What is freedom of choice?

pepsi-90-classic-coca-cola-or-pepsi-48366738During Perestroika, when there was a massive attack on the minds of Soviet people, the idea of having the right to choose was one of the dominant ones. The arguments of liberals and democrats, who were advocating free market economy, were based exactly on that – on people having the right to choose, something that a person living in a socialist society amidst government planning doesn’t have, they said, because someone from above decides everything and that means your will is being ignored and you don’t have any freedom of choice. At first glance all this demagogy sounds nice and pretty, that’s why many people in the USSR actually bought it. But, in reality, it turned out that behind all those seemingly righteous words there was very rotten content. Now, having lived under capitalism for 30 years, we understand that very well.

So where is the flaw in those arguments and how exactly were the Soviet people fooled back in Perestroika?

Choice is a good thing, but only if it’s really a choice, that is a personal decision based on your own free will, after you personally reflected upon and assessed all the pros and cons, when this decision is not imposed on you by skilled manipulators, who have in fact decided everything for you a long time ago, when the choice is not simply an imitation of choice.

That’s the problem with the capitalist society, it cannot offer any choice. And all those talks about the freedom of choice, delivered by the advocators of this kind of society, in reality imply the freedom of choice for the privileged few – for a tiny handful of people, while the rest are left to be satisfied with the imitation of choice, that is, complete absence of any choice, especially the kind of choice we had under socialism.

In 90% of cases, the decision to choose this or that product or service a capitalist society is imposed on you from above, without you even realizing it. Bourgeois marketers, advertisers, psychologists, PR specialists, journalists, intellectuals, analysts and sociologists – all of them work together under the guidance of bourgeois ideologists whose task is to shape the tastes and needs of people in a capitalist society in such a way as to ensure the greatest possible profit for large capital, around the interests of which this society is centered. Roughly speaking, modern capitalism does not so much satisfy the actual needs of people as it just creates new needs, in fact imposing on you the desires that would not exist on their own, and without which one can easily make do.

The phenomenon known as “fashion” is used for this most actively. What is important is not the quality of the product, not its consumer properties and not the ability of this product to meet certain needs of a person, but the fact that this product is “in fashion”, that it is “prestigious” to possess it. The capitalist society, through the media, actively encourages those who want to have this product, while ridiculing and despising those who refuse to do so. This phenomenon is based on one of the most important biological instincts which allowed the human species to survive successfully in the wild for many thousands of years. It’s the need “to be like everybody else”. The bourgeois ideologists very effectively use this desire not to stand out like a sore thumb to extract maximum profits for the ruling class of private capitalist owners.

So, in reality, there is no freedom of choice in a capitalist society, meaning you don’t make choices based on your own personal will without prior application of certain influences affecting your decision. Advertising has transfused the whole world of capitalism so much, all spheres of its existence, that it is simply impossible to find in it a place free from its stupefying influence.

But even if a person suddenly manages to somehow avoid the influence of manipulators on their consciousness, under capitalism they are still deprived of the right to choose anything freely, because under capitalism there is no choice, only imitation.

Let’s look at the following example which has become a classic and which the former Soviet citizens know very well, because liberals and democrats have been banging on about it non-stop, repeating it millions and hundreds of millions of times over the past three decades. Surprisingly, some of them still use this “argument” in ideological discussions, although generally in case of normal people it causes nothing but laughter or nausea. We are talking about sausage in the USSR, the choice of which was allegedly extremely narrow.

Yes, on one hand, the Soviet food industry didn’t appear to produce as many types of sausage as we see now on the shelves of Russian stores, although the assortment of all the varieties of Soviet sausage, if we count all of them throughout the country, was probably in the hundreds, if not thousands. Yes, not every one of these hundreds or thousands of kinds of various sausages was offered in the stores of the country at all times. But even today the entire assortment of sausages which is produced, say, in Kaliningrad, is unlikely to ever appear in the stores of cities like Kurgan or Magadan.

