How Can it be that Anyone is Nostalgic for the Soviet Union?

Surveys from the Pew Research Center and Gallup show a majority of the people that live in many of the former Soviet Union feel its breakup caused more harm to its people than benefit, especially among the older population. If the Soviet Union was as miserable as we have been told, how is it possible than anyone could wish for the Soviet Union over capitalism?

In 2009 the Pew Research Center surveyed residents of the former Soviet Union and found that support for capitalism was waining. They titled the report “End of Communism Cheered but Now with More Reservation.” They asked many of the same questions asked in 1991. They asked questions like “Starting in late 1989, we changed from a country where there was just one party to a country with a multiple part system. Overall, do you strongly approve, approve, disapprove or strongly disapprove of this change in (survey country)?” The vast majority of people responded positively to this question, but in Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine far fewer people responded positively in 2009 than they did in 1991.

In 2009 the world was in the middle of an economic downturn, so one may expect a negative attitude about capitalism at that time, but Pew performed follow up research in 2011, 2015–16 and 2019 . Each time they saw similar results. Gallup performed a survey in 2013. The title of their report was “Former Soviet Countries See More Harm From Breakup.” The 2015–16 Pew survey even found that Georgians, Russians, Armenians, Moldovans and Serbians feel Stalin played a more positive role in history than Gorbachev. Stalin oversaw massive economic growth to a backwards country while carrying out terror in order to turn the Soviet Union into a totalitarian state. Gorbachev sowed the seeds of the Soviet Union’s unraveling as he pushed for democratization and freedom of speech. In each of the graphics below, from both Pew and Gallup we see that the older the age group (from the former Soviet Union), the more fondly the group felt towards the Communist era. As I asked at the beginning, if the Soviet Union was as miserable as we have been told, how is it possible than anyone could wish for the Soviet Union over capitalism? The paradigm I was given from being raised in the United States, I was not equipped to provide a satisfactory answer to this question. As an American I was discouraged from even asking this question, let alone putting myself in the shoes of someone with positive feelings towards Communism.

Questioning capitalism almost without fail results in a knee-jerk response of Communism’s failures. But recognizing Communism’s failures cannot explain why the very people oppressed by Communism report that they think their lives may have been better had the Soviet Union survived to this day. They may be demonstrably wrong, but the question is why are the people who lived under Communism the ones that are the most nostalgic for it?

I cannot provide a satisfying answer to this question, but the time to ask this question has arrived. American Millennials and Generation Z were not raised during the Cold War. They do not feel obligated to accept the descriptions of Communism’s failures as an imperative to from questioning capitalism. Admitting Communism failed does not mean capitalism is the best humanity can hope for.

Elton L.K. is a writer and a worker. He says “Billionaires? No, thank you.”