Clive James is also one of very VERY few Westerners who understood what the Soviet Union was about:
Except in periods of deliberately induced famine, nobody starved in the Soviet Union, or died of thirst or went unclothed. But they ate, drank and dressed at a level too low to leave them untouched by a desolate envy of the capitalism they were supposed to despise, and finally it was that corrosive spiritual deprivation that brought socialism down. The deprivation was comparative, not absolute: but the comparison was real. Thoughts of it filled the day, the week, the month, the year and the whole wasted life. In the West, someone obsessed with material things is correctly thought to be a fool. In the East, everyone was obsessed with material things from daylight to dusk.
Absolutely, 100% true. A lifetime of constantly thinking about stuff, stuff, stuff, how to get stuff, nothing else but stuff. This kind of life is intolerable. Only the most primitive human beings can be satisfied with it. Life of the stomach instead of life of the mind is degrading.
Another thing that people don’t get is that all of this didn’t end the second the USSR was dissolved. I described earlier how there were still no stores, cafes, or restaurants in my large city almost a decade after the USSR had fallen apart. In the same way, there was still no life of the mind (after a brief but happy explosion of interest in reading in 1987-89) all throughout the 1990s. And it’s not like there’s been much since then, to be honest. I mean, there’s some stuff going on. There’s also a sushi restaurant in Kharkiv now. But the quality of both is… yeah.
Once you kill the human spirit, it takes a very, very long time to sprout back to life.