Socialism is the only worthy future for mankind!
By Irina Malenko
More than ten years ago I wrote a book. It was a book about daily life of an ordinary family in a socialist society. I was born and grew up in the USSR and emigrated at the times of the destruction of our socialist country. Having lived for over 20 years in a capitalist society after that, I was well in the position to compare both.
I can say in all honesty that now, looking at the world’s history, I feel that I and my family are very lucky to have been born and to have lived in a socialist society, precisely for this reason: that we can compare. When I ended up in the capitalist Western Europe, one of my first surprises was that people there are fighting for all the things we have already had in the USSR: full employment, workers rights, proper healthcare system. In one word, feeling of security in your future. Dignified life where you don’t have to beg anybody for anything. Life where you are not afraid to bring the children into this world. But while I knew that such life is totally possible, people in Western Europe are being told constantly by the media and politicians that it isn’t.
After a while I realized that this is precisely the reason why there are so many lies being published about life in the USSR, even though it no longer exists. But the very memory about that life – an honest memory! – is a threat to the capitalist way of life. I remember there was a Hungarian woman living in the UK who had written a book similar to mine, about reality of socialist life in her native coujntry. She was called Zsuzsanna Clark and her book was titled “Goulash and Solidarity: As Happy as a Squirrel up a tree”. After she wrote an article about it for a British newspaper, indicating that her book will be published soon, she was immensely bullied and vilified, and her book never came out in print, as far as I’m aware. Here I’m anticipating a bit, but I can tell you that I was also subject to some bullying and harassment from the authorities of the country where I currently reside. Several years ago they attempted to stop me from disseminating my book by threats of accusing me of tax evasion. But the internet version of my book is available free of charge, and I have not received any money from the publishers of the printed version either. The most important issue for me is to make the book widely available, not to make profits.
Why is the capitalist establishment afraid so much that people will have a positive image of socialism? I think we all know the answer. But what really pushed me to write and to spread my book, was the realization, to what extent they are actually afraid of the truth, despite claiming that they “have won” the Cold War and that socialism “is unsustainable”. If it is so, why such fear of it?
It was a long and painful way before I realized the need to write my book.
Throughout my studies in a Western university I was confronted with lies about life in the USSR many times. In our study books. It wasn’t just “different opinion”, it were plain lies. For example, the book stated that “there were no trade unions in the USSR”. A lie. I was a member of student trade union myself, and all my working relatives were members of their relevant trade unions. Moreover, no worker in the USSR could have been fired without trade union’s permission. Trade unions owned various health resorts and were providing workers with discounted holidays there.
Another example, from the same book: “Soviet women were only working because their husbands didn’t earn enough money”. As a Soviet woman myself, I actually find this not only untrue, but also very sexist and insulting. I wanted to work in order to make my contribution to the society, to develop myself to my best abilities, to learn from others and then to pass my knowledge to the younger generation. Maybe these motivations are too hard for the authors of such book to understand?
Back in Russia, when capitalist propaganda was unleashed upon us for the very first time, it caused confusion, because we were used to believe our media. Suddenly everything we believed in, everything we were brought up with, was besmirched.
After having waited in vain for some years for somebody to stand up and to defend our system of norms and values, I then felt that it was my own duty to stand up and to tell the truth about socialism, to defend it from lies and defamation.
It was this indignation about such lies plus my own experience of the true nature of capitalism that have pushed me to write my book. When my daughter was 4 years old, we were in a women’s refuge in the wealthy Netherlands. There she’s got a salmonella infection, with high temperature and convulsions in the middle of the night. In the Netherlands, like in most Western countries, you need a health insurance in order to access medical help. We had health insurance, but I didn’t have the papers with me because of the unexpectedness of our stay in such institution. The receptionist called the doctor, and when the doctor came, his first words were: “Who is going to pay for my visit?” There was a dying child in front of him, but he didn’t even look at her, so much he was concerned about his fee. The receptionist broke down in tears and told him: “I will pay you, just do something!” But it was too late for my daughter. She ended up with a brain damage due to lack of oxygen and became severely disabled. She lived for another 14 years after that – years full of uphill struggle for her every basic medical and educational need!- and she passed away on her 18th birthday. Suddenly, from a heart condition, of which we were not aware, because she could not speak, and there are no compulsory free of charge medical check ups for everybody in the so-called “free” world…
Now, such turn of events would have been completely impossible under socialist system where healthcare is a basic human right, not “market of medical services”.
