– I’m Back From Moscow Le Devoir (1952) #4

Source: Le Devoir, June 18th, 1952. “The Soviet citizen still “pays through the nose”“.  Fourth article in a series by Pierre Elliott Trudeau on his return from the 1952 Moscow Economic Summit.

“Je reviens de Moscou”

“I’m Back from Moscow”

Le citoyen soviétique demeure un “cochon de payant”

The Soviet citizen still “pays through the nose” 1

Coût de la vie, finances d’État et technocratie politique 2 — le pour et le contre de l’économie soviétique

Cost of living, Government finances and political technocracy 2 — the pro and con of the Soviet economy

par Pierre Elliott-Trudeau

by Pierre Elliott-Trudeau

— IV —

— IV —

“Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.”
(Verlaine)

“Playing the lute and dancing and half-
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.”
(Verlaine)

Il faut d’abord remarquer que le rouble n’a pas cours sur le marché des devises :  c’est une monnaie purement nationale.  Par conséquent les étrangers qui vont en U.R.S.S. doivent se la procurer à un taux qui n’a rien à voir avec sa valeur réelle.  Pour un dollar on reçoit quatre roubles:  or un rouble en U.R.S.S. à une valeur d’achat bien inférieure à $O.25 au Canada.  Par exemple, une bonne chambre à l’hôtel coûte $12.00 la nuit.  Un repas de choix au moins $10.00, une bouteille de biere $1.00.  Les meilleurs billets au théâtre se vendent $8,00 et au cinéma $2,00.  Il faut payer $15.00 de l’heure pour louer une auto.  Un bain à l’hôtel coûte $1.25, il en faut la moitié pour faire frotter ses souliers, et on n’entre pas au musée à moins de cinquante cents.

One must first note that the rouble is not traded on the foreign exchange markets:  it is a purely national currency.  In consequence, foreigners who visit the U.S.S.R. must obtain it at a rate which has nothing to do with its real value.  For a dollar, one receives four roubles:  now, a rouble in the U.S.S.R. has purchasing power much less than .025c in Canada.  For example, a good hotel room costs $12.00 a night.  A good meal costs at least $10.00, a bottle of beer $1.00.  The best tickets sell for $8.00 at the theatre and $2.00 at the movies.  It costs $15.00 an hour to rent a car.  A bath at the hotel costs $1.25, half that price to buff one’s shoes, and not less than fifty cents to set foot in a museum.

De sorte qu’un touriste moyenne s’en tirerait pas à moins de $40 par jour, sans compter les voyages.  Or, le trajet Moscou-Léningrad (douze heures de train) coûte $35 en 3e classe; pardon, en wagon “dur”, puisqu’on a supprimé les classes en U.R.S.S.

So that it would cost an average tourist not less than $40 a day, not including travel.  Now, the Moscow-Leningrad trip (twelve hours by train) costs $35 for 3rd-class; excuse me, in a “hard” wagon, because the classes have been abolished in the U.S.S.R.

En conséquence, s’il fallait que la Russie s’ouvrit au tourisme, ne pourraient y aller que les millionnaires.  Aussi bien, les délégués à la Rencontre économique virent la banqueroute de près, avant qu’il fût annoncé que toutes leurs dépenses durant la conférence seraient payées (et magnifiquement, du reste) par leurs hôtes Soviétiques.

Consequently, if Russia had to open itself up to tourism, only the millionaires could go.  As well, the delegates at the economic Summit were practically headed for bankruptcy until it was announced that their expenses during the conference would be paid (and magnificently, moreover) by their Soviet hosts.

Pourquoi ce taux d’échange invraisemblable?  C’est probablement une manière de prélever un impôt considérable sur tout le corps diplomatique.  Puis, en dévalorisant le portefeuille des étrangers, cela doit gêner leur liberté de mouvement.  Enfin, ça flatte l’amour-propre de vos hôtes de voir que vous hésitez à payer $5.50 pour une tablette de chocolat, tandis qu’eux paient sans hésiter les 22 roubles: ils en concluent une fois de plus qu’ils habitent le plus riche pays du monde.

