Response to Michael Albert
[ZNet Editor's note: 'New Politics: a journal of socialist thought' invited Michael Albert to answer the query "Is Socialism Still on the Agenda?" Albert answered, and two New Politics editors replied, and Albert responded. Below is Marvin Mandell’s reply to Michael Albert. The four pieces appeared in the bi-annual New Politics journal, linked from the ZNet debate pages for your immediate access.]
Michael Albert claims that "the distribution of income and wealth are both typically more just in Socialism I (countries) than in comparable capitalist economies." I shall try to show that this is not true. Both are unjust, but in some capitalist countries (e. g. Scandinavia and the
Albert wants to draw his comparison to the U.S.S.R. by using
Over the years, one often heard the argument: "Look, we don't have political freedoms in the
It wasn't even a goal of the Stalinists. While Lenin, in State and Revolution, called for "payment no higher than that of ordinary workers" for bureaucrats (Ch. 6), Stalin, in his six point speech of June, 1931, said uravnilovka, or equal pay, became "alien and detrimental to socialist production, a "petty bourgeois deviation," a crime against the state, a bogey word like "counterrevolution" and "Trotskyism." The early Chinese Communist leaders were just as emphatic. "We oppose egalitarianism in wage payments," said Li Li-san, then Minister of Labor (People's China, Beijing, Jan.16, 1950). And they were true to their word. In an average
And how does Albert's assurance of relative egalitarianism in "Socialism I" compare to the fact that while a deputy to the Supreme Soviet was paid 1,200 rubles for four days' work, a charwoman, for the same period, received on average 14.8 rubles?
And his assurance of greater egalitarianism under "Socialism I" is also undermined by the fact that the ratio of an unskilled laborer's salary to a physicist's salary in 1957 was 1/5 in the U.S., 1/7 in the U.K, and 1/25 in the U. S. S. R.
Following was the pay scale in the Russian Army in World War II:
private in Russian Army: 10 rubles monthly;
lieutenant " " " : 1,000 rubles monthly;
colonel " " " : 2,400 rubles monthly.
Note: ratio of private to lieutenant's pay in World War II:
British Army: 1:4
U. S. Army: 1:3
Russian Army: 1:100
Of course there are those who argue that numbers don't tell the whole story: that low wages were subsidized by a social wage such as state subsidized housing and universal health care. There is something to be said for this, but not much since one must also factor in the reality that state supported housing in the old Soviet Union often obliged a family to live in one room and wait a decade or two to get an apartment of notoriously inferior construction. And the quality of health care was abominable for the average citizen, quite different from what top bureaucrats received.
The Stalinist leadership did not share Albert's illusions about the distribution of wealth in their country. In 1928, while still a full member of the Politburo, Bukharin had some interesting things to say in a speech delivered to the Program Commission of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International:
Can there exist in this society a contradiction between the restricted onsumption of the masses... and the growing productive forces? Yes, that may be. The consumption of the ruling class grows continuously... but the consumption of the masses is retarded.... The slave in this society receives his share of the fodder.... He may receive very little.... (Kommunistische Internationale, 1928, No.33/34. p.2063)
In 1962, Nicolas Spulber, after a decade of study of the Soviet economy, concluded: "Available data point clearly toward an even broader wage dispersion in the U.S.S.R. than in the West" (The Soviet Economy [N.Y.: Norton, 1962], p. 42).
The clearest index of the quality of life is just how many people risked their lives in escape attempts -- some, true, because of political repression, but many because of economic injustice. Like Bukharin -- and unlike Albert -- they saw themselves as wage slaves. This is hardly indicative of a more just income and wealth distribution in those countries.
Of course, Michael Albert is not promoting what he calls Socialism I. But he is doing a grave disservice by claiming that the distribution of wealth was something that it clearly was not.