So do you guys believe the USSR was really communist, or not? A lot of people don't, so I'm curious.
I'm speaking of the things the characters have actually said. I don't think any of them has implied that the food in Russia was bad or that the show is trying to imply that food in Russia was bad. I think it's been established that both of them made due on little in post-WWII Russian where I think supplies would have been limited. I don't think this is a communist issue. It's things that have been established on the show. Philip said "the food's good" about the US in a context that, imo, was part of Philip's point that America wasn't "so bad." So he was okay with the food. I don't think it was a dig at Russian food. Didn't we have a scene of a guy bringing foodstuffs to Elizabeth's house? MR also gave an interview where he talked about studying up what life would have been like at that time period in Russian and he also came away with the impression of supplies being limited.
I've read several comments from Soviet-era Russians who enjoy the show for how it gets a lot right, so I just don't think it's got a big problem with either not really understanding anything about Russia or Communism, or with playing out the superiority of Capitalism over Communism.
As for whether Russia was actually Communist I have never gotten the impression that it achieved the Communist ideal. If there was an elite, as you mentioned, that's a given. Whether or not there was a strict more money=more stuff situation, I think the actors and characters have established within this show's universe that both Philip and Elizabeth have access to more luxury and more comforts living as middle class Americans in the 80s than they did growing up as children in post-war Russia. The caviar they enjoyed was Russian, and presumably somebody in Russia got to eat it, yet they never had and Nina was getting it here to send back to the USSR to sell on the black market. I don't think the fact that Elizabeth didn't spit out the caviar in disgust implies that she was basically lying about saying she hadn't tried it. If she had tried it she apparently hadn't had the really good stuff.