So, socialism or capitalism is quite literally a matter of life or death, for so many.
I must say that my daughter was helped immensely – and totally free of charge!- by the Cuban doctors in a neurological clinic in Havana. I remember how one of them was gently and kindly singing and dancing for her during the treatment, to distract her from pain. This warm humanity and attention was in such stark contrast with what we have experienced in the capitalist West!
That visit to Cuba is the reason why my book is named “Sovietica” – “Soviet woman” in Spanish. Because when I was in socialist Cuba in 2001, I was still unsure and confused, after all trials and tribulations of an emigrant’s life, of who I really am, and the Cubans reminded me. When I said to them that I was Russian, all of them immediately replied with “Ah, Sovietica!” And then I came to realize that no matter where we, the Soviet people, live, this is what we are and this is what we will always remain.
It is a novel and it consists of 3 parts. Part 1 is about daily life of an ordinary family in a provincial town in the USSR between late 1960s and late 1980s, throughout perestroika and the demise of the Soviet Union, up to the early 1990 of the wild capitalist counterrevolution. It is very much autobiographic.
Part 2 is mainly about life in Northern Ireland and some other countries, including a chapter about Cuba. The main idea of this part is comparison between socialist and capitalist ways of life. Again, it is very much autobiographic, for about 85-90%.
And finally, part 3 contains a fictional adventurous story of anti-imperialist struggle across the globe. I decided to make this a fictional romantic and adventurous story in order to inspire young readers who are searching their way into the struggle. But my impressions of all the countries and the societies that I describe there, in particular, of the DPRK, are very real.
This book is not a theoretical analysis of a socialist society; it is a novel in which I try to show our socialist reality on concrete examples from people’s daily lives. Even though, of course, inevitably, I try to analyse what has happened with our society and ourselves, why we didn’t defend our socialism as we should have; and I also do not hide various problems and issues that we had faced between 1960-1980s.
Here, let me introduce my family – an ordinary Soviet family – in just a few words.
My ancestors from mother’s side were all metal workers and weapon makers from a middle sized industrial Russian city. My grandmother’s brother had to start working at a metal factory at the age of 9. That was before the Revolution, of course. At the age of 17 he joined the Bolsheviks party. My great-grandmother’s brothers took part in the first Russian revolution – workers rebellion in 1905. The archival documents show that they were arrested while smashing windows in the house of the factory owner. After the arrest the 2 of them were escorted by 10 policemen to a village nearby. On the way there they escaped, and then… Can you guess it? They went back to the same house and continued to smash the windows! I guess, that’s where my personality comes from J
My mother’s generation in our family was the first generation to become university educated engineers, for the same set of factories where our ancestors have worked.
My mother – a very beautiful and intelligent woman with an iron will – was the first woman in our city who began to wear trousers, back in 1969. The same year she joined her factory as a young engineer and she is still working there today. She is 74 now. After her retirement, she could not stay at home and after several years she phoned her former director and asked him if she could come back. She is now working in the same department of which she was the head for 15 years. She was allowed to choose her own boss now, from the young engineers of the factory, and she is currently training him on the job. That was possible because her director is one of those “red directors” who are still trying to maintain at least certain socialist principles within their own factories in the capitalist Russia.
When my mother was young she was so attractive that all heads turned to her, no matter where she went. Once when she was on a business trip to Moscow, she was approached on the street by a woman who offered her a job as a model in the Moscow’s Fashion House. Do you think my mother felt flattered and grabbed the job?
