People Talk About What It's Like To Live In A Communist Country

List Rules
Vote up the most informative takes on life in a communist country.

The Cold War was time of global tension between the Soviet Union, the United States, and US allies. The two countries not only portrayed the other as evil cartoons to its citizens, but elevated their rival country's economic system to a villianous status as well. The Cold War eventually ended, but after decades of hearing of capitalist and communist boogey men, lingering mistrust remains.

So what was it really like to grow up in a communist country? Well, just as it is in a capitalist country, the specifics to each person's case drastically influence their experience. These are a few of the stories that people shared.


  • 1
    364 VOTES

    People Reacted To Propaganda Differently Than In The West

    From Redditor u/e1ioan:

    I grew up in Romania, I was 19, in the army when the revolution started. I live in [the] US now.

    We didn't have delicatessen to eat, but we eat good food, grown in our own yard (I grew up in a village in Sibiu - Transylvania). From the day I was born in 1970 and up to the revolution, I'm not sure I ate bananas more than 3-4 times. Chocolate... only if my mother made it, etc. I don't think I ever owned a new toy while growing up... and maybe I had 3-4 used toys in all my childhood... but that didn't matter. I had friend[s] and freedom and I think that's what was better than the present time. We made our toys, bows and arrows, we spend all the free time on the hills with other kids... I had my first pocket knife at 6. We use to play "ţaruş" (a game of throwing the knife at the ground) in the school's yard... Of course, this was when there wasn't work to do. I spent much time (like every kid who grew up in a village) working the land next to my parents. Many mornings [I] had to wake up at 4 to go "la coasa"[lit, "to scythe"] to cut the grass for the animals. We had to do it before the heat of the day...

    We had electricity just 4 or 5 hours a day and no tv. My family had a broken tv that, every time after paying to get [it] fixed, worked for a week or two only. We didn't care, there was nothing on tv anyway (Romania had only 2 hours of tv a day, and those two hours just propaganda, from 8PM to 10PM). I know, it sounds boring and simple, but, remember, we had friends and guitars... and fun. For the parents was harder, they had to dress us and feed us...

    I could write all day how there were lines to buy eggs and we use to stay all night in line for our teachers while in high school in Sibiu... or for butter, milk, or for... mostly anything... only imagine that you had to do this with friends... and not in a chat room or with texting, real life, meat and bones friends :-)

    So, the bottom line is that we had a simple life, no luxury, no cars, no tech, no toys... but we grew up happy. My son and daughter are growing up here in [the] US where I live now, and it makes me sad how alone they are most of the time.

    The difference I see is that here, in [the] US, the propaganda is a lot more effective than it was for us in Romania. In communist Romania nobody believed the propaganda, absolutely nobody. No teachers, no kids in school, no parents at home believed. Everyone talked in hushed voice about how bad the propaganda is and not to trust it. Now I live here in [the] US and I see the same propaganda again... but this time the majority believes it.

  • 2
    178 VOTES

    There Was Bribery And Little Choice

    From Redditor u/Gladix:

    Czech Republic. My parents grew up in it, they constantly tell stories about it.

    There was a huge element of bribery in every facet of the economy. You wanted anything done? Better have something to trade.

    The population was split into two camps, communists and normal people. If you wanted to graduate college, you had to enter the communist party. Did you want a good job? Better enter the communist party. Snitching was a huge part of social dynamics. My mom was discriminated against in her school, for example, because their parents didn't subscribe to some communist newspaper.

    There was basically only one or two products in any given category available for purchase. One or two kinds of t-shirt, or pants, or sport shoes. One or two types of kitchen appliances, or biscuits or cars; there was no variety. Everyone basically got the same stuff.

    My dad was allowed to travel to the west as a part of his college work program. He said it was like traveling hundred years into the future. What especially amazed him were the shops. Whereas at home they sold meat in non-refrigerated shelves wrapped in old newspapers ... when [it was] actually available. Out there were hundreds of types of meat wrapped in futuristic plastic. It was like being in another world. Apparently, my dad bought a frozen pizza, didn't know how to prepare it because he had no idea what it was. So he just ate it as it was. My dad also earned more than a month's pay by picking up glass bottles and returning them back to a shop (the kind when you get a tiny amount back for each bottle) in one night.

  • 3
    192 VOTES

    The State Ran Everything

    From Redditor u/TuringT:

    Perspective: I lived in Soviet Russia in the 1970s, in a large provincial city. My family immigrated to US in early '80s. I was a young teen when we left the USSR but I have a reasonably good recollection of daily life.

    The flavor of Soviet living hardest to convey to friends from the liberal democracies of the West is the sense of total state control. Imagine living your entire life inside a government-run institution, like a state-run nursing home, that controls every aspect of your life. Every job is a government job. All housing is government housing. All stores are government commissaries. You get an apartment by filling out forms and getting on a list (and then waiting for an unpredictable number of years, sometimes decades, for someone to die, since apartments don't free up any other way). You get a job by getting on a list. (You will get a job - everyone must have a job - but it may be far from your interests and it will pay almost nothing.) You get food by standing in line, a human list.

