J. T. Murphy

Introduction to Russian Prisons

Source: Shirvindt, Evsei Gustavovich, Russian Prisons, February 1928
Publisher: International Class War Prisoners’ Aid, London
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

To every worker who has spent any period whatever inside a British prison the following pages will prove amazing reading. To those who have not had such an experience, but are dependent for their conceptions of prison life upon what they read in the Press, these pages will be also tremendously interesting and provide a study in contrast.

The contrast revealed here is not simply a contrast of conditions, but the contrast of capitalist principles with socialist principles as applied to those whom the respective governing forces deem to have acted contrary to the interests of society. Whereas the capitalist prison system is used as a means for revengeful punishment in the sense of the Calvinists punishing sin, the Socialist Government uses the detention system as a means of correction and improvement, a means of raising the value and standard of the individual corrected.

No one who has experienced a British prison can deny that the whole aim and purpose of its methods is to degrade the individual who comes within it. It isolates him from society. It keeps him cut off from every decent social influence. It separates him from the life of the world. It places his physical welfare in the hands of military-minded policemen, regulated by a mechanical discipline which reduces them to the level of automatons. (Put them in the prison garb and most of them would be indistinguishable from the burglars or any other type of criminal one meets there.)

Whilst the physical and sanitary side is regulated by these types the spiritual and cultural side is placed in the hands of ignorant parsons spouting a theology of the Middle Ages. The food, the routine, the senseless trotting round the ring, the gibbering tosh of the spiritual hacks whose main function is to prevent the prisoners from coming in contact with the intellectual life of the age, the everlasting yapping of the warders to “shut up,” “stop talking,” “close your door”—all these things make the prison system of this country the most stupid, the most degrading conceivable.

Contrast this with the light, the intellectual and social freedom of the corrective system under the Socialist Government of Russia—and judge for yourself! And you will find that on this question, as on all others, the magnitude of the gulf between the capitalist regime and socialism. No wonder the capitalist and Labour reformist press tell their lies about Socialist Russia. The truth is too great a challenge to capitalism for them to purvey it here. That is why this brochure is written and published. Read it and pass it on.

February, 1928.