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Why do Russians still miss the Soviet era?
I wasn’t born in Russia. My family comes from another part of Europe. But I have great love for the people of the former USSR. In studying the history of the Soviet Union, I have seen a great and beautiful people who have suffered much.
In this video an Englishman who speaks fluent Russian travels to places that tourists often don’t go. Some areas were left to wither after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In some it was as if time itself stopped. In this village there is a monument to those who died during the Great Patriotic War. A small town lost so many people at the hands of the German invaders. Walking through the very thick mud, his feet getting stuck, the narrator is reminded of how that same mud slowed down the Germans, and inevitably would assist in defeating them.
This village was nearly abandoned after secondary radiation contamination after Chernobyl. He is warned not to walk alone on the streets at night because of the wolves. Despite being destitute, the people invest in the gravestones of their deceased loved ones. Some of them have photos engraved on them. There is a little bench with a table, so those visiting on a birthday can sit down and have a toast to their deceased loved one. Some leave a shot glass on the headstone, as if their loved ones had a drink too.
Throughout history these people have had to be strong to survive the brutal winters, foreign invaders, corrupt governments, famines, and outbreaks. At the beginning of the Soviet Union the revolutionary spirit invigorated the nation. The Soviets brought electrification, jobs, healthcare, education, and hope. But it wasn’t long before there was the bloody war with the White Army, a famine, then WWII, and the long haul of rebuilding once again. But there was hope. Things had improved. During the 1960’s it seemed that maybe the Soviet Union might even prevail over Western imperialism. The space program with Yuri Gargarin united the nation. “We are a people that are so strong we are going to explore the stars!”
And then the Party grew more corrupt. The elites were more concerned with themselves and their own power, they grew entitled. Not even pulling the levers of power was enough for them anymore—they wanted to own the factories too. The average person had no say in any of this. As Gorbachev’s “reforms” set in, long lines, shortages of basic goods like toilet paper, the people became demoralized. And to make matters worse dissidents funded by the U.S. and others began a full on assault on the Soviet system. Every day there was a new expose about “Stalin’s atrocities,” “The horrors of the gulag system,” “Solzhenitsyn’s fictional portrayal dressed up as fact,” followed by the Soviet version of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” telling people that if only they surrendered socialism could they live like Western Europeans and Americans. They were told they would be welcomed into NATO and the international community. Any why would they not believe it? Things couldn’t get worse, could they? Not only could they get worse—they did.
There are no words to describe the hell that these poor people were tossed into as the oligarchs plundered the public assets and the people were subject to the “Shock Doctrine,” which meant the most vile forms of austerity. The death toll from the collapse of the USSR was in the millions.
No wonder 60% of members of the former USSR say they miss it. No wonder 70% of the people regard Stalin as a strong leader, even more than Putin. These people have suffered through unspeakable horrors.
Inside Russia’s poorest town
The capital of Moldova is in decay. It was once an important place for people to visit. A huge hotel was built for visiting Soviets. It is now boarded up. When he speaks with older people, they talk about how much they miss the Soviet Union, because things were better then.
Forget about wealthy Russians living in Moscow. That might as well be another planet for many of these people. Their lives are objectively worse, and no amount of rubbish about the wonders of “free markets” and capitalism can change that.
We Lived Better Then
Over two decades ago Vaclav Havel, the pampered scion of a wealthy Prague family, helped usher in a period of reaction, in which the holdings and estates of former landowners and captains of industry were restored to their previous owners, while unemployment, homelessness, and insecurity—abolished by the Reds– were put back on the agenda. Havel is eulogized by the usual suspects, but not by his numberless victims, who were pushed back into an abyss of exploitation by the Velvet revolution and other retrograde eruptions. With the fall of Communism allowing Havel and his brother to recover their family’s vast holdings, Havel’s life—he worked in a brewery under Communism—became much richer. The same can’t be said for countless others, whose better lives under Communism were swept away by a swindle that will, in the coming days, be lionized in the mass media on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s demolition. The anniversary is no time for celebration, except for the minority that has profited from it. For the bulk of us it ought to be an occasion to reflect on what the bottom 99 percent of humanity was able to achieve for ourselves outside the strictures, instabilities and unnecessary cruelties of capitalism.
Over the seven decades of its existence, and despite having to spend so much time preparing, fighting, and recovering from wars, Soviet socialism managed to create one of the great achievements of human history: a mass industrial society that eliminated most of the inequalities of wealth, income, education and opportunity that plagued what preceded it, what came after it, and what competed with it; a society in which health care and education through university were free (and university students received living stipends); where rent, utilities and public transportation were subsidized, along with books, periodicals and cultural events; where inflation was eliminated, pensions were generous, and child care was subsidized. By 1933, with the capitalist world deeply mired in a devastating economic crisis, unemployment was declared abolished, and remained so for the next five and a half decades, until socialism, itself was abolished. Excluding the war years, from 1928, when socialism was introduced, until Mikhail Gorbachev began to take it apart in the late 1980s, the Soviet system of central planning and public ownership produced unfailing economic growth, without the recessions and downturns that plagued the capitalist economies of North America, Japan and Western Europe. And in most of those years, the Soviet and Eastern European economies grew faster.
