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If time travel ever becomes possible, I would transport myself back to Moscow or the province in the 1970's or 80's to better understand the realities of life in Soviet times. Looking at old photos in books or online, I can hardly envision such a system of life where everything is so structured and predestined. This is the eternal debate amongst my older Russian friends and readers - the pros and cons of life in the USSR vs. modern day Russia. Tonight I read an article written by a man who was only nine years old when the Soviet Union collapsed. However, he claims this was long enough to form a strong enough opinion about life in the USSR to know that he never wishes to return. His observations seem a bit shallow and naive on the surface. He takes a few of the most commonly expressed strengths of the Soviet system, and explains why they are misconceptions. Please remember these are not my personal views, but the opinions of a former resident in the Soviet Union. Let's begin with education...

Myth 1: The Soviet education was the best in the world

sovok7

There's a common belief that education in the Soviet system was good, perhaps even the best in the world.  However, this was largely a result of propaganda, and it's important to ask the primary question of how a "great" education should be measured?  It's clear that scientific progress in the West was no less than in the USSR.  Moreover, if everyone was so smart in the USSR, why couldn't they make good cars and VCRs? Something is wrong here, and doesn't add up.


Myth 2: Soviet medicine was better

Obviously, the quality of medical care was worse in Soviet times.  It has always been worse when compared to decaying capitalist countries. Life expectancy in the USSR was lower than the "enemy" at all times.

Reasons for lower life expectancy are simple - lack of modern medicines and treatments. While every effort was being made to create the next warheads, citizens died without having access to advanced diagnostics or care.

Myth 3: Free housing

A common misconception about the USSR is that everyone lived for free. In fact, there was no free housing but cooperatives, which cost an average sum, payable through reasonable installments for 25 years. Everyone in the USSR had a roof over their head, but the quality of housing was horrible and inferior in quality. A
fter the collapse of the USSR, the owners of these apartments were faced with the need to privatize for big money, otherwise the housing became the property of the city. What, in general, makes housing better during Soviet times? Nothing.

sovok2

Myth 4: In the Soviet Union, there was no unemployment or homeless

The main problem here was the equalization of labor in low wages, where many people lived paycheck to paycheck, creating a low standard of living for the majority. It's better to provide economic incentives for high quality work, rather than simply handing people wages. The latter creates lazy and entitled workers. Side note from me: I dont' understand employment during Soviet times? How were people hired? They picked their own jobs, or the choice was made by the government?

Myth 5: The most powerful army in the world!

download

Classic point of discussion for lovers of the USSR! Yes, the Union had a strong army, to the "defense industry" money was never spared. The Soviet forces were greatly feared abroad, but there are two important points. (1) A strong army has no effect on the lives of ordinary people, except in the negative direction (when all power goes to the creation of tanks, there remains no funds for infrastructure and other improvements); and (2) the Armies of Western countries were no less strong.

Myth 6: Products and clothes were better in the USSR

sovok9
This is complete nonsense according to the author. In Soviet times, everything was worse with clothing and consumer choice. People wore shoes for ten years, and it was the same with all other clothes which were of poor quality. Remember how everyone was so desperate for Levis and other American jeans?

In his opinion, the absolute worst part of life in the USSR was the lack of choice in everything - education, work, food, clothing. Soviet citizens couldn't leave the country or really choose the accommodations which best fit their own personality, goals or comfort.  Individuality was suffocated. The government planned human life from birth to death. In general, it completely ruined the country and strangled motivation.

The author's final words - "God forbid that we all go back. Now we live a thousand times better." Do you agree?

P.S. - is the term "совок" offensive and derogatory, or it's okay to use?




Comments

( 317 comments — Leave a comment )
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Stan Podolski
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:44 am (UTC)
There are still trial versions in Venezuela and North Korea. Everybody welcome!

I am so sorry Cuba and Vietnam not on the list anymore

Edited at 2015-09-20 02:45 am (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:49 am (UTC)
It's still not so easy to travel to Cuba. It's a pity, because it's not so far from me. American citizens still need to be part of some type of organized tour for educational, professional or humanitarian purposes. Independent travel remains impossible to my understanding, and the cultural exchange tours are too expensive. I'm receiving invitations to them in the mail frequently. I think it's much easier to go to Venezuela. :)
(no subject) - Stan Podolski - Sep. 20th, 2015 04:31 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - Stan Podolski - Sep. 20th, 2015 04:25 am (UTC) - Expand
a000796
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:49 am (UTC)
" a system of life where everything is so structured and predestined"

