Cliff Arroyo asked the following important question about something I said in a previous post:
Clarissa: According to the Soviet mentality, making money is the only goal a human being should have, and no sacrifice is too big to achieve it.
Cliff: Is that part of the Soviet mentality or the post-Soviet mentality (or a hybrid, part of what destroyed the Soviet Union and which guaranteed that the successor states would have lots of problems)?
The problem with communism is that it needs to put something in place of personal gain to motivate people. In the 1920s, the Soviet leadership used the enthusiasm of the people and their pride to be part of something they thought was good to motivate them to work. This kind of enthusiasm (that in our culture we call “naked enthusiasm”, as in the enthusiasm that is based on nothing real) can only be sustained for a short period of time.
In 1930s, the motivating factor was the terror. Again, this is not something you can sustain for a very long time unless the demographic conditions really permit that. The Soviet Republics were not China, so that motivation had to go quite soon. When both naked enthusiasm and intense fear disappear as motivating factors, profound cynicism sets in.
In the case of the USSR, the development of cynicism as a world-view and a way of life was intensified by WWII. Soldiers who were in the war, as well as the many people who had been forcefully removed to Germany to work (especially from Ukraine and Belarus), finally had a chance to see how other European countries lived and the level of well-being they enjoyed. Even after Europe was destroyed by the war, it was still pretty obvious that the German, Belgian, French, etc. farmers had a much higher standard of living than Ukrainian peasants. This realization that the Soviet propaganda was lying about the misery of capitalist countries contributed to the growing cynicism.
As a result, the cynical mentality which lauded the accumulation of material goods as the only acceptable and respectable interest one could have came into existence in the USSR at the end of WWII. This is when deep class divisions began to set in. The party apparatchiks and the folks who served their needs enjoyed a degree of material well-being that regular people could not even begin to imagine. By the 1970s, when the generation that still remembered the enthusiasm and the faith of the 1920s started to die out, the cynicism became wide-spread and overwhelming.
When the USSR finally collapsed in 1991, people started getting access to such a wide variety of goods that were being imported from the West that the materialistic streak could only become more pronounced. In the 1990s, I saw people abandon all morality in a search for money and things to such a degree that it was painful to watch. Folks who used to be intellectuals would demand bribes, swindle their closest friends, and descend to such moral lows that it was scary to watch. A friend from college back in Ukraine stole an amount of money that was quite insignificant to her from me just because she could. When I confronted her, she felt extremely self-righteous and accused me of making it too easy for her to steal the money. This was the most religious and “spiritual” of all my friends.
As I shared before, I did not emigrate from my country in search of a better economic situation. I sacrificed a higher standard of living in return for a much lower one that I encountered in North America, and I did that consciously. It was the cynicism that I was escaping from. The sad life where people’s eyes glaze over when you try to talk about anything but things you have bought or want to buy, the impossibility of finding anybody who has any sort of political convictions, the incapacity to trust even the closest friends not to swindle you or steal from you.
P.S. I really like it when people ask questions. This is a hint. Wink, wink.