Why this incredible exchange rate?  It’s probably a way of extracting a substantial tax on all the diplomatic corps.  Then, devaluing foreign money must obstruct their freedom of movement.  Finally, it flatters the self-love of your hosts to see that you hesitate to pay $5.50 for a chocolate bar, while they unhesitatingly pay the 22 roubles:  they deduce once again that they live in the wealthiest country in the world.

Salaires et dépenses

Wages and expenses

“Mais pour juger de leur standard de vie, il faut évidemment connaître le niveau des salaires sociaux,” dit M. Hughes.

“But to judge their standard of living, one must obviously know the social wage levels,” says Mr. Hughes.

Et il souligne qu’il lui semble probable que les peuples industrialisés sur le tard, à la fois dans leur propre histoire sociale et dans l’histoire de l’industrie moderne, diffèrent largement par leur structure de classes des pays qui ont été industrialisés lorsque eux-mêmes et la capitalisme étaient jeunes.

And he underscores that it seems likely to him that peoples who industrialized late, both in their own social history and in the history of modern industry, largely differ in their class structure from countries which industrialized when the latter and capitalism were young.

Aussi M. Hughes suggère-t-il que les sociologues du Québec s’attachent à découvrir ce qu’on trouve dans la société québécoise du fait de son industrialiastion tardive.  Et il croit très important pour ceux qui explorent le dynamisme et les structures politiques de se libérer des présuppositions dominant les études sur les pays pionniers du développement de l’industrie moderne.  “Qu’ils laissent de côté ces vieux modèles, venus de droite ou de gauche, et qu’ils se rendent compte clairement de ce qui leur arrive!”’

Also, suggests Mr. Hughes, Quebec sociologists undertake to discover what one finds in Quebec society due to the fact of its late industrialization.  And he thinks it very important for those who explore the dynamism and the political structures to free themselves from preconceptions dominating the studies on pioneer countries in the development of modern industry.  “They should leave aside these old models, from the left or the right, and take stock clearly of what is happening to them!”

(Je donne l’équivalence en dollars, et par mois.)  Le manoeuvre, le balayeur, la femme de ménage, gagnent environ $135, c’est-à-dire que le salaire de base est de 50 à 75 cents de l’heure.  L’ouvrier spécialisé, l’instituteur, la ballerine, commence à $160 et peuvent atteindre $300; un juge de première instance touche $250, l’avocat peut gagner un peu plus.

(I am giving the equivalence in dollars, and monthly.)  The laborer, the sweeper, the housekeeper, earn about $135, which is about a basic wage of 50 to 75 cents an hour.  The specialized worker, the school teacher, the ballerina, begins at $160 and may attain $300; a judge at first instance gets $250, the lawyer may earn a bit more.

Du côté dépenses, les loyers sont relativement peu élevés:  on les estime en général à 5% du salaire.  Ainsi un logement de trois pièces dans une maison fort ancienne se loue $9 par mois, ou $30 avec meubles, gaz, eau, électricité.  Deux chambres dans une dache (maison de campagne) coûtent $125 pour la saison de trois mois.

As for expenses, rents are relatively not too high:  they are estimated in general at 4% of wages.  Thus, a 3-room dwelling in a very old house rents for $9 a month, or $30 with furniture, gas, water, electricity. Two rooms in a dacha (a country house) cost $125 for a season of three months.

La nourriture est plus coûteuse.  Dans les petits restaurants de quartier, les étudiants mangent maigrement pour $2.50 par repas; mais ils reçoivent un stipendium de près de $100.00 par mois.  La popote à la maison doit aussi revenir bougrement cher.  Le pain noir à $0.22 la livre, le beurre à $4.00, le boeuf haché à $2.25, l’agneau à $2.00, le café en grains à $7 00.  On annonçait aussi le choux, aliment de base pour le Russe, à $0.16 la livre, mais on n’en pouvait trouver que sur le marché libre et à 4 fois plus cher.  La douzaine d’oeufs s’y vendait $3.50, soit 1/2 journée de travail pour un oeuf.

Food is more expensive.  In the little neighborhood restaurants, students eat meagerly for $2.50 per meal; but they receive a stipend of about $100.00 a month.  Cooking at home must also be wickedly expensive.  Black bread at .22 a pound, butter at $4.00, ground beef at $2.25, lamb at $2.00, ground coffee at $7.00.  Cabbage as well, a staple foodstuff for the Russian, is advertised at .16 a pound, but it can only be found on the black market and at 4 times the price.  A dozen eggs there sells for $3.50, i.e., a half a day’s work for an egg.

