"Being from a Worker Family"

Previous: On Tolerance

You may have have heard that in the Ostblock if you were opposed to the regime your kids won't be admitted to the college.

But how exactly was that accomplished?

Punishing kids for ideological sins of their parents was too nasty, even in the real socialism, to be an official policy. In fact, real socialism tried to present itself as a better, more just, alternative to capitalism. So how could they practice collective punishment, which is, legally, a war crime?

Well, at least in Czechoslovakia in 1980's kids applying to a college were classified either as "from a worker family" or "not from a worker family".

I am not sure how this thing originated. It could be a worthwhile topic for a historian. However, I imagine it must have been some kind of affirmative-action-style policy introduced early on, maybe during the Stalinist era, or maybe, if it originates in the USSR, even earlier. Kids from worker class have been truly disadvantaged in many obvious ways, so giving them preferential access to the college education would only be fair.

Anyway, there was a problem with the approach. If a member of politburo had a kid, guess what? Kid's dad was an administrator and thus the kid wasn't from a worker family. And the same thing applied to every single person in position of power. Apparatchiks would have been dumb if they hadn't found a loophole.

Enter "working intelligentsia". You see, you dad may be a big boss in the party and your mom a ballerina, but your parents were "working intelligentsia" and so it was all right to classify you as coming from a worker family.

This hack renders the entire mechanism ineffective. If everybody comes from a worker family nobody has to be treated preferentially.

If you were naive, you would say that that's the end of the story. But not so fast!

No instrument of power is ever left unused.

In this case, it became a powerful weapon against dissent. If your dad was a renegade professor who got demoted (as the stereotype goes) to a boilerman, he was not a worker. He was a parasite of the people, forced to do manual work to teach him better ways. And no, his kids would not be classified as being from a worker family.

And given that "not coming from a worker family" was now a code word for having a dissident in the family, admitting such a kid to college was an unwise thing to do.

My intention with this article was not to teach a moral lesson. Rather, I've realized that people from the west and even young people from the former Ostblock are often blind to these kinds of mechanics. Where a Eastern European goes "we fucking used to have this shit during communism" a person from the west tries to apply moral philosophy to find out whether the policy is fair or not. But it's not about morals. It's about social mechanics. If an instrument of power is left unguarded, not protected by checks and balances, it will be appropriated, repurposed and abused by the most reckless and selfish members of the society to further their own interests.

Martin S├║strik, August 20th, 2017

Previous: On Tolerance

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