Tag: <span>Pitirim Sorokin</span>

Nikolai Kondratiev Portraits of World Citizens.

Nikolai Kondratiev: The Long Economic Cycles.

Featured Image: Nikolai Dmitrievich Kondratiev (1892-1938) – Russian Economist.

Nikolai Kondratiev (4 March 1892 – 17 September 1938).

17 September marks the execution of Nikolai Kondratiev (also written as Kondratieff) in 1938 as part of Stalin’s “Great Purge” of those who disagreed with him.  Konratiev held that the 1929 “Great Depression” was a normal part of a long 50 to 60 year cycle and that there would be a return to capitalist investment linked to new technologies and the related need for capital.  Stalin believed that  the depression was a sign of the permanent collapse of the capitalist system which would be replaced by Communism.  Academic debate was not the style of Stalin.  Kondratiev who was already in prison for eight years was shot by a firing squad.


Portrait of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, 1947. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Kondratiev came from a peasant family.  Nevertheless, he was able to enter St. Petersburg  University to study economics where he specialized in agricultural production and agricultural export issues.  A bright student, he was noticed by the leaders of the first post-Czarist government of 1917 and was asked to deal food supplies by the Provisional Government.  He served as Deputy Minister of Supply in the very-short last round of Alexander Kerensky’s government.

The Major Economic Cycles.

After Lenin came to power, Kondratiev focused on this theoretical economic work and in 1925 published his major book The Major Economic Cycles. Through the book, his ideas on economic cycles became well known, and he was invited to speak in different Western European countries and in the United States.  In the United States, he stayed at the home of Pitirim Sorokin at the University of Minnesota.  Sorokin was also interested in cycles – more cultural than economic – but like Kondratiev  believed that cycles were evident by historical analysis.  The two men knew each other from St. Petersburg days, Sorokin having been the secretary of Alexander Kerensky.

Pitirim Sorokin

Pitirim Sorokin By неизв., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

However, Sorokin or Kondratiev or both were watched by the KGB, and on Kondratiev’s return to the Soviet Union, he was removed from his academic post, put in prison for eight years and then executed at the age of 46.

Joseph Schumpeter who taught economics at Harvard University was influenced  by Kondratiev’s work on cycles, but he did not stress his debt to Kondratiev’s thinking. It is only more rentently in the mid-1970s that Immanuel Wallerstein at the State University of New York began to stress Kondratieva’s writing as a contribution to his world-systems analysis.

Joseph Schumpeter

Joseph Schumpeter ekonomialaria. By Image available for free publishing from the Volkswirtschaftliches Institut, Universität Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Copyrighted free use., CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

In a final letter to his young daughter, Kondratiev asked that she “not to forget about me”.  We who can carry out our socio-political analysis without the threat of Stalin’s police can also not forget him.

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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Pitirim Sorokin Rapprochement of Cultures.

Pitirim Sorokin: The Renewal of Humanity

Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) was concerned; especially in the period after the Second World War; with the relation between the values and attitudes of the individual and their impact on the wider society.  His key study Society; Culture and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics (1947); traced the relations between the development of the personality, the wider cultural values in which the personality was formed, and the structures of the society.

Reconstruction of Humanity (1948)

The two World Wars convinced him that humanity was in a period of transition; that the guideline of earlier times had broken down; and had not yet been replaced by a new set of values and motivations.  To bring about real renewal; one had to work at the same time on the individual personality; on cultural values as created by art, literature, education, and on the social framework.

One had to work on all three at once; not one after the other as some who hope that inner peace will produce outer peace. In his Reconstruction of Humanity (1948); he stressed the fact that:

if we want to raise the moral standards of large populations, we must change correspondingly the mind and behaviour of the individuals making up these populations, and their social institutions and their cultures.”

The First Department of Sociology.

Pitirim Sorokin was born in a rural area in the north of Russia.  Both his parents died when he was young. He had to work in handicraft trades in order to go to the University of St. Petersburg; where his intelligence was noted, and he received scholarships to carry out his studies in law ; and in the then new academic discipline of sociology.  After obtaining his doctorate; he was asked to create the first Department of Sociology at the University of St. Petersburg.  However; the study of the nature of society was a dangerous undertaking; and he was put in prison three times by the Tsarist regime.

A Long Journey (1963).

He was among the social reformers that led to the first phase of the Russian Revolution in 1917.  He served as private secretary to Alexandre Kerensky; head of the Provisional Government and Sorokin was the editor of the government newspaper. 

When Kerensky was overthrown by Lenin; Sorokin became part of a highly vocal anti-Bolshevik faction; leading to his arrest and condemnation to death in 1923.  At the last moment; after a number of his cell mates had been executed; Lenin modified the penalty to exile, and Sorokin left the USSR, never to return.  His revolutionary activities are well-described in his autobiography A Long Journey (1963).

 Alexander Kerensky. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

University of Minnesota and Harvard University.

Pitirim Sorokin went to the United States and taught at the University of Minnesota (1924-1930); where he carried out important empirical studies on social mobility; especially rural to urban migration.  These studies were undertaken at a time when sociology was becoming increasingly recognized as a specific discipline. 

Pitirim Sorokin was invited to teach at Harvard University; where the Department of Social Ethics was transformed into the Department of Sociology with Sorokin as its head.  He continued teaching sociology at Harvard until his retirement in 1955; when the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism was created; so that he could continue his research and writing.

Pitirim Sorokin By неизв., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Three Pillars That Make up Society.

Of the three pillars that make up society − personality, culture, and social structure − personality may be the easiest to modify.  Therefore; he turned his attention to how a loving or altruistic personality could be developed.  He noted that in slightly different terms: love, compassion, sympathy, mercy, benevolence, reverence, Eros, Agape and mutual aid − all affirm supreme love as the highest moral value; and its imperatives as the universal and perennial moral commandments. 

Pitirim Sorokin stressed the fact that an ego-transcending altruistic transformation; is not possible without a corresponding change in the structure of one’s ego, values and norms of conduct. Such changes have to be brought about by the individual himself; by his own effort, thinking, meditation, volition and self-analysis. He was strongly attracted to yoga; which acted on the body, mind, and spirit.

Societies Change Cultural Orientations.

 Sorokin was especially interested in the processes by which societies change cultural orientations; particularly the violent societies he knew; the USSR and the USA.  As he wrote renewal:

“demands a complete change of contemporary mentality, a fundamental transformation of our system of values and the profoundest modification of our conduct towards other men, cultural values and the world at large.  All this cannot be achieved without the incessant, strenuous active efforts on the part of every individual.”

Love or Compassion must be Universal.

Pitirim Sorokin believed that love or compassion must be universal; if it were to provide a basis for social reconstruction.  Partial love; he said, can be worse than indifference. 

If unselfish love does not extend over the whole of mankind, if it is confined within one group − a given family, tribe, nation, race, religious denomination, political party, trade union, caste, social class or any part of humanity − in such an in-group altruism tends to generate an out-group antagonism.  And the more intense and exclusive the in-group solidarity of its members, the more unavoidable are the clashes between the group and the rest of humanity.”


For a biography see: B.V. Johnston. Pitirim A.
Sorokin: An Intellectual Biography
(University Press of Kansas, 1995)

For an overview of his writings see: Frank Cowell.History,
Civilization and Culture: An Introduction to the Historical and Social
Philosophy of Pitirim A. Sorokin
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1952)

For Sorokin’s late work on the role of altruism see:
P.A. Sorokin. The Ways and Power of Love (Boston, Beacon Press, 1954) A
new reprint is published by Templeton Press, 2002

By Rene Wadlow. President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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