John Summers

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The Red and the Black

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Review from an unidentified newspaper (presumably from Doncaster)

In Britain, the prevailing ideology is one that says some people are born to wear a saddle, and some people to ride in it.

It is not surprising, therefore that ‘communist’ countries who challenge that, at least in theory, are frowned upon and discredited by those who rule our society.

The Red and the Black by John Summers is a book that serves as a useful counterbalance to all the distorted rubbish you often find in British newspapers and periodicals about the food shortages etc in Russia.

However, the mere fact that this book is published by Progress Publishers, Moscow, fills you with suspicion as to the validity of the colourful picture of Russian life painted by the author.

Summers though seems to have excellent qualifications to present a balanced account, having been brought up in the South Wales mining village of Rumni in the ‘30s and having worked as a miner. He also, at one time, had his own editorial column in the Sunday Telegraph.

He portrays the lives of Russian miners, and the conditions he describes, if true, should provoke a mass emigration from the Doncaster pits.

It is quite obvious that Russian workers and peasants suffered terribly under the Tsars, and poverty in Russian in 1917 was at the level of that in India.

But since the Revolution unemployment, poverty and starvation for the 260 million inhabitants of 100 different nationalities has been eradicated – albeit with shortages of some foodstuffs and commodities we enjoy in Britain.

People in the West often forget there were more Russians killed in the Second World War than all the other allied nations put together, and if it wasn’t for the heroic defence of Leningrad, which was a crucial turning point in the war, we might now be living under the Nazis.

It appears that apart from getting dirt cheap accommodation, all Russians miners retire at 50 with a pension and every year they are given a paid holiday in their own hotels on the Black Sea.

It will be interesting readings for Doncaster miners, but in a general sense the book leaves too many questions unanswered.

Why, if conditions for miners are so good and there is workers’ democratic control, did the Polish miners in Silesia strike last year, and why have so many joined Solidarity? Within the Eastern Bloc are the Russian miners a privileged section of the working class?

Why, if people are so contented with their way of life, are the Soviet Communist Party so afraid of rival political parties and dissidents?

It seems to me that what many are fighting for in Russia and the Stalinist states is socialism with democracy – workers’ control and not bureaucrats’ control.

G.H.

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