I have found an evidence of elite corruption:

Finally, the project for socialism as the promise of plenty generated by the planning mechanisms of the all-people’s state terminated in elite corruption and chronic shortages of consumer goods (Harding, 2003) (The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought).

(emphasis mine)

However, I have been trying to find a statement, a statistic, or an evidence of any sort that shows that there was corruption at the grassroot-level of the state as well. Do you know of any?

  • 10
    It seems trivial to suppose that corruption exists at the grass roots level of any system. I'm not sure what it is that you're expecting to find?
    – Jontia
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 9:44
  • 13
    Bribery seems to have been widespread for trivial things e.g. skipping waiting lists, avoiding traffic tickets nytimes.com/1978/05/07/archives/… What kind of evidence are you looking for because this was trivial to Google?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 11:23
  • 2
    @StuartF A quote from a book, or an article, or a reliable youtube video, anything you can give me as some sort of evidence. Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 12:16
  • 7
    "grassroot-level of the state" is an oxymoron. The state is the power structure above the population. Grassroot-level implies people in the absence of state influence.
    – blud
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 17:25
  • 3
    Wouldn't the lowest worker stealing from the till count? Or any kind of dishonesty? I also don't understand the question.
    – user2578
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 20:19

6 Answers 6


I don't know how to find statistics or studies on the case, but as a native I can give my memories of communist Poland. Grassroot-level corruption was ubiquitous. Introduction of ration stamps in 1976 did not stop shortages in shops. Salespersons could decide if they sell all that was available in the shop as the queue goes or hide some goods "under the counter" to keep them for ones they choose (of course not for free). The same refers to services (like fixing things). Your car is broken? Well, we are full of work, we can help you next month (unless you give something to proper person, then we'll do it immediately). Ration stamps for gasoline and alcohol were alternate currency.

As for evidence, I can give only one cartoon for children, from 1980. Note the relations between customer and contractors. And how cement is obtained - the protagonist goes to some construction side, talks with a worker, gives some bones (dogs' currency) and takes some bags.

  • 30
    Ref. to "Grassroot-level corruption was ubiquitous" - I can confirm this about Romania too, before 1989. I assume that this was similar for multiple ex-communist countries that were "behind the Iron Curtain".
    – Alexei
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 12:29
  • Amen. Same here for former USSR as confirmation. Not going to bother with citations, unless someone asks a question on main site
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 0:46

One form of it is called Blat (Блат)

This is when you have operational control of some communal resource and give people preferential access for a fee, often in a form of barter.

But there was also actual monetary corruption like road police extracting frivolous fines from drivers or shopkeepers quoting more money than actual price of the merchandise in question.

Another one, as @user4012 noted, was the bubble (пузырь) phenomenon. Imagine a socialist electrician or plumber who is in charge of your high rise. He has zero actual interest in keeping things tidy, since his well-being does not depend on it: his employment is guaranteed by the state and the replacement is hard to find anyway. The only way to make sure he comes and fixes stuff in your apartment is to promise a "bubble" (bottle) of vodka to him.

The upside was that they had spare stuff, so if you've ruined your toilet bowl or kitchen faucet, with one or two additional bubbles they'll get you a replacement.

  • 4
    The Wikipedia explanation is a bit off. The equivalent English phrase to "Блат" would be "who you know" (as in "it's not what you know, it's who you know").
    – wrod
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 0:45
  • 1
    Yep, reading Russian article via automatic translation is advised.
    – alamar
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 10:18

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich reportedly started doing business while serving at the soviet army, by selling officers stolen gasoline. This article in the Pravda has one of his former mates explaining how it worked:

Roma came up with a scheme: he managed to talk the drivers into siphoning some fuel off their vehicles. The containers full of fuel would be dropped in a location that has been agreed in advance. [...] A liter of gasoline cost 40 kopeks at the time. Roma was selling the stolen gas to the officers of our unit, charging them 20 kopeks a liter. And his customers knew well where that fuel was coming from. But they didn’t report the case to anybody. Every party involved was quite happy: the officers could buy gas for their cars at half price while the soldiers could pocket some extra money for their own needs.

  • 3
    Yes. "Grass roots" being a black market down to the soldier level.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 21:15

As others noted, examples of grassroots level corruption can be found by literally asking any random person (and there's plenty of us even on SE) who grew up or lived in a socialist country. As random examples from my own personal history growing up in fUSSR:

  • You were expected to bring presents (alcohol, chocolates, gifts) to doctors. If you didn't you often got worse treatment.

  • Employees were given preferential treatment in general. For example, employees at "elite" hospitals could bring their family members there for treatment - I have personal example as my grandmother upon retirement took a job at an "elite" hospital nearby specifically to be able to provide treatment for me that wasn't available at a normal hospital for peons like our family.

  • There are numerous reports of militia (police) expecting sexual favors from sex workers in return for not bothering them. Just in case you thought this is a "capitalist failing".

  • Customs were taking bribes for letting stuff into the country.

  • Less "personal gain" corruption, but there is a well known story that Vladimir Vysotsky was able to obtain mind altering substances (which ended up killing him), from abroad, in a way that was rife with corruption, and wasn't prosecuted for doing drugs because LEOs were his fans.

