Vladimir Shlapentokh: «Bittersweet Life in Post-Stalinist Russia: Academic Campus in the 1960s»
(These autobiographical notes were first published as chapter 6 in An Autobiographical Narration of the Role of Fear and Friendship in the Soviet Union. Lewiston: Edwin Mellon Press. 2004. The Russian version «Страх и дружба в нашем тоталитарном прошлом» appeared in 2003 in the magazine Zvezda).
Despite all its negative features, post-Stalin Russia did give me a possibility to express myself, especially at the Novosibirsk Academic campus where I moved not without difficulties due to the “Jewish factor” at the end of 1962 from Saratov . Mikhail Lavrentiev the President of the Siberian Chapter of the Academy of Sciences was an undisguised anti-Semite. Much later a famous physicist and the director of the Nuclear Institute at the Academic campus Andrey (Gersh) Budker told me very vividly in Koktebel’ where Alik an I vacationed in 1972, that Lavrientiev subjected him to the most sophisticated humiliation. For example, he rejected his application to go to East Germany because he, Budker, despite his sixty years of age, still “could jump over the Berlin wall.”
Abel Aganbegyan’s attempts to persuade him to give me a decent position led nowhere and so I was offered a second rate position of an Associate Professor at the Novosibirsk University . Somewhat later Shubkin tried to give me a job at half the time at the Institute of Economics at the Academic campus but he could not do it. My transfer from the Academic campus to the Institute of Sociology was equally difficult. This time objections came from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Fedor Burlatsky, who was deputy director of the newly established Institute, spent a lot of time persuading Grigoriy Kvasov, the chief overseer over Sociology at the Central Committee. It is against this background of discrimination and with a feeling of being at a second rate position (also because I lacked party membership) that my life went on at the Academic campus. Still, it was there, although not right away, that I received an opportunity to bring my capabilities at least partially to fruition.
Aganbegyan invited me to the Academic campus but after our very first encounters it became clear that I would not be a party to that ridiculous cult of his personality that his colleagues had created. Aganbegyan set up a “Cordon Sanitaire” around me, openly discriminating against me in comparison with others. In his own way he was right to see me as his irreconcilable critic. The problem between us started when he came to Kiev in the summer of 1962 to negotiate my possible work at the Academic campus. He surprised me when he spoke seriously about Stalin’s brochure Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR as an outstanding contribution to the field of economics. That alone defined my judgment about him as a scholar immediately and forever. Besides that I understood almost immediately that in the person of Aganbegyan I dealt with a manipulator of the highest caliber, who had little to do with scholarship. By that time I was pretty good in mathematical economics and econometrics. (I published my first article about these fields in 1958 and my first book on econometrics in 1966). I was not surprised at all that despite the fact that he had been involved with mathematical economics in various roles for thirty years, and published articles and even books filled with mathematical formulas, after 1991 he completely forgot that he was a scholar. He quit all that and immersed himself in commercial activity.
From the very first days after my arrival, Aganbegyan announced to me the two main tasks of his laboratory. 1) Create a model for forecasting the performance of the American economy. Since I studied the accomplishments of outstanding American scholars in this field this task sounded preposterous to me. And 2), Create the optimal model of the Sayansk economic region. This was an unsound formulation of the problem because the criteria for what was optimal for a separate region in a planned national economy were not defined. As long as I worked at the Academic campus I watched how Aganbegyan masterfully invented one soup bubble after another.
On the other hand, I understood that Aganbegyan was a great organizer, a talented person, and a founder of the new Institute of Economics in the country and the founder of a good journal. I learned a great deal from him in organizational matters. He was a genuine virtuoso in bureaucratic squabbles and in all kinds of intrigues. He was good at setting one group of his colleagues against the other. He was a person with a distinctly logical intelligence, as I mentioned earlier. He always supported liberal tendencies in scholarship and in politics as for example in the new field of sociology, but only as long as the authorities did not object. However, as soon as the authorities turned to being conservatively inimical, he changed his position without delay and in the most radical fashion. This happened in March 1968 also. Moreover, I believe, that one can describe him as a kind man, rather than wicked who liked to do something good for the people who were not among his enemies.
I believe that Aganbegyan had a twofold attitude towards me. His animosity caused me a lot of discontent in those days. Seeing me as a person who assailed his reputation, he at the same time recognized some of my talents as well. At any rate on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Institute in 1994 he did not stint his praise of my professional achievements.
I felt myself completely different when I found myself in the Academic milieu at Harvard and Michigan Universities in the USA . I practically did not sense discrimination although I was an emigrant and a scholar with a different scholarly past and with by far not perfect English. (Elements of discrimination still could be felt on the part of American Sovietologists who feared competition from the scholar immigrants, although this circumstance did not play a serious role in my American life). My professional life in the USA went along easily and pleasantly.
It took me several years at the Academic campus to become known and to create a circle of friends independent from Aganbegyan, which included many remarkable people. What helped me to gain confidence was a doctorate degree that I received in 1966. That in itself guaranteed a high status in the Academic campus society where the principle -- on to you by your deeds -- was realized better than anywhere in the Soviet Union and may have been even better than in America.
Up to the memorable 1968 with its Czech events and concerts of Galich in March, the Academic campus was the most liberal place in the country. A lot of interesting people were concentrated there who were communicating intensively. They always held all kinds of seminars, conferences, and defenses of dissertations. I was often on the defense committees. At those events one could speak with unheard of freedom in a totalitarian society. (What a contrast it was with Cambridge with its dreary human relations that I witnessed during my work at Harvard in 1982). Besides that, I often chaired the proceedings of a well-known club “Under the Integral” with great pleasure where many celebrities spoke and fascinating intellectual debates took place and in the course of those many people displayed their erudition and wit.
The numerous banquets after the defense of dissertations and endless birthday parties alone provided enough opportunities for self-expression and for intrigue. They were a source of enormous intellectual (and sometimes not only intellectual) excitement also. At one of those banquets I fell down from a chair from laughter after a risqué toast offered by my friend a philologist Aleksandr Il’ich Fedorov. He raised his glass for the only science that was grammatically expressed by a noun in masculine and that was striving to rape and sometimes quite successfully all other sciences and all of them without exception were nouns in feminine. “The science that I have in mind is Marxism-Leninism,” Aleksandr Il’ich concluded his toast.
On top of that we had our “open living room.” We invited up to twenty or thirty people to meet honorary guests from the capitals or sometimes from abroad. (There were several “open living rooms” in Novosibirstk then). All of our furniture was broken, because it was sat on often. Our five-year-old daughter Sasha when she was asked how one could summarize with one phrase all the different objects in our household, said: “ramshackle furniture.”
Many sides of life at the Academic campus I never witnessed anywhere else later in Russia , or abroad. Where else could one see such a universal devotion to one’s professional activity? Not in one American campus did I see such an insatiable curiosity, such a limitless respect for culture in all its manifestations as it was at my Academic campus. Poets and fiction writers were received there the way they greet music stars in America or in post-Soviet Russia today. It goes without saying that the decoding of novels, poetry, films and plays in search of a hidden meaning was flourishing (just as in Moscow and other cities). This went on despite the fact that samizdat (self-publishing) became an everyday occurrence by that time and should have devalued this practice. Watching foreign films and discussing them turned into the most important events of the campus, as well as openings of exhibitions of artists “banned” in the past such as the artists Falk, Filonov, or Petrov-Vodkin.
What was also very pleasing was the atmosphere of sociability that was shaped by a feeling of genuine intellectual and liberal brotherhood. Later, every inhabitant of the Academic campus who happened to be in America could count on my understanding and help. Once I demonstrated it to my colleagues with whom I arrived to the Academic campus at the time I was working in Moscow . It so happened that we were coming back from a reception at two o’clock in the morning. I was a little drunk and full of affection for my Academic campus. So I said that even at that late hour I could knock at any door and they would greet me with open arms. My companions were trembling from fear but I made them follow me to a house where a friend of mine lived. His name was Raimond Karagedov. After five minutes of knocking at the door it was finally opened and he greeted me with exactly the words I promised to my ladies: “I am so glad to see you Volodya and your friends.” Then of course there appeared a bottle of good Armenian cognac and a hearty conversation.
It was there at the Academic campus that I started my research in 1966 on the views of the readers of central newspapers in Soviet press, literature and cinema. This gave me an opportunity to realize myself as an organizer of large research projects and to create many methodological approaches that I subsequently described in my Soviet publications. Later on I proudly told about them to my American colleagues getting the better of them by the unheard of inventiveness in studying public opinion in a totalitarian society. (Many years later, this experience proved to be extremely valuable when I headed several International projects particularly a study on the attitude toward America after 11 September 2001).