Pour en finir, j’ajoute que 1es vêtements se vendent encore plus cher:&nbsp ; $250 un complet ordinaire et $75 (soit deux semaines de travail) pour une paire de souliers.

To end, I will add that clothing is even more expensive:  $250 for an ordinary suit and $75 (i.e., two weeks of work) for a pair of shoes.

Comparaisons injustes

Unfair comparisons

Le coût de la vie parait donc exorbitant, mais ces comparaisons ont quelque chose d’injuste.  Car le salarié en U.R.S.S. reçoit un revenu net qu’il peut dépenser presque en entier sans danger pour sa sécurité sociale.  Il n’y a rien à déduire pour les assurances, les soins médicaux, les vacances, les pensions, les frais scolaires, et le reste:  l’Etat y pourvoit.  Ajouter que la femme travaille presque toujours, et que son salaire s’ajoute à celui du mari.  Notons par contre qu’il existe un emprunt d’État auquel chaque citoyen doit (obligation morale) souscrire chaque année pour l’équivalent d’un mois de salaire.  Et qu’il existe au surplus un impôt sur le revenu.

The cost of living thus appears exorbitant, but these comparisons are a bit unfair.  Because the worker in the U.S.S.R. receives his pay net and he can spend it all with no risk to his social security.  Nothing is deducted for insurance, medical care, holidays, pensions, school taxes, and the rest:  the Government takes care of that.  We note on the other hand that there is a Government loan to which every citizen must subscribe annually (a moral obligation) for the equivalent of one month’s salary.  And there is also an income tax.

On peut se demander comment ils arrivent.  Ils arrivent en vivant fort médiocrement.  Par exemple, j’ai connu un médecin qui louait un trois-pièces dont il occupait une chambre avec sa femme et son enfant; sa soeur et son époux occupaient une autre chambre; et les parents semblaient vivre dans la cuisine.

One may wonder how they manage.  They manage by living quite mediocrely.  For example, I knew a doctor who rented a three-room dwelling in which he occupied one room with his wife and child; his sister and her husband lived in another room; and the parents seem to have lived in the kitchen.

Tout ce monde est vêtu sans élégance, et doit manger souvent maigrement.  Mais personne n’a l’air affamé; et je n’ai vu qu’une demi-douzaine de mendiants durant un mois de séjour.

Everyone is dressed inelegantly, and must often eat meagerly.  But no one seems to be starving; and I never saw more than a half-dozen beggars during the month of my stay.

Elévation du
niveau de vie

A rising
standard of living

Ce qui est certain, c’est qu’il y a élévation progressive du niveau de la vie, et cette tendance est une force pour le régime.  Moscou a presque l’air d’une ville prospère, les théâtres sont toujours bondés de petit peuple, des édifices modernes longent les grands boulevards, les parcs sont fort agréables, il y a de belles promenades le long de la Moskva, et des autos neuves et nombreuses visent les piétons sur toutes les grandes artères.

What is certain is that there is a progressive increase in the standard of living, and this trend is a strength for the regime.  Moscow has almost the air of a prosperous city, the theaters are always crammed with the commonfolk, modern buildings skirt the great boulevards, the parks are extremely pleasant, there are beautiful promenades along the Moskva, and cars new and numerous target pedestrians on all the major arteries.

Et ceci n’est pas vrai qu’à Moscou:  j’ai passé par d’autres grandes villes, comme Minsk, Kharkov, Rostov, Tiflis, et partout on trouve des signes de développement.

And this is true not only of Moscow; I saw other big cities, such as Minsk, Kharkov, Rostov, Tiflis, and everywhere one finds signs of development.

Pas d’inflation

No inflation

Où l’Etat prend-il son argent?  Certes pas sur la planche à billets 3, car depuis la réforme monétaire de 1948 il n’y a aucun signe d’inflation.  Au contraire, les salaires restent fixes, et les prix baissent obligatoirement d’année en année, dans une mesure qui est censée correspondre à l’augmentation de la productivité.