The Communists produced economic security as robust (and often more so) than that of the richest countries, but with fewer resources and a lower level of development and in spite of the unflagging efforts of the capitalist world to sabotage socialism. Soviet socialism was, and remains, a model for humanity — of what can be achieved outside the confines and contradictions of capitalism. But by the end of the 1980s, counterrevolution was sweeping Eastern Europe and Mikhail Gorbachev was dismantling the pillars of Soviet socialism. Naively, blindly, stupidly, some expected Gorbachev’s demolition project to lead the way to a prosperous consumer society, in which Soviet citizens, their bank accounts bulging with incomes earned from new jobs landed in a robust market economy, would file into colorful, luxurious shopping malls, to pick clean store shelves bursting with consumer goods. Others imagined a new era of a flowering multiparty democracy and expanded civil liberties, coexisting with public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, a model that seemed to owe more to utopian blueprints than hard-headed reality.
Of course, none of the great promises of the counterrevolution were kept. While at the time the demise of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was proclaimed as a great victory for humanity, not least by leftist intellectuals in the United States, two decades later there’s little to celebrate. The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm, not only in the former socialist countries, but throughout the Western world, as well. Countless millions have been plunged deep into poverty, imperialism has been given a free hand, and wages and benefits in the West have bowed under the pressure of intensified competition for jobs and industry unleashed by a flood of jobless from the former socialist countries, where joblessness once, rightly, was considered an obscenity. Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them — and from humanity as a whole: “We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.” And with the threat of jobs migrating to low-wage, high unemployment countries of Eastern Europe, workers in Western Europe have been forced to accept a longer working day, lower pay, and degraded benefits. Today, they fight a desperate rearguard action, where the victories are few, the defeats many. They too lived better — once.
But that’s only part of the story. For others, for investors and corporations, who’ve found new markets and opportunities for profitable investment, and can reap the benefits of the lower labor costs that attend intensified competition for jobs, the overthrow of socialism has, indeed, been something to celebrate. Equally, it has been welcomed by the landowning and industrial elite of the pre-socialist regimes whose estates and industrial concerns have been recovered and privatized. But they’re a minority. Why should the rest of us celebrate our own mugging?
Prior to the dismantling of socialism, most people in the world were protected from the vicissitudes of the global capitalist market by central planning and high tariff barriers. But once socialism fell in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and with China having marched resolutely down the capitalist road, the pool of unprotected labor available to transnational corporations expanded many times over. Today, a world labor force many times larger than the domestic pool of US workers — and willing to work dirt cheap — awaits the world’s corporations. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the implications are for North American workers and their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan: an intense competition of all against all for jobs and industry. Inevitably, incomes fall, benefits are eroded, and working hours extended. Predictably, with labor costs tumbling, profits grow fat, capital surpluses accumulate and create bubbles, financial crises erupt and predatory wars to secure investment opportunities break out.
Growing competition for jobs and industry has forced workers in Western Europe to accept less. They work longer hours, and in some cases, for less pay and without increases in benefits, to keep jobs from moving to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other former socialist countries — which, under the rule of the Reds, once provided jobs for all. More work for less money is a pleasing outcome for the corporate class, and turns out to be exactly the outcome fascists engineered for their countries’ capitalists in the 1930s. The methods, to be sure, were different, but the anti-Communism of Mussolini and Hitler, in other hands, has proved just as useful in securing the same retrograde ends. Nobody who is subject to the vagaries of the labor market – almost all of us — should be glad Communism was abolished.
Maybe some us don’t know we’ve been mugged. And maybe some of us haven’t been. Take the radical US historian Howard Zinn, for example, who, along with most other prominent Left intellectuals, greeted the overthrow of Communism with glee . I, no less than others, admired Zinn’s books, articles and activism, though I came to expect his ardent anti-Communism as typical of left US intellectuals. To be sure, in a milieu hostile to Communism, it should come as no surprise that conspicuous displays of anti-Communism become a survival strategy for those seeking to establish a rapport, and safeguard their reputations, with a larger (and vehemently anti-Communist) audience.
But there may be another reason for the anti-Communism of those whose political views leave them open to charges of being soft on Communism, and therefore of having horns. As dissidents in their own society, there was always a natural tendency for them to identify with dissidents elsewhere – and the pro-capitalist, anti-socialist propaganda of the West quite naturally elevated dissidents in socialist countries to the status of heroes, especially those who were jailed, muzzled and otherwise repressed by the state. For these people, the abridgement of civil liberties anywhere looms large, for the abridgement of their own civil liberties would be an event of great personal significance. By comparison, the Reds’ achievements in providing a comfortable frugality and economic security to all, while recognized intellectually as an achievement of some note, is less apt to stir the imagination of one who has a comfortable income, the respect of his peers, and plenty of people to read his books and attend his lectures. He doesn’t have to scavenge discarded coal in garbage dumps to eke out a bare, bleak, and unrewarding existence. Some do.