I was also very happy that I was able to include in the questionnaires of readers of central newspapers a question about their literary preferences. (This question was particularly important for the Literaturnaya Gazeta). Under the political conditions of that time, sympathy to or dislike of authors of the liberal Novyi Mir, or a pro-Stalinist Oktyabr almost straightforwardly made it possible to determine the political affiliation of our respondents in an All-Union poll. (By the way, we discovered that approximately 80% of the intelligentsia at the end of the 1960s was in favor of liberal socialism). Simultaneously, we received data about the popularity of Soviet writers and we were thrilled by the fact that Solzhenitsyn turned out to be in third place after Simonov and Bulgakov. The authorities, who were downright against research on the genuine political views of the population, realized what was going on too late. The results of the poll had already been received. Also at that time I started offering courses on sociology and statistics to historians, probably the first in the country. That gave me a lot of pleasure because it was something new.
It was also at the Academic campus that I along with thousands of Soviet intellectuals mastered a truly refined and genuinely creative process to express heretical thoughts in writing and in speaking using dozens of techniques that allowed us to avoid direct and indirect censorship. This was a kind of “sport” whereby the liberals, not daring to challenge the authorities directly, were trying to expose their views by the Aesopian language. What a joy I experienced when I published an article “About Aftertaste in Literaturnaya Gazeta. In it I operated with the notion of utmost usefulness and the law of decreasing usefulness that were banned in the official scholarship.
Nevertheless, the fear of the KGB never left my conscience even in that most liberal place by Soviet standards. I recollect one episode very well. It was there at the Academic campus that Volodya Zakharov gave me the novel 1984 to read. As I was unable to interrupt my reading I took it along on a business trip to Moscow . And I kept reading it with fascination in the airplane on the way there and back. When I came home I discovered that the book was not in my suitcase. I was horrified as I realized that it would not be difficult at all for the authorities to find out who from the passengers had any relation to the book that was on the “black” list of the most dangerous literature. I already could envision the kind of troubles I would have as a person who was teaching the young people at the university. To my great delight I discovered that the book was after all in my suitcase that was packed chaotically.
No matter how exciting, comparatively speaking, my professional life at the Academic campus was, I still could not let the “Jewish question” go away from my life. What was even more important was that I experienced political fear again after 1968. The political atmosphere at the Academic campus got tense in the beginning of 1968 after 46 scholars signed a public protest against a trial of Yurii Galanskov and Aleksandr Ginsburg and especially after the concerts of Aleksandr Galich. Literary on the next day the province newspaper published an aggressive article and not without anti-Semitic hints. As a result, the Academic campus that existed under the protection of the Siberian Academy of Sciences lost its political autonomy instantaneously.
Immediately, all the local bosses, including those who supervised the social sciences and read banned literature with us just the day before, now dissociated themselves from not only those who had signed the protest but also from the kind of liberal I was. All personal relations with us were broken. Both in public and private conversations they began to renounce everything that they had been saying a day earlier. Aganbegyan, who just the day before was an active proponent of sociology and supported all the empirical research, all of a sudden started questioning the sociologists’ usage of the notion “group” since there existed a well tested Marxist notion of “class.”
Fear and the KGB at the Academic Campus
I truly recovered some political courage at the Academic campus but the KGB appeared on the horizon after 1968 again as political oppression was gaining momentum in the country. I was informed that my apartment was bugged, i.e. communications were listened to and that several of our friends were interrogated about me. I remember that one day a kind and amicable man told me with ardor strolling along with Liuba and me what was being said among the bosses about us. They said that we were far removed from the common people with our interest in banned literature and so on.
It was then, as I witnessed an instantaneous, I mean really instantaneous transformation (there is this a good expression of this in English: “overnight”) in the minds of many people, that I realized how wrong were those who described the human mind as a non-contradictory system based on the innate values and preferences of man and that it was as stable as human genes. In reality, I reasoned then, the human mind possessed a set of ideological cartridges that were set in motion as soon as an individual got into a new situation. In just one day my acquaintances replaced one cartridge that they used to demonstrate their liberal views by another. They used to support the “Czech spring,” the liberal reforms in the country, the banned self-produced literature, and the songwriters. Now they started discussing the dangers of “revisionism,” and of ideological subversion with the help of banned literature and songwriters and the danger to socialism and to the interests of the USSR in Czechoslovakia . Many years later I witnessed another change of cartridges en mass in Moscow. This time around, many of my friends from among the convinced Marxists almost with the same speed turned into uncompromising anti-communists and orthodox Christians that did not acknowledge any positive sides in Soviet society or in Marxism.
Life in the Academic campus changed profoundly after March 1968. I found myself between the two camps. I did not have the courage to join those who had signed the protest even though I was truly on their side. Joining them in my case meant a drastic change of my entire life and most importantly the end to my professional career. To lose this opportunity was always the greatest misfortune for me. Other people, truly outstanding and brave ones, with a need to express themselves that was not smaller than mine, acted differently. Mstislav Rostropovich decisively put at stake his entire professional career when he extended his hand to Solzhenitsyn by helping him. I, as well as all my close friends, did not belong to that group of people. None of us was among those who had signed the protest. The scale for judging the courage or cowardice of people is very large. There is a place in it for heroes, like Solzhenitsyn, and for absolute conformists. Judging myself I can claim a place located somewhere considerably closer to the space occupied by the dissidents than to the segment occupied by the frenzied and base supporters of the regime. I was not a hero but neither did I belong to the political establishment. Among the sociologists of my rank, I was probably the only one who had no party membership. I was never among the political conformists and did not take part either directly or indirectly in any ideological campaigns. Likewise, I never tried (and I am proud of it) to embellish my motivation when I allowed myself to make a compromise with the political regime that I always hated.
At the time that I had to make a decision on whether to take part in signing the protest, I was absorbed in a sociological research project and I enjoyed my work very much. Earlier I could only dream about a project like that. I gained an opportunity to direct the first in the history of the country national public opinion survey, huge in its scale. I understood that if I were to join those who signed, my work would be finished and with it considerable harm would be done to Soviet sociology that had just begun to develop. I also understood that they would make short work of me as a Jew, much more brutal than the treatment of my Russian colleagues. And so it was, a biologist Raisa L’vovna Berg and a mathematician Abram Il’ich Fet were fired, whereas others received only a reprimand in their service or party records. (Among the latter was a physicist Volodya Zakharov who was a good friend of mine and I have kept good relations with him to the present day). But what was even more important was that nobody knew how the repressive machine would act. If those who had signed were arrested, and then their friends were arrested and then the friends of friends were arrested, nobody would have been surprised. That was the logic of the previous Soviet repressive campaigns. As it were, although I was not known as a dissident, alarming indications were beginning to appear.
In April 1968 the Academic Council of the University refused to recommend me for a position of Professor, which was a violation of the routine procedure for those who had a doctorate degree. I had it since 1966. At the session of the Academic Council, a mathematician Andro Bitsadze accused me of political disloyalty and links to those who signed a protest. This created a rather disturbing situation. I already had a position that was called performing the duties of a professor and now in the new circumstances I could loose it. What was even more dangerous was that he put forward a political accusation that could have caused all kinds of other repressions. Soon afterwards there came a complaint from the High Party School where I was giving a course every year on the history of economic teachings, that I, instead of providing critique of the bourgeois economists, was in fact praising them. Then a similar accusation was lodged at the University itself from persons who before March were no different in their liberal views from the average inhabitant of the Academic campus. But now they, with the support of the directors of the Institute of Economics demanded explanations from me as to why I used a book by Western economist Paul Samuelson as a textbook. They were not deterred by the fact that the author was officially published in the USSR.
But the most unpleasant developments were still in store for me. At that time I was conducting a survey for the newspaper Pravda and I was in close contact with the correspondent of that newspaper Boris Yevladov. He was an unusually intelligent man, which was not customary for party correspondents. He had an interest in having no political catastrophe happen to me because in that case he would have to give an account to his office. That is how he called the editorial board of the newspaper. And so when he arrived in the campus he told me about a conversation that took place in Tiumen, where because of some circumstances three important persons of the Academic campus met. These were Andrey Trofimuk, Vice President of the Siberian Chapter of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Migirenko, a secretary of the party committee of the University, a friend of Boris Yevladov (he was the source of the information), and Aganbegyan. It was the latter, sitting at the fireplace in the hotel who told the others, trying to renounce his liberal reputation, that the real organizer of the signing of the protest campaign was none other than Shlapentokh, and that it was unclear how he managed to get into the Academic campus in the first place.
This news horrified me as it could have had the most unpleasant consequences for me in the political atmosphere of the time. I even went to see Zoya, an amicable woman, the wife of Aganbegyan to let her know by way of a little blackmail that if her husband would attribute to me responsibility in that affair and if because of that I would have troubles, I would in turn speak about his participation in reading banned literature and about other facts of his liberalism. Not even the negative reference of the secretary of the Province party committee Fedor Goryachev (dangerous in itself) alarmed me as much as actions of people with whom I used to carouse.
