Michael Metz: What About Communism?

I’ve often wondered what Russians thought about the Communist system that ruled their country for 70 years. Generally they don’t talk about it, like most people they’re focused on the present and the future, not on the past, but I’m curious, so I ask. Here’s a random sample of answers.

A poor couple living in the countryside felt things were much better back then, “We had more money for food, for the things we need.” A scientist, “Everyone had a job under Communism, my son has been looking for work for two years now and has not found one.” A religious person, “It is better now because the churches are open and we can practice our religion.” A teacher, “My grandfather was arrested in the 30s and died in prison. But healthcare was free, education was free, housing was free.” From another teacher, “The Soviet education system was maybe the best in the world, now it is collapsing, there is no money.” And from a wealthy company owner, “Are things better today? You must ask for whom? For me, yes, things are much better, but for most people, no I don’t think so.”

Few mention the gulags or the repression, unless asked, and then all agree those were bad. Almost all the comparisons are economic. No one talks about the lack of freedoms or the lack of democracy under Communism. And most think that in the old days things were better economically for most people. One noted “We wanted socialism with a human face, but we got [long pause] very harsh capitalism.”

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