Communists Are Nicer


Or at least, so says an informal, unscientific (and thus at least partially worthless, but still interesting) survey of people in four countries transitioning to a market economy that I conducted last month.
Most people in China, Uzbekistan and Russia seem to be glad that they’ve got communism in their rear view mirror, while the Kyrgyz, who lack a big money natural resource, seem to wish they could turn back the clock. However, people in all four countries are nostalgic for the way people used to treat each other during communist times. Many folks I talked to reminisced about sharing bread, oil and supplies with neighbors and feeling as if everyone really were in it together. Often, I heard people say with disgust that everyone is out for him or herself.
Even if this survey were scientific, I don’t think there are any important policy conclusions to draw from this information. It’s interesting nonetheless.
— Scott Paul


11 comments on “Communists Are Nicer

  1. Kathleen says:

    Steve Hunt… I guess if a Nazi is a capitalist, that’s okay.
    Paul, thanks for the update… I hadn’t been keeping up..


  2. Steve Hunt says:

    I think a reason a lot of people running things these days hate Communism so much, is that they know without their help we’d all be speaking German now. Something they might prefer based on what we’ve seen the past several years.


  3. Paul Norheim says:

    Kathleen. very interesting to hear about your role in those days.
    As I`m sure you know, former President Carter was crucial in
    making a complicated deal securing Mengistu`s exile in Harare,
    and the transportation of thousands of felesha Jews to Israel,
    just when the Tigrean Liberation Front (lead by Meles Zenawi)
    invaded Addis Abeba from the north.
    Back on topic: According to journalists, many of Meles`s
    “Marxist” soldiers had absolutely no, or very idiosyncratic ideas
    about what “Marxism” was about.
    When I was back in Ethiopia nine years ago, Ethiopia and Eritrea
    was once again at war – a border issue. Policemen in Addis
    woke me up in the middle of the night in a hotel in Addis,
    searching for Eritreans. The same happened in buses when I
    was traveling in the north, near the front.
    And now the US is definitely supporting Ethiopia, who use the
    “war on terror” as an opportunity to fight their neighboring
    country Somalia. And the Eritreans are supporting the Islamists
    in Somalia… The whole Horn of Africa is very fragile, and
    unfortunately more so due to the Bush “war on terror” policies
    in the region during the last years.
    We all remember how the US was humiliated in Mogadishu in
    the beginning of the 90`s. I believe that this was one of the
    reasons why Clinton for such a long time denied that a genocide
    was taking place in Rwanda a couple of years later: he did not
    want US soldiers to get humiliated again. Clinton regret this
    afterwards (as well as Madelaine Albright). And I think this led
    to the invasion in the Balkans some years later. The pendulum
    swinging back and forth…
    Perhaps Bush feels he is more clever than Clinton in Somalia –
    letting Ethiopian soldiers do the fighting on the ground. In my
    opinion this is just as unwise as most of Bush`s foreign policy:
    prolonging the civil war, chaos and suffering of the Somalian
    people. It has lasted for 18 years now.
    What does “Islamism” mean for the average Somalian? If I should
    guess, I would suggest: law and order, end of killing and rape,
    food on the table.


  4. Kathleen says:

    Paul, Lucky you, living in Ethiopia…I’ve always been fascinated by Ethiopia and the Queen of Sheba, one of the rare women of consequnce mentioned in history. There is a glorius mosaic floor in an old Roman Villa in Piazza Armerina, Sicily, commemorating the Queen of Sheba’s visit to the Roman Emporer Maximillian. The villa is no more, but the huge, elaborate mosaic floors remain, protected by a glass house over the floors with catwalks for viewing.
    On Ethiopia and Mengistu’s gov’t. in 1987, In Geneva, Switzerland at the UN SubCommission for the Protection of Minorities and Prevention of Discrimination, the Ethiopian Ambassador to the UN asked me to serve as liaison between the Ethiopian gov’t and the Eritrean Liberation Front, also attending the annual conference. I asked both sides for a number of documents, including a copy of their Constitution and after going back and forth between them, I suggested another UN observed referrendum on the question of Eritrean Independence with both sides bound by the results. They chose to do this, Eritrea became independent, and there was peace for a number of years. At that time, although Mengistu was Communist, our policy towards them was, shall we say, lenient, because of their access to the sea.
    I have to say the Ethiopian representatives to the UN were very sympathetic to the Hopi cause and very helpful.