Where does the Government get its money?  Certainly not by printing money 3 because since the monetary reform of 1948 there is no sign of inflation.  On the contrary, wages remain stable, and prices obligatorily decline year after year in a measure said to correspond to the increase in productivity.

Certes, il y a encore pénurie de la plupart des biens de consommation, et il s’ensuit qu’on voit des queues d’acheteurs à peu près partout.  Mais il faut du moins reconnaître que les économistes soviétiques ont résolu le problème de l’inflation 4 sans recourir au chômage.

Certainly, there are still shortages in most consumer goods, and it follows that line-ups of shoppers are seen almost everywhere.  But it must at least be recognized that Soviet economists have solved the problem of inflation 4 without resorting to unemployment.

Les finances

Finances

L’État se finance donc d’une part grâce aux emprunts publics (réduisant du même coup le pouvoir d’achat ), et principalement (c’est-à-dire pour les deux tiers du budget) grâce à la fameuse taxe sur le chiffre d’affaires (turnover tax).  C’est une sorte d’impôt indirect qui est perçu sur toute vente de biens quelconque. 5  Cet impôt est considérable sur les biens somptuaires (e.g. télévision), et peu élevé sur les objets de consommation courante.  Sur les sources d’énergie, par exemple le charbon, il n’est que de 2%.

The Government is therefore self-financed on the one hand thanks to public loans (which simultaneously reduce purchasing power) and mainly (i.e., for two-thirds of the budget) thanks to the famous “turnover tax”.  This is a kind of indirect tax collected on the sale of all kinds of goods. 5  This tax is considerable on luxury items (i.e., the television), and not too high on running consumer items.  On energy sources, coal for example, it is only 2%.

Quoi qu’il en soit, l’État n’éprouve aucune difficulté budgétaire, car depuis plusieurs années il annonce un surplus avec une satisfaction vraiment un peu naïve.  Car l’emploi de ce surplus reste un mystère, et signifie en somme que le citoyen soviétique consomme sans cesse moins qu’il ne produit.

At all events, the Government has no budgetary difficulties, because for a number of years it has announced a surplus with really a somewhat naive satisfaction.  Because the use of this surplus remains a mystery, and all in all it means that the Soviet citizen continuously consumes less than he produces.

Technologie politique

Political technology

Mais, à vrai dire, c’est une erreur en Union soviétique que de penser en terms d’économie politique.  On serait mieux venu de parler de technologie politique, car c’est le fameux “Plan” qui dispose de tout, et apparemment il est une réalité physique plutôt qu’économique.

But, to tell the truth, it is an error in the Soviet Union to think in terms of political economy.  It would be better to speak of political technology, since it is the famous “Plan” which takes care of everything, and apparently it is a physical rather than an economic reality.

Si, par exemple, les technocrates 7 décident qu’un barrage est nécessaire à tel endroit, on y conduit les matériaux et la main-d’oeuvre, sans se demander si l’entreprise sera rentable, ni même si ce nouvel investissement ajouté à tous les autres obligera le consommateur à se serrer cruellement la ceinture.

If, for example, the technocrats 7 decide that a dam is necessary in a certain place, the materials and the workmen are conveyed there, without wondering if the enterprise will yield a profit, nor even if this new investment added to all the others will oblige the consumer to cruelly tighten his belt.

De même si le plan a besoin de trois turbines, on les importera, même s’il faut donner en échange des produits qui représentent un coût social plus grand que l’utilité sociale apportée par les turbines.

Likewise, if the Plan needs three turbines, they will be imported even if it is necessary to trade products for them which would represent a social cost greater than the social utility brought by the turbines.

Et le reste est à l’avenant.  Le pays progresse formidablement, sans doute.  Mais il progresse exactement dans le sens voulu par les planificateurs, non par le citoyen.  Celui-ci est bien incapable d’indiquer ses préférences, puisque la demande pour les biens de consommation est toujours plus forte que l’offre.  Et même le Soviet Suprême ne discute jamais sérieusement quelle part de la production nationale doit servir à la consommation courante, et quelle part à l’investissement.  Ni à quel genre d’investissement.  C’est pourquoi on ne saura jamais si les Moscovites n’auraient pas préféré vivre moins serrés dans leurs mesures, plutôt que de se déplacer dans des métros invraisemblablement luxueux.

