Monday, March 11, 2019

The Spectre Haunting Kruschev (1961)

From the September 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ar the end of July the London Press carried reports from Russia about grandiose schemes the government there has announced for a higher standard of living, shorter working hours, free bread, free housing, free transport, free gas and electricity, etc., all by 1980 or thereabouts. According to the Daily Worker (31/7/61) this “giant plan for Peace and Plenty” staggered the world! It may not have had that effect on governments and political commentators, but it certainly set them wondering what is the purpose of the manoeuvre and the pressure behind it. Many commentators followed the same line as did Edward Crankshaw in the Observer (30/7/61). He sees Kruschev’s new manifesto as a move in the struggle between Russia and China :
  With the publication of its long-awaited new Party programme, the Soviet Communist Party has made its supreme bid to recover the undisputed leadership of the world Communist movement in face of the Chinese challenge.
  It seeks not only to demonstrate that the Soviet Union is in the lead and intends to stay there, but also to create a hew ideological dynamic, thus confounding fellow Communists all over the world who have lately come to the conclusion that they must look to China for aggressive and bold leadership.
One of the issues said to divide the two governments is that the government of China is disposed to achieve its aims by war: Crankshaw continues:
  Having asserted its power and the vigour of its intentions, the Soviet Party makes the great reservation which divides it from the Chinese. There must be no war. A war would not prevent the triumph of Communism; but the cost would be so great in misery that it cannot even be considered. Thus, Communists everywhere must continue with the efforts within the framework of “peaceful co-existence.” This includes even trying to come to terms for the time being with the United States.
  Here is the great issue between Peking, which seeks short cuts, and Moscow, which fears them, having so much to lose.
Here, of course, the interpretation of the hidden meaning of the Manifesto itself has to be interpreted for the Russian and Chinese governments are not really entering into rivalry about ways of achieving Communism—a matter in which they have only a pretended interest. But just as the Western capitalist interest in such things as oil and markets and air routes and strategic frontiers is presented to the workers in terms of democracy, religion and the “Western way of life,” so the real aims of the Russia-China group of expanding capitalist Powers are proclaimed in terms of a supposed desire to help the workers; oppose colonialism and promote world Communism.

The Manifesto can then be seen to be both a counter-blast to Western propaganda and an endeavour to strengthen Russia against its threateningly powerful Eastern ally.

We must also remember that when governments draw up programmes and make promises of blessings to come they have their anxious eyes on their own working class. And Kruschev has one of Russia-s own “ colonies " much on his mind, Eastern Germany. There the workers, instead of looking East to the Russian paradise flock westwards in their thousands. This kind of political “pie in the sky" is not new in Russia: it is as common there as elsewhere in the capitalist world, Only a year ago Kruschev was announcing the abolition of income tax, due to be completed by 1965, and in 1952 the Daily Worker (4/10/52) had splash headlines like those with which it greeted the latest version. At that time it was “Double Pay and Five-Hour Day” and “Stalin maps the road to Communism.” Cyril Ray, who was writing from Moscow to the Sunday Times early in 1951 reported that the date then being suggested for the great transformation to Communism to begin was "1960 or thereabouts” (Sunday Times, 11/2/51). It would seem therefore that one aim of the new document is to cover up the non- fulfilment of old promises: and more non-fulfilment is provided for in the Russian statement that international complications resulting in increased military expenditure may again hold up realization of the plans. Workers in Britain ought to be well-versed in the methods used by a privileged class to safeguard its privilege by promises of better times for the workers. Lloyd George's “9d. for 4d." which heralded National Health Insurance; his first world war promise of “a land fit for heroes to live in”; the Beveridge, plan for the Welfare State, launched during the second world war to keep the soldiers hoping;. Butler's promise of doubling the standard of living in 25 years; Lord Hailsham's forecast (Daily Express, 29/4/61) that “ the average man will be earning £2,000 a year in a classless Britain by 1984.”

The latest venture in this field is the kite flown by the Times (13/7/61) about the need for “a new society” to be built in this country: the old new society, “the Welfare State,” has already lost its appeal. It should not be necessary to say that there is always a snag about these promises. An economic blizzard blows up, or a war; or re-armament has to have priority; or the multiplication of money wages only means were pounds to buy the same goods at higher prices.

There is no mystery about this once it is realised what is the intention of the promises: that they are designed to take the edge off the workers' present discontent by holding out the hope of. future betterment.

The great deception
In the area of theoretical discussion the new Kruschev programme is offered as a stage in the transition to Communism. Russia is supposed to have first got rid of capitalism, then built up Socialism, and is now wavering towards Communism. This is a piece of myth-making comparable with the way in which the Labour Party in Britain praised Socialism but delivered nationalisation and the so-called Welfare State.

