NOTE: this article, written by Mark Stoddard was published by Meridian Magazine:
In today’s highly charged political environment where levels of government control are strongly debated, it’s good to explore whether or not communism and socialism are really all that bad.
Occam, a 14th century English cleric used a philosophy with such cutting precision that it became known as Occam’s “razor,” namely “give precedence to simplicity: of two competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred.”
Explanations for seemingly complex matters, such as political/economic organizations, can indeed be simple. I appreciate simple so before tackling today’s incarnation and derivative philosophies of Karl Marx, first consider an authentic result of the Marxian reality:
Visiting the #1 Soviet Pediatric Hospital
While visiting the leading pediatric hospital in the USSR/Soviet Union in February 1991, the chief of the hospital saw the many large dish pack boxes of gifts for new mothers Americans sent with us. He was appreciative of the diapers, ones-ies, receiving blankets for the babies and very nice gowns for the Soviet mothers. Then he spied the box filled with medications.
He asked, “I know you’ve heard of hospitals here selling the aspirin on the black market and will understand if you tell me no, but would you trust me to distribute these medications to the mothers and children who need them?” I agreed.
That summer he came to our ship filled with Americans and our invited Soviet Russian guests for our 13-day cruise. He asked if he could address the group that night at our entertainment concert. He was our honored guest and I gladly included him. I quickly became embarrassed by him.
“I wish to thank Mr. Markem Stoddardem for saving the life of a young girl.” I turned red as St. Basils. What was this about?? “You see, a few months ago a 10-year-old girl fell from a 3rd story balcony. She was rushed to our hospital where we did all we could to save her. But her temperature was so high, and we had nothing that could bring it down. Then I remembered Mr. Stoddard’s box of medications and rushed to find what I needed. Yes, in a short time this girl’s fever broke. You saved her life.”
Confused, I asked him, “The medications we brought were all over-the-counter medications. Which one helped her? And thank these people. They were the ones that sent the donations.”
“Yes, I thank you all. The medication was Children’s Liquid Tylenol. We can’t get that here.”
Think about that. The #1 hospital in all the Soviet Union for children didn’t have access to Children’s Liquid Tylenol and had to sell donated aspirin on the black market to make ends meet. The USSR was the embodiment of socialism and its totalitarian extension, communism.
From Venezuela to Cuba to China
Venezuela once boasted an enormous oil surplus and made a fortune from it. The socialists envied the money made by those who worked for it and nationalized the oil industry. Today the country is starving with oil shortages. Reminds me of what I told the Soviets on my lecture tour in 1991. “If Lenin had been born in Saudi Arabia there would be a sand shortage.”
Sadly, I visited Cuba at the invitation of the government several times to lecture on how people could start businesses. It didn’t go well. All the students were too nervous to discuss anything, and the state police were everywhere. Poverty was rampant. At a cigar factory I visited, people handmade cigars while the politically correct official read aloud the day’s newspaper. Yes, they have literacy now, but as the first black millionaire in America in the early 1900’s said, “It’s not what you know that will hurt you. Just what you know that just ain’t so.”
My friend, Eldridge Cleaver, the famed founder of the radical Black Panthers, escaped America to the Cuban socialist haven. After six months he begged US authorities to let him come home. (Later he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But that’s another story for another article.)
Socialism, simply put, is the public ownership of the means of production. So said Karl Marx. He didn’t much care about degrees of socialism but only found total ownership by the state of the means of production to be acceptable. Communism and socialism are simply degrees of the poisonous fruit -- distinctions without much difference.
Fascism is simply State Socialism where the state decides if someone will be allowed to have private ownership. Obviously, that was Germany and Italy in the 30’s and 40’s. AND...it is China today. China is no longer a communist country but a totalitarian Fascist state. The means of production are often companies that are, at best, 45% state owned and the rest owned by American and European capitalist corporations. China tried communal or collective farms, aka, state owned farms. The people starved.
China had to dump that socialist dream. In the 1990’s I visited a dirt road village outside of the Hong Kong territories called Shenzhen. It was designated by the “communist” government to be a free-enterprise zone. On our cruise on the Yangtze we had several new entrepreneurs from Shenzhen. They were nervous about China’s commitment to capitalism but thrilled to be allowed to develop their companies. Today, Shenzhen rivals Singapore for the most shining skyscrapers. So many privately owned companies.