And the rest is in keeping.  The country undoubtedly is making formidable progress.  But it progresses exactly in the direction desired by the planners, not by the citizen.  Who is quite incapable of indicating his preferences, because the demand for consumer goods is always stronger than the offer.  And even the Supreme Soviet never seriously discusses which part of the national production must serve actual consumption, and which part investment.  Nor the type of investment.  This is why it will never be known whether Muscovites would have preferred less belt-tightening rather than getting around in truly luxurious subways.

De sorte qu’en Union soviétique comme en pays capitaliste, le citoyen demeure le cochon de payant.  Il s’en console en se laissant dire que toute l’économie soviétique est orientée vers le bien commun plutôt que vers le bien d’une classe.

So that in the Soviet Union as in capitalist countries, the citizen still pays through the nose.  He consoles himself by telling himself that the whole Soviet economy is oriented towards the common good rather than towards the good of a class.

C’est cela qu’on appelle démocratie économique dans les démocraties populaires.

That is what is called economic democracy in the people’s democracies.

DEMAIN :  La Conférence commence . . .

TOMORROW:  The Conference begins . . .

______

Translator’s Notes

1  “cochon de payant” is a controversial expression in the language forums, which I have scoured in vain.  It’s possibly Quebec French.  (“Cochon” is “pig” in French.  I once translated “cochon de payant” as “a pig who pays” because I was desperate.)  In the end I’ve come up with a new solution of my own:  “pays through the nose”.  Because I think that Trudeau is saying here that not only does the Soviet citizen pay (for his goods, for his mediocre lifestyle, for his government), but he pays too much, or at least he pays a very steep price in terms of roubles.

If we think of piggish behavior as excessive behavior, and we focus on the excessive character of it, then we could see how “cochon de payant ” (a paying pig) could mean paying excessively.  On the other hand, it’s an odd expression, because piggishness is one’s own greed.  Can one really attribute greed to someone from whom too great a price is extracted by someone else?  This is a mystery of the French mind.  Associating “excessiveness” with the idea of the pig is about as close as I can get.  Just to show the range of applications for the word “cochon“, here are a few excerpts from my Freelang desktop French-English dictionary:
 
cochon: pig; hog; swine;
cochon {m} d’Inde: guinea-pig;
cochon {m} de lait: suckling pig;
cochon {m} de terre: aardvark;
cochon(e) [adj]: naughty [adj‚ indecent] (ok, so maybe we’re getting somewhere: is overpaying piggishly “indecent”?;
cochon(ne) [adj]: filthy [adj‚ obscene], smutty [adj‚ obscene];
cochonne; littérature: dirty literature;
cochonnée: litter of piglets {n} [farrow];
cochonnerie {f}: junk {n} [inferior goods];
cochonnet: piglet;
 
Max and Monique Nemni, who like John English of the CIIA seem to be official biographers*, have another good translation for this hard phrase.  At page 267 of Trudeau Transformed:  The Shaping of a Statesman 1944-65, they translate “cochon de payant” as “foots the bill”.  However, I prefer my translation, because, given the context of his article, I believe Trudeau means the Soviet citizen not only pays, but pays too much, pays far too dearly, for his meager lifestyle.  I think “pays through the nose” captures this.
 
*  It should be noted they are “very friendly” biographers.  The Nemnis picked up Trudeau’s defunct pro-Soviet Cité Libre was revived by Max and Monique Nemni in July of 1991 and began to publish a new generation of articles with such contributors as Sylvia Ostry, a former Trudeau functionary, a Vice President of pro-Communist Power Corporation of Canada (read the “secret committee” chapter in Lisee’s 1991 Eye of the Eagle) and a suspected Communist subversive listed by the RCMP (as reported by Toronto Sun’s  the late Peter Worthington in an unpublished draft article on the RCMP’s “Featherbed File” found in his archive in Ottawa).  The Nemnis in their French-language bio of Trudeau are soft on Communism, as noted in my article “Trudeau Biographers Ignore Known Red Agents in Canada’s External Affairs Department” in the federal government of Canada.

