Reader Observer Jules asked a very interesting question:
love your work…the Soviet Period is of particular interest…would like to see you expand on the fact that the USSR created more women physicians, engineers and teachers than any other political structure allowed.
First of all, we need to remember that, in the case of the USSR, “physicians, engineers and teachers” should be placed in inverted commas.
I love questions about the Soviet Union and am always willing to answer as many of them as there are. The USSR did achieve an almost 100% employment rate but it was done by creating job positions that weren’t really jobs in our understanding of the word. This was especially true in the case of “engineers”, the absolute majority of whom were not qualified to do any engineering work at all. In the United States or Canada, an engineer is a highly respected professional with a great social status and a good salary because this is somebody who possesses specialized, hard-to-acquire knowledge. In the Soviet Union, however, engineering jobs – again, not always but in a vast majority of cases – went to people who were incapable of producing any actual work.
In his brilliant novel In the First Circle, the Nobel Prize winning writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn describes how these “engineers” were educated and how incapable they were of understanding anything about engineering. An engineer in the USSR was, in the majority of cases, a person who came to work in the morning and spent the entire day chatting with colleagues, doing crossword puzzles, drinking tea, snoozing, and just not doing much else at all. I will never forget my mother’s friend, an engineer, who had worked at the same company for 25 years and at the end of that work couldn’t even say what the company’s name was.
Among doctors and teachers, the proportion of grievously uneducated and unprofessional people was also extremely high. After the collapse of the USSR, engineers, doctors and teachers were precisely the people who didn’t manage to find their place in a capitalist system because they have no skills to offer on the job market that anybody would want to pay for. As a result, there is this bizarre situation in the FSU countries where engineers, doctors and teachers are today among the most marginalized, impoverished groups of people who do nothing but bellyache that the government doesn’t offer them enough handouts.
Now, if we turn to the gender part of the issue, it is true that all women were employed in the USSR. However – and this is a curious paradox – you will not find a culture with a greater degree of unhealthy interdependence between mothers and children, including adult, middle-aged, and even elderly children. With all of the mothers in the workplace full-time, there were not, as one might suppose, crowds of children, roaming the streets freely all day long. To the contrary, the USSR produced generations of completely controlled, helicoptered, Mommy-dependent people. Scratch any post-Soviet person and I guarantee that you will find some sort of a diseased issue (or, ever more likely, a host of issues) with the mother. This, however, doesn’t have to do with the employment, workplace, or specific professions. It is a separate problem altogether.