Karol, 14, and his sister Alina, 12, everyday trudge to a dump, where mixed industrial waste is deposited, just outside Swietochlowice, in formerly socialist Poland. There, along with their father, they look for scrap metal and second grade coal, anything to fetch a few dollars to buy a meager supply of groceries. “There was better life in Communism,” says Karol’s father, 49, repeating a refrain heard over and over again, not only in Poland, but also throughout the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. “I was working 25 years for the same company and now I cannot find a job – any job. They only want young and skilled workers.”  According to Gustav Molnar, a political analyst with the Laszlo Teleki Institute, “the reality is that when foreign firms come here, they’re only interested in hiring people under 30. It means half the population is out of the game.”  That may suit the bottom lines of foreign corporations – and the overthrow of socialism may have been a pleasing intellectual outcome for well-fed, comfortable intellectuals from Boston – but it hardly suits that part of the Polish population that must scramble over mountains of industrial waste – or perish. Maciej Gdula, 34, a founding member of the group, Krytyka Polityczna, or Political Critique, complains that many Poles “are disillusioned with the unfulfilled promises of capitalism. They promised us a world of consumption, stability and freedom. Instead, we got an entire generation of Poles who emigrated to go wash dishes.”  Under socialism “there was always work for everybody”  – at home. And always a place to live, free schools to go to, and doctors to see, without charge. So why was Howard Zinn glad that Communism was overthrown?
That the overthrow of socialism has failed to deliver anything of benefit to the majority is plain to see. One decade after counterrevolution skittered across Eastern Europe, 17 former socialist countries were immeasurably poorer. In Russia, poverty had tripled. One child in 10 – three million Russian children – lived like animals, ill-fed, dressed in rags, and living, if they were lucky, in dirty, squalid flats. In Moscow alone, 30,000 to 50,000 children slept in the streets. Life expectancy, education, adult-literacy and income declined. A report by the European Children’s Trust, written in 2000, revealed that 40 percent of the population of the former socialist countries – a number equal to one of every two US citizens – lived in poverty. Infant mortality and tuberculosis were on the rise, approaching Third World levels. The situation, according to the UN, was catastrophic. And everywhere the story was the same. [6, 7, 8, 9]
Paul Cockshot points out that:
The restoration of the market mechanism in Russia was a vast controlled experiment. Nation, national character and culture, natural resources and productive potential remained the same, only the economic mechanism changed. If Western economists were right, then we should have expected economic growth and living standards to have leapt forward after the Yeltsin shock therapy. Instead the country became an economic basket-case. Industrial production collapsed, technically advanced industries atrophied, and living standards fell so much that the death rate shot up by over a third leading to some 7.7 million extra deaths.
For many Russians, life became immeasurably worse.
If you were old, if you were a farmer, if you were a manual worker, the market was a great deal worse than even the relatively stagnant Soviet economy of Brezhnev. The recovery under Putin, such as it was, came almost entirely as a side effect of rising world oil prices, the very process that had operated under Brezhnev. 
While the return of capitalism made life harsher for some, it proved lethal for others. From 1991 to 1994, life expectancy in Russia tumbled by five years. By 2008, it had slipped to less than 60 years for Russian men, a full seven years lower than in 1985 when Gorbachev came to power and began to dismantle Soviet socialism. Today “only a little over half of the ex-Communist countries have regained their pretransition life-expectancy levels,” according to a study published in the medical journal, The Lancet. 
“Life was better under the Communists,” concludes Aleksandr. “The stores are full of things, but they’re very expensive.” Victor pines for the “stability of an earlier era of affordable health care, free higher education and housing, and the promise of a comfortable retirement – things now beyond his reach.”  A 2008 report in the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, noted that “many Russians interviewed said they still grieve for their long, lost country.” Among the grievers is Zhanna Sribnaya, 37, a Moscow writer. Sribnaya remembers “Pioneer camps when everyone could go to the Black Sea for summer vacations. Now, only people with money can take those vacations.” 
Ion Vancea, a Romanian who struggles to get by on a picayune $40 per month pension says, “It’s true there was not much to buy back then, but now prices are so high we can’t afford to buy food as well as pay for electricity.” Echoing the words of many Romanians, Vancea adds, “Life was 10 times better under (Romanian Communist Party leader Nicolae) Ceausescu.”  An opinion poll carried out last year found that Vancea isn’t in the minority. Conducted by the Romanian polling organisation CSOP, the survey found that almost one-half of Romanians thought life was better under Ceauşescu, compared to less than one-quarter who thought life is better today. And while Ceauşescu is remembered in the West as a Red devil, only seven percent said they suffered under Communism. Why do half of Romanians think life was better under the Reds? They point to full employment, decent living conditions for all, and guaranteed housing – advantages that disappeared with the fall of Communism. 
Next door, in Bulgaria, 80 percent say they are worse off now that the country has transitioned to a market economy. Only five percent say their standard of living has improved.  Mimi Vitkova, briefly Bulgaria’s health minister for two years in the mid-90s, sums up life after the overthrow of socialism: “We were never a rich country, but when we had socialism our children were healthy and well-fed. They all got immunized. Retired people and the disabled were provided for and got free medicine. Our hospitals were free.” But things have changed, she says. “Today, if a person has no money, they have no right to be cured. And most people have no money. Our economy was ruined.”  A 2009 poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that a paltry one in nine Bulgarians believe ordinary people are better off as a result of the transition to capitalism. And few regard the state as representing their interests. Only 16 percent say it is run for the benefit of all people. 