My position was hard not only because of the approaching threat of being fired and arrested. The dissident movement, until its demise, was influential among the intelligentsia and many other people including me were ready, if it was not too risky, to render assistance to the dissidents. A complete polarization occurred at the Academic campus at that time. On one side were those who signed and their friends and those who supported them, and on the other, those who assumed the role of the accusers and started to condemn those who had signed at the meetings.
An amicable man, a writer Iosif Zakharovich Goldenberg, was working in my group on the sociology of the press at the university. In 1967 he was involved in posting anti-Soviet slogans in the campus. This became known later. And so he joined those who had signed. Yevladov demanded that he should be expelled from the research team of the Pravda project. Others demanded that he should be expelled from the University as well. At the same time people from the other camp threatened me with reprisals from those party officials who ostensibly were supporting the dissidents secretly. Particularly harsh was one man from the group of those who had signed, whom I had considered my friend and who was an admirer of my work. Now he demanded complete dedication to the interests of the opposition movement and he reminded me a character from The Possessed. He told me that I was on the surveillance list at the Province Directorate of the KGB that was supervised directly from Moscow . By the way he openly engaged in dissident activity for two decades. He had the largest library of dissident literature in town, openly met the leaders of the dissident movement, such as Igor Shafarevich in recent years but not once as far as I know did he get into any kind of conflict with the KGB. He threatened me with sanctions from his powerful supporters at the Academic Campus and in Moscow for not joining those who had signed. Clearly he enjoyed an opportunity to deal out commands and he threatened me with serious consequences if Goldenberg were to be fired and he promised to cut short my proposed move to Moscow into an Institute of Sociology that was going to be created. (By the way that same Goriachev likewise tried to thwart my moving to Moscow ). I was feverishly looking for a solution and I found it. Goldenberg may keep his job but on the condition that his participation will not be made public and he would not take part in the analysis of the research data of the Pravda project.
And still no matter how unpleasant were the reproaches on the part of the dissident camp, and I recognized that they were partially justified; the most difficult for me was the existence of the incessant menace coming from the authorities. I felt besieged at the Academic campus. Aron understood this too and he came to the Academic campus to support me. Aron’s reputation and influence was enormous in the field of mathematical economics. Our Institute at the Academic campus with all its major scholars was a part of that field in scholarship. Everybody knew that the director of Central Economic Mathematical Institute. Nikolay Prokof’evich Fedorenko valued Aron very much. In a town that lived with rumors and lacked certitude, Aron’s arrival was perceived as a signal that everything was fine with Vladimir and that they treated him well in Moscow and that meant automatically that the KGB would have nothing to say either.
In the end, my moving to Moscow finally did take place. The day in April 1968 when I received a confirmation of my Moscow residence registration was one of the happiest at that time. Fedor Burlatsky, the deputy director of the new institute of sociology overcame resistance of the Central Committee and I started working there in the summer of 1968. The upheavals of those days quieted down only after 23 August, the day of the military intervention in Czechoslovakia . I found out about it at the airport as I was coming back with Varlen Soskin from vacation. We were sure that mass repressions were going to follow. And we were pleasantly surprised that we were mistaken. We had to face the fact that as in 1964-1965 Brezhnev “did not want blood.” However, neither did we have any illusions about the nature of the totalitarian regime. It continued to exist, albeit not in its Stalinist version.
Moscow in the 1970s
The Moscow period of my life from 1968 to 1979 was rather gray in terms of social and intellectual engagement and in comparison with the life at the Academic campus. Galina Mikhailovna Andreeva, the chair of the department of sociology at the Moscow University , tried to promote me after one year of teaching to the permanent position of non-tenured faculty. But she did not succeed. Almost all the years I spent in Moscow, I was cut off from students almost completely. I published several books devoted to the methodology of sociology; I gave public lectures on rare occasions and published half a dozen articles in Literaturnaya Gazeta. Some of them were quite brave. All that gave me only perfunctory satisfaction.
Far more important to me was a research project that the newspaper Pravda ordered to my Institute. This time around I was assigned the role of the director of the methodological part of the project. I had an idea to use this project to develop public opinion survey methodology on the entire population on the basis of a national territorial sample. This had never been done in the country. I managed to convince the persons in charge of Pravda that it was essential to study the attitude to the newspaper not only of its subscribers, but the entire adult population. I argued not without flattery that Pravda had a reputation as the leading newspaper in the country and that Gallup himself “would have acted that way” as well. High regard of foreign experts was just as strong in Pravda as in any other party or state institution.
I worked very hard with Tanya Yaroshenko and Lena Petrenko, creating the territorial sample. I wanted to generate a model of a sample that would be at the level of world standards. I made frequent trips around the country to work out the methodology of sampling. I published scholarship on this subject including a book especially devoted to sampling in sociology. All this made life in Moscow suitable for me. But I understood that my best years were being spent not on what corresponded to the meaning of my fundamental interests.
Lenin library was my major consolation and I spent many hours there daily. In those days Lenin library turned into a real (unlike the show off House of literati) intellectual club. It was a place of debate and of emotional reunions between representatives of both genders who had higher education or scholarly degrees with their dreams of romance. I had friends among many employees of the library and the director even asked me to conduct a survey to find out the motives for a clearly expressed desire to get into the overcrowded halls of the library. I did that together with a graduate of the Moscow University Lena Gordon. In those days, only professors and graduate students from Western countries had permits to use the first hall; as for all others, they had to wait in line for hours. The administration of the library asked us to offer to the readers who got into our sample group a precious right to take books home in exchange for surrendering their access to the reading room. (The privilege to take books home belonged only to the Academicians and other select members of the elite). As we expected, the absolute majority of the participants in the experiment did not want to part with their reading room access, which supported our original hypothesis that the library was for them a club, first and foremost.
At the Lenin library I felt like a full-fledged person. But outside its walls my second rate status was confirmed even more distinctly than at the Academic campus, where the principle of meritocracy (that is evaluating people by the real contribution to society) was implemented much better than in the capital. After the appointment of Mikhail Rutkevich as director, who had the nickname “the executioner of Soviet sociology,” I could not count on an appointment as a supervisor of even the minutest department. Whereas all other leading sociologists found work at other academic institutions after the arrival of Rutkevich, I had to remain after several unsuccessful attempts in the humiliating position under the direction of a petty tyrant in order to be able to keep my job.
It is hard for me to recreate “my profile” in those departments of the Central Committee that supervised the Humanities in the early 1970s up to the beginning of mass emigration of Jews. I suppose that they saw me as someone who was a competent scholar, which was in my favor, but who was ideologically unstable, which was obviously a minus. The verdict probably was that I was a person who should be allowed to work without too many obstacles thrown in his way, but should also be kept under supervision and he should not be allowed to occupy administrative positions or allowed to travel abroad. This profile probably determined the fact that they did not touch me despite the occasional scandal and let me be in the kind of niche where I found myself.
One of the scandals was caused by my book, Sociology For Everybody. I was writing it at the end of the 1960s (primarily before 1968) at the time when Alik and I were in a brilliant frame of mind. We were relatively young, had professional successes, and believed in the progress of society. The readers saw and felt the unusual character of that book. It was the first popular presentation of the principles of the new field offered to a Soviet audience. It had an informal style. One could sense the affection of the author for the field and his belief in the positive influence of sociology on the process of liberalization of Soviet society. All this was quite new. Sociology For Everybody turned out to be quite popular. They started selling it on the black market where the importance of the book was determined by the “Hamburg numbering.”
In this book, I tried to tell about the work of my fellow sociologists who all felt themselves as members of one intellectual brotherhood that was fighting against some dark forces. Moreover, the narrative presented the results of their research and my admiring comments. In 1987, I repeated those for the second time with much pleasure in my American book mentioned earlier about the history of Soviet sociology. In 1971-1972, maltreatment of sociology as a field began and many sociologists whom I had praised were expelled from the Institute. And then the Central Committee acted in response to my book. Grigorii Kvasov, the overseer of Sociology in the Central Committee mildly censured my book at a closed party meeting, where I of course could not be present. He called it a book complementing others. However, no consequences followed either for me or for the book. They decided to let her and me be.
Approximately at that time, the Central Committee expressed displeasure over an Explanatory Note that Fedor Burlatsky and I wrote about “the Great Cultural Revolution in China.” I was the one who signed the Note. Using the results of the Pravda readers survey from 1968 we wanted to show to the masters in the Kremlin that the liberal course was important for them above all – it was a course that they had abandoned at the end of the 1960s. The results of the survey showed that the newspaper readers were full of hatred of bureaucrats, which in itself could have created a danger for the regime. That is what Burlatsky and I were trying to communicate gently to the superiors. That is why flirtation with the workers and egalitarianism and the harassment of intelligentsia that the Brezhnev leadership had started to practice in the wake of the Prague spring and the campaign of signing protests could, as we implied, push the common people to a kind of “cultural revolution” as in China . It was clear that the “Cultural Revolution” in China , in its struggle against bureaucracy and against “people who had adopted a capitalist path,” brought the country to chaos. Our “move” did not work. Instead of gratitude for a far-sighted analysis, the above-mentioned Kvasov reprimanded me at the subsequent party meeting for an almost anti-Soviet fabrication. But no consequences followed this time around either.