  5. Kathleen says:

    “I wanted a roof for every family, bread for every mouth, education for every heart, light for every intellect. I am convinced that the human history has not yet begun–that we find ourselves in the last period of the prehistoric. I see with the eyes of my soul how the sky is diffused with rays of the new millennium.” – Bartolomeo Vanzetti
    And we all know what happened to him.


  6. Linda says:

    I recall without nostalgia back in the late 1970s to early 1980s when the first homeless former mental hospital patients appeared on the streets, and people gave them food and felt good about it. The small office building where I worked had unlocked and ungated first level parking where a couple of these men lived. We brought them breakfast and felt noble. It has grown far worse in the past 25 years. and they are now invisible to most of us.
    In my parents generation during the Depression there was public outrage that people were hungry and homeless. People shared and helped each other and had much less than we do. No need for nostalgia because history just may be repeating itself here in USA because we haven’t heeded its lessons as George Santayana wrote almost a century ago.


  7. Paul Norheim says:

    This nostalgia has for a long time been strong also in the
    former Eastern Germany and Russia. Among other things it´s
    related to the cost of living: renting an apartment, food and
    electricity prices, unemployment etc.
    Nine years ago I talked to an old Ethiopian woman in Harar, and
    asked her to compare the current leader in the country with
    former ones. She said her favorite was the Emperor Haile
    Selassie. The military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam came as a
    good number too. The current leader, Meles Zenawi, was
    horrible, she said. And all this was based on the price of “teff”,
    an important corn sort in the country.
    A Norwegian director of a hospital in Tanzania told me a couple
    of weeks ago that food prices there has risen 100% in one year
    (related to increase in oil prices). This may result in starvation
    among populations where food is such a substantial part of
    your salaries (this is currently threatening Ethiopia).
    If you ask poor people in such countries about the past, they
    may even praise the days of former kleptocratic or despotic
    military rulers, simply because they had work in those days, or
    because a meal was much cheaper. For poor ordinary people, I
    guess this is less about ideology than about basic needs. They
    often don`t have any knowledge or idea of the content of those
    ideologies, beyond the slogans.


  8. Dan Kervick says:

    My hypothesis is that if you poll people in just about any country on Earth, no matter what political system they currently have, or had in the past, and ask them, “Were people nicer in the old days?”, a majority will answer, “Yes.”
    That’s because when people reflect on the old days, they are often thinking back to the time of their youth. People everywhere tend to be nicer to children than they are to adults, and adult experience everywhere tends to be colder, more work-bound and more demanding than are the warmer and more carefree experiences of youth. So for almost all of us, the past is a time when others were objectively nicer to us than they are now.


  9. Scott Paul says:

    No nostalgia on this end, Steve, nor among most people who
    remember the famines, bread lines and NKVD/KGB nighttime visits
    — just an interesting and unexpected finding on the road.


  10. leo says:

    Oh come on, I guess they don’t recall those annoying citizens that got sent to prisons, “hospitals,” and the great hereafter (often with an approving crowd watching them depart).


  11. Steve Clemons says:

    Nicer or not Scott from a rear view perspective Scott, the application of Communist theology on a state came at a huge, nasty, horrible price. You should have your contacts read “Wild Swans” to remind themselves of what a mess old style Communism created — and the huge tragedies in China and Russia that unfolded.
    As Michael Moore, the filmmaker, has shown in a number of great films — tragedies of significant proportion also unfold in market democracies as well…
    But I wouldn’t get too nostalgic for old communism.
    best, and glad to see your posts,
    Steve Clemons


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