    Imagine, if you can, everything you know and do -- from clubs, libraries, schools, sports, movies -- all taking place inside this massive institution (poli-sci translation: there is no civil society separate from the state). And please don't imagine some well-run nursing home in a wealthy Nordic country, where the welfare of the residents is a primary concern. That sunny, clean space [in] your benevolent imagination is an institution, yes, but it is an institution inside a liberal democracy, constrained by competition, transparency, civil society, and democratic feedback.

    But we, the residents in the master Soviet Institution, have no where else we can go. We have no say over how [we] are treated. There is no one to ask for help. Our well-being isn't high on the list of the institution's priorities and our care is under-resourced and badly strained. The hallways have no working lights, the stairways reek of urine. If you complain about any of those things, you become a target.

    The institution does care (a little bit) about external appearances, so it can be motivated to spend money on improving the façade. It cares a lot about security, both external and internal, so it spends any remaining resources on guards and dogs and cameras and barbed wire. The commissary shelves have enough staples to survive -- bread, milk, often eggs. If you can bear standing in line, you won't go hungry. But anything beyond necessities is scarce. If the word goes out that one of the commissaries will have chicken tomorrow morning, the line forms that night and stretches around the block. You may wait in that line for 10 hours to find out there is no more chicken and you won't be having any meat this week after all. The only people who can be sure they'll be eating chicken that week are the family and friends of the commissary manager. These are powerful people. But even they don't have power to get what the institution deems as "non-essential luxuries." The institution never has any toilet paper for some reason. Newspapers and magazines remain in demand well past their publication dates.

    The institution cares about preserving order, and especially about making sure that the authority of those in control can't be questioned. Some people working inside the institution are kind, others indifferent, yet others actively sadistic, enjoying the petty bullying that is the special province of ugly minor bureaucrats. Yet, even the occasional kindness doesn't change the the fact that the institution must treat you like a number, like a problem, and like a potential threat - must get you on the right list, slot you in the next open slot (no matter the fit), and keep you from making waves.

    The institution fears you and what you might say, so it makes sure you fear it. Families talking in hallways look over their shoulder to make sure they are not overheard saying anything anti-government. Neighbors will report you simply to show their loyalty, or because they resent you, or because they are professional informants. You'll never know who reported on you and for what. If you are reported, you go on a list. You don't want to be on that list. Even if you are never invited to visit the security services office "just to talk", even if you don't get an unexpected visit at work from men in suits, even if you are never pulled out of bed in the middle of the nigh and brought in for some light "enhanced interrogation," just being on that list could mean [losing] your place on all the other lists -- your apartment, your job, your kid's kindergarten. The lists are invisible, and there is no such thing as a right to review or appeal. But you know they are there. Knowing is enough to keep you in line.

    As inside any large-enough prison camp, there are break-thorough green shoots of human activity out of [sight] of the guards. The is underground civil society (jokes, samizdat publications). There is the black market, sometimes tacitly tolerated, where you can get chicken without standing in a long line, if you are willing to hand over a week's wages. But all those shoots are ground down under the heavy boots of institutional order -- get on the list, stay in line -- and are quickly and mercilessly weeded if they ever grow enough to be visible to the guards or, god forbid, to the administrators.

  • 4
    156 VOTES

    Some Things Were Scarce In The Places They Were Made

    From Redditor u/jaloveast1k:

    I remember we didn't have chocolate candy in my hometown so my mother brought some from her trip to Moscow. They were made in my hometown.

  • From Redditor u/BravoNZ:

    Oh boy... I grew up in communist Romania, born late '60s. Early childhood was ok as I was sheltered by my parents as much as possible, but the personality cult of Ceaușescu was pervasive even then.

    From the '80s on, the sh*t really hit the fan. We were living in a apartment block like most of the urban dwellers there and then. It progressively went from bad to worse:

    No central heating (mostly turned off or extremely low). Winters in Romania are pretty cold and a concrete structure does very little in terms of keeping heat in. Normal temperature inside in winter was hovering around 15° C. Electric heaters were prohibited, there were people coming and checking the power meters which were located in the common areas of the buildings and if they were showing high consumptions you would get a fine and/or big trouble at work.

    Power cuts daily. Power would be off for 8-10 hours daily, up to 8 pm when the two hours TV showing how great Ceaușescu was was on. As the cuts were random, most of the days people would get stuck in lifts. They eventually got around the issue of people dying in the lifts by cutting the power for 5 minutes, then turning it on for another 10 (so whoever was in transit could get out) and then turning it off for the day. People learned quickly. This messed up refrigerators too and that was a big problem, see below. Homework was done using gas lamps or candles - very romantic.

