On rereading Andrei Amalrik’s Involuntary Journey To Siberia of 1970, all sorts of impressions were received, most not at all new: the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union, the Kafka-esque Soviet legal system, the primitive life lived by Russian kolkozhniki (collective farm inhabitants) in Siberia etc.
However, at the end of the book, the author’s sentence for being a “social parasite” (5 years internal exile –2.5 years of which to be hard labour on a collective farm or elsewhere–) is quashed on appeal, Amalrik returns to Moscow with the wife whom he in fact married in Moscow and during his exile (because he was allowed compassionate leave from the collective farm or kolkhoz to visit his unwell father). He applies to the housing people in his district and, after some difficulty when he has to share with others, is given a flat with a decent bathroom and telephone.
Now, we are often told and quite rightly that Soviet people generally lived poorly, had to share, in many cases, their accommodation by living in communal flats or kommunalki (usually large flats expropriated from affluent persons during and after the Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War, though in fact some such shared apartments pre-dated Bolshevism), sharing kitchens and bathrooms etc and given, at best,one room per person (it was usually worked out, in theory, at so many square metres per person or family).
All of the above is true, but when one looks at the situation in 2018 Britain, many are not much better off, and some are worse off. Would a prisoner released from incarceration in the UK be given a flat, even a small one? The most he could expect would be B&B accommodation of a markedly poor sort, and to be put on a local authority waiting list, probably behind a horde of “refugees”, “asylum-seekers” and other riff-raff.
In fact, look at how many British people with full-time jobs live! Many in shared houses and flats, or in bedsit rooms. No better off than Soviet citizens! How many “hardworking” (the label of the past few years) people are living in not very nice shared accommodation in the UK, living off pot noodles and the like?
To go off at a tangent, this “hardworking” thing has become a joke: for example, school students all deserve (increasingly meaningless) “A” “grades” in exams because “they have all worked so hard”. Doesn’t matter if they are thick as two short planks and know only force-fed “facts” (often incorrect, as in the case of “holocaust” “history” etc). They are “hardworking” and so are the “deserving” academic poor. They therefore “deserve” to attend a “uni” where they will also “work hard” to “achieve” an almost meaningless “degree” (an equally-meaningless “First”, in half the cases) before –for many–getting a minimum wage (or not much better) job…
The above thoughts should impel us to think about what people need in a basic way, about what should, arguably, be the State-provided or guaranteed minimum.
Ideally, everyone should live in a decent house or flat, free of worries, with pleasant neighbours if any, while doing work which benefits society. That of course is a counsel of perfection, but that fact should not stop us from aiming at a higher and better form of living for all citizens.
For me, everyone should at least have a home, preferably one where there is reasonable space, reasonable peace, reasonable access to green gardens or wider Nature. Living space should be regarded as a human right, not as a way for buy to let parasites to make profits from the need of others. Everyone should have access to telephone and Internet. Everyone should have access to cheap or free public transport, at least in the local area and arguably within a 20-mile radius of home. Everyone should have (up to a determined cap) free water, electricity, heating. Beyond that, everyone should also have a “basic income”, even if only (in today’s money) £20 a week.
We can move to a society where the basics are provided. When people have the basics, they can work to get more, or to improve aspects of society in other ways.