Was There Anything Good About the Soviet Union?

People often ask me why my vision of  life in the USSR is so uniformly negative. “Is it possible that there was nothing whatsoever good about that country?” they ask me.

If you consider the way I am as a person, you will see why I can’t find anything redeeming about life in the USSR. I’m an intensely private and unsociable person, so the constant forced socialization in the Soviet Union made me profoundly miserable. The idea that “the collective” had the right to intrude upon your personal life and berate you for your sexual choices during public meetings disturbed me. The forced medical procedures that invaded my body against my will and for no reason other than humiliating me traumatized me.

I’m also very independent. I need to be able to make my own choices and I’m more than prepared to bear responsibility for them. I don’t want a guaranteed job on graduating from college if that job is assigned to me by somebody else and takes me to a city, region and company of somebody else’s choosing. Being forced to leave my students and my office several times a year to go and sort rotting cabbage or gather cucumbers in the field because somebody has decided that this is a better use of a professor’s time than teaching and research makes me angry. I want choices. I love choices. And I can’t feel anything but hatred for anybody who tries to “improve” my life by removing my right to choose whatever I want.

I like consumer goods and I’m not ashamed of admitting that. The system where I work, make money, go out and buy whatever the hell strikes my fancy is far more comprehensible to me than the system where you get a guaranteed pittance in exchange for not working and then spend your free time hunting for the most basic consumer goods on the black market.

I’m a reader. Without constant intellectual nourishment, I wilt and die. Living in a place where good books are impossible to find, learning foreign languages is suspect, and expressing your thoughts freely is dangerous is torture to me.

Even small things made me suffer. I’m very sensitive to sounds, especially the ones I haven’t chosen to have around. So the constant drone of the radio that could never be turned off and kept communicating the amazing socialist achievements in the fields and factories at all times of day and night drove me to distraction.

The lack of bright colors, the constant aggression of everybody against everybody else, and people, people, people everywhere, invading your life all day and every day – and what would I get in return for all this in the USSR? The security of being guaranteed a miserable handout in lieu of a salary, an access to a doctor who would humiliate me and treat me like crap (possibly even beat me), an access to the sad, pathetic joke of a Soviet education, the knowledge that I could always blame the mess of my life on the government?

No, that’s not for me. But I know quite a few people who look back at their infantilized Soviet existence with nostalgia.