Every book is written with particular intentions and ambitions, and involves specific challenges. The present book is no exception to this rule.

In Totalitarian Experience and Knowledge Production, we not only recognize the existence of totalitarianism and discuss the process of social cognition, but we support the idea of a possible connection between the two. Then, by adding the specification ‘Sociology in Central and Eastern Europe 1945–1989’, we narrow down the pursuit of knowledge about society to the time of totalitarian regimes within a concrete geo-political region and historical span. We thereby outline at once the intention, ambition, and challenges of this book.

In contrast to the normatively tinged assertion that sociology as a product of modernity can only exist under conditions of democracy and a free market, here we present the sociological rationalization of society—including society organized on totalitarian principles—as a “structuration of shared/common experience” (Gardani, 2013). We do not deny that sociology was born in specific societies and through a number of founding achievements (Fabiani, 1993, 1994), yet we cannot accept the idea there is only a single matrix for the development of this science, a matrix that must serve as an invariable yardstick for measuring the validity of any produced sociological knowledge. Assuming that cognition in social science represents a rational and methodical response to problems arising ‘here and now’, problems that coexisting individuals encounter in their personal and social experience, then the development of the science is inseparable from that specific experience and has the task of problematizing both the experience and the ways in which it is studied. Breaking from the democratic political traditions of society, totalitarianism as a social form of total domination is a product of the action (or inaction) of individuals and groups, including professional groups, but it also serves as a context of life-together and of its reflection. Hence, the practice of sociology under totalitarianism is part of the latter’s specific organization; the challenge to researchers is to understand that practice in terms of its own measure rather than in terms of some previously given or presumed model.

Why is it that, 25 years after the collapse of Communism as a social-political system, we have chosen to revisit one of the forms of the rationalization of this system—sociology as practiced under the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe? There may be various justifications of this interest, but I believe at least three reasons for it merit our special attention.

The past years since that collapse have shown that a change of labels is not in itself equal to a change of the cognitive attitudes and of the analytical approaches; that the designations functioning within a given social context may long conceal the realities and hamper the actual analysis of those realities (for instance, the societies in Central and Eastern European countries in the period 1945–1989 designated as ‘socialist’ at the time, were identified as ‘totalitarian’ after the collapse of the regime); that a change of conditions does not automatically lead to a change of cognitive practices; that the suppressed, pushed aside, forgotten past stands in the way of the present and delays the onset of a better future, desired by all.

Secondly, in the recently proliferating sociological and anthropological studies of the past influenced by Carlo Ginzburg’s micro history paradigm, we remark that one element is persistently missing. Researchers seem to forget that the analysis of the past must start with what they themselves produced during that time, a time that was once the present in which they were living. In their initial enthusiasm about the historical change after 1989, social researchers were eager to study the unique transition from socialism to capitalism. Later they directed their attention to a dissection of the past socialism. In the last ten years, they have taken up the problems of globalization and the world crisis. Yet they have rarely looked back at the cognitive products of the Communist past or at themselves as authors of those products. It was as if, with the historical condemnation of the totalitarian past, all the experience acquired in that period, all the knowledge produced, all the traditions established had also disappeared into the past, and the economic and political transformation of the former Communist societies had transformed these scholars into qualitatively new agents of action and cognition.

Thirdly, in the period after 1989, we witnessed an interesting paradox. Beyond the strategic, politically aimed analyses which had continued throughout the whole Cold War period, Central and Eastern Europe became an object of interest for Western Europe only after ceasing to be a single geo-political entity. Europe’s division in two which had lasted more than forty years resulted in the West’s consciously overlooking the other part of the continent, and in the coercively imposed mutual suspicion and lack of familiarity. But after 1989, this gave way to a brief, enthusiastic rediscovery, soon replaced with pragmatic relationships between leading and catching up countries in an expanding European Union. That year also put an end to the East-West divide in the field of social sciences, and sociology in particular, but not to the legacies of this divide. At the start of the changes, the basic form of exchange between Western and East European scholars was the one-way transfer of theories, methods, techniques, and practices from West to East. Guided by the cliché notion that their Eastern colleagues had pursued a highly ideologized professional practice under Communism, Western sociologists undertook the theoretical purification and methodological restructuring of the research field in the Еast of Europe. For their part, the sociologists of the former Communist countries who were under the stigma of a historical failure willingly accepted the transfer of knowledge and experience, without subjecting to reflection the epistemological foundation of this knowledge or its theoretical-methodological applicability. As for their own previous practice during the time of Communism, they simply turned their backs on it. Since it belonged to a past that had proven a failure, they felt this previous practice was more a burden that should be forgotten or rejected than a legacy worth studying and interpreting.