  • Generally, any service was expected to be greased with a "gift" - often alcohol. Want a sanitation problem resolved? Gift to approrpiate "servant of the state" to take priority (or even be considered). Want to get into a university? Be a part of party elite (who had their own personal quotas) OR grease the hands of acceptance committee members.

  • My family had to pay off a state employee to be placed in a waiting list for an aparnment. Or to get permission to get some land at nearby argifarm.

  • It was customary to give presents to the doctors after treatment (when you were discharged from hospital) so the relation between presents and treatment was indirect. The "bubble" phenomenon deserves a separate entry, really.
    – alamar
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 9:57
  • I think there may have been substantial differences between socialist countries re. what forms of low-level corruption were prevalent. E.g. I heard lots of stories about favoritism in East Germany, but none about bribery. Obviously this is a bit of a slippery slope and I was still quite young at the time, but still..
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 11:53
  • Also giving gifts to doctors and nurses is definitely still a thing in Germany, and not just in the East. But usually after treatment or towards the end of treatment, as described by @alamar. As is having easier (informal) access to doctors for family members of staff. The difference is that there are no special hospitals for the elite anymore.
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 12:00
  • I don't know much about GDR but I had impression it was a lot more "westernized" than "socialismized" so may have been a natural outlier.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 20:01

Three books as cites.

Wild Swans

Life and Death in Shanghai

Deng Xiaoping and the Cultural Revolution

Each of these has subtantial description of the Cultural Revolution in China. This is roughly the period from 1966 to 1976.

Corruption extended pretty much from top to bottom of the society.

These are some examples from these books.

  • Roving gangs of young persons wandered around cities and ravaged the houses of those with any possessions. The LADIS author's house was stripped of of art, clothing, furniture, etc. When challenged on the legality and constitutionality of such actions, the gang explicitly responded that they did not recognize such outmoded concepts.
  • The LADIS author attempted to obtain ordinary bricks to put a wall in a house. She was unable to obtain such through normal means, but obtained them quite quickly and cheaply through the black market. Many goods and services were unavailable through normal means, but readily even cheaply available through "the back door," the term for the black market. This extended to food, clothing, transportation, medical care, books and writing materials, etc.
  • There were frequent events called Struggle Sessions. These were held both by officials of the CCP, and by local self-appointed officials attempting to curry favor with the CCP. Entire neighborhoods or the entire work force of a factory would routinely participate. A main purpose of such meetings was to demonstrate that nobody could resist when the mob came for you.
  • There were quotas for a variety of things from farm or factory production to arrests and denunciation of "enemies of the people." Local councils routinely lied about these quotas. This allowed them to (possibly temporarily) avoid punishment or even obtain rewards. Entire villages would collaborate to perpetrate the hoax.
  • Positions of power or places in schools were obtained through connections rather than through merit or election. This extended from high political office to mundane positions such as doorman at a mid-level motel, and from the highest professorship to a place in a kindergarten class.
  • Every aspect of the economy was run by and on the basis of local corruption feeding mid-level corruption which fed high-level corruption. Bribes, connections, and threats were the means to obtain wealth, not productivity or trade. You got an apartment by bribing the CCP member who had taken over the building. You got a job by getting on good terms with the CCP member down the hall in your apartment building. You got tickets to ride the bus from the CCP member at the factory where you worked. You got extra ration tickets by a favor to the CCP member who hung around at the end of your street. In each case there was an official method to obtain these items, but the official method did not work at any price. The local CCP member got and kept his unofficial spot from a mid-level member, also not official. And he got his position from a higher level member.

The first thing I found on Google for East Germany is this. It deals with multiple cashiers at the East German State Bank allowing Soviet citizens (soldiers, tourists, railway personnel) to change more Rubles than allowed into East German Mark and getting an 8% share.

This went on over several years, but apparently did not lead to legal proceedings in order to avoid negative publicity. Especially since certain Soviet military members stationed in East Germany were involved.

As the other answers point out, corruption was common in socialist countries. If you search the web in the relevant languages, you will probably find lots and lots of concrete examples.

Probably some of the reasons for this prevalence of corruption had to do with the inefficienciey of a central planning economy. E.g. if certain important goods are hard to get for private citizens, but easy to obtain for state-owned enterprises, such goods will often inofficially turn from enterprise property into private property. Often this was done out of sheer necessity. But if you do this once out of necessity, the next time you might do something similar for convenience, and a third time for financial gain.

  • 1
    And as you see the apparent root is artificial scarcity. Soviet citizens could not even buy East German Marks freely, while in East Germany.
    – alamar
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 10:30
  • @alamar "Artificial scarcity" ??? Was there anything that can remotely be called "artificial" in the total scarcity we lived in?
    – fraxinus
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 12:09
  • Scarcity is not a natural state of things. Gold is scarce. East German marks and stuff you buy with them are not scarce.
    – alamar
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 13:50
  • @alamar For a fiat currency, "artificial scarcity" is a weird thing to say. For other things, like information, or (perhaps) water, it might not be.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 15:19
  • They were not expecting to get that currency for free, rather exchange other currency for it. There's no obvious reason why you can't trade an arbitrary amount of Soviet roubles to East German marks (perhaps up to 10,000 to weed out industrialized smuggling), since East Germany buys a lot of stuff with Soviet roubles, such as planes and oil. But the actual limit was two or three magnitudes smaller.
    – alamar
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 15:21

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