This is my personal thoughts, opinions and musings place. I will also rant about things, especially politically-correct things that irritate me. And sci-fi. Did I mention sci-fi? There'll be lots of sci-fi stuff here. And movies, too. Mmmmm... Movies

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

USSR: The life and times of an apartment renovator

When one plans a house(or apartment) renovation, there are a number of things to take into account. First of all, what you want done? Second, how much you're willing to spend. Third, where you're going to get your supplies, such as cement, paint, tiles and the like, as well as transporting it to its final destination. Fourth, getting the stuff actually done.

In the Olde Country, it was the third part that was the most difficult. There wasnt't exactly a proliferation of hardware and home repair stores in every neighbourhood. Nor were cars commonly available for moving paint and tile and flooing and whatnot from the store to the apartment. However, there was a source building materials that would even deliver.

When my parents wanted to fix up our first apartment, in true communist country fashion, they went directly to the source: a construction worker with access to building materials slated for a new apartment building being built across the street. Which is to say, goverment-owned supplies slated for a construction site. When the socialist/communist governments don't provide, people resort to the tried-and-true method: capitalism.

Of course, in a non-capitalist country, that means only one thing: stealing from the government, even if not blatantly. Some black market operations were more legal than others, like the one near our second apartment. There was a swap-meet there, where unlike the more enlightened Western approach of swapping wives and husbands during such events, people there swapped things, things no longer available and things no longer wanted or needed. There was haggling and bartering there, like one big giant garage sale.

The other rollicking ride of capitalism was the Bazzaar. Situated in what might be called the Kiev downtown, it was a great enclosed dome, full of benches and stalls, where the slaves were allowed to sell the wares that their masters graciously allowed them to producethe peasants from the villages sold privately-produced meats, vegetables and dairy. That was a bit flippant, so I suppose I probably should explain.

Soviet Flag - Hammer and SickleAs you can see from this picture, the flag of the USSR included the hammer and the sickle. The hammer represented the workers, and the sickle represented the peasants, the farm works, kolhozniki. The word “kolhoznik” really boiled down to “member of kolhoz”, which was a collective farm operation, probably one of the least effective methods of farming. In order to keep the country from starving, the government had to introduce some private enterprise, in the farming business at least. And so, while the government grocery stores stocked tons upon tons of noodles, bread and precious little else, the Bazzaar was usually full to the brim with all sorts of produce. There were no labels and the packaging was quite pedestrian(newspapers, if the truth be told), but it was edible and available.

Why did I call those people slaves? In the old USSR, the passport was the one piece of identification that you absolutely had to have, if you wanted a job or even an apartment. The peasants, the farm workers, were routinely denied passports. Without that little book, they were effectively tied to the land, and apart from serfs, I don't know what else to call them. So, these slaves, these serfs, were purposely kept in the villages, in squallor and without modern services or even roads. Which is what made the hammer-and-sickle part of the Soviet flag such bullshit: the peasants were in no way full partners in the social fabric.

If caught living in the cities, they would get arrested and deported. City dwellers were routinely forced to go work in the villages, because despite the government's best efforts, the peasant population kept dropping and they had fewer and fewer people at harvest time.

But what, you may wonder, does this have to do with apartment renovations? Private enterprise flourishes despite illegality and crackdowns. What the government doesn't provide in food, private citizens will if given half the chance; what the government doesn't provide in construction materials, private citizens will, even if they have to steal from the government. In other words, government should get the hell out of retail and manufacturing, and let the markets decide.


At Fri Aug 05, 02:42:00 PM ADT, Blogger jomama said...

Always knew that intellectually.

Nice to hear it from someone who's been


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