On a contrary, she became quite angry: “I have a profession, I have a very interesting work, and you are offering me to become a clothes hanger?” she answered to the offer. That shows you our socialist values; I was brought up in the same spirit.
Ancestors from my father’s side were poor Cossacks from the South of Russia. Cossacks were people of mainly Russian and Ukrainian origin whose ancestors escaped serfdom and ran away from their landlords to the South where land was still free. They soon became wandering warriors and they led most of Russian peasants rebellions before the Revolution. Nobody could tame this free spirited people, and the tsars felt that they had no other option but to bribe them. So, the Cossacks became tsars special troops and for example, took active part in the exploration of Siberia. During the civil war after the Revolution the Cossacks became split between the Reds and the Whites, along the class lines (between the poor and the rich).
I was born in the year when our people were celebrating 50 years of the October Revolution. I grew up in this safe, secure environment, in a society where people cared about each other and where we all had a secure future. School, university or college, work. No thoughts of “will I be able to pay my bills?” or “will I be able to afford an operation if I will become sick?”. Everything in life depended on your own abilities and your own desire to work hard to achieve your dreams. Our Olympic champions like Irina Rodnina in figure skating, were training their whole lives free of charge. Unlike her US competitor Tai Babilonia, whose father had to take up several jobs in order to be able to afford her skating lessons.
I was planning to become anthropologist and was hoping to work in Africa. I became strongly anti imperialist at the age of 9 when my mother bought me a research book “Africa: 400 years of slave trade”. I reasoned at that time that we already have socialism, so my duty would be to go to other countries when I’ll grow up, and to help their revolutionaries to build a new life for their peoples. Little did I know that by the time I’d grow up, we will need to fight for the restoration of socialism in our own country! Well, in this sense you can say that my dream became true: I now have all the opportunities to fight for socialism!
When I had the opportunity to visit the DPRK, it allowed me to understand several things about what went wrong in the USSR. In the DPRK comrades pay immense attention to the political education, to bringing up a truly new man for a new type of society. I think this is what went wrong in the USSR: the underlining idea that if we simply change our economy and build a socialist one, the new man will appear automatically, just because the economy has changed. So, this is where we have lost: in the process of educating a new man who will be worthy to live in such society and who, in turn, will be able to develop it further. While in the 1920-1940 such education was considered very important, after Khrushchev came to power, it gradually ceased to exist. And we are dealing now with the consequences of that fatal abandonment of ideological and political scientific development in accordance with the Marxist ideas.
In this sense we can and should learn from our comrades in the DPRK quite a lot. I remember one of my Korean friends saying that people are being educated not just in their childhood, that education should continue throughout people’s lives.
My book is probably more political than the book the Hungarian lady was going to published, but it was inevitable. Because my purpose of writing it was not simply to be nostalgic, but to make my readers think and to inspire them for the struggle.
I have written my book for several different categories of readers. Firstly, of course, for people of my own generation and older who remember well our socialist lives, but, as perhaps Zsuzsanna, became afraid to speak out about it because everything socialist is being so bluntly vilified, including by the Russian president who claims, for example, that “nobody in the world needed what Soviet Union was producing…because nobody bought our rubber shoes, except Africans who needed them for walking on hot sand”. I hope that my book will help them to realize that we – people who were happy in a socialist society!- are a vast, even though largely silent majority!
Secondly, of course, I wrote it for our young people who already have no experience of a socialist life. They are being fed lies about it through the media and education system all of their lives, but lately, the young generation started questioning those lies. They don’t know much about socialism, but now they are keen to find out the truth, keen to learn. And it is the perfect time for my generation to pass on to them our experiences and our knowledge.
And of course, I also wrote this book for our friends abroad, to show them our socialist achievements and issues, to inspire them, to make them fully realize that “another world” for which they are struggling, is not just possible, but that it had existed and still continues to exist in some parts of the world today!
It took about 2 years to translate the book into English, while in Russian I wrote it for around 10 months. By now, it has been translated into English, French, Sinhala, Dutch. Some other languages’ translations are planned too.