In the former East Germany a new phenomenon has arisen: Ostalgie, a nostalgia for the GDR. During the Cold War era, East Germany’s relative poverty was attributed to public ownership and central planning – sawdust in the gears of the economic engine, according to anti-socialist mythology. But the propaganda conveniently ignored the fact that the eastern part of Germany had always been less developed than the west, that it had been plundered of its key human assets at the end of World War II by US occupation forces, that the Soviet Union had carted off everything of value to indemnify itself for its war losses, and that East Germany bore the brunt of Germany’s war reparations to Moscow.  On top of that, those who fled East Germany were said to be escaping the repression of a brutal regime, and while some may indeed have been ardent anti-Communists fleeing repression by the state, most were economic refugees, seeking the embrace of a more prosperous West, whose riches depended in large measure on a history of slavery, colonialism, and ongoing imperialism—processes of capital accumulation the Communist countries eschewed and spent precious resources fighting against.
Today, nobody of an unprejudiced mind would say that the riches promised East Germans have been realized. Unemployment, once unheard of, runs in the double digits and rents have skyrocketed. The region’s industrial infrastructure – weaker than West Germany’s during the Cold War, but expanding — has now all but disappeared. And the population is dwindling, as economic refugees, following in the footsteps of Cold War refugees before them, make their way westward in search of jobs and opportunity.  “We were taught that capitalism was cruel,” recalls Ralf Caemmerer, who works for Otis Elevator. “You know, it didn’t turn out to be nonsense.”  As to the claim that East Germans have “freedom” Heinz Kessler, a former East German defense minister replies tartly, “Millions of people in Eastern Europe are now free from employment, free from safe streets, free from health care, free from social security.”  Still, Howard Zinn was glad communism collapsed. But then, he didn’t live in East Germany.
So, who’s doing better? Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright turned president, came from a prominent, vehemently anti-socialist Prague family, which had extensive holdings, “including construction companies, real estate and the Praque Barrandov film studios”.  The jewel in the crown of the Havel family holdings was the Lucerna Palace, “a pleasure palace…of arcades, theatres, cinemas, night-clubs, restaurants, and ballrooms,” according to Frommer’s. It became “a popular spot for the city’s nouveau riches to congregate,” including a young Havel, who, raised in the lap of luxury by a governess, doted on by servants, and chauffeured around town in expensive automobiles, “spent his earliest years on the Lucerna’s polished marble floors.” Then, tragedy struck – at least, from Havel’s point of view. The Reds expropriated Lucerna and the family’s other holdings, and put them to use for the common good, rather than for the purpose of providing the young Havel with more servants. Havel was sent to work in a brewery.
“I was different from my schoolmates whose families did not have domestics, nurses or chauffeurs,” Havel once wrote. “But I experienced these differences as disadvantage. I felt excluded from the company of my peers.”  Yet the company of his peers must not have been to Havel’s tastes, for as president, he was quick to reclaim the silver spoon the Reds had taken from his mouth. Celebrated throughout the West as a hero of intellectual freedom, he was instead a hero of capitalist restoration, presiding over a mass return of nationalized property, including Lucerna and his family’s other holdings.
The Roman Catholic Church is another winner. The pro-capitalist Hungarian government has returned to the Roman Catholic Church much of the property nationalized by the Reds, who placed the property under common ownership for the public good. With recovery of many of the Eastern and Central European properties it once owned, the Church is able to reclaim its pre-socialist role of parasite — raking in vast amounts of unearned wealth in rent, a privilege bestowed for no other reason than it owns title to the land. Hungary also pays the Vatican a US$9.2 million annuity for property it has been unable to return.  (Note that a 2008 survey of 1,000 Hungarians by the Hungarian polling firm Gif Piackutato found that 60 percent described the era of Communist rule under Red leader Janos Kadar as Hungary’s happiest while only 14 percent said the same about the post-Communist era. )
The Church, former landowners, and CEOs aside, most people of the former socialist bloc aren’t pleased that the gains of the socialist revolutions have been reversed. Three-quarters of Russians, according to a 1999 poll  regret the demise of the Soviet Union. And their assessment of the status quo is refreshingly clear-sighted. Almost 80 percent recognize liberal democracy as a front for a government controlled by the rich. A majority (correctly) identifies the cause of its impoverishment as an unjust economic system (capitalism), which, according to 80 percent, produces “excessive and illegitimate inequalities.”  The solution, in the view of the majority, is to return to socialism, even if it means one-party rule. Russians, laments the anti-Communist historian Richard Pipes, haven’t Americans’ taste for multiparty democracy, and seem incapable of being cured of their fondness for Soviet leaders. In one poll, Russians were asked to list the 10 greatest people of all time, of all nations. Lenin came in second, Stalin fourth and Peter the Great came first. Pipes seems genuinely distressed they didn’t pick his old boss, Ronald Reagan, and is fed up that after years of anti-socialist, pro-capitalist propaganda, Russians remain committed to the idea that private economic activity should be restricted, and “the government [needs] to be more involved in the country’s economic life.”  An opinion poll which asked Russians which socio-economic system they favor, produced these results.
