Only fifteen years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and it is a rare Russian who would dare to claim that life is better now than it was in the days of the USSR. In spite of the regressions that took place after the death of Stalin (the economic policies of Khrushchev and Brezhnev from the late 1950s onwards put the USSR back on the road to capitalism), the quality of life for the average worker in the Soviet Union remained comparatively high right up until the country was divided in 1991.
After 1991, quality of life in Russia and the other countries of the former USSR took a terrible nose-dive. Life expectancy decreased between 1990 and 1995 by 6.3 years for men (63.8 to 57.5) and by 3.4 years for women (74.4 to 71.0), the kind of drastic plunges normally associated with civil war situations. Poverty increased, as did the death rate, illness, stress, alcoholism and drug abuse, along with crime and prostitution.
And it has recently emerged that racial hatred is another of the joys of capitalism that the Russian people won as part of the counterrevolution package.
Rising numbers of physical assaults
In 2005, there were at least 28 reported racist murders and hundreds of racist assaults. Africans in particular, many of who would have come to the USSR decades ago to study at the voluntary expense of the Soviet state, have been targeted by racist elements, and negative stereotypes of them are reinforced in the mainstream press.
A BBC News Online report of 24 February 2006, ‘Living with race hate in Russia’, reported on the plight of people of African origin in Russia: “Gabriel Anicet Kotchofa, head of the Foreign Students’ Association in Russia, offers fellow Africans considering an education in Russia two pieces of advice: ‘Consider your personal safety’ and ‘Make sure your parents can pay your living costs’. Such considerations did not exist when he arrived in Moscow a quarter of a century ago from Benin. No Soviet citizen, he recalls, would have dared raise their hand against a foreigner, and the USSR bore all the costs of its student ‘guests’ from the developing world … ‘One thing democracy brought Russia was the freedom to insult and attack people and be sure of not being punished’.”
This is in the country that, more than any other, forged a new model of socialist brotherhood in which nationality and race had no role. Article 123 of Chapter 10 of the 1936 Constitution was at the time totally unique in offering all citizens protection under the law, regardless of race or nationality: “The equality of the right of the citizens of the USSR irrespective of their nationality or race, in all fields of economic, state, cultural, social, and political life, is an irrevocable law. Any direct or indirect restriction of these rights, or conversely the establishment of direct or indirect privileges for citizens on account of the race or nationality to which they belong, as well as the propagation of racial or national exceptionalism, or hatred and contempt, is punishable by law.”
Paul Robeson, the great black American singer and freedom fighter, visited the USSR many times from the 1930s onwards, and considered it the only country on earth that was free of racism. We publish below some pertinent quotes from Robeson that we hope will give the reader an impression of race relations in the USSR (and will provide an adequate contrast with the Russia of today):
“The theatres and opera houses are packed every night by workers. On the trains you see men and women studying works on science and mathematics. In the Soviet Union today there are not only no racial questions; in the minds of the masses there is not even the concept of racial questions. Black, white, yellow – all were part of a whole, and no one thought of the question.” (‘Paul Robeson tells of Soviet progress’, Irish Workers’ Voice, 23 February 1935)
“I have heard some honest and sincere people say to me, ‘Yes, Paul, we agree with everything you say about Jim Crow and persecution. We’re with you one hundred percent on these things. But what has Russia ever done for us Negroes?’ … The answer is very simple and very clear: ‘Russia,’ I say, ‘the Soviet Union’s very existence, its example before the world of abolishing all discrimination based on colour or nationality, its fight in every arena of world conflict for genuine democracy and peace, this has given us Negroes the chance of achieving our complete liberation within our own time, within this generation.’” (Paul Robeson Speaks, p240)
“Here I have found, in addition to the great houses of rest, a first class opera and an excellent orchestra which perform for the cultural enlightenment of tens of thousands of Soviet workers who come and go, who are guaranteed the right to rest by the Soviet constitution. And what is more remarkable and commendable, is that these Soviet workers are of all nationalities and shades of colour. In one generation, the Soviets have completely liquidated the race problem.” (‘Robeson finds Soviet a haven for artists of all nationalities’, California Eagle, 7 October 1937)
“In 1934, on my first visit to the Soviet Union, I felt for the first time in my life a full human being. Here was a nation whose history and future made clear that it would be the friend of colonial peoples struggling for liberation. Recent events have supported fully this deep faith and belief. So I am proud, deeply proud of my friendship with the Soviet people, and proud to belong to that America (the real America) that wants peace and human brotherhood.” (‘Millions of us who want peace and friendship’, Moscow News, 17 September 1958)
Long live the memory of the magnificent Soviet Union! We extend our warmest solidarity with those in Russia and the other countries of the former USSR who are working towards the restoration of Soviet socialism. Our day will come!