Morality. In all forms of socialism, the state eventually mandates or dictates moral choices and behaviors. It decides what is moral and what is not. What is politically correct. You don’t.
Capitalism is an amoral private financing and ownership of enterprises. Amoral because it is economics, not a system of morality. Ironically, capitalism best exists with moral people. No one invests in people they can’t trust.
It is best to show how these “isms” affect the lives of real people who lived in countries that embraced these “isms.” Anecdotes prove little but they bring to life realities.
As a teenager living in England in the 1960’s while my father was stationed there as a USAF officer, I saw firsthand the transition from the mildly socialist governments of Churchill England and prime minister Harold Wilson’s strong push to “nationalize” most industries (socialism is the state or nation owning the means of production).
Our little branch had a couple of teens my age and I became good friends with David Cullen. One evening at our home, he doubled over in pain. I knew enough to check his lower right abdominal area for rebound pain. Severe. We took him to the emergency room where they confirmed he had acute appendicitis. My mother asked how long the surgery would take but was told “we have no beds available. Bring him back in 3 weeks. We’ll give him some antibiotics that should help him.” Welcome to nationalized health.
This is reminiscent of what happened to Canadian hospitals in December 1993, much to the chagrin of 1st Lady Hillary Clinton who had been proposing her own step toward nationalizing health care. While predicting only rosy things for such government health care, Canada closed all hospitals except for extreme emergencies due to a shortfall of money. That took the steam out of Hillary Clinton’s efforts.
In 1991 I had dinner with a member of the Soviet Politburo -- the governing communist organization. He brought up the wonders of Soviet medicine and how it was superior to American medicine and how inhumane it was to treat people the way we did by charging them for health treatments. I let it go to avoid a conflict and changed the subject to a TV show on medicine that I was on in Houston, Texas. He jumped on that.
“I’ve been to Houston. Very nice city…” Then he told me all the things he had done there.
“Why were you in Houston?” I asked.
“Oh, I had heart surgery. They are the best.” Did I just hear Marx cringe?
My friends in Windsor and Calgary often tell me how impossible it is to get good surgeries in Canada and always go to the USA for their surgeries. Canadian health care is great, they say, for treating broken bones, and illnesses, but the waits are impossible for surgeries. They were shocked when they found out my hip surgery, at age 65, took place a matter of a few weeks after x-rays showed the left hip socket was bone on bone. My Canadian friends report that at my age in Canada, the surgery may not even be allowed. If allowed, the wait could be a year or more.
When we first went to the USSR, to celebrate us becoming the first Soviet approved private American cruise company, we wanted to buy mink hats. None fit. Why? Standard deviations dictated by the state didn’t make products for big-headed Americans.
We also found out only four or five colors of paint were produced by the USSR paint factories. One was not allowed to mix them lest it vary from approved colors. Another version of a woke culture promoting socialism.
Russia After Communism
Today, Moscow looks very little like the nearly empty street affair in 1990 when I was first invited to teach 17 supreme soviets, city councils, Yeltsin’s council of ministers (cabinet), and a prime minister or two how to move to a free market economy. They were clamoring to know how to get out of the socialist morass.
They’ve done ok with fits and starts when many of the state industries were made private but in the hands of the soviet leaders to feather their own nests. But freedom has a way of getting out. It’s contagious. Mafia groups were formed for their own gain -- and we had to contend with them when we first started holding cruises in the USSR and especially in the new Russia. Those gangs have been dramatically eliminated by the power of private ownership and the colossal new economy. Stores are full. When we first went there, a shoe store might have 10 pairs of shoes. Grocery stores were pathetic. Not today.
And it is far cleaner. Downside is traffic is often terrible. Car ownership has skyrocketed with increased disposable income.
The USSR was the perpetual model of wonder for socialism from 1920 to 1990 -- 70 years of socialist rule. It led to the deaths of tens of millions who would not obey the mandates. Services were terrible. In 1990 there were only 4 outbound international phone lines. To call the USA, I had to book a call for the next day, go to the post office and wait for my line to open, sometimes a wait of 3 or 4 hours.
When Mr. Gorbachev comes on our cruise ship in Russia August 20, 2022, you can ask him yourself. His translator and confidant Pavel Pahlazhenko will be on the entire cruise. They don’t mince words.
Again, anecdotal evidence is not proof, but it does capture the essence. The realities of socialism are as follows:
One last note. Don’t look to Sweden as THE socialist paradise now. They have rejected the high tax, low service model of socialism and are constantly privatizing every industry possible. It takes time to overturn foolishness, but they are doing great things. New Zealand once had mostly publicly owned industries, but by 1995 had privatized nearly every business, including public transportation. In doing so, their dollar strengthened, people’s wealth grew.
Freedom is key. Without that we do not have free agency. Without that, what’s the point?
The Bolsheviks abolished the old Christian tradition of celebrating Christ's birth and instead introduced a lavish secular celebration for New Year. But what was Christmas like before the 1917 Revolution?
Click Here to read this fascinating article:
How many ETHNIC groups live in Russia?
The world’s largest country has a wealth of ethnic diversity. But how many ethnic groups and peoples live there and who they actually are is a question that even its own citizens won’t be able to give a ready answer to. Millions of people in Russia call themselves “Russian nationals” and they certainly are - but without regarding themselves as ethnically Russian. A “Russian national” is a matter of citizenship; as for ethnic self-identification, things can look much more complicated.
According to the 2010 census, there are as many as 193 ethnic groups living in Russia. It sounds like a very high number, doesn’t it? And yet, Russia is not even in the top 50 countries with a high degree of ethnic diversity and it is considered to be quite homogeneous in terms of the ratio of ethnic minorities per capita (the world’s 20 most diverse countries are all located in Africa). Out of a population of 137 million who indicated their nationality at the time (the total population of Russia was 143 million), 80.1 percent of its citizens are ethnically Russian and all the rest add up to 19.1 percent.
Read more of this article at the following link: https://www.rbth.com/lifestyle/334417-how-many-ethnic-groups
‘A Christmas Bell for Anya’:
Read the beautiful Russian tale once shared at the Tabernacle Choir’s concert
This original Russian tale is a beautiful reminder that the Savior was born and He lives now.
by Eric L. Stoddard, Co-Founder of Heart of Russia Cruises
Having just returned from an extensive trip November 12-21 2021, to Moscow, St. Petersburg and their local communities I can only say this: Emphatically yes. It is safe to travel to and visit Russia.
I had to have a COVID-19 test before I boarded the Aeroflot aircraft at LAX and before I boarded the aircraft in Moscow to return. I traveled by Aeroflot from Moscow to St. Petersburg. From St. Petersburg to Moscow I traveled by bullet train with speeds up to 230 kph and making only 3 stops between the two metropolises. Fast, modern, safe, and efficient.
Police in Russia are visibly lightly armed. Typically a policeman has a pistol, set of handcuffs, a radio and a baton. Only the baton is visible. I saw a policeman pull over a speeder with his baton. One doesn't blow by a cop in Russia.
Hotel staff all spoke English. Aeroflot staff spoke English. Museum guides spoke English. Restaurant wait staff spoke English. Many restaurants in both Moscow and St. Petersburg have both Russian and English menus.
It seems the US media is intent on creating winners and losers and not recognizing reality.
Other observations from my trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg:
1. Russians do what they are told. If the government says it's a problem, they
grumble but obey.
2. Everyone was masked all the time except when eating at restaurants including
the little town of Kimry where the MV Rossia was winter berthing.
3. Vaccination rates aren't high -- about 40%, but I heard little about it there. Mu understanding is vaccines are not mandated.
4. I was totally free to roam around in both cities; I suppose not FSB HQ, or some
DOD type facilities but I did not see any of those.
5. Russia is not under lock down or quarantine restrictions.
6. St. Petersburg Stake’s ward meetings are all on Zoom, but it has submitted their
plans to go live, awaiting approval from Area Authorities.
7. What was the attitude of people toward Covid? They have other fish to fry.
Folks these are my frank observations. I felt very safe, at liberty to wander about,
enjoyed the great Russian and Georgian food. Had some spectacular Beef Stroganoff.
So again I say emphatically -- YES -- it is safe to travel to Russia. Come on this trip. Our unique People-to-People program will be insightful.
See you aboard!
Heart of Russia Cruises LLC
By Mark J. Stoddard, Co-Founder, Heart of Russia Cruises
Bits & Bizarre Pieces of Russian History, Culture & Geography
Each month we'll give you a book we recommend reading before your trip. If you love history, Russia is ripe for discovering if you haven't already.
This month's book is "Russka" by Edward Rutherford. The summary below is from Bookrags.com This is a large book and will give you a great background for the places we'll visit on the cruise.
THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
Spanning 1800 years of Russia's history, people, poltics, and culture, Edward Rurtherford, author of the phenomenally successful SARUM: THE NOVEL OF ENGLAND, tells a grand saga that is as multifaceted as Russia itself. Here is a story of a great civilization made human, played out through the lives of four families who are divided by ethnicity but united in shaping the destiny of their land.
"Rutherford's RUSSKA succeeds....[He] can take his place among an elite cadre of chroniclers such as Harold Lamb, Maurice Hindus and Henri Troyat."
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Russka: The Novel of Russia Summary & Study Guide Description
Russka, by Edward Rutherford, is the story of eighteen hundred years of Russian history. He includes the story of the history of the people and the country along with the politics and culture. The focal point of the book is the small village of Russka, located in the Russian heartland, from its beginnings until modern times. Most of the main characters, such as the Bobrovs, Suvorins, Karpenkos and Romanovs trace their roots to the small village, even though they move around the country.
The book begins in primitive times with a small group of families living in huts. There are different tribes, with the Alans being the greatest of the warriors. These people become the leaders of Kiev and other cities. Their structure of government is based on succession passing from brother to brother and not from father to son. The result is a great deal of instability. The fact that there is no one strong central authority makes the country of Ru's susceptible to takeover from the outside. This is how the Mongols or Tatars are able to conquer the country in these years in the thirteenth century. The peasant woman Yanka flees from the Tatars. She is the ancestor of the Ivanovs.
By the middle of the sixteenth century, Moscow has become a strong city with a tsar that has conquered other cities. Tsar Ivan is fighting to throw out the Tatars, but the Tatars have a working relationship with the landowners and merchants, which make this a difficult task. Boris Bobrov, a young landowner, is a strong supporter of the tsar. The Cossacks are instrumental in the fight against the Tatars. One of them is Andrei Karpenko.
As the village of Russka develops over the years, an industrious serf, named Ivan Suvorin, begins a cloth business in the nineteenth century. The Suvorins have problems with the landowning Bobrovs over the years, but their cloth factories are very successful. The Suvorins finally gain their freedom from the Bobrovs and become very wealthy
industrialists. At the time of the revolution, Vladimir is one of the wealthiest men in Russia.
Throughout Russian history, the peasants were an oppressed class. Even though the laws changed regarding their status, they remain oppressed, yet when the revolution begins, it takes place in St. Petersburg and Moscow and not in the countryside.
Russka looks at the development of the country and the interaction of these four families and how they cope with the various situations. There are conspiracies, murders and romance over the years. During the revolution, Nicolai Bobrov is a member of the duma. When he becomes suspect by the Cheka, Vladimir Suvorin, who loses all of his wealth, helps him escape to Finland and soon follows. After the fall of the Soviet regime, two men meet at a trade fair. When Paul Bobrov travels to Moscow, he and Sergei Romanov visit the village of Russka.
The reader will enjoy this lengthy book. It is written in a style that results in quick and easy reading and will hold the reader's interest.
Watch "The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev full interview - BBC News" on YouTubehttps://youtu.be/qYVsKoQXATY
Mikail Gorbachev has been scheduled to appear on our ship on the August 20 sailing for an hour interview which all passengers will be able to attend. Also on that cruise will be his interpreter, Pavel Palazhenko, Gorbachev's confident, translator and adviser. He was there for the meetings between Gorbachev and Reagan and will give us some wonderful insights as well.
By Mark J. Stoddard, Co-Founder, Heart of Russia Cruises
1. Russia has 9 time zones, two more time zones than the USA...sort of. The USA has 7 from Maine to Alaska/Hawaii, but technically, the USA has one for Samoa and one for Chamorro, wherever that is.
2. Before the “putsch” or overthrow of communism in August, 1991, it was illegal to advertise, or to run a private business although thousands of businesses had already been started…quietly but profitably.
3. Viktor Kikol, one of the leaders tasked with writing the new Russian Constitution in 1991, freely admitted his template was from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
4. The USA and Russia are only 2.4 miles apart but 21 hours different. Check out the islands between Alaska and Siberia.
5. Tsarina Katherine’s closest adviser, Grigori Potemkin, wanted to make sure her expedition from the cold winters of St. Petersburg to the warm waters of the Black Sea and Yalta was filled with local peasant’s admiration for his tsarina. So, he built a series of phony village fronts, staffed with local peasants waving to the Tsarina as she passed by. From that came the name Potemkin Village. Sort of like Hollywood, “behind all that phony tinsel and glass, is REAL tinsel and glass.”
6. A serf in Russia was a slave in every sense of the word. When Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, that gave Tsar Alexander II his template for freeing serfs in 1861. It may have also gotten him murdered as well. Several attempts were made despite his liberalizing laws toward the “people’s will.” When the would-be assassins failed, Alexander II brutally repressed them, stoking more attempts that ended in a bomb killing him. The ornate cathedral, Savior on the Spilled Blood is one of the most spectacular interiors in the world and was built on the spot in St. Petersburg when the tsar was killed.
7. In the early 1990’s many cities the Soviet’s renamed to honor modern communists were changed back to their names under the Tsars including St. Petersburg to Leningrad to St. Petersburg, Volgograd to Stalingrad to Volgograd and Nishni Novgorod to Gorki to Nishni Novgorod.
8. To keep Soviet soldiers from surrendering, Koba (Josef Stalin), issued a decree at the Battle of Stalingrad that any Soviet soldier captured by the Nazis would be executed upon his return.
9. The Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War produced casualties of about 20,000 per day, for 3 days. Likewise, the Battle of Stalingrad produced casualties of about 20,000 per day but lasted 180 days.
10. Between World War I, Stalin’s purges, and World War II, the USSR lost 80+% of its 18-39 year old men. After WWII, Stalin issued a decree to the women of the USSR that it was their duty and honor to have many children. Baby boys were coveted. This may have led a decade or two later to a skyrocketing divorce rate. The boys were pampered by their mothers and the brides were in no mood to pamper them after marriage.
11. In September, 1990, the only radio station in the entire Soviet Union was TASS. In spite of the USSR’s official belief system being atheism and dialectic materialism, when I was interviewed on a nation-wide broadcast about business, their first question was, “How does your belief in God affect your businesses?” Their next question was, “How does your belief in God affect your family?”
1. In 1991, before the USSR collapsed, there were only 4 long distance phone lines in and out of Moscow. To place a call to the USA one had to make an appointment, in person at the telephone exchange to make a call to the USA. It was always at least the next day. You showed up 1 hour early and sometimes waited 3 hours before your name was called.
2. In 1991 copy machines required a government license to own.
3. In 1991 city maps of Moscow and St. Petersburg were illegal to own. Smaller towns rarely had maps.
4. During the Soviet era, doctors, street sweepers, teachers, factory workers and nearly everyone else were paid the same amount – about $200 a month. Officially there was no “gender gap” because everyone got paid equally poor. However, few women were ever found in upper leadership positions in government or business.
5. During the Soviet era, the KGB and the nomenclature and apparatchik (those who ran everything), had their own higher-grade hotels and restaurants, hospitals, doctors, vacation spots and cars. Reminiscent of Orwell’s The Animal Farm where “all pigs are created equal, some more equal than others.”
6. During the Soviet era, people would stand in line at stores like shoe stores and when they entered, they bought whatever was available – often a 1,000 sq. ft. shop may have had only 20 pairs of shoes. Armed with shoes that didn’t fit, the citizen used his new shoes to barter for goods other Soviets found in other stores. Note from Boris Leostrin, our Russian partner: “So true. I remember that. My mom always bought us clothing of a bigger size because ‘if you don’t buy it now, who knows if you’ll have a second chance’ and so that when we grow up we would have something to wear.”
7. One of the first legal private businesses in 1990 was a life insurance company that sold life insurance the same way Amway sells soap. Multi-level, meeting in people’s homes. Advertising still wasn’t legal then.
8. Lake Baikal, about the same length as Lake Superior, has more freshwater than all of the Great Lakes combined.
9. In winter, Lake Baikal usually is totally frozen over with three feet or more of ice. The Trans-Siberian railroad is rerouted in the winter to run rail tracks quickly installed ON the lake. Truck races are often held. It all breaks apart in one short explosion one day in spring.
10. The Lena River is the eighth longest river in the world, about 2,700 miles long starting near Lake Baikal and emptying into the Arctic Ocean near Tiksi.
11. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s participation in assassination attempts on the tsar earned him banishment to the banks of the Lena River. He loved it so much there that he changed his name in honor of the Lena River – Vladimir Lenin. Rumor has it he might have had quite a bit of royalty in his DNA adding spite to his banishment.