Well, I guess you gotta find something

I lived in the Soviet Union for two years in the 1970s, at the height of the cold war, under the dead hand of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule. It was a state that isolated itself from the world, in which the Communist party attempted to exercise total ideological control. It believed that central state planners could organise the economy more efficiently than the market. In fact, the planned economy turned out to be barely controlled chaos, further muddled by everyday corruption and sheer bloody-mindedness. If a shop assistant was more interested in painting her nails than in serving you, there was little you could do about it.

Yet somehow the memory I retain most strongly is not of oppression and empty shops, but of a society that thrived on something that was missing in our hectic western lives – a sense of togetherness and sharing, by which Russians contrived to beat the system.

33 thoughts on “Well, I guess you gotta find something”

  1. I bet there are people who could say the same about the German occupation of France, doesn’t mean it was good thing.

  2. One of the lies peddled during the soviet era was that queues were a good thing because they were the place Russians met their friends.

    The evil of socialism is almost beyond comprehension.

  3. Angus Roxburgh had the determination of any true believer. He has spent most of his life determined to see good in Russia so that is what he sees whether it is ruled by the gerontocrats, Yeltzin, or Putin. One of the journos it is easiest to ignore because you know in advance what he will write

  4. “Yet somehow the memory I retain most strongly is not of oppression and empty shops, but of a society that thrived on something that was missing in our hectic western lives – a sense of togetherness and sharing, by which Russians contrived to beat the system.”

    And by beating the system, what did they achieve? Scratched a living for a few years until the system collapsed under the weight of its own economic failure. And Russia, the wealthiest country on the planet based on natural resources, still lags.

    They’d be the global superpower if the system has accommodated the people’s will.

    Proof lies in what’s happened in China since Deng.

  5. The arsehole that wrote that article gives us this too:

    “And people of every class found joy in the small, simple pleasures of life – in friendship, sharing, laughter, walks in the forest.”

    He curiously omits that a people who have money can still do those things as well as those who are so poor they may die of starvation over winter.

  6. Mr X,

    > that queues were a good thing because …

    One sometimes hears the same argument about television: that life was better when there were only three channels, because everyone would talk about the same programmes. Screw those who actually wanted to watch something different, of course.

  7. Does Neil Clarke still peddle the “Communism in Hungary was great” articles in the Guardian, based on his wife’s childhood experiences? They were a right hoot, them.

  8. I’ve said this before: I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the former USSR and asked as many people as possible whether life was better in the Soviet Union or now. Without a single exception, everyone said it’s much better now. Of course, they mentioned some good things about the USSR (e.g. Uzbeks living in southern Kazakhstan could get to Tashkent in a couple of hours, now with the border it takes about ten hours; and those who were kids usually have happy childhood memories) and they all talk about the hardships that followed, but nobody I met thought the Soviet system should have continued or that they are worse off now. Oh, except a teenage hooker I met in Dubai once, she thought things were better in the USSR. Sorry, I forgot about her.

  9. anon,

    It’s like “the blitz spirit”. People talk of it fondly and yes, there’s a certain thrill of living in that environment. There’s something heartwarming about the response of people to terror attacks. But no-one wants to live in it.

    And the peacetime solution is finding other worthwhile things to be involved in whether through your work, politics or through charity. Find a kitchen table to sit at and plot the fall of the Arts Council. Have an old lady over for dinner.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    a sense of togetherness and sharing, by which Russians contrived to beat the system.

    Five people gathered around a kitchen table? Then one of them was spying for the KGB. That sort of togetherness?

    Just another useful idiot.

    The intelligentsia’s response to totalitarianism was “internal emigration”. … Two of my best friends were prominent scientists. I asked them once what they had been doing in 1968, the year Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, and students staged revolts across western Europe.

    Internal immigration wasn’t for everyone. Actual members of the intelligentsia did more. Larisa Bogorav, for instance, organised a group of seven to protest in Red Square. She together with Konstantin Babitsky, Vadim Delaunay, Vladimir Dremliuga, Pavel Litvinov, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Viktor Fainberg, and Tatiana Baeva were all arrested and sentence to periods of labour in Siberia.

    Except for Fainberg who was put in a psychiatric hospital.

    But then you would have to hang out with real heroes and not the accommodationists who accepted Communism to even know about those people.

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    Freeman Dyson has a lovely passage about talking to his German father-in-law who was in the Wehrmacht. And who told him that motoring across Russia was the best time of his life – and that if it was not for the Americans, they would be doing it again.

    Comradeship? Sure the gas chambers were terrible but the solidarity was peerless.

  12. See the evil bullshit being spewed by Galloway in this clip about 1917.:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1Z3D8S4Qqo

    Increasingly I form the opinion that the Purge can only be one aspect of anti-socialist activity.

