[A recent BBC video showing children in] Uzbekistan working in the fields picking cotton was incredibly shocking. You can watch it here.How has capitalism helped?
Secretly filming, the BBC reporters showed the schools closed for the duration of the harvest, and the police herding children as young as nine years old onto buses. The video shows Lorry loads of mattresses being taken to the farms, as the children are expected to sleep in the fields after working for hours in the baking sun. The cotton picked by forced child labour then appears in clothes sold in ASDA and Primark in the UK.
The film also showed film of the mechanised cotton harvest in the days when Uzbekistan used to be part of the USSR. Contrast the picture here from the Uzbek cotton harvest in 1977 with the BBC film of children picking the cotton by hand today.
Tony Cliff always used to criticise those who fell for the lie that the Soviet economy was intrinsically more backwards than the West by pointing out the implicit chauvinism of those who compared Russia with Germany in terms of living standards, but did not compare Uzbekistan with Pakistan.
In the days of the USSR, Soviet republics of Central Asia had higher living standards than other countries in the region.
Many socialists in the West still do not appreciate what a disaster the collapse of the Soviet Union has been.
Using as sources [...] Unicef, the World Bank and the BBC, we find that the world bank reported in 2000 that in the USSR overall incomes have dropped by 50%. In some regions, such as the Caucasus and central Asia, over half the population now live in absolute poverty - defined as living on an income of $2 per day or less.
Unicef report 18 million children on less than $2 per day, 60 million children in poverty.
Unicef reports; “In Central Asian countries less than half of 15-to-18-year-olds now attend secondary school. Ten years ago more than two-thirds attended. ” There were also at least one million displaced as refugees by war within the borders of the former USSR.
Back in the USSR. Socialist Unity. 31-Oct-2007.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last president, had based his policies on the premise that the USSR’s economic difficulties – which he referred to as ‘stagnation’ – were caused by the Soviet Union’s socialist economic model: universal public ownership and the central planning of production. But as this system was dismantled and replaced by privatisation and the dominance of market forces, Russia and the other republics of the former USSR went into catastrophic industrial and social decline, which continued throughout the 1990s.
The failure of the capitalist reforms to deliver on the promises of economic dynamism and higher living standards (except for an elite minority) was not an experience confined to the former USSR and other ex-socialist states. The majority of South American countries, for example, underwent a process of de-industrialisation and mass impoverishment during the neo-liberal 1980s and 1990s, an experience which is fueling the current movements on that continent for a turn towards socialism.
Mulholland, Marcus. The Soviet model and economic cold war. 21st Century Socialism. 31-Dec-2006.