• State planning and distribution, 58%;
• Based on private property and distribution, 28%;
• Hard to say, 14%. 
So, if the impoverished peoples of the formerly socialist countries pine for the former attractions of socialism, why don’t they vote the Reds back in? Socialism can’t be turned on with the flick of a switch. The former socialist economies have been privatized and placed under the control of the market. Those who accept the goals and values of capitalism have been recruited to occupy pivotal offices of the state. And economic, legal and political structures have been altered to accommodate private production for profit. True, there are openings for Communist parties to operate within the new multiparty liberal democracies, but Communists now compete with far more generously funded parties in societies in which their enemies have restored their wealth and privileges and use them to tilt the playing field strongly in their favor. They own the media, and therefore are in a position to shape public opinion and give parties of private property critical backing during elections. They spend a king’s ransom on lobbying the state and politicians and running think-tanks which churn out policy recommendations and furnish the media with capitalist-friendly “expert” commentary. They set the agenda in universities through endowments, grants and the funding of special chairs to study questions of interest to their profits. They bring politicians under their sway by doling out generous campaign contributions and promises of lucrative post-political career employment opportunities. Is it any wonder the Reds aren’t simply voted back into power? Capitalist democracy means democracy for the few—the capitalists—not a level-playing field where wealth, private-property and privilege don’t matter.
And anyone who thinks Reds can be elected to office should reacquaint themselves with US foreign policy vis-a-vis Chile circa 1973. The United States engineered a coup to overthrow the socialist Salvador Allende, on the grounds that Chileans couldn’t be allowed to make the ”irresponsible” choice of electing a man Cold Warriors regarded as a Communist. More recently, the United States, European Union and Israel, refused to accept the election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, all the while hypocritically presenting themselves as champions and guardians of democracy.
Of course, no forward step will be taken, can be taken, until a decisive part of the population becomes disgusted with and rejects what exists today, and is convinced something better is possible and is willing to tolerate the upheavals of transition. Something better than unceasing economic insecurity, private (and for many, unaffordable) health care and education, and vast inequality, is achievable. The Reds proved that. It was the reality in the Soviet Union, in China (for a time), in Eastern Europe, and today, hangs on in Cuba and North Korea, despite the incessant and far-ranging efforts of the United States to crush it.
It should be no surprise that Vaclav Havel, as others whose economic and political supremacy was, for a time, ended by the Reds, was a tireless fighter against socialism, and that he, and others, who sought to reverse the gains of the revolution, were cracked down on, and sometimes muzzled and jailed by the new regimes. To expect otherwise is to turn a blind eye to the determined struggle that is carried on by the enemies of socialism, even after socialist forces have seized power. The forces of reaction retain their money, their movable property, the advantages of education, and above all, their international connections. To grant them complete freedom is to grant them a free hand to organize the downfall of socialism, to receive material assistance from abroad to reverse the revolution, and to elevate the market and private ownership once again to the regulating principles of the economy. Few champions of civil liberties argue that in the interests of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, that Germans ought to be allowed to hold pro-Nazi rallies, establish a pro-Nazi press, and organize fascist political parties, to return to the days of the Third Reich. To survive, any socialist government, must, of necessity, be repressive toward its enemies, who, like Havel, will seek their overthrow and the return of their privileged positions. This is demonized as totalitarianism by those who have an interest in seeing anti-socialist forces prevail, regard civil and political liberties (as against a world of plenty for all) as the pinnacle of human achievement, or have an unrealistically sanguine view of the possibilities for the survival of socialist islands in a sea of predatory capitalist states.
Where Reds have prevailed, the outcome has been far-reaching material gain for the bulk of the population: full employment, free health care, free education through university, free and subsidized child care, cheap living accommodations and inexpensive public transportation. Life expectancy has soared, illiteracy has been wiped out, and homelessness, unemployment and economic insecurity have been abolished. Racial strife and ethnic tensions have been reduced to almost the vanishing point. And inequalities in wealth, income, opportunity, and education have been greatly reduced. Where Reds have been overthrown, mass unemployment, underdevelopment, hunger, disease, illiteracy, homelessness, and racial conflict have recrudesced, as the estates, holdings and privileges of former fat cats have been restored. Communists produced gains in the interest of all humanity, achieved in the face of very trying conditions, including the unceasing hostility of the West and the unremitting efforts of the former exploiters to restore the status quo ante.
1. Howard Zinn, “Beyond the Soviet Union,” Znet Commentary, September 2, 1999.
2. “Left behind by the luxury train,” The Globe and Mail, March 29, 2000.
3. “Support dwindling in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland,” The Chicago Tribune, May 27, 2001.
4. Dan Bilefsky, “Polish left gets transfusion of young blood,” The New York Times, March 12, 2010.
5. “Support dwindling in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland,” The Chicago Tribune, May 27, 2001.
6. “An epidemic of street kids overwhelms Russian cities,” The Globe and Mail, April 16, 2002.