Without lingering on the specific modalities assumed by this distancing from the Communist experience (whether purposeful oblivion, unconscious suppression, embarrassed silence on the matter, firm denial, or a selective attitude to its various parts), we wish to point out that, very soon, sociologists in the East and the West alike realized that the past can neither be replaced nor changed, but can only be understood and assimilated in various ways. Early on, in the mid-1990s, attempts began at joint self-reflection on the preceding development of the discipline in different national contexts. The aim was to re-position it amid the growing internationalization and interdisciplinarity of scientific cognition. These collective efforts were manifest in two different research strategies with respect to the Socialist, Communist, or totalitarian1 past of sociology. On the one hand, that past was integrated into the panoramas of contemporary sociology through the prism of its national variants (Genov, 1989; Genov, Becker, 2001; Kaase, Sparschuh, Wenninger, 2002; Keen, Mucha 1994, 2003; Kolaja, Das, 1990; Nedelmann, Sztompka, 1993; Patel, 2010). The practice of sociology under Communism was thought of in terms of broadly defined oppositions such as interruption-continuity, tradition-change, external-internal factors of development, East-West, Marxism–non-Marxist paradigms; it was presented as a negative experience that had developed in deviation from, or opposition to the world heritage and development of the discipline which was essentially Western in its origin, its sources of inspiration and its power of renewal. Thus, the Communist past of sociology in Central and Eastern Europe was included as an obligatory item in the periodically undertaken summing up of the discipline’s history. The national specificities could introduce some local color to the general picture, but remained indiscernible and insignificant for the analysis of the major mission of sociology: the production of well-argued and objectively valid knowledge about the societies under study. On the other hand, an autonomous research field gradually emerged the basic object of which was the sociological practice from the time of Communism and the sum total of its theoretical, methodological, institutional, and deontological aspects. Various scholars in this discipline engaged in the search for explanations of what had happened to, and in, sociology in the societies under domination of the Communist party-state in Central and Eastern Europe. These researchers included both such as had actually taken part in the development of sociology in that period in those countries, and their disciples who had received their formation before or just after 1989; it also included Western sociologists who did not have their Eastern colleagues’ direct personal experience of living and working under Communism. Depending on the traditions and specific conditions of reorganizing research in the different countries, the analysis of the recent past of sociology assumed different tempos and stresses, depths, and intensities. But in all cases, the focus of critical self-reflection was the practice of sociology in the Communist past within a single country most often viewed separately, and rarely compared with others in the same region and same period.2

But in both research strategies, the national sociologies of the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe did not engage in dialogue with one another, did not see their work as part of a shared search for knowledge in which their specific cognitive and social experience—both similar to and different from the others—could question the very process per se of production of knowledge. This book was conceived with the intention precisely of placing in a common framework and in a comparative perspective the national sociologies that existed under Communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Underlying this intention is the belief that comparative history enables us not only to highlight the common and the specific in the development of a given phenomenon, but also to see how the distinguishing features contain, in an embryonic state, certain elements of convergence, while the shared features may conceal certain fundamental divergences.

The idea of conducting a comparative study of the national trajectories of sociology under the Communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe was first tested through the research project “Sociology in Central and Eastern Europe from the Mid-1950s to 1989: The Road to the Challenges of the 1990s” conducted with the financial assistance of the Research Support Scheme of the Open Society Foundation, and implemented in the period July 1999—June 2001. Valuable incentives for this venture were provided by my meetings with some key figures of sociology in former Communist countries,3 including Bulgarian sociologists Andrey Bundzulov, Stefan Donchev, Veska Kozhuharova (1938–2015), Chavdar Kyuranov (1921–2004), Stoyan Mihailov, Mihail Mirchev, Petar-Emil Mitev, Victor Samuilov, Mincho Semov (1935–2006), Zahari Staikov (1927–2001), Nikolai Tilkidjiev (1953–2012), Iordanka Tropolova, Kiril Vasilev (1918–2014), and statisticians Boris Chakalov, Anastas Totev (1906–2000), Venetz Tzonev (1917–2008), Yordan Venedikov (1933–2012); the Polish sociologists Jakub Karpiński (1940–2003), Hieronim Kubiak, Jolanta Kulpińska, Władysław Kwaśniewicz (1926–2004), Edmund Wnuk-Lipiński (1944–2015), Edmund Mokrzycki (1937–2001), Witold Morawski, Andrzej Rychard, Paweł Starosta, Antoni Sułek, Jerzy Szacki (1929–2016), Piotr Sztompka, Jerzy Wiatr, Krzysztof Zagórski; the Russian sociologists Andrey Alekseev, Albert Baranov, Gennady Batygin (1951–2003), Alexandre Boronoev, Alexandre Duka, Yurii Davidov, Boris Firsov, Alexandre Gofmann, Boris Grushin (1929–2007), Vladimir Kostyushev, Vladimir Kozlovskiy, Yurii Levada (1930–2006), Valery Mansurov, Marina Pugacheva, Vladimir Yadov (1929–2015); the Czech sociologists Jiří Buriánek, Pavel Kuchař, Miloš Havelka, Michal Illner, Pavel Machonin (1927–2008), Zdenka Mansfeldová, Ivo Možný (1932–2016), Jiří Večerník; the Slovak sociologists Dilbar Alijevová, Vladimír Krivý, Eva Laiferová, Ladislav Macháček (1942–2015), Soňa Szomolányi, L’udovit Turčan; and the Hungarian sociologists Róbert Angelusz (1939–2010), Zsuzsa Ferge, Tamás Kolosi, Csaba Makó, Dénes Némedi (1942–2010), Péter Somlai, Julia Szalai, Ágnes Utasi. To them, and to all other colleagues who accepted the challenge of conducting joint ‘socio-analysis’ of the Communist past of our discipline, I extend my heartfelt gratitude.

