation, whichever was the less—the course which would obviously precipitate very acute problems of many kinds—the additional yield would not exceed something of the order of £106,000,000.
The problems referred to are probably the contractual obligations (rent, etc.) which could not be met if incomes were cut to £1,000. Even so, and even if £100 million does not represent many days’ war expenditure, Sir Kingsley Wood failed to give any convincing reason why the people referred to should be treated so differently from the wage-earners getting £3 or £4 a week, who are told that every penny counts if devoted to war savings.
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A Concession to Income Tax Payers
Workers who for the first time have been initiated into the mysteries of income tax will know that no wage may be reduced in any one week through deduction of tax, below 37s. 6d. for a single man or single woman, or below 57s. 6d. for a married man. They will also have noticed that the official announcement informs them that this concession will be made “unless you ask for the full tax to be deducted," and further that it is only a postponement not a permanent relief: you make up the full amount later on.
We wonder if any of the higher officials of the Inland Revenue Department realise what it means at present prices to make ends meet on '37s. 6d. or 57s. 6d. a week. The “very acute problems" that would arise if large incomes were reduced to £1,000 a year are nothing compared with the acute problem of living on 37s. 6d. a week.
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The Decline of Religion
According to the Rev. E. H. Lewis, an Army chaplain, “only five per cent. of the men who join the Army can say the Lord’s Prayer, 15 per cent, have had no connection with the Church, and 85 per cent. have never been in a church in their lives."— (Sunday Express, November 2nd, 1941.)
The Rev. S. C. Thompson, writing to the Daily Telegraph (December 1st) says: “I would submit that the influence of Christ has declined, is declining, and (humanly speaking) will decline in this country, and that the reason is the general and culpable neglect of organised religion."
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The Health of Recruits to the U.S. Army
According to the Times (October 11th, 1941), the calling up of men for the American Army has disclosed "that roughly 1,000,000 young men— about half of those examined—have been rejected as unfit for service on account of physical, mental, or educational defects." President Roosevelt described this as "an indictment of America."
U.S.A. has been held up in the past as an example of capitalism at its best and as a proof that a high standard of living and low unemployment are not impossible under capitalism. The results do not look anything to be proud of. They will give an impetus to the demand for social reforms to repair the damage done by Capitalism.
Whether the standard is comparable with that applied to recruits for the British army is not known, but it has been claimed that official figures show that in this war the proportion of recruits passed as fit has been about 80 per cent, (i.e., in Grades I, II and III together).—(Sunday Express, October 26th, 1941.)
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Those who remember the kind of abuse hurled at the Bolshevists in former years will rub their eyes to see some of the things being said to-day. On October 30th the Times published a large advertisement adorned with the Hammer and Sickle Emblem, and containing the following :—
“Hammer and sickle, symbol once of a distant, mysterious and unknown land, symbol to-day of the power and patriotism of Holy Russia.’'
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"The Best Means of Keeping them in Proper Subjection"
The following in a resolution passed in 1768 by the Committee of the Foundling Hospital regarding the purpose of the religious eduction of the foundlings who were to be placed out as apprentices: -
That when the children of this hospital are placed out each shall have a copy of the prayers they use in this hospital, the same to be printed on small portable twelves on parchment with a thin paste board cover, and that another copy of the same shall be delivered to the master or mistress of the child, with the preamble as follows:
As it is of the greatest moment to breed up children in the fear of God, as the best means of keeping them in proper subjection to their masters, mistresses, and superiors—and as praying is the most effectual means to promote such fear, and to enforce obedience to the laws of God, you are hereby informed that it is expected of you to take care that this child . . . aged . . . says his or her prayers constantly every morning, as well as every evening, and you are to give him (or her) due sense of what he (or she) is about, and to this end you must be careful that he (or she) repeats prayers in a slow, serious and solemn manner, and you are further to take care that this child do frequent the public worship on the Sabbath Day, in a sober, pious, orderly manner.—“The History of the Foundling Hospital "(Nicholas & Wray, 1935), page 190.
Though later developments have produced other means of persuading the workers that capitalism is all for the best, there are still those who hold that religion has its uses in that direction.