One memorable moment for me at G.W. this year was a class discussion on socialism, specifically concerning the late Soviet Union.
Throughout the discussion, my professor and multiple students agreed that the people who lived in the Soviet Union regretted the country's transition away from socialism and, if asked, would have expressed their desire to return to a socialist lifestyle.
Unfortunately, the idea that a socialist economic system has a positive impact on a country is not a new one on this campus. Instead of nodding along to speeches by Sen. Bernie Sanders about how great life is in Norway and Denmark, I suggest you talk to someone who has experienced actual socialism first hand. There are many people who have.
Since some members of my family have actually lived under socialist regimes, I decided that I would take the liberty of sharing their lived experiences with socialism with those who have been misinformed about the impact that socialism actually has on a society and its government.
Let’s begin with religious freedom.
My family grew up in a country where that was a far-off concept. For example, those who practiced Judaism could not easily get a job of their choice or be excepted into a University. Many people would change their last names on their documents just to receive an education that many take for granted in the U.S.
My grandfather was a straight-A student for all his years in school and completed his education with high honors. He had dreams of being an engineer, but unfortunately was not allowed to attend any of the prestigious engineering schools in the area. The one university he was able to get into did not require political identification and was located in Siberia far away from his family.
Finishing university, again with high honors, he began to search for a job. This did not come easy, as he would go through every step of the application process, get offered the job, and then get turned away when he had to register his passport in order to get paid. Struggling to support his newly formed family with a newborn child, he went to work a job he was over qualified for.
Additionally, my family and many other Jewish families in the community were not allowed to be associated with a synagogue at risk of losing their jobs. They had no access to kosher foods, even during the holy holidays.
Next, let’s look at the economy.
Despite the belief of some that the people were worse off financially after the transition from socialism, this is far from the truth. There was no financial prosperity in the Soviet Union for most, with a complete lack of a middle class, wealth redistribution (a favorite word among many fans of socialism in our country today), and lack of a free market.
In a country where the government controls 100% of the economy, there is no such thing as a private sector where individuals can prosper by running their own businesses. Due to the poor economy, even those who had money for food did not have access to enough. Shelves at the grocery store were often completely empty. My grandparents, like many other families, headed to markets that were set up only when resources were available in order to try to provide their families with a least some fresh produce.
The next issue is health care. Yes, it was "free," but free at what cost?
People had to wait months to get appointments with any healthcare professionals. For my family, like many others in the community, required medical treatment or medication was extremely difficult to get it. Due to this inability to receive proper care, there was a dangerous rise in the pharmaceutical “black market”.
The limitation of freedom of press in the Soviet Union is just one more example of government overreach into people’s lives that occurs in a socialist system. The government, whether the citizenry liked it or not, ran the lives of the people of the Soviet Union. Perhaps an even better word would be controlled the lives of the people. It was either done their way or no way.
Freedom of press was non-existent in the U.S.S.R. Although the government did not want the people to know this directly, it was difficult to hide as the news was always biased in favor of the government. There were no other opinions permitted to float about in the media. If someone would dare to speak in public against the administration, they would be punished if the authorities were notified.
People feared who they could trust and talk to because they were always at risk of someone telling the authorities, causing them to lose their job–– or worse. Families would gather in small groups in someone’s home to discuss what was going on in politics. Most times these were very small groups of trusted friends. During these meetings, they would tune into American radio stations in an effort to try to hear at least a little bit of truth.
These recollections of the Soviet Union under socialism come from just one family. But they are similar to the memories of many others.
The splurge of immigration from the U.S.S.R. was prompted by the limitations placed on the people in their own country. My family immigrated to the United States after facing severe religious persecution in the Soviet Union. They left their homes, their friends, their jobs, and their belongings to move to a better place away from socialism. They gasp in fear every time they hear the word being discussed in a positive manner.
I am not asking you to rethink your whole ideology based because of this one story. I am simply asking you to think. Reference multiple sources and never settle for information you cannot back up with historical facts. Listen to firsthand accounts. Look at the track record of countries that have implemented socialist systems.
Sure, you can solely rely on information from your required textbook and discussion section with a professor. But, you can also choose to look at history, at the costs and benefits of socialism, and find out for yourself that socialism just isn't that cool.
Nicole Finkel is a columnist for the GW College Republicans' website. The opinions expressed on this blog are her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official views of the GW College Republicans.