George Walford: Similarities

Those who believe that the social system of the USSR is substantially different from that found in America sometimes cite, in support of their belief, the frequent refusal of the Russian authorities to allow their citizens to travel abroad.

William Hinton is an American citizen; in 1951 he returned home from China intending to write a contemporary history of Long Bow, a Chinese village. The United States Customs seized his notes and it took a long and costly court case to get them back. In 1966 the book, Fanshen, appeared, and he decided to return to China and find out what had happened in the village since his departure. He was refused a passport. For fifteen years he could travel only to Mexico and Canada, where Americans did not need passports. He claims the refusal was illegal, and accuses the Passport Division of using “regulatory harrassment;” in 1967, after he had threatened legal action against the Secretary of State, his passport was finally granted, but it was stamped “not valid for travel in China.” He tried to make the journey in spite of this, but was prevented from doing so by the upheavals in China at the time, finally getting to China in 1971. (William Hinton, Shenfan, London, Secker and Warburg 1983, pages xiii, xiv).

It is doubtless true that the Americans impose these restrictions less often than do the Russians; we do not suggest that the two systems are identical in all respects, only that they are substantially the same, differing in degree. The reason for this is that the same major ideologies and the same ideological structure are found in both countries, with the result that differences between them are limited to the amount of variation possible within the limits this, imposes.

America is not the only capitalist democracy with greater similarities to the USSR than are usually recognised:

Research into the effects of detention in police custody including that carried out by the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, shows that after a very short time most people, kept in isolation in a police cell and subjected to interrogation (not to mention the threats and physical and verbal abuse which frequently occur), are unable to keep silent regardless of their guilt or innocence. For this reason the Royal Commission concluded that no confession made by a person in this way could ever be regarded as purely ‘voluntary.’ And yet such confessions and other evidence obtained in a similar manner will be admissible in court. Is this really so far removed from the ‘confessions’ that are extracted from dissidents by the totalitarian regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe, whose abuses are so regularly deplored by the so-called liberal regimes of the West?” (Socialist Standard July 1985)

from Ideological Commentary 19, July 1985.