Russian Honor Code

I have always wanted to be an honest person and have followed my honor code. Soviet Russia had two honor codes. One code was for dealing with people and the other for dealing with businesses and the government. I remind you that in Soviet Russia, all businesses were owned by the government. The money paid for work didn’t have any relation to the work done. The government paid standard salaries and the businesses did whatever. Generally, that meant that they were doing nothing. Meanwhile, the government got its income from selling oil.

All people were being screwed by the government, so they had no motivation to play fair. Just as American workers do, Soviet Russians might use the work copier to make personal copies. The difference was that we didn’t feel guilty at ripping off the government. We wouldn’t just make a few necessary copies; we would make copies for our friends, our family, for strangers—as many copies as possible.

I moved to the United States in 1990. Several of my friends took time to explain to me the difference between Soviet Russia and the US. One of the friends, let’s call her Sarah, was working as staff at Harvard University. She told me the story of a recent visit by a famous Russian professor. After he left, the department received a bill. It appears that the professor, in a short visit, used several months-worth of the department’s budget allocation for copying and phone calls. I was impressed, in a good way, by the professor who I assume spent a good deal of his time making a lot of copies of papers unavailable in Russia, presumably not only for himself but also for students and colleagues. On the other hand, it was clearly wrong.

My new friend Sarah told me that in the US money does not come from nowhere, and I should include Harvard University in my honor code for people. Actually, not only Harvard, but also any place of work and the government too. Sarah also told me that since that budget problem, she was asked to talk to every incoming Russian visitor and explain to them how capitalism works. Most Russian visitors were ready to accept the rules. I too was delighted with that. It is much easier to follow one honor code than two.

I was also very happy for my son, Alexey. He was eight when we moved to Boston. Before our move I had a dilemma. Should I tell him that Lenin and Stalin were bad guys and killed millions of people? If I gave him a truthful explanation, I would also have to teach him to lie. Otherwise, if he mentioned this at school or on the street, we would be at risk of going to prison. If I didn’t teach him the truth, he might become brainwashed and grow up believing in communism, which would be very, very bad.

I was so lucky that I moved to the US: I didn’t have to teach my son to lie.



  1. Frank Wilhoit:

    Just in time for the US to become what Russia used to be!

  2. weesh:

    That is a fascinating and sad perspective.
    I’m glad you guys got here safely.

  3. Sergei:

    And you know what, Tanya? I blame you. You were there, and you just fled, not trying to fix anything, not trying to change the game to make country that would be fitting well to your vision. So, i think, you fit Soviet Union’s model quite well. But we dropped that almost 3 decades ago, and i try to look forward.
    I didn’t expect such a politicized bullshit in a math blog. Though, other site i googled (“”) was only about politics in US, too.
    It is good for us, of course, i think we can play on that.

  4. Sergei:

    Nice, keep deleting comments!

  5. Sergei:

    Or it is a site bug…

  6. sinan:

    Alongside Lenin and Stalin, did you teach your kids what the Americans did to Veitnamese kids ? Or Cambodian kids ? Or Kissinger’s involvement about these ? Or perhaps these do not count ? American murders do not count. USA is unconditionally super wondeful good amazing chocolate cake. Fact that US killed almost a million Vietnamese and caused the deaths of countless civilians in Iraq does not matter. Nor does the murder of George Floyd. And there is nothing to talk about Soviet math except the discrimination against jews. If it was not for the Soviet jews, Soviet IMO teams would score zero. They would not be able to sum two integers. Whichever intellectual achievement on this planet should be either American or Israeli. The rest of the world is brainless. America is the only glimmer of hope for our planet. Just by uttering the word USA one should reach the orgasm.

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