Russia - Golden toilets

Lenin was said to have stated that under Communism the toilets would be lined with gold. His prediction seems to have been realised in present-day Russia- though in a way rather different to that which he originally envisaged. Lenin was said to have stated that under Communism the toilets would be lined with gold. His intention was to show that in the future gold would lose its special mystical status, derived from its special position in the market economy as the universal commodity, through which the value of all other commodities is measured.

Present-day Russia is very far from Communism and market values appear to be very firmly entrenched. Yet Lenin's prediction concerning the use of gold for the smallest room in the house seems to have been realised - though in a way rather different to that which he originally envisaged.

Russian police recently reported that they have cracked down on a multimillion dollar blackmail ring run by corrupt officers whom Boris Gryzlov, the interior minister, has called "werewolves in epaulettes". Seven senior police officers were seized in a series of raids on the offices of Moscow police departments and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

They claim that the men pocketed millions by planting drugs and weapons on innocent people and then demanding bribes to get the false charges dismissed. Russian television showed videos of the officers' luxurious homes, which according to one official included "golden toilets".

This little incident tells us a lot about the nature of present-day Russia. The fall of the USSR has led to the creation of a monstrous hybrid, containing all the worst features of Stalinism with all the worst features of the "market economy".

Ten years ago the enemies of socialism promised the Russian people a glowing future of prosperity and democracy thanks to the wonders of the market economy. Instead of this, the masses have seen a collapse of living standards and culture, while a tiny clique of oligarchs have made themselves fabulously rich at the people's expense.

As if that were not bad enough, the old bureaucracy remains intact, filling its pockets with bribery and corruption that flourishes at all levels without any control or restraint.

The police, secret police and army are even more corrupt than the other parts of the bureaucracy, as the present incident reveals. This is not an unfortunate exception but only the tip of a very large and very ugly iceberg.

As for "democracy", it is just a joke. The so-called free press is controlled partly by the government and partly by a handful of super-rich moguls. The political parties are almost all in the pockets of one or other group of oligarchs. Even the present raid on corrupt policemen was only a pre-election publicity stunt benefiting Mr Gryzlov and his pro-Putin Unity Party, in the run-up to December's parliamentary elections.

In what way does this represent an advance for the Russian people? The introduction of a "market economy" has solved none of the problems, but only made things worse.

The real solution is the overthrow of the oligarchy and the introduction of a regime of genuine workers' democracy, based on the nationalisation of the banks and big monopolies under workers' control and management. The level of development of the means of production in present-day Russia would be more than sufficient to allow it to move in the direction of Communism, once it was free of the curse of the capitalist oligarchs and bureaucrats.

Then the Russian people will find far better use for its resources than lining with gold the lavatories of corrupt policemen, bureaucrats and capitalists. Who knows? One might even find some productive work for them to perform. As Vladimir Ilyich once remarked: "history knows all kind of strange transformations".