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By Kole Omotoso
05 December 2021   |   2:42 am
The communist system of social and economic organisation collapsed in 1988/89. Theoretically, it was beautiful to behold on paper: to everyone, according to her need

One of The Seven Sisters’ buildings built by the Soviet Union. Photo: Lolade Nwanze

Soviet UnionThe communist system of social and economic organisation collapsed in 1988/89. Theoretically, it was beautiful to behold on paper: to everyone, according to her need, from everyone according to his ability. On the field, it did not work out that way.

I had been invited to the Soviet Union by the writers’ Union of the Soviet Union to visit the theatres in the cities and the towns between Murmansk in the Arctic Region and Tashkent in the Tropics of Uzbekistan. At the end of the journey, I was to write a book about my trip.

It was a dream come true. I love to travel. Here today and gone tomorrow. And I lived to write. Translate the experience into words for others to salivate. And the theatre had fascinated me from the time I could differentiate between reality and its representation.

I accepted the invitation and prepared for my journey of eight weeks. I was to travel by road, by train and by air. And I would be travelling through cold, cool and warm climates. I exhumed my student long johns and overcoats. Whatever else I needed I would purchase on the road.

Another preparation was background reading. I needed to read as much as I could find about the Soviet Union. The Socialist Workers and Farmers Party of Nigeria was my initial source of information. They came to speak to our Thinkers’ Group at school and they had a library of good and relevant books on the Soviet Union. I remember borrowing a biography of Stalin. You were allowed to borrow one book and when you returned it, you could borrow another. There were sellers of booklets, pamphlets and newspapers on and about the Soviet Union on the streets anywhere in Nigeria. I read books borrowed from friends who had studied in the country. I also read books written by those who had participated in the previous programmes. By the time I arrived in Moscow, on the first leg of my trip I was as well read as I could be.

I was met at the airport by Vladimir, a young out of college-twenty something years old. He was already overweight and self-indulgent. But he was to be my travel companion and but for once in Kiev in Ukraine, we never got into an argument.

We checked into my hotel and he promised to come for me in the evening for my first social gathering with the Moscow officials who will be my hosts while I was in their town.

Cities intrigue me. For a long time walking from street to street was the means of moving from one place to another. As the city expanded, bicycles and then cars came into being. My home town grew from provincial capital to state capital but the most sophisticated means of transport is taxis. Trains have one disadvantage: you never get to know the city because the city is way above you or way below you. To know a city, you must walk the streets well and soundly. A day or two after arriving in the city, we flew to Murmansk.

Because of the ease of train transport, it is impossible to see the cities. The cities that I remember were cities where I deliberately walked the streets to get to know the city. Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and Kiev and Kiev because of the argument I had with Vladimir there.

The other way of getting cities to imprint themselves in my mind are the bookshops. Usually, I try to find books about a particular town. Then, I wonder if they have books on Africa or by African authors. Then I look for books from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, most of these bookshops are set up to service the tourism industry, not people like me.

The theatre and its services industries are some of the signs of a city’s sophistication. In a country where each town or city has two or three theaters each the size of the national theatre in Nigeria speaks of such sophistication.

In each of these cities, there is always a museum dedicated to the history of the communist government in the city. I had not been paying attention to them. But in Kiev I paid attention and noticed that there was no photograph of Trotsky in the first government of the country. Jokingly, I said the revolution has matured enough to be able to tolerate the inclusion of Trotsky in a photograph of the government of Soviet Union. It was as if he was looking for a fight. He jumped on me and began to call me all possible names. All I could do was to keep quiet and let him shout until he had satisfied himself. When he had stopped, I said I had had enough and I was going home. I thought I knew enough about the origins of the communist government to know what happened in the early history of the party. He seemed to have changed his mind. He apologised and said he was sorry for calling me names. Finally, I also gave in and apologised for the jocular manner in which I spoke about the party. We continued the journey through to Leningrad and back to Moscow.

By 1989, the Soviet Union was no longer part of the world. My trip was in 1984. I was so sure that the United Soviet Socialist Republics had come to stay that I sent a card to a friend to the effect that I have seen the future and it is in the USSR!

Was it political immaturity that blinded me? Was it political blindness that convinced me that made me believe what I was seeing? The theory of communism and its historic struggle that ended in its victory over Russia made me feel that it had come to last forever.

Nothing was going to last forever, not any form of government. Human beings are forever changing their minds and rethinking their circumstances. And in the rethinking new ways of doing things, new methods of working out solutions to old problems are found and the World would be at peace.