When I completed the book, I felt that I finally did my duty. It was published on internet in Russian, naturally, totally free of charge. But to be honest, I was overwhelmed by readers’ reaction after the publication. The youngest of my readers was in his 20s, the eldest was 85. Especially I was touched by the reaction of our diaspora. When the book was published in Belgium, there was a presentation., and I was expecting that quite a few of our migrants who live in the West, would come there with hostile questions and views. Nothing was further from the truth! There was only one hostile person in the audience, but when she started making hostile remarks, I didn’t even get the chance to respond: the readers themselves responded so swiftly that she was forced to withdraw! At the end, they came to me and expressed their gratitude for having expressed all what they have been feeling for many years, for all of them!
And all of them found in this book something close to their own hearts and their own lives.
Here are just a few samples of my readers’ impressions:
“I just finished reading your chapter nine, and of course, I cried. You wrote a good book. You wrote it out of the name of all of us. We need so much to open people’s eyes to the fact of what we have lost. ”
“It’s a classy “Anti-Gulag Archipelago “- against capitalism …
The main character …is not the narrator, but her look at capitalism: through the eyes of a Soviet person. This hopelessness, this life without a future for millions of people who find themselves under the umbrella of capitalism. This is a life worthy of plants: to be born, to find some minimum habitat area, to stay in it for several decades, crouching to the ground during the financial storms, then getting straightened again and … to realize that the life, the real life has already passed you by. Capitalists carefully conceal from people the fact that they live the life of plants, and the people accept it as a fact, as a given that a parasite grows and stretches himself next to them, they do not realize that they can take this parasite out: the capitalism that smothers all their life; for them, it is the norm. They just do not guess and do not want to guess that capitalism sucks everything out of them, all their life forces and that if they had removed it, it will be easier for them to live.”
“Thank you very much! I felt as if I was drinking fresh water after a poisoning, when reading your novel. But sometimes it was so painful, I felt so ashamed or so angry that I almost could not continue to read. I would like for your book to be translated into English. Actually, I want to make it widely known! I confess, I have long lived like a zombie under the capitalist “spell”. The only problem was that I felt severely depressed: I did not want to live by the new rules, “to seek” what is customary to “achieve” today, and to dream about what we are supposed to dream. I am very grateful to you. In addition, I believe that you are a real fighter, an incredibly confident person, independent and fearless.”
“To be honest, I’m just amazed, and it is even weird. And, apparently, it was not for nothing that I finally was able to look at the first page of your book on the eve of May Day. How exactly you describe all of our, of mine, of my mom’s past, our Soviet May! I remember how many memories it brought back to my mother when she read your story back in the paper! This is amazing. We lived in different places, but we had so much in common, and most importantly – the same thoughts and feelings! They are all mine, to the last word.”
“Your book is a breath of fresh air. A sip of clean water. You are the first person in this madhouse, who told the truth. Like the little boy who was not afraid to cry out that the king is naked.”
I do not know what to do. But I do know for sure that something must be done. We can not just sit idly by. We have lost too much time. We need to save our children. To rebuild our country. We have a lot to think. There are many of us.”
This is exactly what I was hoping to achieve when I started writing it.
And it makes me so happy. I am now planning to write a continuation – in Hollywood they’d say “a sequel”, but we are not in Hollywood, and I’ll only complete it when I’ll be sure that it will be on the same level as the first book! It will be called “Sovietica Extremista: overcoming “I can’t”. This was one of my grandmother’s expressions. If I’d tell her about something “Oh, I can’t do it!”, she’d say very calmly “ You just get over your “I can’t”. And this is how I’m trying to live.
I hope that people in other countries and continents will also have the opportunity to read my book, that they will learn from our experiences, both positive and not so positive, and that it will inspire them to fight for the only truly worthy future for the whole mankind – for our socialist future!
 Dutch book “Ruslandkunde” that was used for studies in the 1990s.
 On Thin Ice: Tai Babilonia Story (biographic film, 1990)