On the other hand, all Soviet sausages (and all Soviet food in general) had a State Quality Mark, SSSR (regulating the amount and quality of the ingredients) and consisted entirely of natural products, and the share of meat itself was extremely high – 90-95%, which for the citizens of capitalist Russia, as well as for the citizens of all other capitalist countries, who are not familiar with the realities of the USSR, will likely present a surprising discovery – after all, in today’s sausages, produced everywhere in capitalist countries, there is practically no meat! The best sausages in today’s Russia contain 10-14% of meat!

For instance, here is the ingredient composition of one of the most popular sausages in the USSR – Doctor’s sausage (Doktorskaya kielbasa):

GOST 23670-79 (at the rate of 100 kg): veined beef of the highest grade – 25 kg; veined fatty pork – 70 kg; chicken eggs or medley – 3 kg; cow milk powder whole or skim – 2 kg; spices and other materials (per 100 kg of unsalted raw materials): table salt – 2090 g; sodium nitrite – 7,1 g; sugar or glucose – 200 g; nutmeg or cardamom – 50 g.

The SSSR was the regulation that no enterprise in the country could violate.

This means that no matter where the Soviet meat processing plant was located, if it produced “Doctor’s sausage”, SSSR 23670-79, the latter always had the same composition and taste. Any violation of this standard was absolutely ruled out – the managers of the enterprises were punished for it very strictly, including criminal prosecution, and the workers at the plant would have never allowed it – no one would have risked to poison their relatives, friends and neighbors then, the conscience of a Soviet citizen would not have allowed it! After all, the main goal of all Soviet enterprises was not profit, as it is now, but the quantity of the product manufactured according to the established standards, satisfying the needs of the Soviet population.

So in Soviet stores you could eat any of the 5 to 10 types of sausage being sold without the risk of getting food poisoning. Same goes for all other food products.

And now let us wonder if we have the same opportunity in today’s Russia, that is, having sausage of that kind of quality? Let’s forget about the price for a minute, we will pretend that we have the money to buy that kind of sausage (which clearly isn’t cheap). We will discover that, as far as buying something of really high quality is concerned, money also means little in today’s Russia. Because sausage like that is just not produced nowadays! By no one, nowhere and at no price!

A contemporary Russian citizen has the opportunity to choose from 30 varieties of sausage (the assortment of the average store), but none of these sausages can be actually eaten – they don’t contain the required amount of natural products!

Here is an approximate composition of one of the modern kinds of sausage, which is also proudly called “Doctor’s sausage” (manufactured by “Dymovskoe sausage production”, Ltd, in accordance with TC (technical conditions) regulations): pork, beef, water, protein stabilizer, milk powder, carbohydrates, seaweed extracts, complex food additive (acidity regulator, flavor enhancer: sodium gluconate, grape sugar, antioxidant ascorbic acid, sugar, spice extracts), animal protein, dye natural carmine, color fixer – sodium nitrite. Naturally, the percentage or share of this or that ingredient is not indicated. In other words, they add the ingredients in whatever ratio they like. That’s why they changed SSSR to TC, in order to be able to do that.

So let’s try to answer the following question – do we really have a choice if we want to buy a decent sausage? Again, we’re not taking the price into account. It appears that we don’t any choice – everything was decided for us by the manufacturers, the businessmen, they have determined what will fill the food shelves of Russian groceries and what we will buy and eat for us.

Let’s forget about food and have a look at the situation with clothes, maybe there’s a choice there? No, there isn’t, no one allows us to choose anything there either. Again, everything is decided for us by the merchant and manufacturer, who is not at all interested in what clothes we’d like to wear; again, they are guided only by their desire for profit, not by our sense of comfort and our best interest.

Just a couple of examples: for ten years now pants with a low waist have been in fashion, however, they are not exactly comfortable to wear in cold Russian weather. And the body shape required for wearing such pants has to be perfect, without excess fat and love handles, in case you decide to maintain at least the minimum amount of taste in clothing. But trying to buy a pair of pants in a different style, for example, normal waist pants, would not be an easy task. The amount of running from one store to another, despite the abundance of goods in them, would be huge and there would be no guarantee you’d find what you needed in the end.

Another example is the choice of shoes: it’s almost impossible to buy quality shoes if you have non-standard feet, for example, with a high arch or increased fullness. The price doesn’t play any role here either – there are simply no such shoes under any price. You can choose either to wear no shoes or wear uncomfortable ones.

Overall, the situation is the same for almost all types of goods, whatever product you look at. The assortment is large, but it turns out that there is nothing specifically for you. We are all different: some people are tall, while others are short, some people are thin, others are not, some people have wide hips and others have narrow hips, etc. etc.

As far as the quality of the clothes and shoes produced nowadays is concerned, it’s like with sausage, they are not made from natural materials. And if they are, the price goes off the chart. An ordinary person, and that’s the majority of the population, simply cannot afford products made of natural components. They don’t exist for ordinary people. After all, the real choice means actually being able to buy the product, not looking at it in the shop window.

But what if things are like that only in case of consumer goods, while in all other areas of human existence under capitalism everything is okay?

Let’s see how it is, for example, with the mass media. There are many TV channels now, but what are they showing? Just pure nonsense, basically – violence, soft porn and lame humor. And all of that is heavily seasoned with endless advertising. There is so much advertising now on television that it’s impossible to watch a movie in peace – the commercial breaks take up more time than the movie itself. Needless to say, it’s incredibly annoying for the viewer (and we’re talking about millions of people here!). Constantly feeling irritated can cause many disorders, including cardiovascular diseases, which are the main cause of death in all capitalist countries.

Do we have a choice to watch TV without advertising? Well, yes, we do have a couple of commercial-free channels and rather expensive satellite television. But they still show the same low-quality crap, just like the rest. We can’t do anything about all those crappy movies, a different kind of television – smart, intellectual, joyful, inspiring, reassuring and giving hope – simply never existed in the capitalist society.

And the last example are political parties. Do we have an opportunity in Russia to choose a party which won’t think about the profit for officials and oligarchs as its main goal, but about ordinary people?

We do not have such a choice. The ruling class chooses those political parties on its own, it chooses who is allowed to participate in politics and who is not and out of whom the state authorities are formed. Among these political parties, there is not a single party that is not bourgeois. Even the notorious Russian Communist Party, despite the word “communist” in its name, has long ago turned into a typical party of small and middle bourgeoisie. There is nothing on the Russian political arena that even vaguely resembles a workers’ party. The only thing we can do is to choose capitalism every 4 years.

Is that a choice? Is that the very choice the liberals and democrats talked about back in Perestroika? And how is it better from what we had in the USSR? If truth be told, the choice we had in the USSR was much wider and way more real.

Yes, in the USSR we wouldn’t be able to choose the capitalist system at the next elections. Who in their right mind would do something like that, anyway? On the other hand, an ordinary honest and decent person – a worker from a factory or a collective farmer – could easily become a top level state official, a deputy in the city council, etc. They could personally write laws and control the implementation of those laws. And the latter would all be aimed at the benefit of all citizens of the USSR, not just a bunch of greedy oligarchs, as it is now in Russia.

And what about these days – can an ordinary person, a laborer, become at least a deputy? Of course not. To do this, they must first become oligarchs. The possibility of this scenario is not even worth mentioning.

It appears that the freedom of choice is not about a large assortment of goods in stores, it’s not about multiple TV channels and it’s not about different political parties, as we were told during the Perestroika and continue to be told now by the liberals and other defenders of capitalism; it’s about the opportunity to fulfill the real human needs in all areas of life.

This is exactly the sort of task which socialism is designed to perform and successfully does so! Don’t believe it? Then look up what the basic law of socialism is. For instance, in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia it says:

“The basic economic law of socialism, the law of the socialist economic movement, is to ensure the welfare and comprehensive development of all members of the society by meeting their ever-growing material and spiritual needs to the fullest extent possible, achieving that through the continuous growth and improvement of the socialist production on the basis of scientific and technological progress”.

For more detailed information you can watch the following video that was created back in the USSR: “The Basic Economic Law of Socialism”. Duration 19 min. 45 sec.

G. Gagina

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