How Communism Broke People

by Krishna on June 29, 2009

via Shafeen, here is an article originally published in 1982 about a trip to the erstwhile Soviet Union by Edward Crane of the Cato Institute.

But if it is hard to describe the economic wasteland of Russia to someone who hasn’t been there, it is even harder to describe what their totalitarian system has done to the human spirit of 260 million people. It isn’t just the drabness and grayness one sees everywhere. Or the rudeness and surliness one encounters so often. It’s that you virtually never see people laughing, smiling or just seeming to enjoy themselves. People seem to walk slightly bent over, their eyes always averting a stranger. There is an overwhelming sense of oppression and depression. It is no wonder that alcoholism is a major problem in the Soviet Union.
When we occasionally had opportunities to talk to people in parks or on the street, there was a phrase that kept recurring. We’d ask them if they had ever been outside the USSR, if they would ever own a car, if they could switch jobs if they wanted. The answer, with a shrug of the shoulders, was often an emotionless “It’s impossible.” Whereas in our society one frequently encounters a sense of outrage at injustice or a determination to achieve a goal against all odds, in the Soviet Union one just shrugs. It’s impossible.

But if it is hard to describe the economic wasteland of Russia to someone who hasn’t been there, it is even harder to describe what their totalitarian system has done to the human spirit of 260 million people. It isn’t just the drabness and grayness one sees everywhere. Or the rudeness and surliness one encounters so often. It’s that you virtually never see people laughing, smiling or just seeming to enjoy themselves. People seem to walk slightly bent over, their eyes always averting a stranger. There is an overwhelming sense of oppression and depression. It is no wonder that alcoholism is a major problem in the Soviet Union.

When we occasionally had opportunities to talk to people in parks or on the street, there was a phrase that kept recurring. We’d ask them if they had ever been outside the USSR, if they would ever own a car, if they could switch jobs if they wanted. The answer, with a shrug of the shoulders, was often an emotionless “It’s impossible.” Whereas in our society one frequently encounters a sense of outrage at injustice or a determination to achieve a goal against all odds, in the Soviet Union one just shrugs. It’s impossible.

I am just old enough to remember the 1980’s and the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Even in those days, there was talk about World World III and it was surprising to outsiders how quickly the regimes crumbled under popular unrest. Crane’s article shows how broken the citizens of those nations were and how false the facade of strength was. He was prescient in suggesting that peace, not war, would destroy the USSR because their leaders could not hide the reality behind excuses of foreign interference.

It is worthwhile to remember the horrors of Communism if only because it shows the truth of the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Communism started with the assumption that it is possible for a central entity to distribute resources that would eliminate poverty, but it soon disintegrated into a totalitarian society that turned on its own people.

I don’t mean to draw any moral equivalences, but it is amazing how common the Communist mentality is, not just in government, but also in business which are supposed to be capitalistic. Big Business stifles innovation and creativity and demands conformance to outdated “standards” and rule books. Openness and transparency are dirty words in many corporations who thrive on double-speak and false marketing.

The rise of Web 2.0 and applications like Facebook and Twitter (especially with regard to what is happening today in Iran) teach us that voices cannot be silenced. People want to be heard and listened to. They want a stake in what is happening. Businesses that fail to listen to their employees and customers do so at the peril of their existence.

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