7. “UN report says one billion suffer extreme poverty,” World Socialist Web Site, July 28, 2003.
8. Associated Press, October 11, 2000.
9. “UN report….
10. Paul Cockshott, “Book review: Red Plenty by Francis Spufford”, Marxism-Leninism Today,
11. David Stuckler, Lawrence King and Martin McKee, “Mass Privatization and the Post-Communist Mortality Crisis: A Cross-National Analysis,” Judy Dempsey, “Study looks at mortality in post-Soviet era,” The New York Times, January 16, 2009.
12. “In Post-U.S.S.R. Russia, Any Job Is a Good Job,” New York Times, January 11, 2004.
13. Globe and Mail (Canada), June 9, 2008.
14. “Disdain for Ceausescu passing as economy worsens,” The Globe and Mail, December 23, 1999.
15. James Cross, “Romanians say communism was better than capitalism”, 21st Century Socialism, October 18, 2010.“Opinion poll: 61% of Romanians consider communism a good idea”, ActMedia Romanian News Agency, September 27, 2010.
16. “Bulgarians feel swindled after 13 years of capitalism,” AFP, December 19, 2002.
17. “Bulgaria tribunal examines NATO war crimes,” Workers World, November 9, 2000.
18. Matthew Brunwasser, “Bulgaria still stuck in trauma of transition,” The New York Times, November 11, 2009.
19. Jacques R. Pauwels, “The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War,” James Lorimer & Company, Toronto, 2002. p. 232-235.
20. “Warm, Fuzzy Feeling for East Germany’s Grey Old Days,” New York Times, January 13, 2004.
21. “Hard lessons in capitalism for Europe’s unions,” The Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2003.
22. New York Times, July 20, 1996, cited in Michael Parenti, “Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism & the Overthrow of Communism,” City Light Books, San Francisco, 1997, p. 118.
23. Leos Rousek, “Czech playwright, dissident rose to become president”, The Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2011.
24. Dan Bilefsky and Jane Perlez, “Czechs’ dissident conscience, turned president”, The New York Times, December 18, 2011.
25. U.S. Department of State, “Summary of Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe,” September 10, 2003.
26. “Poll shows majority of Hungarians feel life was better under communism,” May 21, 2008,
27. Cited in Richard Pipes, “Flight from Freedom: What Russians Think and Want,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004.
30. “Russia Nw”, in The Washington Post, March 25, 2009.
What the collapse looked like
Stalin predicted perfectly what would happen if the USSR collapsed. The result was “The End of History,” as capitalist apologists would claim. Neoliberalism has overtaken the West, but has brought Russia with it.
These people greatly miss the Soviet Union
Quorans on the USSR:
It was monstrous. My parents were representatives of the working intelligentsia – qualified specialists who worked in the defense industry. At the time, we were roughly in the middle class. After the collapse of the Soviet Union was a terrible inflation, rampant crime, hunger, lack of work and lack of prospects for life. This lasted until the arrival of Putin in 1999. Only after this moment the situation in the country stabilized, and then there was a slow rise in living standards. By the way, the collapse of the USSR divided me and my relatives – my cousins and their parents suddenly turned out to be Ukrainians, and I and my parents – Russians. And now, for example, I am banned from entering Ukraine only because I have Russian citizenship. So I haven’t seen my cousins in 27 years.
I was born in 1973 and remember that period quite well. I would say that a lot of problem usually get exaggerated. Also, was the rest of the world totally free of any problems of any sort? Ye,there were things like – again depending on the place – a long queue, years to get you telephone installed (well, we and neighbours get ours easily). The hunting for clothe, goods and food items that people mentioned was mostly driven by the fact that it was rare for a moment. In society with roughly same monetary capabilities that was a way to show up which most people put a big effort to. The number of private cars were perhaps x2 less than Western Europe of that time which I guess again itself was x2 behind USA. Again, the way the life was organized most people lived within walking distance of their job or were provided company run buses. The motivation to have a car was often because of “dacha” (some private piece of land outside of the city, which was quite common).
The individual’s future was quite secure, it was easy to find almost any kind job you want and with free education (well, it was not totally free till 1950s or so) . People who choose to just chase money (that was possible if going to Siberian construction sites, achieving good results in work paid not on hours but on quantity, ’ grey’ business) were rather looked at with suspicion. Also, even for low level workers and engineers there was a system set to get paid for inventions and process innovations. Some people could double their income that way. Overall attitude was relatively lay down but of course it does not mean people did not compete e.g. for promotion and such competition would involve some exercises in demagogy (surprisingly similar to modern corporate world). The fact that you would not be immediately terminated from your job if e.g. drunk or you can still easily find another job had obvious negative effect. There was some chance to build your carrier up to the very top starting anywhere – e.g. looking at Soviet leaders most of them were not even from Moscow.
Regarding things like ‘freedom of speech’ I would say that certainly modern corporate world gives you way more narrow way (talking post-Stalin mostly). The bosses were rather limited in a way they can screw you up while there were more way for the opposite. Note that is not necessary good thing regarding overall efficiency of the company.
