Hey Millennials: Communism Sucks, I Lived It

A recent poll found that fifty percent of millennials say they would rather live in a communist or socialist country than in a capitalist democracy. These numbers can’t be laughed off -- they should frighten you. Maybe they don’t know what communism means.

I do. I lived in Communist Poland.

Perhaps those fifty percent of millennials were not properly taught about communism in school. That’s too bad, and dangerous. So here are some examples for those misguided millennials to ponder, all of which I experienced in communist Poland.

Unreliable electricity

Do you millennials enjoy having electricity on demand to charge your devices? Then you would hate Action “O.” Action “O” stood for “Oszczednosc,” which translates to “Savings.” Poland’s communist government would notoriously turn off electricity to various areas of the city to “save” energy.

They had an interesting system which they described as “customer oriented”: they would turn the electricity off for one minute and turn it back on for five minutes as a warning that a shutoff was coming. You had exactly five minutes to find your matches and candles, because after that electricity would shut off for several hours.

If that wasn’t bad enough, we suffered under a shortage of matches.

Fake equality

The most demoralizing part of the communist system was that “all were considered equal.” This was a big lie.

It didn’t matter if you worked hard -- your pay was equal to the guy who barely showed up for work, or came to work drunk. The only way to advance was to join the political elite: the Communist party.

Imagine a system where the key to success wasn’t hard work or merit, but conniving and politics. If you sold your soul to the devil, you were rewarded.

My father worked at a water company in one of the major cities in Silesia Region. He was approached several times by the “party” PZPR with an offer of a promotion to a director’s position. But there was one small requirement.

He would need to first denounce his religion.

Yes, they asked him to become an atheist devoted solely to the communist ideology if he wanted to get a raise or promotion. Neither him nor our family would be able to attend mass or practice our religion in any manner.

Imagine a system where job success comes not from your productivity or character, but from the degree to which you adhere to party orthodoxy.

My dad is a religious and honorable man. He declined the offer and therefore never got promoted, and our lives never got better -- and I am so proud of him for his strong beliefs and integrity.

But the idea of “equality” under communism was a lie.

Needing “connections” to buy simple goods

Imagine a life where you couldn’t buy anything without first getting the approval of the political elite.

Those who joined the party had many, many privileges that an average person never had. To the most reliable zealots, the communist party distributed special talony” stamps to purchase cars. If you didn’t have the stamps, you could wait years “in line” before becoming “eligible” for a car.

The party members even had special stores to purchase food -- and this higher quality food was often imported from the West. Instead of a Costco card, you needed a communist party card to shop there.

Needing “connections” to find a place to live

Connections were needed when applying for housing. For example, my family eventually received permission from the government to move to a larger three-room apartment. Yet the four of us had lived in a tiny two-room apartment because we didn’t have the party’s approval to find a bigger one for seven years.

How many millennials would accept needing to seek the approval of a political party or government before they could move anywhere?

Decades-long waits for apartments

If millennials want to live under communism, they need to accept being stuck living with their parents. Rentals are simply not available.

When I turned eighteen, I went to the government-run housing association with a full down payment deposit for a new apartment. The association explained the process: they would take my deposit now and add my name to the list. Once an apartment became available they would let me know, but until then I had to live with my parents. I asked: “How long will this take?” The answer: between 10 to 15 years!

This was the last straw. I took back my money and decided I would leave Poland in search of freedom from communist or socialist ideology.

Rationing

Millennials are used to buying whatever they want. That doesn’t happen in communism. All the goods that make up daily life were rationed, if they could be had at all. Everything was rationed: sugar, soap, flour, detergent, beer, butter, and most of all, meat. You couldn’t buy the basics without the talony stamps.

 

We were limited to only 100 grams of chocolate per month! The average American trick or treat bag has about eight years of the communist’s chocolate allowance.

Empty grocery stores, corruption, and black markets

Communist rationing created a culture of black markets and a nation comfortable with lawbreaking. This fostered countrywide corruption. There was a famous saying about purchasing food “spod lady,” meaning “from under the counter.” Most of the time, grocery stores were completely empty. But if you paid extra, you could probably get something that the lady from behind the counter “stashed” away and sold for a profit.

 

I love this particular photo because it reminds me of what stores used to look like under the communist regime. The slogan in red translates to “your government (literally, “your authority”) cares about people.” If millennials are so enamored with communism, they’d better get used to government propaganda on the walls while they scrounge for basic food at the store.

Lines, lines everywhere

Communism means waiting in line.

We would wait for hours, and sometimes days, for the simplest things: food, detergent, toilet paper, matches, stockings or socks. Meat was always in great shortage, and the lines the longest. Since both of my parents worked, my grandmother would get in line at 3:00 a.m. to buy a single pound of meat for the family. I remember waiting hours to buy toilet paper or matches.

 

Violence -- and murder -- for expressing different ideas

Millennials need to understand that communism is a culture of repression and violence. All around us was oppression, even in the education system. Brilliant teachers or priests who didn’t conform to communist ideology or spoke against it were imprisoned, tortured, or killed. Our history books were rewritten, and we were taught lies about our own history.

I recall my 8th grade friend being severely punished because in his essay he disclosed that there was a pact between Hitler and Stalin against Poland before World War II began. Of course, this was the truth -- but in communism truth doesn’t matter. Only the revolutionary party dogma matters. The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was never to be mentioned.

Musical and cultural totalitarianism

Think millennials want government officials controlling the music they listen to or the programs they watch?

Under communism, there was absolutely NO freedom of speech. The authorities made it easy to brainwash the public. Drinking was heavily promoted and there was no access to the external world. No direct news from the West was allowed. We only had access to two TV channels (TVP1, TVP2), and one was solely devoted to communist propaganda news.

When Elton John’s song Nikita came out, it was blacklisted by the authorities. You could be imprisoned for simply listening to the song or having a bootlegged record. Yet we still did. I remember going to my friend’s apartment who had an illegal copy of Nikita and clinging to every word of freedom portrayed in the song:

And if there comes a time

Guns and gates no longer hold you in

And if you're free to make a choice

Just look towards the West and find a friend

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You, the free West, gave us a glimpse of hope. I believed that things could get better.

I pray that the millennial generation doesn’t blow it, and enable a return to the mad, dehumanizing world that I lived in under communism.