by Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh -
I am in Washington, D.C. surrounded by expensive SUVs, Hummers, Mercedes, and “environmentally friendly” Priuses sporting stickers with Hope and Change, Socialism 2012, advertising socialism and communism, to the detriment of the “evil” capitalist system that afforded them those cars and a luxurious lifestyle.
A few beat up cars are liberally covered in communist slogan stickers, phony empty words that promise “redistribution of wealth” and a nanny state. I ponder for a moment if progressives are still waiting for their free gas, housing, day care, jobs, education, medical care, endless vacations, and a chunk of paradise from the “filthy, rotten rich” who deserve to be stripped of everything they own. I still do not understand why they call themselves “progressives” when they are really longing for regression to a life of slavery to the government.
Ardent Democrats and some Republicans believe the rhetoric that a socialist/communist state will bring Shangri La because it will be delivered by a community organizer who has a sonorous voice and reads speeches well. Is it futile to remind them that many countries who have tried the communist model have failed miserably? Millions have lost their lives in re-education camps due to famine, persecution, or refusal to comply with the daily communist indoctrination.
I wished I could take my fellow American citizens back in time to 1977 to show them our life under communism in Romania. Would they wake up every morning at 4 a.m. to stand in line for hours in frigid temperatures until stores opened to fight over an insufficient number of bottles of milk, loaves of bread, or bags of rice, leaving often empty-handed because the supply delivered ran out?
How fun would it be to stand in mile-long lines, winding around blocks? People never knew what was on sale but whatever it was, they needed it so they joined the long lines. We used to carry extra cash and shopping bags just in case we ran into a store that was selling something we needed to survive.
Most basic goods that Americans take for granted, and expect to find on every trip to the store, were in short supply. People fought in lines for the last roll of toilet paper, or the last bag of flour, sugar, or bottle of cooking oil.
Karl Marx made famous the phrase, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” The country under-produced everything; the central Communist Party planning did not take into account supply and demand; these were elements of capitalism and the evil bourgeoisie. Communist operatives, organizers, and agitators, with no formal education or job experience, were telling the population what it needed. They were crass ideologues who carried the party line.
Before the communists took over the country, first by gentle persuasion, later by force, the country was a monarchy with an abundance of goods, private property, and the opportunity to achieve whatever dreams people had. Some went to school, some became entrepreneurs, and others worked the farmland passed from generation to generation.
Street organizers and thugs convinced some people that it was bourgeois and selfish not to share and distribute the fruit of their labor with the rest of the population. The rich were evil and deserved to be thrown from power and stripped of their “ill-gotten” wealth. Giving up land and forming co-operatives with shared wealth for all was the only way to achieve happiness.
It had never occurred to people that some individuals worked harder than others did and collectivization would not fare so well, especially after the communists took their lion’s share from the crop. It also never donned on people that the ruling elite would not include themselves in this clever scheme. What was left at the end of the growing season would be equally distributed among the peasants. It was not enough to sustain a family. The men had to migrate to cities and seek jobs in factories. The women and youth were left behind to till the fields and grow the crops. Students were dragged from schools in the fall for one month to pick the crops. It was involuntary “volunteer” work.
Under a carefully laid out social engineering plan, land and housing were grabbed and confiscated
Under a carefully laid out social engineering plan, land and housing were grabbed and confiscated. A mass forced migration from rural to metropolitan areas ensued, crowding people into grey concrete block apartments with no venue of transportation other than buses, trains, or walking.
People who had more accumulated wealth had to go to jail in addition to having their wealth confiscated because they were bourgeois and a danger to socialist ideology. One of my uncles went to prison for seven years because he had two homes, 10 acres of land, and a mercantile store.
Farmers who refused to lump their land with the collective farms were taken at night into windowless vans, beaten, driven around for hours, and frightened into submission, until they signed their land rights over to the communists. My grandfather was left with a small plot of land in the back of his house and the mud brick home. It was barely big enough to have a small vegetable garden. He rode his bike to work every day, rain or snow, for 45 years because he never had enough money to ride the daily bus, 9 km each way.