In the decade following that project, I fortunately had the professional opportunity to submit the project results to the pure curiosity of students (the kind of curiosity that comes before the interest of experienced scholars marked to various degrees by professional, political or national bias). These were students in the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in sociology at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridsky (2010–2017), the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès (2006), the University of Moncton, Edmundston campus (2006), and the University of Quebec in Montreal (2009, 2013, 2014, 2016). My work with these future specialists/professionals/sociologists was of decisive importance for the conception and development of the publication project. Decisive in two respects: first, the questions asked and interpretations offered by people who were biographically remote from the totalitarian reality in question, and who knew about the past and present of Eastern Europe mostly from literary sources rather than personal travel or contacts stimulated me to problematize what seemed self-evident in my life and professional experience, made me seek finer distinctions and more precise explanations. Secondly, in trying to understand the sociological practice under conditions of totalitarian regimes, the students often drew parallels with the current social reality and knowledge familiar to them. This sensitivity to any manifestation of monopolistic, undemocratic, opaque functioning in society affirmed my belief that knowledge is the most powerful weapon against totalitarian tendencies. Being very grateful to all my students, I would like to point out that their unconventional questions and original comments were some of the best incentives for my work on this book.

The book represents a token of gratitude to all the colleagues in different countries, of different generations and institutional background or circles with whom, on various occasions and in different ways, we have tried to understand that which has become our common heritage, even if not personally experienced by all of us. In expressing my respect and gratitude to all my colleagues, I would like to mention the much regretted Jean-Michel Berthelot who was director of the Center for Studies of Rationalities and Knowledge/Centre d’études des rationalités et des savoirs and of the Institute for Doctoral Studies/Institut d’études doctorales at the University of Toulouse in the 1990s, and from 1998 to the end of his life in 2006, was professor in philosophy of the social sciences and sociology, and director of the Center for Sociological Studies/Centre d’études sociologiques at the University Paris-Sorbonne. Without his invitation to me to give a lecture course in the framework of the International Cooperation Competition Program of the French Ministry of Education and Research (1996–1998), and his conviction that the Communist past of sociology in Central and Eastern Europe is part of the collective history of this discipline and raises challenges to its contemporary development, the comparative study of national sociologies in former Communist Bloc countries would not have advanced from the stage of conception to the stage of completion. It is for the reader to decide whether this completed product has in fact fulfilled the initial ambitions and answered the defined challenge.

The predicate would change depending on the theoretical paradigm through which the authors viewed the period under study. See the summary of debates on this issue in Deyanova (2008, 2010) and Kabakchieva (2016). Although linked to different theoretical paradigms, the adjectives ‘socialist’, ‘communist’, ‘totalitarian’ used by various authors are viewed here as conceptual identifiers of societies governed by the monopoly-holding and all-embracing power of the Communist Party (Kornai, 1992). As for the book’s analytical model, it is based on the idea that the structural nature of the societies built after World War ii in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe was gradually revealed in the course of dynamical interaction between the political, ideological, and sociological rationalizations of social reality (Part 1).

One of the rare exceptions is the project “Sociology in Eastern and Central Europe” initiated by the Department of Sociology in Toruń. This was a comparative study of Polish, Czech and Slovak sociology. Two conferences were held in the framework of the project: “Serving the Community or the Ruling Power? Polish Sociology in 1944–1989”, Toruń, November 1995, and “For Continuity and Modernity: Preconditions, Possibilities, and Reality of the Development of Sociology in Slovakia”, Bratislava, November 1996 (Turčan, Laiferová, 1997). See also Voříšek (2008). Even the book by Zinaida Golenkova and Nikolay Narbut (2010) on the history of sociological thought in Central and Eastern Europe discusses separately each national sociology (with its respective stages and trends of theoretical development).

The presentation of sociologists by countries follows the chronology of fieldwork in the frame of the research project.

Totalitarian Experience and Knowledge Production

Sociology in Central and Eastern Europe 1945-1989


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