Colin Barker Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Colin Barker

Class and Society in Soviet Russia

(January 1973)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.54, January 1973, p.26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Class and Society in Soviet Russia
Mervyn Matthews
Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, £3.50

Reliable information on life in Russia is still, relatively speaking, quite rare. For this reason, this book is to be welcomed.

Matthews has assembled a mass of data on income inequality, comparisons between working-class and peasant living standards, party membership, inequalities and tensions in Russian education, youth unemployment, etc. He has drawn extensively from official sources and thrown light on a number of under-publicised areas of Russian daily life.

It is, interesting, for example, to learn of the existence of a Russian equivalent to the Black Paper reaction towards working-class and peasant students, emanating from the heads of institutions of higher education who are concerned about ‘falling standards’. Matthews’ account of the sources of high youth unemployment (running as high as 50 per cent in Armenia in 1966) is exceptionally interesting: employers are unwilling to take on young workers who may claim rights to part-time education on the one hand; while the enormous income and prestige differentials make many young people who are formally qualified to gain admission to full-time higher education, but who fail to get places, very unwilling to take jobs as manual workers.

As a source book for analysis of aspects of contemporary Russian State capitalism, the book will be valuable. But in itself, it is far from satisfactory. The various elements of Russian reality that it presents are not integrated into any overall account of the dynamics of Russian society. ‘Our study should provide a fund of argument for proponents of many schools: we have not elected to choose between them’, declares Matthews. The comment is apt, but he might have added: as a result, the data presented have no meaning by themselves.

Colin Barker Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 12.1.2008