who told you this nonsense? Another "man who was only nine years old when the Soviet Union collapsed"?
peacetraveler22
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:52 am (UTC)
How can you argue that life was not more structured during Soviet times, esp. with regard to ordinary things like food choice, jobs, education, etc. I don't like socialist systems, where people rely on governments for everything. We have too many lazy people like this now in the U.S., simply living off of welfare, when they are perfectly capable of working.
(no subject) - a000796 - Sep. 20th, 2015 03:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mityaitch - Sep. 20th, 2015 02:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a000796 - Sep. 20th, 2015 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
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alexanderr
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:51 am (UTC)
well, I lived there in 1970's and 1980's. I live in New York since 1993.
#1 education was probably ok,
but I cannot really comment on that since my own education was easily
one of the best in the world at the time, but it was not typical
#2 no
#3 ha ha no
#4 lies
#5 don't know
#6 hell no
peacetraveler22
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:55 am (UTC)
Then you agree with the author of the article that life is much better now? Why is your education not typical? I don't like the higher education system in the USA, where universities are now primarily businesses in search of profit, rather than educators.
(no subject) - alexanderr - Sep. 20th, 2015 02:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 21st, 2015 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
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alice_lisina
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:54 am (UTC)
"совок" - yes it is offensive for those who lives in Russia and who believes that Soviet era was better. :)

Everything that time was kinda free, but it was not - since people had very small salaries and did not have much in stores. Soviet government told what size of apartment you should get. Everything was by government's control. Socialism is bad idea and it shown by other different countries.

peacetraveler22
Sep. 20th, 2015 02:56 am (UTC)
How did people get jobs in Soviet times? The government told them where to work, or they had a choice?
(no subject) - a000796 - Sep. 20th, 2015 03:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 20th, 2015 03:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a000796 - Sep. 20th, 2015 03:21 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - a000796 - Sep. 20th, 2015 03:34 am (UTC) - Expand
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aborigen72
Sep. 20th, 2015 03:06 am (UTC)
Я жил лучше )))

Тогда я был молодой, высокий и кудрявый))

Теперь старый , маленький и лысый (((

Edited at 2015-09-20 03:07 am (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Sep. 20th, 2015 03:15 am (UTC)
I'm also old, but still curly! :) I have too much hair. Maybe I should donate some to you? :))
(no subject) - aborigen72 - Sep. 20th, 2015 03:30 am (UTC) - Expand
wojzeh
Sep. 20th, 2015 03:21 am (UTC)

Twas waste of my time

peacetraveler22
Sep. 20th, 2015 03:26 am (UTC)
What was a waste of time? My post or life in Soviet times?
(no subject) - wojzeh - Sep. 20th, 2015 11:08 am (UTC) - Expand
genka8
Sep. 20th, 2015 03:44 am (UTC)
" is the term "совок" offensive and derogatory, or it's okay to use? "
Yes, it is!
Generally, the life in the USSR was not structured or restricted most of the times. I could think of some cases where the difference was noticable.
First of all- international travel and generally any information or merchandise from the West. Not that it was expressly forbidden, but it was difficult to obtain. The prices for "grey imports" were astronomical. You could pay a two weeks salary for a pair of cheap jeans or even an LP of a foreign band.
Education- there were no "electives" or special programs in schools. In large cities parents could get children in a school with an advanced foreign language or math studies, and that was about it. The same was in the college- you would need to make the choice during the application process and changing it later was not trivial. It also meant that your classmates in the school or college remained the same for the duration.
You could not stay unemployed- it was a criminal offense. I'm not sure how exactly it worked if finding an acceptable position was difficult.
The real estate transactions were difficult and semi legal. As the result, the mobility was very low. Most apartments and houses remained in the same family for generations.
peacetraveler22
Sep. 21st, 2015 04:09 pm (UTC)
I think it must be quite difficult for a Soviet-minded person to adjust to life in the USA.
(no subject) - genka8 - Sep. 21st, 2015 06:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
aborigen72
Sep. 20th, 2015 04:01 am (UTC)
В России любят прошлое ,
боятся будущего
и не любят настоящего .
juan_gandhi
Sep. 20th, 2015 04:03 am (UTC)
Regarding employment.

Yes, it was a little bit of a mystery.

Say, you graduate from a university. If you are not a Jew, you will be "distributed" to an enterprise, where, if nothing horrible happens, you could stay until retirement. It was harder for the Jews; also, it was harder for married people, because, by the law, if you are married, you are supposed to get an apartment from the enterprise - that was, of course, a total fantasy (but worked for some, in the Far North).

