issue 190 - December 1988
All photos: CAMERA PRESS
The Soviet Union covers one-sixth of the earth's surface, takes eight days to cross by
train and reaches from the frozen tundra to Siberia to the sub-tropical vineyards of Georgia. To
bring profound change to such an immense and varied country is a task of unimaginable complexity.
But this is just what the current leadership is trying to do with glasnost and perestroika
- to throw aside the old Stalinist habits and turn the USSR into a prosperous society.
Cold War images have left us with little sense of the feelings of and difficulties faced by the ordinary Soviet citizen.
A recent opinion poll found that 42% of Muscovites opposed the amnesty for political dissidents and only 27% approved. Over halt were against the war in Afghanistan. A resounding 84% feel that the system of 'special shops' for the élite are unfair with only 9% supporting them.14
Because of lack of safe contraceptives there are an estimated two abortions for every birth in the USSR15
The Russian language edition of the pro-glasnost Moscow News sells out its small (by Soviet standards) 25,000 Russian language print run at lightning speed. Blackmarket copies can go for as high as ten times the kiosk price.16
Thirty-five per cent of rural district hospitals have no supply of hot water and 27% lack a sewage system. In 17% there is no running water at all.17
Up to the Second World War the Soviet Union was an uneducated peasant-based agricultural society. But things have changed.
City dwellers accounted for 49% of the total population in 1960. By 1985 they made up 65%.1
The number of educated technical and other specialists jumped 400% between 1960 and 1986 while the total working population increased only by 155%.3
Elementary school was as far as 91% of the workers got in 1959. By 1984 the number had dropped to 19%.4
Only 5% of Communist Party members had any university education in 1939. By 1981 this had risen to 28%5
Soviet universities produced 5,700 economists and lawyers in 1940. A million have graduated since 1970. The number of university students in the USSR jumped from 1.2 million in 1950 to 5.2 million in 1984. A young Soviet has almost twice as high chance of going to university as their British counterpart.6
The Soviet Union is a highly literate society. The average citizen buys twelve magazines a year. Four out of five buy newspapers daily. The average citizen goes to the cinema 14 times a year. The country's theatres sell 124 million tickets.7
Gorbachev has identified Soviet bureaucracy as a major cause of economic inefficiency and popular discontent.
Eighty-five Government ministries produce 30 billion documents every year.8
The State Planning Commission decides prices of 24 million separate items.9
GALAU, the State Censorship Board, employed until recently more than 10,000 people.10
Over six million people are directly dependent on the military for their livelihood. A third of the workforce is involved in the defence sector.11
Despite improved living standards the Soviet economy does not produce enough quality customer goods to meet consumer needs.
Agricultural output since 1950 has grown 3% a year. But country roads are so bad that officials estimate that a truck loses a tenth of its load going from field to farm and another tenth from farm to railhead.18
The Soviet Government spends 182 roubles per person per year on food subsidies, the equivalent of a month's salary. The average resident of Moscow pays a cheap 10 roubles a month in rent on an average salary of 185 roubles a month but the cheapest car in the Soviet Union costs 18 months of an average salary.19
The USSR produces 80% more steel than the USA, 78% more cement, 42% more oil, and five times as many tractors. But the USSR falls dramatically behind the West in areas such as computers and consumer goods. 21
A recent Izvestia report on Soviet factory output showed a startling quantity of goods rejected as unfit. In Uzbekistan 73.8% of household goods were rejected in Kirghizia 71% and in Moldavia 69%. The most frequent cause of household fires is the explosion of shoddy colour TVs.22
In 1971 40% of Moscow families had to share their one bedroom apartments. By 1985 this had dropped to 20%. 24
The Soviet Union contains over a hundred nationalities speaking a hundred different languages, making it the world's largest multi-national state.
By the year 2000 the total number of 'non-Russian' people is projected to pass the previously dominant Russian nationality. The Islamic South has the highest birth rate in the country.
Pollution in the official view is strictly a capitalist phenomenon. But the facts speak for themselves.
Environmental pollution inflicts an estimated 20 billion roubles ($30 billion at official exchange rates) of damage on the Soviet economy every year.25
The shallow Sea of Azov used to produce a greater fish catch than the Baltic, Caspian and Black Seas combined - 1.5 kilograms of fish to every inhabitant of the USSR. Today it is so polluted by wastes from the industrial south of Russia and the Ukraine that the catch has dropped to a paltry 3,000 tons a year of mostly low-quality fish.26
Lead levels in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk in Eastern Kazakhstan are 14 times the permissible level. Mercury levels in the air in neighbouring Temir-Tau exceed the norm by 60 times.27
Air quality in the Soviet Union is measured in MPCs (maximum permissible concentrations) A concentration of 10 to 15 MPCs is considered an immediate threat to health.
1,000 cities have concentrations of 5 MPCs.
The most common fines levied against polluters for violation of air quality standards are 10 to 50 roubles (roughly $l5 to $75).29
Between 1968 and 1978 the incidence of lung cancer doubled in the USSR.30
1 The Gorbachev Phenomenon, Moshe Lewin, 1988.
2 op. cit.
3 op. cit.
4 op. cit.
5 op. cit.
6 The Waking Giant, Martin Walker, 1987.
7 op. cit.
8 Lliteraturnaya Gazetta, April 10, 1985.
9 Gorbachov, 0ev Murarka, 1988.
10 Walker op. cit.
11 Walker op.cit.
12 The First Socialist Society, G. Hosking, 1985.
13 Globe and Mail, March 12,1988.
14 Moscow News, August, 1988.
15 Walker op.cit.
16 Murarka op. cit.
17 British Medical Journal, Sept. 1987.
18 Walker op.cit.
19 Walker op. cit.
20 The Soviet Union Today, James Cracratt, 1988.
21 Walker op. cit.
22 lsvestia, March 26, 1987.
23 Cracratt op. cit.
24 Pravda , May 14, 1986.
25 Cracratt op. cit.
26 The Destruction of Nature in the USSR, Boris Komorov, 1980.
27 Komorov, op. cit.
28 Komorov op. cit.
29 Cracratt op. cit.
30 Komorov op. cit.