And one has to say overall standards of living were not too bad. E.g. there was a lot of long distance flights for vacations,etc. Regarding food – yes the choices were smaller but in principle if you desperately want something there were ways to get almost anything if paying extra. And general obesity was an issue already back then.
But let’s face the question – why this topic bring interest more than 25 years after?
We obviously see inequality, unemployment, overall pessimism growing all over the world ( well , don’t know about China,etc). I guess people ask whether the alternative systems are possible. I think it was shown it is possible, and it is important to say that de-facto the current logistics (centrally-driven, thanks to Internet) and economy occupied by creating workplaces rather than products becoming more of the same type. However, the growing inequality in distribution of wealth, decline of mass culture, science and education give rather pessimistic view.
I see so many Westerners telling here how bad it was, so I feel like I have to share with you my Father’s experience ( as I was born during the collapse of the union).
In general, both of my parents (born in 1970′s) sincerely miss the old soviet times. My grandparents came from random small villages across modern day Russia and Belarus. Eventually, they were offered jobs in the coastal town of Jurmala, Latvian SSR. A huge bonus to that was that the government would also give them flat with a walking distance to the new offered jobs ( Now imagine that the government is offering you a job and a flat within 10 min walking to the coast. Pretty neat, right?) Obviously it was a no brainer for most people. Going back to my dad. He was about like any average teenager in the 80’s. Riding moped, bleach-colouring his t-shirts, listening to Black Sabbath, Metallica and Iron Maiden (they were censored , but it was widely available anyway) on his boombox and styling his hair in a funny way. He travelled quite a lot within USSR for cheap. He went to Polytechnic for free and gained education which allowed him straight away to work in his field after competition. As he was sharing one bedroom flat with his mother, he was given 1 bedroom flat in the same apartment block (for free, from government) at the age of 18!!!
- He didn’t have to worry about money as there was always work available (it was illegal to be unemployed, you would be arrested). Which means there was no fear of becoming homeless.
- Most people I know had not just flats, but also a “dacha” ( summer house) where they were able to live outside the city’s life and grow their own crops.
- There was not lots of food available in the shops, but it was ENOUGH! Nobody starved in the 70’s or 80’s . There was no need to eat excess junk food, drink caramel lattes or many other things you cannot imagine your life without. If you cannot get something in the shop. Fine! You can go fishing, you can grow your vegetables or fruits or you can get your ass and go berry or mushroom harvest in the forest!
- The major drawback in USSR I can see is the border restriction. It really bummers me to think that those people were not able to see the world. However, it seems that it didn’t bother much people as they believed they have all they need in USSR. They have open borders in Latvia now, but what is the point if people are so poor they cannot afford to go abroad?
I understand that life in the Soviet Union was not perfect and was not so culturally and technically advanced as in the west. But you have to realise that It is completely different culture, different people and environmental conditions. Why do you people have to compare quality of life using US as some kind of “gold standard”? It is just like any other country with its own advantages and disadvantages. Leave us be.
I am jewish and I was born in 1972 USSR in Leningrad and my life was prosperous there. I loved it very much, it was a rich peaceful country, so huge, diversious and most beautiful one. Since 1991 I live abroad. I wouldn’t left my beautiful USSR if it wouldn’t collapse. Since then I lived in Israel, Canada, Japan, now in Finland. However USSR is always the best. I am still a patriot of USSR despite that USSR doesn’t exist anymore.
I was living in USSR my first 18 years and I really enjoyed to grow up there. It was a peaceful beautiful prosperous country with kind and beautiful people around.
I would never leave USSR if it wouldn’t be collapsed. It was an unforgivable mistake of my generation to let it collapse. So sad. Obviously Russia is still beautiful and peaceful country as always but USSR was definitely much bigger, stronger and better in general.
In USSR the education and a medicine was free. Every family owned a summer house outside of my city that government provided for free. Government provided apartments in the city for free as well
Summer houses had a sufficient amount of the land where we planted strawberries, apples, greens, carrots and other berries and vegetables. Those who lived in villages owned chickens, pigs and cows additionally to growing fruits and vegetables. So we enjoyed ecologically clean our own food all summer around
USSR was a dream come true for the average liberal in the modern EU, and as they are majority in EU now. So they work hard to re-enact USSR in EU. So far they are succeeding.
I am a jewish and I am an Israeli citizen since 1991. In USSR jewish population was reach and prosperous. I never met any poor jews in USSR.
In 1991 I left USSR.
What I’ve seen in terms of poverty and deprivation in the West, I hadn’t seen even in the most downtrodden Soviet village. Pravda was telling the truth! The problem is that when we were seeing the “pretty pictures” of the West, we thought everyone lives like that. Far from it…..
I think the biggest mistake the USSR made was to stop people from travelling to the West. They should have said, go on, live there for 6 months, let’s see how you get along. :)That said, at the time, the Western governments were spending shed-loads of money to attract and keep the “escapees from Communism”. Funnily how that dried up exactly in the early 1990s. There was no need to spend that money any more.
The other tragedy that bothers me if how many people actually died because of the USSR collapse: either from actual military conflicts (including thousands in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict), as well as from hunger (the Leningrad hunger 1991), poverty, and rampant banditism. How many children were never born, because people didn’t know if they could survive another day. If that was not a genocide….. then there is no justice in the world.
