Political Junkie Mom suggests that I share my family’s experience with free education and a guaranteed job, which happens to be one of the top #Occupy demands. These demands are very Communist in nature; in fact, Soviet Constitution promised both. So here’s a few anecdotes.
My great-grandfather Tsali was a successful dressmaker. He owned a dress factory in Ukraine and another one in Poland. Then the Bolsheviks came and took everything. Although the government gave people jobs, Tsali swore he’d never work for the Soviets. So he worked under the table, making clothes, doing what he did best. Tsali believed that “the thieves” wouldn’t last long. Well, they outlasted him. He was still at the sewing machine when he was already in his 80s because, since he never worked for the government, he did not qualify for a pension. Makes sense: if the government is also the employer, why should it pay for the retirement of competitors? So much for the safety net.
Starting in 1918 Soviet subjects had their work history recorded in the Employment Record Books. Upon retirement the benefits were calculated based on this document. For the most part of Soviet history the government owned most of the means of production and trained workers. While black market work was frequently a necessity, this kind of employment was often prosecuted, not to mention that it went unrecorded. So only official government work counted towards retirement.
In the Soviet Union government work was not just a right, but a duty. From time to time subjects were legally not allowed to be unemployed. My grandmother Vera was a nurse, educated in Imperial Russia. She married my grandfather and decided to be a homemaker. From time to time, when this kind of arrangement was illegal, she had to return to government work.
My uncle was a straight A student, graduating from high school with “gold medal”. That was an equivalent of American valedictorian. He aced his college entrance exams. Unfortunately, he wanted to study nuclear engineering, and Jews were not wanted in that field. He had to chose a different major. Racial discrimination is what happens when free market forces are not in place to assure that the most qualified individuals will rise to the top. When the government owns schools and places of employment, bureaucrats’ (and Politburo’s) prejudices reign.
That Soviet universities didn’t charge tuition doesn’t mean that they were free. To guarantee admission to many prestigious schools, prospective student’s parents had to bribe somebody. This typically excluded engineering schools because towards the end of the Soviet era engineering lost its luster. Engineers who often worked in large collectives and for the government clients were not in a position to take bribes. The profession was still popular among more proud, modest and intellectually-minded people, in part because the hard facts of math and physics remained unaffected by the Party decree. And so my parents were engineers.
In the 70s and 80s some engineering majors started playing rock-n-roll, and were summarily kicked out of their government-guaranteed jobs. A few others found that they’d rather — the horror! — be janitors and watchmen and play rock-n-roll in their spare time than be stuck at the drafting board because that was the kind of clean desk job they were allotted. I wouldn’t call it funemployment. Here is Boris Grebenshchikov, the lead singer of the seminal Russian rock band Akvarium who himself was kicked out of work with “Generation of Janitors”:
Of course, the government use the threat of unemployment to control behavior in many other ways. For instance, my uncle who was denied admission to the school of his choice for being Jewish, also lost his job after applying for an exit visa. He found another job, to be sure, just not the kind of job he’d want.
It’s worth noting that in the past two decades many Soviet-educated engineers did very well for themselves, finding employment abroad.
If a society is going to try to guarantee employment and free education, it has to surrender control of both employment and education to the government. In the Soviet Union, bureaucrats and party hawks had undue power over college admission and job placement, and government-guaranteed right to work often morphed into mandated government work. All in all, the Soviet Union wasn’t the kind of society where one gets to play all day just because the government provides. Most of the #Occupy types are exactly the kind of people Communist society has no use for.