The Revolution and After

During the war years Sorokin by no means ceased his opposition to theCzarist regime. Nevertheless, he agreed with the majority of his Social Revolu-tionary comrades, as well as such Social Democratic luminaries as G. Plekhanov,to support the war effort (if rather critically) and to oppose those on the Leftwho called for a speedy end to the war and a separate peace with Germany.Those on the internationalist Left now called him and his co-thinkers SocialPatriots.

When the revolution broke out, most of the political leaders of whatevercamp were caught by surprise. The Social Patriots greeted it with a high degreeof ambivalence. They had hoped for it during many years of undergroundstruggle, but were fearful that the revolutionary events would undermineRussia's ability to continue the war at the side of its Western allies. Moreover,many intellectuals who had long been enthusiastic for revolution in the abstractfound themselves repelled by many features of the revolution in the concrete. Sorokin's diary of those days clearly exhibits his ambivalence. No question, herejoiced at the fall of the old regime. Yet caught in the whirlpool of revolution-ary disorder, observing "unruly crowds" and "wildly firing men," witnessingmanhunts for policemen, counterrevolutionaries, and informers, and learningof the massacres of officers, Sorokin could not suppress a deep repulsion aboutwhat he felt to be the rule of the mob in the streets of his beloved St Petersburg.

After the abdication of the Czar and the installation of a Provisional Gov-ernment, Sorokin engaged in a frantic round of activities. He agreed to becomean editor of a new Social Revolutionary newspaper, only to discover that theeditors were split between Social Patriots and Internationalists. Thus the paperwould print an article on page one that was mercilessly savaged on page two.He went from meeting to meeting, from conference to conference, trying des-perately to hold the right wing of his party together. He helped organize anAll-Russian Peasant Soviet to counterbalance the radical Workers' Soviet. Itall seemed futile. He finally left for his northern homeland to try to convincethe peasants there that support of the Provisional Government against itsenemies on the Left was the only road to salvation. He then wrote in his diary"What a relief to leave the capital with its constantly moving crowds, its dis-order, dirt, and hysteria, and to be again in the tranquil places I love." Havingcome face to face with the revolution he had so ardently desired in the past,Sorokin had fast become thoroughly disillusioned. How beautiful it had lookedduring the Czar's reign and how ugly it had turned out to be. "I sometimesfeel like a homeless dog," he jotted down in his diary.

The frantic round of activities continued after Sorokin returned to Petro-grad. He exhausted his energies in meeting after meeting, being alternatelytired and weary, excited and alert. In the midst of it all, at the end of May, hemarried Elena Petrovna Baratinsky, a fellow student and botanist. After thechurch ceremony to which he had come from an important meeting, his newwife and some friends went to lunch, which could last no longer than half anhour, for the groom had to hurry off to another "cursed conference."

In July 1917, in the midst of new riots and with the Provisional Govern-ment now headed by Kerensky fighting for its life, Sorokin agreed to acceptthe post of Secretary to the Prime Minister. There was little he could do. TheBolsheviks were waiting in the wings and could not be stopped. In a fewmonths they succeeded in overthrowing the Kerensky government and pro-claimed the Russian Soviet Republic. Sorokin and his friends continued a rear-guard fight in the shortlived constitutional assembly and elsewhere but theyknew that their cause was lost. They now were counted among the "formerpeople," not unlike the Czarist officials against whom they had battled for somany years.

During the Civil War and the period of starvation and exhaustion thatfollowed, Sorokin, who had for a short period sat next to the seats of power,became one victim among many. Early in January 1918 he was arrested at theoffices of the anti-Bolshevik newspaper which he was editing. Released aftertwo months, Sorokin and his wife went to Moscow in hopes of revitalizing thecoalition of anti-Bolshevist groups in that city. He helped to start another news-paper, only to see its presses smashed soon after the first copy had appeared.Soon after, he returned to the northern country, worked underground underan assumed name, and hoped that the Bolshevist regime could be defeated withthe help of a British expeditionary force that had landed in Arkhangelsk. Butthe British provided only limited aid, and the antirevolutionary forces, aftersome initial successes, were thoroughly routed. Sorokin was now forced towander from village to village, his life in jeopardy, his name on the Bolsheviks'"wanted" list as a counterrevolutionary. For several months he hid in theforest. Finally, he made his way back to his home town, where he found shelterwith his family, but decided that a prolonged stay would endanger his kin.Sorokin went to the local office of the secret police, the Chekha, and gave him-self up. He was committed to the prison at Veliki Ustyug and fully expectedto be executed any day. Instead he was released on December 12, 1918, on directorders from Lenin himself.

A few days earlier, writing in Pravda, Lenin had announced a majorchange in the government's policy concerning the intelligentsia, arguing thatit was important to gain the allegiance of the educated, especially those fromthe peasant strata who had now turned against the new regime after valiantlyhaving fought against the Czar. The Communists should cease to persecutethem, Lenin argued, and attempt to convert them into allies. It was in pursu-ance of that new directive that Sorokin was released and sent to Moscow. Itturned out that one of his former students, now a Commissar, had pleaded withmembers of Lenin's cabinet who knew him well. They had agreed to talk toLenin. Lenin was persuaded, wrote the Pravda article, revoked Sorokin's deathsentence, and ordered his release. At the end of 1918 Sorokin returned toPetrograd University and resumed his academic duties. The days of his activistinvolvement were over.

Half-starved, and living under the most trying personal circumstances,Sorokin not only managed to give regular courses of lectures at the reopeneduniversity, but to launch a series of major writing projects. Besides two elemen-tary textbooks in law and in sociology, he finished the two substantial volumesof his System of Sociology. To get these volumes published required almost asmuch energy as writing them. The work could clearly not pass the strict Com-munist censorship. Some of Sorokin's friends in a publishing house and at twonationalized printing presses managed to print the more than 800 pages secretly.The censorship permission on the title page was forged, ten thousand copies ofeach volume were published--all of which were sold within two or three weeks.When the government learned of the publication, it ordered all copies confis-cated, but there was nothing left to confiscate. Shortly thereafter, Sorokin, whoby then had been elected chairman of the newly founded department of sociol-ogy, submitted these illegally published volumes to the Juridical Faculty as hisdoctoral dissertation. After a typically extensive dispute, the faculty voted unani-mously to accept the work as meeting all university requirements, and on April22, 1922, Sorokin finally acquired his Ph.D. degree. It had been a long and tor-tuous journey; even so, Sorokin received his degree when he was only thirty-three years old, an age at which many American students of sociology will notyet have received theirs.

Having published two volumes of the planned three volumes of his System,Sorokin decided to postpone the writing of the last volume in order to do afirst-hand study of mass starvation in the famine districts of Samara andSaratov. The book setting down the results of this inquiry, The Influence ofHunger on Human Behavior, on Social Life and Social Organisation, was pub-lished in May 1922, but only after the censors had severely mutilated it, cuttingaway many paragraphs and some entire chapters. The book has recently beenrepublished in an English edition edited by Sorokin's widow shortly before herdeath.

During 1922 a new wave of arrests of the non-Communist members of theintelligentsia hit Petrograd. Sorokin escaped by moving to Moscow, where hewas less well known. When he learned that all those arrested were to bebanished abroad, he voluntarily presented himself to the Chekha, and after theusual delays was given a passport. On September 23, 1922, he left Russia, neverto return.

From Coser, 1977:483-486.


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