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November 3, 2019
Somebody asked me the other day to describe life in a socialist state in one word. I surprised myself with how lightning-fast my mind served me with the most precise answer. For many years I struggled to find the best explanation of what life was like in a socialist society and could not foresee it being this short.
Frustration. That was the word that came out of my mouth and stunned both my interlocutor and me.
I escaped socialism in my late teens. I was old enough to realize how imbalanced life around me was back then, yet young enough not to get infected with the crumbling ideology. As it turned out, I did bring some memory baggage into my new life across the ocean.
With the latest political currents not so gently washing away the established shores of the Western world, it might be my time to build the lighthouse in the middle of the roaring sea. I am primarily determined to light the path for young minds. Perhaps they will benefit from my essay the most since it is in our youth we are subjected to frustration the most.
The personal needs are not recognized and never prioritized by the society ruled by the socialist ideology. The services provided by the socialist state are check-marked for the fact of delivery, and never for quality. State-funded education, medical care, and other public services designed to exist in general and are not subject to quality control. Any of those areas of service were the endless source of frustration for as long as I remember.
The socialist state does not give a tiny rat's ass about one's needs. It has one plan all have to follow without any indulgences for individual abilities. In other words, the state deliberately ignores personal demands and grants the power of the decision to the ideological elite. Neglect of individual needs sets the classic stage for frustration and deals often irreparable damage to young minds.
The school in the socialist state was the generator of frustration for many. Though highly attractive at first glance, the idea of state-funded education can turn into a nightmarish reality for young.
The curriculum of the socialist school does not have any provisions to accommodate the pupils that might need some extra time or explanations to complete the tasks. The socialist's state-controlled system of education instead is fully equipped with powerful tools such as totalitarian demand to succeed despite the individual ability. Students who do not meet the expectation of the blindfolded curriculum eventually end up outside of the system and for the lack of healthy alternatives become pariahs among their peers.
But the parents soon became concerned with our poor grades and constant attempts to avoid going to school. They pulled the truth out of us very quickly as our frustration with not being able to escape her terror by then grew into real hatred of the subject. In tears, I begged my dad to believe me that I was not lazy or dumb and to help me get out of the English class. But we both knew that was impossible.
The luxury of choosing subjects of interest or at least switch teachers did not exist in that educational system. It did not grant the recognition to individual ability. To survive, one had to blend in with the mass affected by the ideological incest.
The only requirement to take any professional job was a diploma in the field. There was not such a thing as an interview to determine the social skills set of the candidate. The school had to meet the centralized plan on hours of education, staffing, and the topics deemed necessary by the state. Paid miserable wages without an opportunity to advance in their careers, some teachers resorted to bribery and under the table tutoring.
Professional ethics was a distant myth in many of the socialist schools.
One day my dad finally had enough of my begging to get me out of my misery and went to talk to the monster. I remember standing in the teachers' lounge with my cheeks on fire as I witnessed her screaming at him in front of her colleagues. She shamelessly belittled my father, world-renowned nuclear physicist, by telling him he had raized a useless and lazy dumb brat.
My dad told her she should stay away from teaching. Her response was fast and as ignorant: 'you don't have a voice here, only the State does!' With glee, she turned for support to her colleagues, who got a little quiet during the whole scene. They suddenly came to life and rushed to support their ideological sister with enthusiastic nodding.
The primary source of frustration was the attitude of those providing services, the secondary - the supply.
The state-funded medical care was one of the extreme horrors forever embedded in my memory. The visit to the dentist was similar to spending a few hours in a medieval torture chamber.
We as kids dreaded that one specific day of the year when the teacher would announce the date of the mandatory dental check-up. There was no escape. Not showing up would get you suspended from school.
The dental care was free, of course. The state paid dentist salaries, provided the equipment and the cheap filling materials, that lasted for about a year, with luck. Freezing even for children was deemed as an unnecessary luxury.
Just like with any other medical facility, one automatically presented an unnecessary expense to the state upon entry. The fact of medical care being free lost the appeal the moment it exposed the actual quality of that care.
The decisions over the distribution and supply of goods belong to the state in the socialist ideology. In reality, it reflected in bare shelves at the grocery stores and long line-ups to get a pair of imported shoes.