Moreover, they are protagonists in the planned final overthrow of Canada as derived from Trudeau’s 1982 coup d’état:  the Clarity Act.  For quite some time, the Nemnis coyly posted notice at the magazine’s domain name, that the politically oriented Cité Libre  which they had revived (allegedly for Canadian “unity”) was no longer needed thanks to the “Clarity act”.  So Cité Libre  and its web site citelibre.com were retired from service.  The Clarity Act was not designed for “Canadian Unity” but to force-dismantle Canada permanently into a Communist region of Moscow-style multicultural, international city-states in a world-state of Leninist regions.  (You’ll have to stay tuned to my general constitutional project for the legal facts on that one.  A good spot to watch is my Strayer site on the illegal “patriation”.)
 
2  “political technocracy“.  My WordWeb desktop dictionary says:

Noun:  technocracy  A form of government in which scientists and technical experts are in control.

“technocracy was described as that society in which those who govern justify themselves by appeal to technical experts who justify themselves by appeal to scientific forms of knowledge”

 
3  “planche à billets” appears to mean either “issuing money” or “printing money”, according to examples in Linguee:  http://www.linguee.com/french-english/translation/planche+a+billet.html
 
4  It may be interesting here to read columnist Lubor Zink’s analysis of prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s own anti-inflation measures.  See Trudeaucracy  (1972); and in particular Viva Chairman Trudeau  (1977).  In addition, in a 1982 article, (“The Unpenetrated Problem of Pierre Trudeau” by Lubor J. Zink, 25 June 1982, National Review) Zink says:

“Anyone who has read Trudeau’s earlier writings and analysed them knows that a fundamental social change has been his goal all along.  Anyone who has followed closely his actions as head of an increasingly autocratic government also knows that he has been piecing together the social change he has in mind like a jigsaw puzzle, taking care to conceal the whole pattern from public gaze so as not to alarm people prematurely.

Even the anti-inflation program serves, as Mr. Trudeau now freely admits, as a device that buys time for the structural and institutional transformations the PM wants to complete.  It is, in fact, a revolution by stealth.”

Sophisticated observers and Trudeau’s biographers are not the only ones who were “confused”.  Speaking from a position of either constitutional ignorance, or some other motive for suppression of the facts, Mr. Zink has never bothered to ask whether Trudeau’s “constitutional” activities in the prime minister’s office were lawful.  Which I consider quite odd, given that Zink knows Trudeau is a Communist.

Zink somehow sees the 1982 so-called “patriation” as the intended culmination of Trudeau’s socialist redesign of Canada into a “a centrally planned state”.  However, ultimately, a Communist planned economy would eliminate the Westminster-model British-style Parliament and Legislatures of 1867, which constitutionally speaking are permanent and cannot be eliminated minus an overthrow.  An overthrow is a coup d’état, not a “constitutional amendment” or a “patriation”.

Indeed, a hired colleague of Trudeau’s who advised the latter’s Fabian regime for 20 years on “constitutional” issues (i.e., in the outcome he advised illegality), and who was a primary drafter of the 1982 “Charter”, admitted later that same year in a pair of Cronkite Lectures to a law faculty that the 1982 patriation had been illegal and a coup d’état.  See Barry Lee Strayer’s “The Patriation and Legitimacy of the Canadian Constitution” for some of the details.

Therefore, the point arises, how can the news media, including Mr. Zink, allege to “cover” constitutional events when from lack of constitutional knowledge they haven’t got the faintest idea of what is going on.
 
5  Canada acquired its own “turnover tax”, the GST (Goods and Services Tax) in 1991 under de facto prime minister Brian Mulroney.  The so-called Liberal government of Rhodes Scholar Robert Bourassa in Quebec imposed a Quebec Sales Tax (QST) in 1990.  Therefore, we are apparently already set up to pay for our own upcoming self-financing Soviet system.  The means of its support being already in place, the intent is no doubt to keep them in place when (they hope) the country is dismantled.
 
6  WordWeb:

Noun:  technocrat:
1.  An expert who is a member of a highly skilled elite group;
2.  An advocate of technocracy.

 
Nota bene:  It should be noted that throughout all seven pieces of Trudeau’s from 1952 that I have translated, I have tried to stick to his words, short of transliteration, without embellishing; it is not my goal here to give a client a text to “sell” his product.  I simply want the reader to understand what Trudeau said in French.  In other words, I am not “working” for Mr. Trudeau.
 

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