Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reading :: The Development of Sociology in the Soviet Union

The Development of Sociology in the Soviet Union
By Elizabeth Weinberg

A month or two ago, I accidentally discovered that Stalin banned sociology from the Soviet Union. It was declared a Bourgeois pseudoscience. This fact fascinated me, and I wanted to read the story. Although I read a few articles, I thought that picking up a book on the subject would be a good idea.

This book, from 1974, was written not so long after the 1956 Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union allowed sociology to be taken up again. But why was it banned in the first place? The first two chapters tell us—and I should make clear that they are the only chapters I actually read.

As Weinberg tells it, in the 1920s and 1930s, the disciplines were being progressively refitted to reflect Marxist thought, as if one were refurnishing rooms in a house. "The old idealist furnishings were to become materialist: the new structure was to be based on the Weltanschauung [worldview] of Marxism. ... Marxist sociology was subsequently entrusted with applying the method of dialectical and historical materialism to social relations and with further developing historical materialism. At the same time, it was charged with popularising and propagandising the ideas of historical materialism and with teaching the masses about the construction of socialism" (p.3). This task was set "as early as 1918" when Lenin defined "the programme of the Socialist Academy of the Social Sciences." From Lenin's perspective, social research should involve a short list of subjects, including "1. labour, especially the conditions and organisation of labour and the influence of socio-psychological, educational and general cultural factors on labour production; 2. the economic mode of life and the income(s) of different categories of the population (e.g., the peasants); 3. class relations and questions of the theory of classes," and four others (pp.7-8). Notice how the first one dovetails with Leontiev's reformulation of Soviet psychology around labor activity.

In those early days, some sociologists resisted this program (pp.3-5), attempting to retain idealism. More importantly, sociology was found to be redundant with historical materialism—both studied the "general and particular laws of social development" (p.12). So "Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism took its place" (p.8). By the mid-1930s, even the term "sociology" was banned and "many sociological concepts worked out by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, were no longer used" (p.9). And
Only the social terminology and those social concepts to be found in the works of Stalin were recognised. The basis of sociological and philosophical commentaries became the chapter entitled 'Dialectical and Historical Materialism' in [Stalin's] History of the CPSU(B): Short Course, 1938. (p.9)
The sociological research carried out in those years were carried out in other disciplines: ethnography, anthropology (p.9).

Weinberg adds: "It was Marxism, Lenin had said, which had first raised sociology to the level of a science. And the theory of historical materialism was—and is—the Marxist science of society" (p.10).

Even after sociology was again allowed in the Soviet Union, it was based closely on historical materialism and carefully "noncontradictory" (seemingly a common concern in the Soviet social sciences) (p.22). Its "laws and interrelations are objective and determined by material circumstances" (p.23; that is, they were of course firmly Marxist rather than Weberian).

In all, I found the book's first two chapters useful, but I would have liked still more detail. However, if you're interested in this very specific question, take a look.

No comments: