Travel by public transport
It is important to note that the services of public transport were well-developed in the USSR as well as they are in Russia today. Actually, this means that people can get anywhere by public transport: either it is an office or a country cottage.
In the USSR, the travel cost was fixed and made a small share of a salary.
In Russia, many people try to find a job near their home since the salary does not allow them to use public transport very often.
“Water fights”, 2012. Фотобанк Лори
Durable goods availability
If the situation with accommodations and salaries for ordinary Russians is rather unfortunate, the level of durable goods availability has substantially improved.
First of all, it is referred to consumer devices such as TVs, refrigerators, washing machines. The range of household goods has significantly increased and the variety is as good as in other countries.
Certainly the durable goods in modern Russia are not evenly distributed. For example, one family can have three or five TVs in one apartment, and another family has only one twenty-year old device.
Now people buy more cars than in the USSR. Back then, people had to get in the line for the car at first, they couldn’t buy a car at once.
The only problem now is that not all people can afford to buy a cheap car even on credit.
Judging by the number of sold cars, the auto market in Russia is one of the largest in Europe.
However, as stated above, the development of public transport, the emergence of taxi providers and goods transportation services turn a car ownership rather into a matter of prestige or an inconvenient burden, than into necessity.
At a river pier, Moscow, 1978. Photo by Vladimir Kryukov
In general, the worthy standard of living was not a problem in the USSR. One has only to think about films, fully reflecting the spirit of that period. We see that people’s everyday thoughts were all about holiday adventures, making acquaintances and love relations in the family, creation of something new, co-workers’ problems and so on.
In the USSR, some of the goods were in “deficiency”, for instance, such goods as smoked sausage, especially from abroad, a good suit or dress or designer shoes. The car was a sign not even of luxury but also of special communications. It was not easy to get a “coupon” for a car. Nevertheless, people had money. Surely, by a long stretch of imagination all deficient goods could be bought but off-the-record and of higher price. This action stipulated a criminal penalty.
Due to the deficiency in terms of modern money some goods like oranges and melons were enormously expensive. TVs and cars were among such goods too. However, the same situation was all around the world – certain goods were much more expensive in terms of modern money than they are today, in the globalization era.
Thus, usual goods were not in deficiency at all. But the Soviet people did not want usual things; they wanted to differ from others…
It is of interest to trace how the values have changed. Today Russians, as well as Americans, do not want to differ, they want to “correspond” to a certain consumption level – to have a car that is not worse than others have, to spend holidays like others, to have a house or apartment not smaller than others have and so on.
Naturally, in the USSR it was impossible to add chemical additives to foodstuff: people cared about health but not of profit. Product ingredients were seriously regulated.
The photos of empty shelves in the shops, which are widely spread all over the world as a symbol of the USSR, are not true. Empty shelves appeared only in the time of the USSR break up during Gorbachev’s presidency. There is no need to think that such state of things was all the time. One has only to think about “Life” magazine photos of that time: Soviet people were happy, self-assured in life and in peace. Later, propaganda in many countries changed the ordinary people’s attitude towards the Soviet life.
Now the variety of goods and services is almost infinite. However, the ratio “price/quality” still lags from many developing and developed countries.
A great virtue of modern Russia is that there is a large amount of natural foodstuff (without any additives) at a rather low price.
Pioneer camp, 1978. Photo by Vladimir Kryukov
In the time of the USSR people were provided with a huge number of free services. There was a lot of hobby groups for children, including music schools. The development of talented children was stimulated. For example, children musical bands and their tours over the USSR and other countries were financed by the state. Citizens could free of charge or nearly free (negligible cost in comparison with a living wage) visit sports venues, swimming pools, theatres, museums and exhibitions. Public lectures with the most famous people were held in big cities. And all these things were for free! Many factories owned different objects of social infrastructure, such as health resorts, sanatoriums, holiday camps for workers children, including constructions of such objects in resort regions of the USSR, for instance, in the Crimea or Krasnodar Territory. Employees of factories had no problem of getting tickets there. Now in Russia there are practically no free services for citizens. Only certain categories of citizens like officials or important state companies’ employees (from oil and gas sphere) can have access to them.