The third trouble was connected with my role as a “defender of the lonely Soviet women.” In 1969, the Literaturnaya Gazeta asked me to analyze twenty thousand letters that the newspaper received in response to an article that proposed to create an introduction service in the country using computers. (In those days computers were called Electronic-Calculating Machines and they were very popular among the bosses and in the society generally). Eighty percent of the letters were from lonely women who were literally pleading to create such a service. In my article published in the Literaturnaya Gazeta, I wrote about the content analysis of the letters and about an almost total support for that initiative. A few days later Pravda responded with a witty article “Matchmaker of the Electronic Liaison.” The article accused me of promoting alien mores and of ignoring love as the sole basis for a genuine Soviet marriage. As it became clear later, the push to publish this article came not from the offices of Pravda, but from the Politbureau itself. (The “Pravda” editors were after all connected to me by the survey that I had conducted for them). Most likely, this was done by one of the wives of the members of the Politbureau who may have thought that the introduction service would be a service not for marriage, but for providing women as entertainment. Whatever it was, this article spoiled my disposition for a long time.
Besides these official reprimands of the early 1970s, I regularly received all kinds of disapproving messages unofficially. At several conferences, the volumes I published, The Sociology of the Press and Sociology for Everybody, were denounced as harmful and alien. My supervisor, Yura Semenov, the son of a famous Academician and son-in-law of another even more famous one Yulii Khariton, was a remarkably intelligent and erudite man and very apprehensive despite his status. He regularly informed me that conversations about my alleged Zionism were going on at the party bureau of our Institute. Then rumors originating at the Academic Campus began to float that the KGB was interested in me, and so on and so forth.
On the whole, all these events of the early 1970s strengthened in my mind my alienation from the society I lived in. But far more important was a feeling of total isolation from the external world. Whereas all my friends regularly went abroad, I was absolutely “under the ban of going abroad” and I felt as if I were a pariah. In 1970 I was not allowed an opportunity to go to the International Sociological Convention in Bulgaria. Moreover, they even did not let me take part in the International conferences that took place in Moscow. At one point they invited me to one of those but in a role that was secondary and humiliating for me.
Certainly this isolation was very painful and it was hard to hear stories from my colleagues about their impressions of travels abroad. Roma upon the advice of one of his numerous friends used this situation once for an innocent practical joke. He put into my mailbox a letter that appeared as if it were mailed from Japan. The letter was written on the hotel stationary but I did not pay attention to that at first. The letter said that the Japanese admirers of my Sociology For Everybody insistently invited me to come to them with a series of lectures at the Universities of their country. Alas, I took it all at face value. At last they found out about me abroad. I was not in a hurry to make that invitation known at the Institute, as I understood that that was a non-starter. It went on like this for about a week, until finally at the next get-together of friends (at Misha Loiberg’s place that time) when everybody had a sufficient number of drinks, Roma told me about his joke. I was furious and reproached him for the lack of decency and making blows not by the rules. The friends gathered their judgments of the joke.
Alik declined to censure Roma, and that caused my indignation. As a matter of fact, despite all his affection for me, Alik never took my side either in the intellectual debates I had with Aron at the end of the 1960s about the role of the optimal planning and market in the Soviet economy, or in the emotional conflicts as was the case in this story with the practical joke. Neither did he side with me in the much more tense and complex relations with Igor Birman already in America. At the end of that memorable evening, I forgave Roma who contentedly went to stay at our apartment as he lived a one-hour ride away from Moscow at that time. The sad episode was finished. It is funny but approximately ten years later I was really invited to Japan to deliver lectures in almost all those cities that were mentioned in the practical joke. At the Tokyo University, the chairman raised my book so that it could be seen. From each of those cities I sent Roma letters to Moscow, as well as a photo of a professor holding Sociology For Everybody up high. The gloomy state of mind in the mid-1970s was profound and hopeless. Naturally, we could not even dream about restructuring the Soviet system or about its demise.
Even though the Soviet system remained totalitarian, still during that time it was much milder than before 1953. We clearly understood that changes could be initiated only from the Kremlin and we believed that it was in the Kremlin’s interest to make the system more efficient, particularly economy, which we all believed was too uneconomical. We admired those who were signing protests but we were sure that it was only the Soviet leaders’ own interests that could show the way to the favorable changes in the system. We were convinced that the Soviet system was to be around forever but that under favorable conditions it could become milder and gentler and more liberal. After the overthrow of Khrushchev in 1964, some hope kept glimmering that liberal reforms would be continued. Alik insisted ardently then that every subsequent Soviet leader had to be more liberal than the preceding one. And in fact in 1965-1967 it appeared as though, despite the arrest of Sinyavsky and Daniel, and of some other dissidents, the authorities were encouraging liberal ideas, unless they challenged the system as such. It was during those years that the mathematical-economic field developed speedily and it stood apart from the official political economy and promised to create a more efficient economy with the help of optimal programming. Alik knew about the momentous developments in economics for two reasons: firstly because I took part in them, especially after my moving from the Academic Campus, and secondly, because he was in close contact with Aron, a common friend of ours, who was one of the leading theoreticians of that sub-field.
Still, mathematical economics as a field was only a tool to improve the efficiency of the centralized system. The true harbinger of progress was sociology, because of its focus on the individual and on the role of public opinion in society. Alik was included in my activity in the field of sociology, which was full of emotional tension, and he saw in the rise of sociology a true sign of the liberal progress of society. He was very proud that I turned out to be the director of the first large scale All-Union sociological surveys and he told joyfully everybody that the editors-in-chief of major newspapers were maintaining close ties with me and offering me all kinds of perks, which was a credit to sociology as an important field for society. (Alik was pleasantly surprised when my identity card as a Pravda employee gave us a chance to buy three tickets to the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” by Kubrick, which was being shown at the Moscow film festival in 1968. The third ticket went to Misha Loiberg).
With the intervention in Czechoslovakia , hopes for the evolution of society disappeared. The country entered the period of the “hopelessness of autumn,” if to use the analogous image in the title of the novel by Yurii Davydov about the dark years of Russia after the murder of Alexander II, and about the terrorists who sought a way out of the gloomy situation.
My life in Moscow in the mid-1970s when the Jewish emigration was in full swing, seemed to me, despite some apparent successes, more and more pointless and my activity meaningless. However, at the micro level it satisfied me just fine. My friendship with Alik and very cordial and close relations with Tanya Yaroshenko and Lena Petrenko with whom I worked on the sociological sampling, as well as frequent get-togethers with many friends and colleagues in the evenings, neutralized the somewhat negative sides of existence. Fear before the unknown and the tolerable conditions of life in Moscow for a number of years weakened my determination to emigrate.
I must admit that our cultural life in the 1970s was interesting and intensive. Even though thick journals, including Novyi Mir, became much less interesting, occasionally there were pieces mainly by Western authors that caused lively debates at our gatherings. Certainly, the main course in reputable reading for us all was provided only by Foreign Literature. It continued to publish the cream of world literature then. (We still remain its subscribers to the present day). Updike was for us one of the literary stars in those days. I once explained, not without sarcasm, to my American friends, who had no idea about him, that Updike was so popular that in a Soviet film a ninth grade schoolgirl, wishing to test the intellectual level of her mother, demanded that she name the latest novel by Updike.
The role of the self-published underground literature declined considerably. However, books published in the West more and more often caught our attention. A big event for us was the publication of the Yawning Heights by Sasha Zinoviev. I knew him even before the publication of this book and I always admired his paradoxes and wit. I organized readings of some excerpts from that book at our apartment. The book was a source of limitless delight. I remember with what inspiration I read a chapter about the “Theater on Ebanka” (that is, Liubimov’s “Taganka” Theater). Refined analysis of Soviet reality was combined with unheard of intellectual virtuosity and Swift like sarcasm. During those years I read many more authors in the original than earlier. It so happened that I read of lot of Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth. It was in regard to these authors that a funny but indicative episode took place. At my Institute I was a member of the Board of Graduate Examinations on methodology of sociological research. A young woman, a graduate student came to take her exam. She was from the “Special Department,” a part of the Institute where I never went because I did not have the security clearance. However, at the examination nobody could deny me the right to ask questions in regard to the dissertation research topic even of those graduate students who were from the closed part of the Institute. So I did that time as well. A pleasant person, who was quite well disposed toward me, she replied to my question, explaining that her topic was the writings of those three authors that I mentioned. “But why did you unite them all?” I asked, in full gullibility, which was not a compliment to my deduction. “Oh, Vladimir Emanuilovich,” she cooed almost tenderly, “The things is, they are all Zionists, and it is our duty to expose them.” “But wait a minute,” I tried to object, as I had just finished a wonderful novel by Malamud called A New Life in which even the word Jew was never mentioned. “On what basis did you decide that they were Zionists?” “They are all Jews, all three of them!” she whispered timidly, that little fighter against Zionism. All I could do was finish the questioning, because the Kremlin was on the side of the graduate student. The Kremlin had long since substituted the term “Jew” with the term “Zionist.” Certainly, I could not suspect that soon after that and in a different country I would come across a far more frequent substitution of one word with another. To be sure, those substitutions had noble and not mean motivations. (“Afro-American” instead of “black,” or what was worse “Negro”; “senior citizen” rather than “pensioner” or “old person”; “a person of non-standard sexual orientation” rather than “homosexual”; and finally “a person in sexual services” rather than “a prostitute,” and so on).
