What was Soviet Union like?

The interplay between the necessity of surviving and a certain devil-may-care attitude to life gave the Russians I met an unusual spiritual dimension.

Stripping away the tarnish put on the Russian work ethic by Western journalists and Sovietologists, I found that the Russians I met were, by and large, not adverse to hard work; nor did they lack in creativity or ingenuity. As one informant would say, "We are the only people who work for nothing." As a whole, they could be characterized as a very pragmatic and materialistic people, hardly the romantic idealists or lazy workers they were alternately described as being. They were also slowly learning to work from their own initiative after years of being told what to do and what to believe.

Nobody else seemed to give them a second thought. That was the way that Russians seemed to react to unusual events - as if there was nothing at all amiss.

My impressions competed with each other. The military, encroachment of nature and the the gloominess of the people spoke of disillusion and decay. The Soviet system of rule was weighing down the people it was supposed to protect and for whom it was meant to provide.

In Russia, I became keenly aware that which group you belonged to made more of a difference than any sort of market or court system.

Manipulating the Soviet system of distribution of resources was key to success in the Soviet Union.

In Russia, you had a lot or nothing at all.

I was discovering a vast new landscape of the underground Russian economy, where favors were exchanged much like stocks are traded on Wall Street.

Alex explained that, in the Soviet Union, individuals are not expected to be satisfied with themselves.

Comparing Russia to America, units of economic production differ along social lines. In America, the ultimate unit is the individual. In Russia, the ultimate unit is a connected group with an associated "group ego".

--Gary G. Gallopin