Intimidation and the Symbolic Uses of Terror in the USSR

Donna Bahry, Brian D. Silver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Theories of regime-society relations in Communist states stress the central role of coercion in maintaining political control. Based on a survey of Soviet emigrants, we examine whether Soviet citizens are deterred from nonconformity by the punitive actions of the KGB (individual deterrence), a perception of the KGB's coercive potential (general deterrence), or mistrust of other people. We find that few respondents were directly coerced by the KGB (and those who were had engaged in the most serious kinds of nonconformity); that those who had punitive contacts with the KGB in the past were not deterred from subsequent nonconformity; that the KGB's competent image was a general deterrent; and that trust in other people facilitated both nonconformist and compliant political activism. Those who came of political age under Khrushchev and Brezhnev were more likely to be involved in both kinds of activism than those who came of age under Stalin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1064-1098
Number of pages35
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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