The memories of socialism (Part 4 of 5)

By mgaft1 | Day by day | 5 Oct 2020

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3



Free Stuff


Public transportation was very cheap. The bus, trolley, or metro trip was just a couple of pennies.

Medicine and education in the Soviet Union were free. The quality of the medicine wasn’t as high as it is in the States. There was no expensive equipment and for some procedures, one had to stand in line. Hospitals didn’t look as shiny museums like it is in the States. However, if you need your tooth to be pulled you could come to a local clinic, and it was done for free.

How was that possible? It’s hard to say. I am not an economist.

Pharmaceutical products cost way less than in the States. Teachers and doctors’ salary was just as low as everybody else’s. Most of the white color professions were compensated lower than blue color ones. Yet, people would rather get less money, but be viewed as a representative of the intelligentsia; at least in the circle where our family was from. I guess it was a matter of prestige. Still, the difference in salaries wasn’t that huge. Most people made about the same. It was what you would call equality of outcome. Well almost.

In practice, every known socialistic society had its elite; the group of people that is much more equal than everybody else. For them, everything is better. They lived almost like capitalists in western society. They had access to special distributors that offered a broader selection of food and western clothes. They had access to the best doctors, live in large apartments, had summer cottages for their families, and took summer vacations in special places on the Black Sea or Caspian, and so on.

These were the party bureaucrats. The elite also included high ranking military officers, famous scientists, artists, or actors, but only the very upper crust.

Other lucrative professions were in sales, food and other product storages, and some other. For example, a ticket clerk in popular theaters was a good place to work; in general, every place where it was possible to have something to barter was a good one. On the other hand, let’s say you are an army captain. What can you possibly barter; a tank, or a Kalashnikov rifle?

This little upper crust layer of “more equals” still didn’t explain how free medicine, education, and transportation was possible. Where did the money come from? I don’t remember exactly.

My guess is taxes were high, but taxation was stealth. Wages were low, but since everybody else made just as little, people didn’t feel offended.

The wage covered basic needs such as food, clothes, and transportation to work. In other words, I think, the government pocketed that surplus that Marx was talking about and spent it on its whim.
In the Soviet Union, there was a joke “During socialism people and government live in a complete agreement. The government is pretending that it is paying and people are pretending that they are working.”

All people had to work through. The socialistic principle was “Whoever doesn’t work doesn’t eat.” Parasitism was a criminal offense. Also, working for yourself wasn’t considered work. You can only work for the government. I remember while studying in college, I was contemplating that once I graduate and start working it would be my prestige work. However, I will earn real money by making my clothes and selling them to people. Back then I didn’t understand why working for yourself was such a problem?

Sure, this sort of activity goes against the dominant narrative. If all people are so happy and work enthusiastically for their country, why would someone want to works for himself? I bet the real reason was that these people didn’t pay taxes. Of course, tax evasion is a crime even in the West as well.


Personal Freedom


Life is a Socialistic society that is much more predetermined as most of the decisions for a person are made by the government. The same is true about public opinion. One can only have an opinion that is following the dominant narrative, with the point of view taken by the Communist party.

A person in a Socialistic society doesn’t have that much freedom. Then again what does a regular person needed Freedom for? No one forbids you to go to the forest to pick up mushrooms and berries, or go to the lake on weekend, or a soccer game. So what if you cannot say anything in public. What do you have to say that is so interesting anyway?

I asked an American friend what in his view is freedom of speech in America? He said the freedom to publically criticize the government. Hm … Yeah, I guess that wasn’t possible.

More importantly, there was a large fragment of the population that liked it if someone is making decisions for them.

They might quietly grumble in their kitchen about the system, but deep down inside, they like it; less personal responsibility.

I still hate the time when I have to prepare taxes not necessarily because I have a hard time parting with the money, but because I have to deal with all the bureaucratic paperwork, go through boring tax documents, finding receipts, and having anxiety over how much I would have to pay and whether I have enough money in the bank to cover it.

During socialism, you can also have a voice as long as this voice supports a dominant narrative. It is seen as positive and politically mature to enthusiastically manifest your support to the dominant narrative. Often people had to go to the meeting where they condemn American imperialism or Israel occupation of the West Bank or to collectively congratulate some African nation that achieved independence.

An opinion opposing to that narrative or the one that exposed even a slight deviation met an immediate public condemnation even if deep down inside every person in that crowd felt the same way. Not only a person that expressed somewhat alternative opinion was immediately deemed as bad and immoral, but he can become the “enemy of the people,” could lose his job, and be incarcerated as a parasite.

If you want to feel the taste of socialism, try imagining working for a company that has a plethora of rules and regulations. Do this, don’t do that, say this, and don’t say that. Yes, you can learn to follow them, how to maneuver, to say the “right things at the right time” and most of the time keep your mouth shut. However, that doesn’t stop at 5 pm but infiltrate your entire life.

To be continued...


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