Trust and Distrust in Russia: The Heritage of the October Revolution Re-examined
Generalised social trust is enormously important for the peace and prosperity of any society. In late tsarist Russia it was already under serious strain, as the 1905 revolution revealed. In 1917-21 the new Soviet government deliberately destroyed or fatally weakened most of the symbolic systems and institutions which had sustained at least a limited measure of social trust earlier: the Orthodox Church; the universities and the academy; the public media; property; the rule of law; the family; banking, money and most of internal trade. The result was a society of virulent generalised distrust, which reached its climax in the Stalinist terror of 1936-8. In this atmosphere, the security police had unlimited licence to act on any suspicion to arrest, imprison, enslave and/or murder any citizen. In the long run such a society proved intolerable even to its rulers, and both Stalin and subsequent Soviet leaders had to devise ways of keeping control without relying on undiscriminating terror. Few societies have experienced such a total breakdown of social trust, but we should not assume that any society is totally immune to it.
This is a free, open lecture organised by Sussex university – everyone is welcome, but numbers are limited.