The store shelves were empty most of the time
The store shelves were empty most of the time; as soon as a delivery was made, it disappeared within minutes, bought by the immediately forming line, or squirreled away under the counter by the vendors themselves wanting to sell at black market prices to those who were willing and able to spend ten times the cost.
I still remember the rationing coupons that looked like postage stamps. They were issued each month. It entitled a family to buy a certain quantity of flour, sugar, oil, butter, or whatever food was in short supply due to the mismanagement of the Communist Central Party committee tasked with keeping the stores stocked. They did make a special effort around Christmas and Easter to have extras delivered to the market in order to keep the masses calm. It was a rare opportunity to buy meat instead of bones to make soup. My mom was a wizard at making a three course-meal out of one chicken if we were lucky to find one.
Communist Party members were insulated from such shortages because they shopped at specialized stores built and maintained just for them. Once a family ran out of rationing coupons, they were no longer entitled to buy in the store; they could go to the black market.
Stealing was common under communism
Stealing was common under communism, from the factory director all the way down to workers. People were forced to steal from work and barter with other people in order to survive. A butcher would steal meat and trade with the baker from a bread factory. Gypsies stole metal and sold it as scrap. They dismantled railroad tracks, metal fences, manholes, cemetery crosses, pretty much anything of metal that was within public reach. A few were electrocuted trying to steal metal from transformer stations.
My dad hated the fact that the work ethic and morals had decayed so much that nobody saw anything wrong with stealing from work in order to survive. The meager salaries did not go very far in spite of the fact that rent, utilities, and prices in general were subsidized by the communist government in order to keep the populace compliant, a not so subtle form of welfare.
The communist “planners” demolished beautiful centuries old churches to make room for their grandiose marble palaces of the people. The people never set foot in those palaces, only the ruling elite had access. A few churches escaped demolition if they were away from the beaten path. Some were kept as places for last rites. There were no funeral homes to handle burials.
People were discouraged from attending church
People were discouraged from attending church; it was something only old people did on a regular basis, the young attended at Easter and Christmas, weddings, baptisms, and burials. Bibles were impossible to find and those donated were recycled into toilet paper.
Life was very hard; we had chronic shortages of electricity, water, and heat. Few people owned a TV or refrigerator. The windowsill was our refrigerator in wintertime. I never knew vacuum cleaners existed until I moved to the U.S. Buying a car, if you had the cash, took ten years on waiting lists.
People were so demoralized, few made serious plans for the immediate future because it was so hopeless, and they lived from day to day. If we kept a pessimistic attitude, we were not too disappointed when things deteriorated. There was a reason people were afraid to smile.
I used to think Romanians were so fortunate that they did not know how unfortunate they were in their daily lives, struggles, and misery. Now I think how unfortunate it is that Americans do not know how fortunate they are to live in the world’s best country, yet are willing to change everything on the empty promise of “hope and change” to a non-existent Utopia.
Communism was tried in many countries before and failed miserably. Americans have not learned either from their brief failed experiment with communism at Jamestown. Are we going to trust our future and fortunes to corrupt one-world governance led by third world dictatorships at the United Nations?
Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh was born Ileana Apostolescu in Ploiesti, Romania during the communist era of Nicolae Ceausescu. A survivor of communist utopia and its indoctrination, she immigrated to the United States in 1978. She became a proud naturalized American citizen by choice in 1982. Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh earned four college degrees in the United States, a Bachelor of Arts in German, a Bachelor of Science in International Relations and Foreign Trade, a Master of Arts in German, and an Educational Doctor with emphasis in teaching Economics and Foreign Languages. As a college professor of 30 years, she taught various Economics classes. As a gifted teacher, the author taught German, Italian, Russian, and Latin.