They both evolved the practice of giving the name Socialism to State Capitalism. At the beginning, Lenin, who led the Russian Communists before Stalin, was preaching the need for Russia to have “State capitalism” before they could hope for Socialism; and “Socialism” was being defined by Communists (as by the S.P.G.B.) as “ the highest stage of society.” Later on, the State Capitalism that Russia had (and has) was falsely labelled “Socialism,” an afterthought with an obvious political propaganda purpose.

There is an acid test that can be applied to this and to the other promises; and can indeed be applied to the British Labour Party. However fast or slow they might suppose progress to Socialism would be the Russian Communists and the British Labour Party, both proclaimed as an immediate objective, introducing greater equality of income. For Attlee before he became Prime Minister of a Labour Government the conduct of affairs by that government was to be on the principle that “Socialists believe in the abolition of classes and in in equalitarian society” (“The Will and the Way to Socialism," C. R. Attlee, 1935, p. 40). Lenin was equally specific. Russian government officials, industrial managers and technicians and all others were to have the same wage as industrial workers: this was to be the immediate programme. Within a year of promising equality Lenin announced that, because of the shortage of specialists for industry, the government had to pay them high salaries, so the “equal wage" principle was suspended. But it was, in Lenin's words, not to be a change of principle but a regretted temporary suspension. He did not at [the] time time try to cover it up but candidly admitted that it was a “retrograde step," forced upon them. Later on the temporary suspension became a permanent and approved Russian government policy and inequality has gone on increasing: a course of events which found its parallel in Britain under Labour government. If now Kruschev promises that some time in the future inequality is to be reduced it must be weighed against the forty year old pledge made and broken by Lenin.

What we face then is not the image of the future Russia presented by Kruschev but the present reality. A great, expanding capitalist Power facing its world rivals. Not a ''Socialist" economy moving towards Moneyless Communism, but the government which has just re-introduced the death penalty for currency offences. Not the "peace and plenty" of page one of the Daily Worker but the capitalist Power boasting on page three of the destructive might of its modern navy. (Daily Worker, 31/7/61). Not the supposedly disinterested scientific flight into space by Yuri Gagarin but Kruschev’s "From the point of view of the defence of our country this gives us very great, colossal superiority." (Daily Mail report of speech in Moscow, 15/4/61).

Forecasts of free housing, free transport, etc., may look attractive, but in the real world of the ceaseless struggle over wages in their relation to prices they have a very different look. Already in Russia rents are kept at a very low level, so that most workers spend on rent between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent. of the family income. But along with very low rents it is government policy to have very high prices for clothes and so-called "luxury" goods. And when the Daily Worker (31/7/61) reports that by 1980 Russian workers wifi have “free education at all educational establishments; free medical reviews . . .  including the supply of medicines" it is only a development that capitalism can carry without difficulty and, indeed with advantage to the employers. "Free" is an ambiguous concept and free travel for railwaymen in this country has meant a correspondingly low wage, as did low-priced cottages and food for agricultural workers.

One forgotten prelude to the Kruschev promises for 1980 is the suspension in 1957 of repayment of interest and capital on the Russian Government bonds. The period of "freezing" is for 25 years, which carries us up to the early 1980's. David Floyd (Daily Telegraph, 11/4/57) stated that the total accumulated amount of these government loans was £23.500 million, and the annual interest payment to the bondholders £640 million. Like everything else that the Russian government does the Russian workers were alleged to have welcomed the suspension, though it was their own savings that were involved through the year-long practice of calling on them to make a "voluntary’’ investment of one or two weeks' pay whenever a new loan was raised.

Spectre haunting Europe
The Communist Manifesto, published well over a century ago, opened with the resounding words:
  A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
It was a spectre right enough; both in being a danger for the ruling class and in being exaggerated and distorted in their eyes almost out of recognition. They warded off the threat and capitalism has grown from a European to a world-wide system. Can it now be said that the spectre of communism haunts the rulers of all the world? In the sense that the workers of the world arc rapidly approaching common action to get rid of world capitalism, the answer is no; for, to the great harm of the Socialist movement, millions of workers have been persuaded to support Russian State capitalism in the mistaken belief that it is Socialism or Communism and in their interest; and parallel with this it suits the other governments to represent their economic conflicts with Russia as a struggle against Communism—despite the candid admission of Eisenhower and the late John Foster Dulles that Russia is a “State capitalist" economy.

But it can be said that the rulers of capitalism everywhere are increasingly worried about their inability to keep the workers humble and contented with the lot capitalism provides for them. How else can we explain the spate of promises by all governments everywhere to make life better for the workers?

But we still have to wait on the future to see Russia, America. Europe and the other Powers (and the Pope!) forced into mutual protective alliance by the growth of a Socialist working class in all countries bent on ending capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

Notice the unusual spelling of Khrushchev? I decided to retain the spelling of his name from the original article.