    Food. There was very little of it. Cooking oil, sugar and bread were tightly controlled, I remember the ration was one liter of oil and 1.5 Kg of sugar per month per person. Bread was always sold one day old so people would eat less (the bread shops were not allowed to sell fresh bread and we're forced to keep it a minimum of 24 hours before selling it). Meat was another story. People would start queing 2-3 days before the meat truck was expected. This was always a bit of a lottery, as the arrival day was changing all the time and what they were bringing was another unknown, this week was pork, next week could be beef or chicken, you got what you got. Families would take turns keeping the position in the line overnight and more often than not there would be skirmishes with people trying to cut in. Also there were always agents in the queue listening to the ones complaining and reporting them to the Party. During that time I saw sometimes in winter imported bananas and oranges, maybe 4 or 5 times in 10-12 years. Always after huge queues. If you knew a food store manager and paid him/her handsomely you could avoid some of the wait and pain, as they were always get the first cut on what was being delivered. Lucky people who had relatives out in the country would pay/help to grow a pig for meat which would go in deep freeze and would last several months after Christmas. Of course the power cuts would mess up the freezers more often than not, so quite often people would have to cook thawed meat so they won't lose it. Freezers were a very difficult appliance to purchase because of that.

    Personality cult of Ceaușescu family - this has become increasingly pathologic as time passed. The idiot completely destroyed historic Bucharest to build the most obscenely ugly administrative building on this planet. He got inspired by NK's Kim idiot when he visited Phenian and decided to surpass him. TV was two hours daily, from 8-10 pm when he was lauded, adulated and congratulated. Nothing else to watch, so people stared looking over the border, most of Southern Romania was watching Bulgarian TV or Serbian TV, some of the North-Western was watching Hungarian TV, but most of central and eastern [inhabitants] were not so lucky. Anyway, most of the real international news was coming from Radio Free Europe and VoA on shortwave. This was heavily frowned upon an was carrying heavy punishments if caught - by no means anything penal, but would mean losing one's job, moved to a small village in the middle of nowhere, and other things in the same vein. Very vocal people that had the bad idea to protest loudly more often than not would disappear overnight and it was a really bad idea to inquire about their whereabouts.

    Music, movies, books and anything cultural related to Western society - the source of good things were mainly the international truck drivers that were going with cargo to other countries. The black market for bootleg copies of latest releases was quite something. Movies were really badly dubbed in Romanian by a well known lady (film critic these days) with one of the most annoying voices on the planet and with a self righteous no swearing policy which was turning any tense scene in an action movie into a "Snow White pampering the deers" one. But we took what we had. Sometimes some books by foreign authors were translated and printed in a miniscule number. People with access to photocopiers were multiplying these for a fee and we're distributing them among family and friends, not ideal in terms of quality, but it was reading material other than the Party propaganda or Ceaușescu's last speech (which was strikingly identical to the previous one).

    Overseas travel - non-existent for the vast majority of citizens. A one day trip into neighbouring communist Bulgaria was a major achievement for those who could get it - you had to get approved by secret services, the Party and so on. The very few that were lucky enough to go to a Western county were watched with suspicion, as they certainly were part of the secret police or informants.

    Military service - compulsory. Somehow I probably killed some people and ended up in a concentration camp, but I don't remember what I've done. This was the darkest 9 months of my life. [Inedible] food, no heating in winter, real a**hole officers who took pleasure in making everyone suffer, [grueling] so-called training. I was lucky enough to get the short stint as I was going to Uni though, [but] still ended up with a couple of months of free (forced) labour in construction close to the end.

    It wasn't a funny time and when communism fell, unfortunately it went from organized bad to chaotic bad - Romania never truly recovered after those 40+ years and that still shows today. Gorgeous county, nice people (mostly), lots of history but unfortunately not where it could be.

  • 6
    135 VOTES

    It Was A Pretty Fun Time To Be A Kid

    From Redditor u/eskachig:

    I was a kid in the Soviet '80s, emigrated in '93. Honestly, life in the USSR was pretty nice and very simple for most people. And yeah, there was a surprising amount of art and expression (though, it was also [glasnost - open information from the government]), but it was just mostly samizdat [the clandestine copying and distribution of literature banned by the state] and local.

    There was very little crime - and the amount of freedom Soviet kids got was pretty amazing because nobody was worried about anything. There was this magical period right after/during the collapse when all the work on all the major state projects just stopped, but parents haven't caught up to new realities yet - and our gaggle of ten-year-olds did a sh*t ton of urbex [urban exploring], crawling through sprawling abandoned half-completed ruins.

    Not being able to travel seemed difficult for many people, which is why my parent's generation threw themselves into mountaineering, extreme sports, and inter-Russia tourism. At least USSR was very large and diverse.

    The '90s was pretty sh*tty, complete destruction of the old way of life, really - most people's standard of living plummeted dramatically.

    When I was older I rediscovered a lot of the music my parents listened to in our old Moscow apartment - Kino, DDT, etc.