Fears in Moscow
During the 1970s, the feeling of relative security that I had had during the 1960s was disappearing. Looking back I think that it was probably linked to the mass emigration that had started and the fact that I was not prepared for my own departure. In the summer of 1977 Sasha successfully graduated from one of the best mathematical schools in Moscow. She applied to the Mechanical-mathematical department of the Moscow University. Just as other Jewish applicants she was failed at the entrance examinations. As we found out later they offered her a special type of questions that were called “dead-end problems.” Now it sounds funny, but at that time, one of the most active members of the admissions committee was none other than Fedorchuk, the son of the former Minister of State Security of Ukraine and later of the USSR. This appeared to be rather ominous. (Nowadays, this Fedorchuk as well as other more prominent members of the powerful anti-Semitic enclave among Soviet mathematicians take part along with Sasha in various international conferences and symposia as if nothing happened, and pretend that there are no reasons not to communicate in most friendly terms). The intervention of three academicians did not help (Abel Aganbegyan, Leonid Kantorovich and Nikolai Fedorenko). The only college she managed to enter was a railcar manufacturing department at the Moscow Institute of Railway Transportation, which was an incredible insult and a humiliation. After that, Liuba, though not Mitya, became an ardent defender of departure. But I was somehow unable to make that decision even though I dreamed about it my entire life. Despite the fact that I promised to Sasha that we would leave if she did not enter the Moscow University, I decided to make one more attempt to rectify the situation. I decided to use my acquaintance with Aleksandr Zimianin, who was the editor-in-chief of Pravda at the time I was doing a public opinion poll for them. Zimianin was one of the Secretaries of the Central Committee. I sent him a letter about Sasha. His aide confirmed that he knew about my existence and he assured me that “Aleksandr Vasil’evich would personally read the letter.” At least a dozen people were involved in writing the letter. Anatolii Rubinov, a well-known journalist was engaged particularly emotionally. I knew him for a long time as we worked together at the Literaturnaya Gazeta. The letter had to sound strong even aggressive but not to the extent that it could be considered an anti-Soviet document. It was also decided not to blackmail them with the emigration. A fear that the KGB would be triggered into action and that instead of emigrating westwards one could wind up going eastwards in chains did not leave for a moment the minds of those who took part in this quite humble action. About a month went by before I received, after inquiring phone calls to the Central Committee, an invitation for a meeting with the Chief of the Directorate Overseeing the Universities and a member of the Collegiums of the Ministry. Again a gathering of friends was debating the tactics of my communication with the chief. And as strange as it may appear some of them expressed hope that the authorities would not want to push me a leading sociologist out of the country because of possible “international complications.” But we all miscalculated. My counterpart did not show any desire to discuss anything with me. He just pretended that he had no idea about the substance of my complaint. I was stunned by that unforeseen stance and sharpened the tone of the conversation and declared that anti-Semitism was reigning at the mechanical-mathematical department. The high-ranking official without raising his voice in a lazy manner asked if I had evidence for that. And when I started listing those, he refused to listen. The conversation reached its culmination when I said that what was going on prompted me to undertake some “serious decisions.” But in response he just said: “Well, go ahead and realize those.” What became apparent was that the decision to push me out was adopted at a fairly high level. At any rate, Zimianin who treated me always with great consideration knew about it. When I walked out of the Ministry Lena Petrenko, who together with Tanya accompanied me to that meeting in a fit of temper said: “In that case just emigrate.”
At this point I could no longer avoid making this decision and I sent a telegram to Igor: “Urgently please send a book about the humming bird in Columbia .” The invitation arrived in October of that year.
This was when the KGB really stepped into action. I am sure that they overestimated my dissident potential and decided to use the invitation for softly pushing me out of the country. (This was usually done with people who were really active in the opposition movement). This is how I can explain a number of facts that took place then. To start with, the KGB began to follow me persistently and in such a manner that I would immediately know about it. This campaign started when Lena, Tanya and I went to Novosibirsk at the end of 1977. The hotel administration demonstratively controlled my presence in the room. They did it even more brazenly in the spring of 1978 in Tbilisi Georgia, where we went at the invitation of the Central Committee of Georgia to check the methodology of the first survey in the Georgia Center for the Study of Public Opinion, which had been created by Shevardnadze. We were given a VIP reception. That meant special cultural programs, banquets, excursions, etc. But as they were seeing us off at the airport with Champaign , one of the admirers who just showed up, informed me in confidence that the Moscow KGB asked the Georgian colleagues to check on me and that “our fellows” told them that “everything was fine” and that I “should not worry about anything.”
The same thing happened in Kiev but in a different manner. I went there on 20 May 1978 for the birthday of my mother. Usually upon arrival I registered my business trip papers at the Institute of Philosophy . However, this time they refused to register my papers where everybody knew me and respected me. My friends when they saw me would avoid me. On the next day, one of them told me on the phone that there was an order from Moscow to follow me. And that caused a matching reaction in Kiev .
Upon my return my determination to submit the application to emigrate strengthened sharply. I told Alik about all these events but he did not see anything dramatic in them. With these facts I wanted to break the resistance of Mitya who did not want to leave for any reason at all. And he reacted with the phrase: “They have not arrested you yet, have they?” However, the next event puzzled Alik as well. A few weeks after Tanya Yaroshenko defended her dissertation, they summoned her to the KGB headquarters. They kept asking her to tell them what was going on in my house. She with her husband was a frequent guest at our get-togethers. They explained to her clearly that the approval of her dissertation by the All-Union Accreditation Agency depended on her willingness to cooperate with them. Those who summoned her understood that she would immediately tell me. This time it was not so easy for Alik to convince me to dismiss this episode as meaningless. He really did not want me to leave.
A few months later in the beginning of October, I submitted my application to emigrate. On 19 October, this was my birthday, not only close friends came but also those friends who under normal circumstances were not invited to our home on that occasion. Among others Yurii Levada came. His own political reputation was in bad shape also. And he acted as my “psychological counselor” all the way to the departure. Apparently many of them were proud of me and were happy that I took that step.
During the last six months before departure I did not notice the presence of the KGB. Moreover, I felt that my decision had been accepted by the KGB and the Central Committee. I brazenly pushed for my rights if I felt that they had been violated, and I was a winner in every case. For example, they wanted to deprive me of special medical care at the academics’ hospital and of library privileges in the professors’ hall at the Lenin library. My offenders retreated each time when I asked a question: “Did you coordinate your actions with the Central Committee?” Despite the fact that I was concerned about the period after submitting the application and the departure itself, still my fear of the KGB disappeared. I started working on the languages of those countries that I had to cross on my way to America . I was constantly meeting people, took part in all kinds of get-togethers and felt almost as a hero especially looking at those who had not yet made up their mind to go.
As a matter of fact, during the entire pre-departure period, I took notes about people whom I met in my capacity as a departing person. I worked on that data later in America . A Hungarian graduate student at the Institute of Sociology passed this data on to me. I discovered that young Russian women turned out to be the bravest, and elderly male Jews were the most gutless. I can name not only Tanya Yaroshenko and Lena Petrenko but also Tanya Marchenko (with whom I did not have close ties earlier) who did everything possible to support me psychologically during the period of waiting. I can mention other young Russian women, among them those who had worked with me at the Institute, or at the Lenin library, or employees of TsEMI who demonstrated their support in a variety of ways. They organized special parties (as a matter of fact there is no good Russian word to define an informal get-together with friends; carousing, reception or revelry just do not fit here) and they presented me with memorable gifts. A little elephant that Olia from TsEMI gave me has been standing in my office for twenty years.
I remember other things, too. For example, one elderly Jew, a member of the party and a pretty good acquaintance of mine in the past, was furious when Valeria Dmitrievna Stelmakh, just to be nice, bought tickets for both of us to see some foreign movie. As it turned out, she “made” him sit next to me. I do not hold a grudge against him, as I am far from being a hero of resistance myself. Upon his request I willingly met him in Moscow in 1991, but I got dismayed only when he denied, despite the obvious facts, that he was trying to avoid me back in 1979.
