Category Archives: Essays

USSR Food Supply

This is a very short version of the essay; full text is available in Russian.

There is an article I’ve read recently that reminded me a conversation I had a while ago with a good acquaintance of mine. He is some 30 years older than me. We talked about the Soviet period and his view of that time was very positive. We couldn’t fail to mention the problem of food availability. This is probably not a hot topic for anyone outside of Russia and ex-USSR, but it is still widely discussed here for some reason.

My thoughts on this (available at length in Russian) are not, probably, worth translating as I think the topic wouldn’t be very interesting for the international audience (feel free to tell me otherwise in the comments). But the main point is that the USSR was experiencing major problems in feeding its citizens for most of its existence and, specifically, in the 60s and 70s, despite that these are often held by USSR proponents as the most successful years of the Soviet reign. This point is supported both by the available statistics (even official Soviet one!) and the anecdotal evidence.

Another point is that most of the positive accounts of the Soviet period are either due to the Rosy retrospection effect, or the result of being in the privileged position in the USSR. There was a fairly large proportion of the USSR population that was privileged over the majority (at least in regard to food availability): inhabitants of Moscow, Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad), closed cities and southern autonomous republics (esp. North Caucasian), the military, KGB servicemen, diplomats and high-ranking scientists etc. I’d estimate that at least 30% of people had these privileges and that explains a relatively high level of denialism of bad living conditions in the USSR.

The acquaintance of mine I mentioned turned out to be a son of KGB officer, by the way. And the article I read is a two-part LiveJournal post (in Russian): Part One, Part Two. The author have spent over three years collecting information from all available sources about the availability of meat to Soviet people.

SSC Gives a Graduation Speech

So with this spirit of questioning assumptions in mind, I want to ask you a question. Today many of you will be completing your education. Sure, some of you are going on to graduate or professional training, but it is clearly the end of an era. Seventeen years, from kindergarten to the present, and I want to ask you:

Is education worth it?

With the author’s permission, I’ve made a Russian translation of “SSC Gives a Graduation Speech” essay by Scott Alexander (Slate Star Codex blog).

If you can read the original article in English, I highly recommend it.