Very few people know this, but one of the most famous Soviet officials in Russian history originally learned of the many advantages of capitalism at a regular ol’ Randalls grocery store nearly three decades ago.
In 1989, then-Communist Party of the Soviet Union member Boris Yeltsin traveled to the United States to visit the Johnson Space Center in Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle.
While in Houston for the visit, he also stopped by a Randalls grocery store, where he “roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” according to an account of the visit written by then-Chronicle reporter Stefanie Asin. He further told his fellow comrades who followed him to America for the visit that if the lines of starving men, women and children in Russia were to see the conditions of America’s supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.”
In photos of the visit reportedly taken by the Chronicle, Yeltsin could be seen “marveling at the produce section, the fresh fish market, and the checkout counter. He looked especially excited about frozen pudding pops.”
“Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he himself reportedly said, referring to the then-president of the Soviet Union.
Even after Yeltsin left Houston, he still remained transfixed by the luxuries we as Americans have always considered normal.
“For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands,” wrote biography Leon Aron in his 2000 book, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life,” basing his account on quotes from Yeltsin’s associates, according to The New York Times.
“‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence. On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’”
Experiments in communism, to be precise.
Yeltsin reportedly admitted to these thoughts in his own autobiography, writing, “When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people.”
“That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”
Two years later, he reportedly left the Communist Party and “began making reforms to turn the economic tide in Russia,” according to the Chronicle.
That’s putting it lightly.