However, the loyalty of my colleagues at the Institute, above all Lena and Tanya, was severely tested, and they withstood the test, having paid for it with their jobs. They were fired right after my departure. Even though they did not fire me right away, still the directors decided to deprive me of my degrees, and so if I had been denied permission to leave, my dismissal from the Institute would have been made easier. In that case I would have been deprived of my salary. However, I was certain about material support on the part of Alik and some other of my close friends.
I met with great jubilation a notification in April of 1979 to the effect that I was granted permission to leave. The most important moment in my relations with the Soviet regime came on 4 May at the Vienna airport, when I finally realized that I was beyond the reach of the KGB, and I understood that I was a free man. And if Izya were alive he would have been happy for me, all the more because his son Volodya had been in the USA for several years already.
Conclusion: Parting with the Totalitarian Past
In 1979, when I was leaving the USSR , I thought that I was parting with my totalitarian past, but this turned out not to be the case. My Russian-totalitarian past has not left me for a minute. As a matter of fact I did not try to cast it aside unlike many of my former contemporaries. Many of them in the 1970s and 1980s, typically wanted to forget everything that they had left behind and pretended that they were not interested in Russia at all. Perhaps because I had a professional approach I understood that my totalitarian past was a very valuable form of human capital. This term was in vogue in the U.S. when I arrived here. (As a matter of fact, I met Mr. Schultz, an economist, in Chicago , who had received a Nobel Prize for his innovative works on human capital in contemporary society). My “human capital” was essential for me not only for continuing scholarly study of Russia , but also for understanding American society, as well as other countries of the world. I have paid a high price for that “capital” in the form of decades of discrimination, fears, unrealized opportunities, isolation, the humiliation of my children and many other things. However, whatever the origin of this “capital,” I brought it with me from Russia . It passed though customs and as soon as I landed in Vienna , it was in my full possession.
My “totalitarian capital” showed itself in several ways. First of all, this was my professional baggage, both in general terms and in a narrow professional sense. It was necessary for the continuation of my sociological research. The general professional part of the “capital” was based on experience of life in a totalitarian society to which was added my life experience in the West. This part of “totalitarian capital” contributed greatly to the fact that the comparative analysis in my publications was much higher than that of the majority of my colleagues. It also strengthened my polemical possibilities at various debates and it raised the quality of my lectures at the university and elsewhere.
Surely, if I had been living in Western Europe rather than in the United States, my “totalitarian experience” would have been much more valuable than in America . Back in 1987-1988, I managed to organize two conferences, a national and an international one marking the fiftieth anniversary of the “Great Terror.” Both conferences caused an enormous response. However, as soon as Russia ceased to be the country that threatened the United States, interest in it and its history declined sharply. As a result, the three conferences I organized that followed in 1990-2000 about Russian Diaspora, the new elite, and about fears in the former Soviet Union attracted much less attention, even though the intellectual stars of Russia were among the speakers.
Europe is quite different. Recently, in 2002, I found out that the British playwright Tom Stoppard wrote a trilogy about Russian revolutionaries of the nineteenth century under the title The Coast of Utopia. In its three parts “Voyage,” “Shipwreck,” and “Salvage,” Herzen, Turgenev and Bakunin appear as the main characters. I wonder if he was aware of the fact that the Moscow theater Sovremennik (Contemporary) staged a three-part saga on the same subject in the 1960s. A famous London theater Olivier staged that trilogy as one eight-hour-long play. As a matter of fact at the end of the 1990s, Lev Dodin staged at the Malyi drama theater in St. Petersburg a play The Possessed also as an eight-hour-long play and, as I found out, the theater was full.
However, this play is about Russian history for the Russians. I cannot understand how it was possible for Tom Stoppard to attract viewers in Britain to a play about relations among Russian intellectuals 150 years ago. Also in Britain in 2002, another well-known author Martin Amis wrote a novel called Koba, the Dread. All the leading journals of the country responded to its appearance with reviews. Moreover, the main character of the latest novel by Julian Barnes, another famous British author, Love, etc., just cannot say enough about the unpublished story of Saltykov-Shchedrin.
Russian history likewise took root in the consciousness of the French intellectuals just as profoundly as among the British ones. One can hardly find a French novel with intellectual pretensions that does not contain metaphors relating to our totalitarian past.
None of this exists in America . The worth of my “totalitarian capital” went down noticeably in recent years and I get the opportunity less and less frequently to show my brilliance in knowledge of the Soviet system and of what preceded it. But even that cheapened “totalitarian capital” continues to serve me well and gives me an opportunity to understand better the society I wound up in at a rather advanced age. Quite unexpectedly I discovered many phenomena in American society that are quite similar to the Soviet system.
In 1984 I was one of the very few scholars in the world who had organized a discussion of Orwell’s book 1984. (Frankly, I have not heard of any other such conference). An ardent admirer of this author, I saw in 1984 and in Animal Farm stories that described the Soviet system and Soviet history. One can imagine to what extent I was astonished when some of the American speakers I invited started saying at the beginning of the conference that Orwell’s model was applicable to America, a country that had an almost ideal democracy and the main hope of the world in its opposition to Soviet totalitarianism. I chaired the conference and I had to demonstrate “civilized norms of discourse.” But I could not conceal my indignation and I announced that Orwell did not have anything to do with the wonderful country America and that it was impermissible to distort the idea of the book.
Alas, I was wrong, and I was primitive in the kind of anti-communism I espoused then. I had been living in America for five years by then but I was so far from reaching a serious comprehension of American society when I insisted that Orwell had no relation to it. With much delay I understood the power of Orwell’s idea that loving “Big Brother” is a condition for survival in any social unit, be it a family where one has to “love” a spouse one does not love, if one could not replace them. It applies likewise to an organization where one has to “love” the boss, and it applies to a state of any type. Having understood the blindness of vulgar anti-communism I started relating to America much more critically than during my first years in the country. At that time the cold war was in full swing and it had affected me greatly.
However, no matter how critical I was to America , I believed firmly that this was my country. Up to the present day I am very happy that I live in a society that is profoundly democratic and to some extent egalitarian. I turned out to be a much greater fan of America than my children Sasha and Mitya. Relying on their experience of working as professors in their universities, they refute in a variety of ways my firm belief in the efficiency of the American system and in its capacity to limit the arbitrariness of its civil servants at various levels of society.
My faith in America triumphed when Mitya received tenure at his university. A bloc was formed against Mitya consisting of people who envied him. They did not want to have someone around who was publishing more every year than all of them put together. These people denigrated him at every opportunity and they managed to convince the college of human resources commission not to support his candidacy. (A Russian faculty in a university would correspond to the American college in the system of American universities). The decision of that commission was usually repeated at all other levels of the academic hierarchy. Sasha and Mitya were convinced that nothing could be done and that arbitrary rule had won. However, the human resources commission of the university went over all previous decisions and despite the hostility of the university president who was a personal friend of Mitya’s opponents, Mitya received his tenure and a higher rank that was so important to him. This was also in some way my personal victory as well in our arguments as to whether American democratic procedures were a falsehood or in general an efficiently working system.
There is another thing I discovered from my experience in America . It was here that I finally realized that I had a strong collectivist approach in my genetic code. My deep friendship with Alik and Izya, my treatment of them as people who were not less but even more close to me than some of my relatives . . . all that would hardly have been possible if my individualist gene (which was also present in my heritage) proved to be stronger and if it had monopolized my instincts and the higher levels of my psyche.
However, the collectivist gene determined not only my loyalty to friends, it further demanded that I would experience joy from all other forms of collective activity, that I share in the joy over successes or failures of large groups of people who were close to me. That is why, as I mentioned earlier, the collective of my class in pre-war Kiev was so incredibly dear to me, and remains dear to the present day. That is why I have always enjoyed all kinds of collective activities, starting with parties and going to the movies, and ending with going together on vacations.
In the 1960s I defined myself with great joy as a member of the community of Soviet sociologists. This was a collective that was struggling for the creation of a new field of scholarship. I also felt that I was a member of a larger circle of Soviet liberals, who shared common feelings and jointly were trying to soften the totalitarian society, to make it more acceptable for thinking people.
However, as long as I remained in Soviet society the collectivist gene could never push me anywhere forward and I in my totalitarian past never was a patriot of the country that was called the USSR (with the exception of the war years). The Soviet country as a whole I saw as something inimical. I never experienced joy over the successes of the country in economics, sports or the arts. I never saw these as achievements of the Soviet system, but I always admired the remarkable writers, musicians, film directors, and actors of that time.