The loss of the Soviet Union was an enormous blow to the advancement of humankind. After its fall the U.S. had no one to stop it from its aggression, colonialism, and imperial power. Look what a distraction Obama did in the Middle East.
Yeltzin was set up by Americans to destroy Russia to the end. Unfortunately he carried through its task and meet the expectations of the westerns. In 1917 Westerns destroyed the Russian empire and in 1991 they did the same with USSR.
If only we knew then what we know now, we would probably have fought for the preservation of the USSR. I was stupid enough, as a student, to support the “freedom and democracy” movements. If I knew that we were going to be robbed blind, treated as “dumb natives” that gave their birthright away for the promise of shiny beads, and that everything that our parents and grandparents had worked and died for would be so blatantly abused….. It really breaks my heart to see what we have done…… And I, personally, am really sorry. We had it all, that’s why we wanted more, and didn’t realize what we had until we lost it. Oh well, I’ll just have to live with it….
Life in Russia in 1982:
More about the life in USSR and the state of mind of homo sovieticus you can gather from here:
I noticed many people who were never living in USSR think that they are qualified to give a description and the judgement about USSR. Their description of USSR is not credible because as a tourist you cannot understand the beautiful sides of the life in USSR. Tourist perception is very superficial therefore nonessential and only as a tourist perception the opinion can be valid, and that’s why such opinion is deeply incorrect from the point of local SU citizen.
The Western europeans cannot understand that it is basically wrong to compare USSR with small countries. Russia can be comparable with other big countries of the Russian size. To live in big countries is always better than in small countries. I tried both. There is something especially deep about the Russian psyche, the Russian soul, just the way the Russians are, their frankness, their simplicity. In Russia everything is very much. Large areas, large and diverse cities, large and severe frosts in winter. People in Russia, if they love it very much and if they have happiness, then it is great happiness, and if woe, then it is also big woe. Russians and Americans have the closest understanding of physical and metaphysical space. It has been said that Russians have “large souls” and it may be because they have a sense of space and time that is incompatible with either Western Europeans or Asians. The Russian sense of time is non linear.
Any comparison of USSR or Russia with any of microscopic European countries is absolutely invalid and irrelevant. The size is the matter
The judgement of european tourists could be absolutely different and even opposite from the local SU people judgement. I can give two examples from my personal life experience :
a) Israel. When tourists visit Israel they got excited about Tel Avivian paradise: beaches, sea, sunbathing, swimming all year around , tasty food, smiley half-naked happy people everywhere. However when they become citizens and live there permanently the reality turned on 180 degree and shows its ugly dark sides: everything is expensive, lack of parkings, no public transportation in the weekends, military conflicts etc. All those dark Israeli sides are absolutelyinvisible for tourists. Not everything that looks shiny is a gold .
b) Canada. When I came to Canada, first few weeks it seemed to me absolutely worthless place on the earth. I didn’t understood why people are so struggling to immigrate there. However after I settled down in Montreal I understood how prosperous rich life there with the highest living standard that I ever experienced. It took me a year to realistically value the canadian life. All those beautiful Canadian sides absolutely invisible for tourists. Canada is a huge low populated country always reminded me former USSR in the end of 1980′s.
Not everything that look dirty is a trash . Not everything that looks shiny is a gold. Watch deeply.
It is instructive to remember that only nine months before Yeltsin dissolved the USSR, an overwhelming majority of Soviet voters, in a referendum, were in favor of maintaining the union. For a surprising number of people today in the former Soviet Union, the terror does not wholly negate achievements such as universal literacy, one of the best technological-education systems in the world, the first man in space, free education and health care, and security in old age. Maybe these social gains, too, were an illusion, but we risk another kind of illusion by not including the few but important pluses with the mountains of minuses. The West need not be generous in its victory over communism, but we might be more balanced in our obituaries…
…Admittedly, besides its moral failure, communism failed in its crusade to convert the whole world and in the end succeeded in lastingly converting no significant part of it. But communism’s impact was and still is enormous. In addition to provoking significant changes in capitalist economies, such as vastly increased military spending and the growth of a military-industrial complex, the USSR’s existence changed Western social development in fundamental ways.
Labor reform in the West in the past century came about under the threat of a radicalized international labor movement protected and supported by the USSR. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was in part meant to steal the thunder of radicals who looked to Moscow and therefore could not be ignored. Social goals that are commonplace today, including women’s rights and racial integration, were planks of the Communist Party platform long before mainstream American parties took them seriously. It was Communists who first went to the American South and began organizing African-Americans and poor whites around issues of social justice. The more politically acceptable young people who followed them in the sixties are heroes today. On the international scene the Soviet Union provided support for Nelson Mandela and other reformers. Communism made life difficult for Western establishments, and it is doubtful that reforms would have come when they did if the USSR had not existed. Communists always rejected reform in favor of revolution. Ironically, however, the existence of the Soviet Union helped the capitalist West reform itself and avoid the bloody revolutions of the East. Twentieth-century communism was no passing illusion; its legacies are everywhere.