    There must be constant aggressive warfare against the evil cunts. Creatures who can swallow and regurgitate such a pack of vile lies must have their vile beliefs continuously attacked and destroyed.

    Which is no more than they are trying to do to the rest of us.

  13. “One sometimes hears the same argument about television: that life was better when there were only three channels, because everyone would talk about the same programmes. Screw those who actually wanted to watch something different, of course.”

    I always remember how shit Sundays were as a kid. OK: long sunny days in the park were marvellous, but wet November days were mostly dreadful. Cinemas weren’t allowed to open until 2, because of the church. Or pubs in the afternoon, or shops all day. TV was 3 channels, and you always had that graveyard 6pm time when it was Songs of Praise vs some fuck awful show that pretended not to be about god-bothering until you got about 5 minutes in and realised it was god-bothering.

  14. I was reading Gertrude Stein yesterday, as one does. She was a neutral living in defeated France. She swapped with a neighbouring farmer: used washing-up water for eggs. I’m sure that brought simple joy to each.

  15. @BoM4

    Don’t forget not being able to buy a bottle of red to go with Sunday dinner because of licensing laws.

  16. Bloke on M4
    “Songs of Praise vs some fuck awful show that pretended not to be about god-bothering until you got about 5 minutes in and realised it was god-bothering.”
    That would be The Tree House Family, a special Sunday version of the Tingha and Tucker Club with added bible stories. It was presented by “Auntie Jean” Morton.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAoLn8ZxkM4

  17. If you think the article is bad, wait until you see the comments

    There was a time when outright evil used to be honestly and openly evil. It didn’t go around genuinely believing itself to be good and progressive while being evil.

  18. ‘It believed that central state planners could organise the economy more efficiently than the market.’

    Bullshit. Efficiency was NEVER their goal. Control was the goal.

  19. The Left pushes Climate Change™ in hopes Man will unite in Common Cause. That the cause is completely made up is irrelevant.

  20. @So Much For Subtlety
    “Five people gathered around a kitchen table? Then one of them was spying for the KGB. That sort of togetherness?”
    It was probably the author who was starving.
    @Bloke on M4
    “And the peacetime solution is finding other worthwhile things to be involved in whether through your work, politics or through charity. Find a kitchen table to sit at and plot the fall of the Arts Council. Have an old lady over for dinner.”
    Thanks for that, I can do so myself, but sadly some people seem unable to do so.

  21. Oops this
    “It was probably the author who was starving.”
    should read
    “It was probably the author who was spying for the KGB”

  22. MC, your comment reminded me of the Monty Python sketch, North Minehead By-Election.

    “You won’t have much fun in Stalingrad Mr. Hilter.
    “Nein, not much fun in Stalingrad”

  23. Bloke in North Dorset

    He was working for the BBC while in Moscow so will have been on a nice ex-pat package with access to stuff the average Muscovite wouldn’t have hear of let alone dream about. And when he got fed up with it all he could return to a nice cosy existence in the west and not have to contemplate how shit the rest of his life was going to be because Russians weren’t allowed to travel abroad.

    We need a new circle of hell for twats like him.

  24. Rob–“There was a time when outright evil used to be honestly and openly evil. It didn’t go around genuinely believing itself to be good and progressive while being evil.”

    As the late Robert Anton Wilson once observed, very few evildoers actually do justify themselves on Stirnerite or Machiavelian grounds. Usually they rely on stupidity and sloganizing non-thought to salve their consciences.

    Which gives them at least a degree of vulnerability.

  25. Angus’s takeaway (unknowingly) seems to be that the human spirit will defeat all, that people can get on with their lives in almost any circumstances. We know this – it’s why we believe in less government, because it turns out that the human spirit will defeat all, that people can get on with their lives in almost any circumstances. Babies were born in the death camps. The question is whether they should have to, when there are alternatives.

  26. “but of a society that thrived on something that was missing in our hectic western lives – a sense of togetherness and sharing, by which Russians contrived to beat the system.”

    Does the same apply to Universal Credit then? Surely if that is as arbitrary and unjust as it portrayed, then it should provide for all manner of social unity as everyone comes together to share what they have to help each other in the face of the anonymous bureaucracy?

  27. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
    God in the Dock (1948) C S Lewis

  28. I’m sure many Russians imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals or performing forced labor in the gulag were grateful for the new friends they were able to make.

    What a cunt.

    I’d refer everyone to P. J. O’Rourke’s masterful Ship Of Fools as a rebuttal to Roxburgh’s nauseating nostalgia.

  29. In this sense, beating the system meant finding a way to get 3 extra eggs a week, on top of the normal ration of 6. Even slaves think they’re winning when their master turns his back for a minute and they can stop working.

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