The Perspective Of A Russian Immigrant
By SVETLANA KUNIN | Posted Thursday, August 20, 2009 4:20 PM PT
In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, I was taught to believe individual pursuits are selfish and sacrificing for the collective good is noble.
In kindergarten we sang songs about Lenin, the leader of the Socialist Revolution. In school we learned about the beautiful socialist system, where everybody is equal and everything is fair; about ugly capitalism, where people are exploited and treat each other like wolves in the wilderness.
Life in the USSR modeled the socialist ideal. God-based religion was suppressed and replaced with cultlike adoration for political figures.
The government-assigned salary of the proletariat (blue-collar worker) was 30%-50% higher then any professional. Without incentive to improve their life, professionals drank themselves to oblivion. They — engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers — earned a government-determined salary that barely covered the necessities, mainly food.
Raising children was a hardship. It took four to six adults (parents and grandparents) to support a child. The usual size of the postwar family was one or two children. Every woman had the right to have an abortion and most of them did, often without anesthesia.
There is a comparative historical reality that plays out the consequences of two competing ideologies: life in the USSR and in America. When the march to the worker's paradise — the Socialist Revolution — began in 1917, many people emigrated from Russia to the U.S.
In the USSR, economic equality was achieved by redistributing wealth, ensuring that everyone remained poor, with the exception of those doing the redistributing. Only the ruling class of communist leaders had access to special stores, medicine and accommodations that could compare to those in the West.
The rest of the citizenry had to deal with permanent shortages of food and other necessities, and had access to free but inferior, unsanitary and low-tech medical care. The egalitarian utopia of equality, achieved by the sacrifice of individual self-interest for the collective good, led to corruption, black markets, anger and envy.
Government-controlled health care destroyed human dignity.
Chairman Nikita Khrushchev released facts about Stalin and his purges. People learned of the horrific purge of more than 20 million citizens, murdered as enemies of the state.
Those who left Russia found a different set of values in America: freedom of religion, speech, individual pursuits, the right to private property and free enterprise. The majority of those immigrants achieved a better life for themselves and their children in this capitalist land.
These opportunities let the average immigrant live a better life than many elites in the Soviet Communist Party. The freedom to pursue personal self-interest led to prosperity. Prosperity generated charity, benefiting the collective good.
The descendants of those immigrants are now supporting policies that move America away from the values that gave so many immigrants the chance of a better life. Policies such as nationalized medicine, high tax rates and government intrusion into free enterprise are being sold to us under the socialistic motto of collective salvation.
Socialism has bankrupted and failed every society, while capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system.
There is no perfect society. There are no perfect people. Critics say that greed is the driving force of capitalism. My answer is that envy is the driving force of socialism. Change to socialism is not an improvement on the imperfections of the current system.
The slogans of "fairness and equality" sound better than the slogans of capitalism. But unlike at the beginning of the 20th century, when these slogans and ideas were yet to be tested, we have accumulated history and reality.
Today we can define the better system not by slogans, but by looking at the accumulated facts. We can compare which ideology leads to the most oppression and which brings the most opportunity.
When I came to America in 1980 and experienced life in this country, I thought it was fortunate that those living in the USSR did not know how unfortunate they were.
Now in 2009, I realize how unfortunate it is that many Americans do not understand how fortunate they are. They vote to give government more and more power without understanding the consequences.
Svetlana Kunin, Stamford, Conn.
Editor's note: Mrs. Kunin, an IBD subscriber, is a retired software developer. In the Soviet Union, she was a civil engineer.