The Soviet 70s: how Russians made pools of light in the totalitarian darkness

[From The Guardian]

As the world commemorates the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the focus is rightly on the horrors of the regime it ushered in.

Russians, and their captive nations, suffered a century of almost inconceivable pain. Tens of millions perished in the revolution and civil war, in the forced collectivisation of farming, the terror of the 1930s, and the second world war. Then came the postwar repressions, and finally the tumult of the end of communism and the bewildering attempts to introduce capitalism and democracy. Russians should be forgiven for being traumatised by their recent history.

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.

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