I remember how my mother and I stood in line for an hour in the cold rain to get 2 pounds of green bananas. I loved bananas so much but only was able to enjoy them a couple of times prior. They were an exotic delicacy and were a rare guest on the store shelves. Well, they were never on the store shelves, to be precise.
As we were just two persons away from the counter, a tall man in a leather coat came up and flashed a badge and had two full bags of bananas handed to him. Then the store ran out of them. The line began to roar with anger. The tall man gazed at the complaining with the authoritarian look, and that quieted them in an instant.
I could gauge the number of bananas the man took with him. I knew there was just enough for us to get some if he didn't show up with his elite badge.
The line began to dissipate with people muttering obscenities in regards to the whole regimen and the man. My mom pulled my hand to get going, but I just stood there with tears rolling down my cheeks. I was very frustrated with what had happened, yet not for a minute, I wished I had a badge like his. Instead, I just wanted him to choke on those bananas.
The socialist state was born with a dangerous, self-destructive disease limiting its life span. However, it was hardly noticeable under the heavy make-up of promises of free stuff. The society had been sinking into the abyss of frustration for years. The ideology marched to its drum at its funeral since the very beginning. But health care was free.
In my childhood and early teens, I witnessed way too many times how quickly frustration turned into damaging anger. At the same time, I had to deal with personal struggles to suppress the frustration. To do so, I had to shut off the logic and common sense, just like many others.
In the end, the logic took over, and as a genuine force, destroyed the fake army of socialist ideology. Unfortunately, not without first turning into national anger and causing multiple losses of human lives.
The candy in the bowl is free for all because someone had to pay for it.
Do you remember the last time you visited your dentist? You remember making sure that you got as much anesthetic as possible yet still were reluctant to 'open wide'? Now imagine yourself being ten years of age and being held by a couple of adults while having your cavity removed. Yes, you got it - without the freezing. If you think that was scary, do not even dare to bring the root canal into the picture.
So many survivors of the entirely funded by the state dental care would attest that it took years for them to overcome the extreme horror of just hearing the word dentist. As far as the simple tools of the dental hygiene such as dental floss, they did not exist even in theory.
Of course, the party elite had unlimited and unrestricted access to all those anesthetics and fancy hygiene tools. Those top handlers had full control over the distribution of funding. They assigned the bare minimum to the overall medical care, just enough to continue to trumpet to the Western world about it being free.
Her victorious statement clearly illustrated the unfortunate truth about the system designed to provoke the frustration. The frustration continued to rise and spread among individuals whose voices were silenced by the sheer ignorance of the socialist system.
My dad somehow managed to do the impossible, and she was soon transferred to teach the senior grades. Shortly after that, she retired. I guess older students did not pave her stomping grounds either.
The replacement teacher was a kind and knowledgeable lady with a great understanding of children's needs. Thanks to her husband, who worked at the embassy, she was one of the very fortunate few who could travel abroad. She was in awe of the Western culture and brought it with her into our classroom. That was forbidden fruit those days, and she risked a lot, including her freedom when she used her travel experiences to indulge our interest in the subject. But it worked magic and very soon the English class became my favorite. I graduated with honors.
However, exposure to the 'outside of the socialist litter box' approach only helped with growing more frustrated as I was getting older and entering my teens.
The school system powered by socialist ideology reprimanded the outcasts by depriving them of social involvement. The student who has artistic talents but not capable of grasping the concept of some useless trigonometric formula becomes a subject of burdening pressure from the system. Instead of turning on the taps of encouragement to accommodate the individual's area of interest, the system instead shuts the person down for not meeting the general standard.
My grade 2 English teacher was an angry old lady who switched from being a professor at the University to a teacher's position in elementary school. Not sure what the reasons were behind such a radical transition. But up to this day, I am convinced it was the system's fault that that monster was allowed near children.
Without the slightest idea about the educational approach to teaching a foreign language to eight-year-olds, she proceeded to terrorize us for any small mistake we made in her class. Her favorite rhetorical question was: 'What are you, super stupid?' We feared her so immensely that we became very creative in making any possible excuse to skip her classes. We had no one to ask for help. Not even our parents as they did not have the power to question the system.
“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”
― Winston S. Churchill