Sweet Unfreedom

People often mistakenly think that during Stalinism everybody lived in terror. But that’s not true.

Stalinism was s very happy time for the majority. A very, very happy time. A lot of great stuff was happening. Technological advances, the quality of life improved dramatically. People were having fun.

This idea about a terrorized population, cowering in fear of being dragged to the GULAG, it’s all a fantasy. Nobody expected to be dragged away because that only happened to bad people who deserved it.

If you ever had a chance to talk to regular people who lived during the Stalin era, you’d see that the talk of labor camps and torture chambers leaves them sincerely befuddled. “Yeah, well, maybe a few people, but they were bad!”

What Stalinism took away is what most people are glad to relinquish. The main power tool of dictatorships isn’t pain. It’s pleasure. They press the pleasure buttons that turn us into obedient, happy cattle and relieve the load of responsibility.

When the Soviet Union fell, after an initial spell of excitement I can’t tell you how many people wished for it to come back. The plentiful food and pretty clothes didn’t compensate for the loss of the sweet, sweet lack of freedom.

I’m not saying there will be Stalinism in the US. There won’t be. But there will be sweet, sweet unfreedom.

9 thoughts on “Sweet Unfreedom”

  1. I don’t know. I remember these times as awful. The grocery stores had only vinegar on the shelves (the vinegar factory manager must have been a capitalist at heart). To buy sugar or tea, you had to wait in line forever. And if the store assistant had beef with you, he/she could refuse to serve you and nothing could be done. You had to know someone who was cozy with the party who would connect you with someone who had access to buy a rug, a bookcase, a sofa, etc.

    Also, you had to always watch out. I remember when my parents had people over, they would tell us to stake the house and make sure nobody is listening in when they we telling politically-incorrect jokes. I remember some kids fathers disappearing and coming back totally different, completely broken. Right around the time the martial law broke up in Poland, I remember me and my mother spending a whole day crying because my father went to some “Solidarnosc” meet up and we were scared to death he will be killed.

    And there was the constant propaganda: the news, the history lessons, the school assemblies, the papers, the movies. The endless hammering into our heads how fortunate we were that we get to live in socialism. I believe my main intellectual state growing up was cognitive dissonance as all I saw around me were miserable or drunken people who were scared and had no perspectives.

    And that was after the really bad times. My grandfather was a farmer, so they needed to instill compliance in them as small-time farmers still had private property and a little independence. They would round up the men, load them on trucks, take them to prison, and beat them up. That’s how they trained obedience. Meanwhile the family members would not even know where they were and whether they would come back.

    If your family was aligned with the system and you belonged to the party, it could have been good because you were the better “sort”. But it would take just one slip and it was over.

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    1. Maria, may I ask what happened to party members who made bad mistakes back then that got other party members into trouble?

      To illustrate, I mean something like a party member getting drunk and loudly talking about things that they shouldn’t talk about, which then caused bad problems for other party members.

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      1. I actually don’t know George. Non of my immediate family members belonged was a party member. My aunt’s husband was a high up officer in the party but he was so connected that he could do pretty much get away with anything. And they were benefiting really well out of the system. They would go for nice vacations (in other countries in the East Block of course), they lived in a beautiful house, their kids had private lessons in piano and English. None of this was available for my plebs family. When it all collapsed the uncle was sent to an early retirement, lost all influence and I guess being a nobody wasn’t too exciting for him because he died shortly after. He could not have been more than 60.

        Also, unlike in the US where families are jumping to each others throats because Trump and Biden, it looked like back then in Poland family relations trampled politics. My father who was a small time opposition member and him were getting along just fantastically. Go figure.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s definitely a feature of today’s America that in a society where there’s no genocide happening people would so easily and cavalierly humiliate, betray and discard family members over something so trivial as a voting choice.

          For instance, I detest Putin. Detest him. But if my sister became a passionate supporter and papered her house with his portraits, I’d take it as an eccentricity on her part that needs to be humored. Nothing more than that.

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          1. This is terrifying, actually. My brother’s teen gets all the fun indoctrination at school– CNN talking points etc.– brings it all home, and when he tries to talk to her about how the world really works… nada. She doesn’t want to hear it, because she has teenaged friends and they all drink the koolaid, and she’s got to fit in at school. When they start getting kids to inform on their parents, she will absolutely turn him in for wrongthink.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. “I don’t know. I remember these times as awful”

      Poland in the late 1970s early 1980s was a very different place from the Stalinist period int he USSR. There was no real opposition the Soviet system at the time (the purges were almost all faithful party members) while the party faced lots of opposition in Poland.
      Even in the 1980s the USSR was far more closed with few westerners around (for whom contact with unauthorized local people was difficult or impossible) while the Polish government had de facto encouraged contacts with Polonia* for the economic benefits but it also meant more uncontrolled variables around for the government which often got twitchy.
      Youtube has a channel that has news reports from Dziennk (the nightly news) in the 1980s. They form a great counter argument for idiots who like to say that things were better in the 1980s or who compare the EU to communism….

      *”Polonia” refers to the Polish diaspora

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      1. Russia and Poland were completely different because Russia had a revolution whereas Poland was under foreign occupation.

        I would think how it was experienced in other parts of the USSR would depend on how ethnically similar they were to Russians.

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  2. I’ve never heard such take on Stalinism, but it’s interesting
    Have you heard,however, what the Soviets did with the Kulaks and who Kulaks were? I only just learned about it recently. How Stalin tried to destroy a whole class of people who were in today’s terms Business owners, really.

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