Soviet Union seems like a beast from the Western world and many people had a sigh of relief when it collapsed. But how was life in Soviet Union? Very-very few foreigners know the truth about it actually. And even those who had a chance to visit USSR, did not see the full picture. The real truth is known only by those who actually lived in the country. And yes, in most of the cases the life in Soviet Union was pretty miserable - totalitarian regime, mandatory enrollment in the Communist party, deficiency of many products, "iron curtain" (which meant the ban on traveling abroad), many people killed and repressed...
I was born in Soviet Union. If you've seen the documentary Born in the USSR, the children shown there are exactly my age. We are those who were born and raised in Soviet Union, those who dreamed about becoming Little Oktobrists (Soviet youth organization for children between 7 and 9 years of age), and those who have not joined that organization because as soon as we turned 7, Soviet Union collapsed.
There are many bad things about Soviet Union, and yes, it's great that former USSR countries are now living in a democracy (at least trying to...), but in this article, I'd like to tell about good things that were in USSR. Because, I'm sure, many people don't even suspect that these things existed in this country.
1. Free College Education
College education was absolutely free for everybody, plus students got monthly stipends. Though small, it was enough to cover living and food expenses. The quality of education was also very high.
2. Advanced Science
Great quality of education gave great scientists. Soviet Union was famous for its science and scientists all over the world. Remember space race between USSR and USA? First artificial satellite, first human in space, first woman in space... - USSR achievements. Same things were in pretty all other sciences... Technologies created by Soviet aerospace engineers are still used in many airplanes. Many Soviet scientists became Nobel Prize winners. It's not a surprise, that most of USSR scientists and their students are now working and teaching in USA and Europe.
3. No Problems with Employment
It was pretty hard to get to college, the competition was very stiff. Moreover, students could apply to only one University per year choosing only one major, so they didn't have any "back ups". Many students had been applying for years (some of them still unsuccessfully), but once you graduated college, you were guaranteed a job. Graduates were sent to the companies and started working right after graduation getting competitive salary. No "job search" stress involved.
Those who could not get into college, also had job choices. All people were encouraged to work and were given that opportunity. Virtually there were no unemployed individuals in the country.
4. Free Housing
Yes, it's not a typo. Houses and condos were free, they were given to people by the government. Of course people had to wait for it for many-many years (sometimes even decades), but they didn't have to pay anything for the house. Once you received it, you could get in line for another, larger/better one, and in several years, once you receive new house or condo, return the old one to the government and start living in a new one.
5. Free Healthcare
Healthcare also was absolutely free. It didn't cost anything to call a doctor to your house when you were sick, it didn't cost anything to go see a doctor (any doctor), it didn't cost anything to stay at the hospital. The only thing you had to pay for were medications, but they were pretty cheap. All the rest was completely free, including surgeries and other expensive staff.
6. Free Vacations
Vacations also were free. The average Soviet citizen had 24 vacation days per year and pretty often the company he worked for gave him free 24-day pass to the hotel in one of the resorts of the country. Many employers provided free passes to seaside summer camps for employees' children.
Soviet athletes had been one of the best in the world. The record of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who had most number of Olympic medals (18) for 48 years, has been broken just recently at 2012 Olympics by American Michael Phelps. Many Soviet athletes still hold world records in different sports.
8. Gender Equality
The thing Western feminists had been seeking for years in the middle of 20 century, Soviet women already had been enjoying for decades. The right to vote, to participate in social and political life of the country was since the beginning of Soviet era. The idea of the revolution of 1917 (when the Soviet regime was imposed) was in equality, including gender equality. Women were encouraged to study, work at managing positions, be free from "kitchen slavery". Here is one of the posters of the time: Away From Kitchen Slavery featuring new opportunities for women. Since 1917 and for years many women participated in all walks of life including politics.
In general, the good thing was that life in the Soviet Union was pretty stable. Everyone was certain in the future. Nobody was afraid to lose a job, to have no money to pay a rent or buy food for the family, to have no ability to give children good education... Of course there was more negative staff in the country itself, but I think it's important to know the other side of the coin as well.
It would be interesting to know what you, guys, know or heard about Soviet Union. Please comment.
David van Veen on April 07, 2017:
Regardless of its short comings the USSR was still a great country and better than most regimes of today. Soviet achievements are quite impressive. Most eastern European countries which were formerly Soviet are in bad shape and we're fare better off under the banner of the USSR.
John on September 17, 2013:
Even strongly anti-communist Jews (myself included) who know history will admit that the first 30 years of Soviet rule 1918-1948 (Revolution up until Stalin's last 5 years) were the first time in Russian history when the Jews were not treated worse than anyone else. Most Soviet/post-Soviet Jewish emigres of my acquaintance trusted Gorbachev more than they've trusted post-Soviet leaders.
Shushanik (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on October 08, 2012:
From bribery point of view, it was much better than in contemporary Russia, Ukraine and other former USSR countries. Now nobody would do anything until you bribe them, at that time they would still treat you.
As for the housing, it depends. There were different houses in different conditions. But at least they were free... Now same houses from those times that are already too old and in very bad condition are so expensive, that not everyone could afford buying one...
But if you didn't want to live in "crowded place", you still had an option of renting, if you had money. Same thing as nowadays...
Tamara Wilhite from Fort Worth, Texas on October 06, 2012:
Healthcare was theoretically free, but it was horrible. Doctors and nurses had to be bribed by patients to get pain killers or sheets changed. Westerners could watch "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", a Romanian movie, for an Eastern European's take on socialized medicine.
Housing was free, but it was very crowded. If you knew someone who was a member of the Communist party, you got a good house or great apartment. Everyone else suffered in cramped, cold conditions. "Mig Pilot: The Final Escape of Lt. Belenko" gives a good glimpse of this. He learned about what cheese was from reading books, but never got any. He also describes the horrific conditions in the military barracks.
edmob1 from United Kingdom on September 12, 2012:
Lovely to get the view of someone who has childhood memories the USSR before the collapse. My friends are much older and most still in Russia or CIS countries and many miss some of the certanties you raise here.
Shushanik (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on September 11, 2012:
Thanks Billy. For me, it's really interesting to learn how people perceived everything from another part of the world. Watching programs on History Channel about that period, I was surprised to know that actually the view on the Soviet Union was also distorted...
Billy Hicks on September 11, 2012:
Growing up in the US during the 80s the view we had of the Soviet Union was incomplete at best. Very interesting article.
Vote up and such.