If you do not graduate a university, you could have go get some technical education, and be distributed as well.

If you did not go anywhere, and just dropped out of school, militia would help you find a job that really sucks. But a job.

Next stage is to find a decent job. Of course if you wanted to earn good money, you would enroll into something a little bit dangerous and uncomfortable, like oil drilling in Siberia, or a fishing boat, and return with tons of money. If not interested, you need to have friends. That's what was happening to me after I spent my obligatory 3 years at a factory (as an engineer), and then started looking. Interviewing was pretty much the same as these days in software industry; and I was interviewing people pretty much the same way I do now. Except that I was also testing their English, since, in software, you are an idiot if you do not read in English.

Again, for the Jews it was more complicated, so me and my friends, we had a strong principle: Jews come first. It does not mean I would hire anybody just because.

Then, when some economic freedom was announced, we set up a startup, and we picked the best of the best of the best (and kicked them out as easy if they were not). Later I was just hiring contractors to do a specific job, and to me it was the best solution.

See, there was an advantage in the system. A young woman could get an engineering job, and stay there while giving birth to her kids. Several months of paid leave, then a year of unpaid maternity leave, that was cool for the employees, and for the employers it was a double problem: a) replace here with someone while she's away; b) retrain her after she returns having forgotten almost everything. It was all doable; in my team the majority of the engineers were females; it just required some efforts and 0 male chauvinism, which was, and still is, the backbone of Russian society.

In all this (restricted) mobility we have to keep in mind one important factor: прописка, residence registration. You could easily move from Moscow to Siberia, but there was no way you could move from Siberia to Moscow. Almost no way. That's where all the drama was. Husbands not registering their wives in their apartments, and the like.
a000796
Sep. 20th, 2015 05:29 am (UTC)
"Again, for the Jews it was more complicated, so me and my friends, we had a strong principle: Jews come first. "

LOL
(no subject) - juan_gandhi - Sep. 20th, 2015 05:31 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - liddaged - Sep. 20th, 2015 09:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - juan_gandhi - Sep. 21st, 2015 02:50 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 21st, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aavenger - Sep. 22nd, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
savin0ff
Sep. 20th, 2015 04:12 am (UTC)
совок - the biggest human jail in the world, and first of all mind jail
peacetraveler22
Sep. 21st, 2015 04:12 pm (UTC)
Seems to me that many older Russians can't escape this mindset.
f_l_o_e
Sep. 20th, 2015 04:31 am (UTC)
Presently, faith in the Soviet Union, it is a religion. People do not want to think or remember. They want to believe.
I call it - Soviet-worship, like fire-worship.
rider3099
Sep. 20th, 2015 04:46 am (UTC)
I don’t know what to say Shannon. My family was not ordinary, both of my grandfathers were the members of Ukrainian government. So I had really happy childhood and everything I needed. I graduated from the State University, education was free. I always had an opportunity to choose a job. I mean I made a choice, personally. Then there was really hard time for young people when USSR was collapsed. There was no salary in a place where I worked, so I had to change my specialization completely. But after some time I earned really enough money.
BTW about #3 - housing - there was just about $20 to privatize our apartment. Is it a lot of money? )))
peacetraveler22
Sep. 21st, 2015 04:14 pm (UTC)
No, it is cheap! :)) Yes, I imagine it must have been a very difficult transition for the generation who shifted from the Soviet system to an entirely new way of life/government.
amtex
Sep. 20th, 2015 04:58 am (UTC)
After graduation a former student would have been assigned to a job by the university administration or parent ministry for that institution, where young professional would not have a choice to reject that offer and choose another position. Not only they wouldn't have a say in choosing their job itself or a company for that matter but they also couldn't choose the location of the job. This is how we have got so many Moskovites having their jobs in the middle of nowhere in Siberia or deserts of Kazakhstan, which now has almost 25% of ethnic Russian population.

Edited at 2015-09-20 05:18 am (UTC)
a000796
Sep. 20th, 2015 05:32 am (UTC)
"where young professional would not have a choice to reject that offer and choose another position. "

It was ranking dependent. Best students did have choice. Others had to service for three years at a position and place defined by the state.

Edited at 2015-09-20 05:36 am (UTC)
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Sep. 21st, 2015 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
justadreamer
Sep. 20th, 2015 05:19 am (UTC)
Абсолютно согласен. В страшном сне не приснится вернуться назад в совок.
10_4
Sep. 20th, 2015 05:52 am (UTC)
Совок is indeed derogatory for совок, as polytical system as well as certain mindset. I use it with no remorse, dont really care about hurt feelings of совокs.
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