International Affairs
4 May 2018 , Volume 94, Number 3

Authors

Geoffrey Hosking

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Zones of violence are spaces in which violence against other human beings becomes normal; they are characterized as places where primal trust in institutions and rules has been lost. While Jörg Baberowski initially used this concept to refer to Nazi Germany, I assert that its lessons are just as applicable to the Soviet Union, especially during the 1930s. In order to demonstrate this, I highlight how, already in tsarist Russia, institutions and communities had been shaken up by the processes of industrialization and urbanization. Moreover, when the Bolsheviks came to power they aimed to further weaken the symbolic systems and destroy the institutions—thus the existing bulwarks of habitual trust were enfeebled or eliminated. Universal distrust was now the modus operandi of the entire system, which simultaneously demanded total trust in the Party. This demonstrates why Soviet society developed the way that it did. The use of violence as a political tool became simply routine: shoot first, ask questions afterwards. In this milieu everyone became fearful and distrustful—a hyper-vigilant, paranoid outlook burnt itself into the whole structure of society, lasting right to the end of the Soviet Union and even after.

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