So it was in America that my collectivist gene started to work at the national level as well. I realized how rewarding it is to see the entire country as your ally, and for the first time I felt that I was a patriot. This gene could have worked in Russia as well and I would have been able to become a patriot there as well (after all my aunts were patriots in the 1920s and 1930s) had it not been for the fact that I regarded Russia as my stepmother.
When I arrived in America I immediately became aware to what an extent the collectivist spirit was present at all the levels of that society and I was incredibly happy to see that. Americans have a very strong desire to join voluntary associations. I mean voluntary and not imposed by the state. The forms and shapes of these associations are limitless, from a variety of clubs to mutual aid groups. (America is a “country of clubs,” was the definition of one social scientist). This sense of collectivism is the kind that the genuine Marxists dreamed about before 1917. This kind of collectivism was the kind that the Soviet apparatchiks feared as they dreaded the thought of losing control. This sense of collectivism is very dear to me, a person who, to put it in the words of a German writer with social-democratic sympathies in the inter-war years, had his “heart on the left side.” This is the title of his book.
Recently, I had lunch with the son of a well-known Soviet dissident at the university restaurant. The university was considering his candidacy for employment. After a preliminary and a rather perfunctory exchange of political views, my counterpart and his wife said ironically: “And you, it seems are an American patriot.” I concurred: “Yes, I am.” I wanted to say very much that they, the patriots of Russia , should be living in their motherland and not in the country they do not love. But as a host I refrained from this remark. In Russia I was frequently reproached for my American patriotism. My former compatriots could not understand my feeling of gratitude as something natural. Moreover, this gratitude was backed by my collectivist gene.
However, my affection for America does not imply that I was not disappointed in some important traits of American society. I went through the process of freeing myself from my romantic infatuation. And this process unfolded slowly so it was not a shock to me. As a matter of fact, I was not even noticing it at all. From time to time, I discovered that my new understanding of some traits of American society is totally different from my conceptions of those back in Moscow . In those days, I was reading contemporary American literature, both scientific and literary, and it seemed to me then that I had understood all the major components of that social system, which was the best in the modern world.
Reflecting on my American experience made me reconsider some of my dogmas. This would have been impossible had I not been enriched by the Soviet experience. When Mitya was fighting for his tenure, I advised him to write a book entitled, The Soviet Union Is Alive and Well in America. The point is that many parts of American society where market relations do not work, or work in a limited way, are very similar to those I saw in my Soviet homeland. American post-offices, as well as tax and immigration services function in a very familiar way. The situation could have been much worse, and the Soviet tendencies could have developed much stronger had it not been for the wonderful mass media that does not leave anyone alone in its chase after sensational facts. To that one has to add the work of American Congressmen and their numerous committees that ceaselessly intervene into all aspects of life in the country in response to the warning signs emanating from the mass media and from the working people. (Citizens appeal to them with complaints in the same way as people in the USSR appealed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party).
However, no matter how interesting the commonality of Soviet and American bureaucracy may be (or any other bureaucracy for that matter), for me more important discoveries could be found in the areas of mass consciousness and ideology. I used to think that ideological life in the USSR was profoundly unique and was attributable only to the totalitarian system, and that in the West everything was different, because free people had unlimited access to various sources of information, ceaselessly defended their independence in forming their opinions and experienced revulsion to ideological falsehood. I was almost certain that American intellectuals did not have duplicity or a capacity to change opinions on the demand of authorities or of the public opinion.
Moreover, it seemed to me that the psychology of an American would have nothing to do with a two-leveled mechanism that guarantees the co-existence of almost independent pragmatic consciousness and ideological consciousness. Pragmatic consciousness supervises everyday human behavior. Ideological consciousness supervises perceptions of the world that lie beyond the limits of personal experience. The respective authority controls ideological consciousness. I described this mechanism in my first large publications in America.
However, little by little I began to realize that American society is not less ideological than the Soviet one was. (It is strange that I needed so much time for that). Americans are imbued not with one official ideology, as was the case in the USSR, but with several equal ideologies. That is why in America I come across not one ideological type of person, as in the USSR , but several different types. The Russian intelligentsia in the USSR all the way up to 1987, including the dissidents, espoused essentially one ideology: the socialist one.
I have met here, for example, conservatives who preach the total superiority of the American system and do not allow any substantial criticism of the American way of life. I have also come across liberals, whose political correctness has become the centerpiece of their world-view. I have come across left radicals of the neo-Marxist variety who are filled with hatred for American society. And I met black nationalists who are sure that racism reigns in this country. I met people of non-European origin who hate America as an exploiter of the entire world. The problem with all these people is that their ideology is stronger than logic and it is backed not by empirical experience but by emotions boiling over. It is a useless undertaking to discuss any social problems with them, just as it was useless to discuss social problems with the Bolsheviks in the 1920s and 1930s, or with the official ideology-keepers in the subsequent decades.
Moreover, America has confirmed a proposition that I learned too well back in Russia , namely that ideology goes hand in hand with fear. (I wrote about it earlier). American citizens are terribly afraid of public deviations from the ideology dominant in their milieu, be it conservative, liberal or any other. Moreover, a propensity of a Soviet intellectual to say one thing publicly and another thing at home appears to be tremendously superior in terms of intellectual honesty against the background of American reality. A Soviet intellectual did have a very clear idea of what was right and what was wrong, and having come home from a heinous party meeting where he had blamed someone, he sought consolation at home. He sought forgiveness of his dishonesty in a friendly discussion with his friends and relatives over a glass of vodka. There he would articulate views that were directly opposite those he had just supported at the party meeting.
By contrast, an American professor does not look at himself from outside. He does not analyze his actions. Outside the official sphere (at home for example) he keeps mumbling those same politically correct things, even if those are in direct contradiction with the well-known facts. It is not surprising that Americans fear conversations on ideological topics at their parties and conferences. And it makes perfect sense. I used to love debate very much, but in America I lost all inclination to engage in it, because in the majority of cases, I come across an opponent who is absorbed with repeating and defending his ideological positions.
From the end of the eighteenth century and especially since Karl Marx it was clear that ideology renders an enormous and usually negative influence on the “Thinking Upstarts” (a well-known expression of Pascal). For this reason, various thinkers were always striving to find a category of people whose intellectual activity would reflect a minimal impact of ideology. Karl Mannheim, a German sociologist from the Marxist school of thought sought among the intellectuals those “flying over the classes.” This hope turned out to be utopian. There were none among them, as there are no species like that in nature.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that the people who came closest to the ideal were the educated people of the period of the declining empire. These were the Soviet intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s. I accept the accusation that I give compliments to my own generation. But I repeat that I have not met people anywhere who would have such an open mind as they did in those years in the USSR . Perhaps, this can be explained by the fact that during that short period among the narrow stratum of liberal intelligentsia many ideological conceptions circulated and none of them had the time to win the dominant position. (It is true that beyond this circle the situation was more prosaic). But what was characteristic for that social stratum was curiosity about everything – classical literature, the ancient world, cinema, theater, and the West.
I have not found anything like this in America, where the average Professor is not curious and does not question his ideological positions in any way, nor in Moscow where a liberal, a communist or a nationalist would be just as closed to any kind of information that bothers him. “What about you?” One can hypothetically ask me. “Do you believe that you are not subjected to external influences and values?” “Of course I am,” I would answer. “However, first of all, I hope that I am aware of my own ideological preferences, and secondly I am trying to minimize their influence on my own intellectual thinking as much as possible, as Max Weber demanded of social scientists. I experience boundless joy when I find someone with whom I can discuss one’s own original ideological and methodological positions. Even in my Lansing I found two such people: Professor Bob Solo and another one from Moscow , Professor of Russian literature Feliks Raskolnikov.
The fate of my strictly professional “capital” turned out to be not so simple. A few years ago one Moscow scholar introduced me in a radio show “The Echo of Moscow” as the only “convertible” sociologist of my generation who had emigrated to the West, meaning that the American sociological community accepted me as an equal. This was very pleasant to hear. However, the truth is (by the way this expression was in vogue among mathematicians at the Academic campus when they would turn to rebuffing the arguments of their opponents), the truth is that everything was much more complex.
When I arrived in America , sociology here was linked to mathematics too much. The graduate students at the Harvard department of sociology, where I taught in 1982 for one semester, scornfully referred to even such a renowned member of the department as Daniel Bell, one of the most well known sociologists of the second half of the twentieth century, as passé. They perceived him more as a journalist, because his publications, no matter how popular they were, had no mathematics or statistical analysis. At the very first conference of American sociologists that I attended immediately after emigrating in 1979, I discovered something I had expected, that the papers at most major panels were filled with various mathematical models.
Back in the USSR, I belonged to those sociologists who mostly used quantification methods and mathematics. I was the author of not only the first book in the USSR about econometrics (1966), not only a co-author of the first book about application of statistics and mathematics in social sciences, Quantitative Methods in Sociology (1966), but also I was an unchallenged authority in the use of statistical sampling in sociological research. I was also the first author of a Soviet book about sampling in sociology as well as of other publications about the methods of conducting sociological research. I felt myself so sure about the application of mathematics in sociology that at one dissertation defense at the Academic Campus where I served as a discussant I allowed myself to make some ironic remarks about a person defending his dissertation who shared a naïve belief that mathematical methods in science were superior to any other. I noted that faith in mathematics was often highest among those whose knowledge of mathematics was considerably weaker. This was greeted by an approving laughter of the audience. By this remark I made it clear that I, as a discussant, also belonged to those stalwarts of science who knew the true value of those methods and could cite many examples that would illustrate the meaninglessness or tautology of many mathematical models, both in sociology and in economics.
Reading American journals, I saw that the level of mathematical training I had was certainly inferior to that of the American sociologists in the leading universities of the country. That is why I realized that I could not seek positions at those departments where the rules were made by sociologists who heavily relied on mathematics. Certainly, everywhere, even at Harvard, there was a small group of scholars that survived who considered the historical method as the most valuable. (Most often these were the leftists or undisguised Marxists). However, they were obviously obsolete and the “quantifiers” scornfully ostracized them and usually would not even say “Hello” to them.
My credentials looked pretty good as a specialist on sampling, and of course a first-rate expert on the techniques of polling. I felt confident at the most prestigious conferences on the methodology of collecting information and I offered graduate courses on these topics with ease. However, I discovered to my great surprise that my American colleagues hardly ever conduct public opinion polling themselves, and when they have money they invite professional companies to collect information for them. As a result, even those sociologists who were heavily into quantification and mathematics had a very vague idea about sampling. Therefore, my trump card, sampling and polling, could not play an important role in my university career. I understood that I could seek an academic position only at a department where mathematical standards were more modest.
To that I should add that my extensive knowledge of optimal programming, with the exception of several theoretical concepts, remained entirely unusable in America . (As a matter of fact, these theoretical conceptions have remained completely unknown to the majority of American sociologists and even to the economists). Alas, back in the 1960s I spent a great deal of time learning those concepts. There were endless debates about their role in economics, and I published several articles about optimal programming and the first article in the USSR about its concrete application in planning measures.
Even my adolescent infatuation with the middle ages and my knowledge of accounting, which I gained while working on the state farm back in the 1950s, started to pay off in my American publications and lectures. I gained several skills in Saratov when I had to earn a living by teaching a variety of subjects. As for my theory of sociology “capital” that I brought to America, it was fit to use in very good universities and I could easily offer any course on sociology that was not loaded with quantification methods. Also my knowledge of Marxism was an important asset in that intellectual capital.
The most remarkable thing happened approximately fifteen years after my arrival in America . My sociology intellectual capital from the old country started to grow in value rather fast. The reason was that with the arrival of post-modernism and a phenomenal growth of research about the minorities, American sociology started to lose interest in the traditional quantification methods. They were replaced with “qualitative sociology.” What was typical for this new approach was its total disregard even for the simplest statistical models. Under those conditions, with my knowledge of mathematical methodology, I turned out to be ahead of 95 percent of my colleagues. This, however, did not have any practical consequences, because neither they nor the graduate students showed any interest in a refined analysis of numbers, let alone the modeling of social processes.
No doubt, it was pleasant to realize in America that I was an emigrant from a great country, and that I was a prominent member of the sociological community in Russia (rather than say Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria ). The fact that I was a Soviet sociologist produced a two-sided and a mutually exclusive reaction among my American colleagues. On the one hand, they were profoundly convinced that Soviet sociology did not deserve any attention because of its primitive level and therefore my status in it was as unimportant for them as the status of some shaman in an Indian tribe. Bernie Finifter, who subsequently became my guide in American university life, and a real friend in almost the Russian meaning of the word, advised me sincerely to forget who I was in the USSR at our first meeting. He visited Moscow when I was no longer there and my Moscow friends praised me highly, hoping to help me in America . Other American academics gave me similar advice. They appealed to me to be reasonable and to abandon hope to have an academic career, because the value of my diplomas and achievements was totally unknown in America.
That is why my first public presentations in America surprised my audience very much. It was during my first month after arriving in America that I made my first presentation before an elite audience in Washington DC who gathered to hear such a rare species as a prominent Soviet sociologist. Obviously they expected to hear some primitive text about Soviet society. I was fully aware of the expectations of the audience and I chose as the topic “The Impact of Political Factors on the Organization of Sampling in the USSR.” This topic gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge of contemporary sampling, the Soviet political system, and the Western scholarly literature. The people in the audience were totally convinced of their own professionalism and intellectual superiority over the entire world and certainly over the semi-barbarian Russia . They received my presentation with undisguised astonishment. The majority of questions boiled down to the issue: “How do you know that?” “Where could you read those books?” It took a long time for American sociologists with their inflated feeling of superiority acknowledged me as an equal.
On the other hand, no matter how strong the initial bias was in regard to my professionalism, I felt from the very beginning that Americans feared the power of the totalitarian state that I abandoned, which contributed to my scholarly prestige. No matter how one looked at it, I had been one of the leading figures in the sociology of a great power regardless of what they thought about the professional level of Soviet sociology. To a certain extent I foresaw such a turn of events and I, unlike many of my compatriots, did not try to escape the connection to the old country. On the contrary, I deliberately paraded my “Soviet origins.”
To be sure, there was something wicked in the fact that I hated the Soviet system, but used it to better my interests. This duality of my situation was noted only by one person, an Israeli psychologist who profoundly admired socialism in all its manifestations even in its Soviet incarnation. In the early 1980s, he was a guest lecturer at the University of Michigan. This was the period of my boundless hatred of the Soviet regime. He used to say: “See, Vladimir , you scold the Soviet system. However, how can one combine your criticism with the fact that it produced such a remarkably educated person as you are?”
When I arrived in America , I continued to identify myself as a member of the Soviet sociological community, which at the time was experiencing some difficulties. I praised my Soviet colleagues at every opportunity, knowing of course that parceling out compliments to Yadov, Levada, and Shubkin, I was in fact praising myself. Indeed, I was so involved in Soviet sociological affairs that I was not impartial, and the editor of my book on Soviet sociology (it seemed to me that he had been an intelligence officer in the past) admonished me, and asked me to lower the level of emotion in the discourse. He cited the academic standard in America of striving for objectivity. The fact was that I praised highly those that I admired and scolded those I despised. I perceived this request to abandon my judgments as treason, and I stood firm. My editor, however, got at least part of what he wanted by resorting to a ploy that I was not ready for. Just at the time of the highest emotional tension, when I was ready to cancel the publication, he asked me meekly: “Doctor Shlapentokh, what did your mother call you when you were a child?” Without pondering over the question too much, I answered: “Vova.” And so, guided by his incredible professional instinct and somehow guessing that I loved my mother deeply, he said in a mild and gullible voice: “Vova, I am asking you to take into consideration my recommendations.” I shuddered and said: “Yes, whatever, of course.”
On another occasion my boundless love for my mother played a somewhat different role. In 1958 I published the first article in the USSR about econometrics in a leading Soviet journal on economics. The problem was that in those days, still very close to the Stalinist age, it was customary to refer to Western economic studies only in negative terms. So I worked out a strategy to go around the censorship. All those who wanted to familiarize Soviet citizens with sociology, philosophy, literature or art in the West resorted to similar techniques. This strategy was to pursue discussion on two levels. In the article I would assert that econometrics was a pejorative word and it performed two functions. One of them was the ideological function, which reflected the official ideology. But the other was a pragmatic function. The description of the pragmatic function presented an opportunity to familiarize the Soviet readers with the real economic field abroad for the first time. The article was valued highly by those who had ideas about the techniques of fighting Soviet censorship and those who were happy that scholars and students were going to get some information about econometrics.
However, Boris Fedorovich Yudin, a mathematician who was engaged in the study of pure science, did not want to hear anything about Soviet ideological realities. He was incensed by my opportunism, because I wrote about using econometrics in ideological struggle, and he swore that he would not shake my hand if he met me. However, he changed his disposition when he found out that I had been writing post-cards and letters to my mother almost everyday over many years after I left Kiev in 1951. He would greet me warmly at the seminars and conferences on mathematical economics. Apparently, he decided that a person with such a devotion to his mother had some serious moral grounds for ideological maneuvers in an article about econometrics.
The book on Soviet sociology was published in two versions. One of them was entitled The Politics of Sociology in the Soviet Union (Westview Press 1987). The book was a big success. Besides everything else, it contained a measure of emotions and gave a pretty good idea about who was who in Soviet sociology.
Before the publication of this book I received an opportunity to praise Soviet sociology to the fullest extent. A few months after my arrival in America , a large press conference was held in New York to meet an unfamiliar bird, a Soviet sociologist. Many journalists from well-known publications were invited to attend. Conscious of the experience of the Washington lecture, I took an aggressive tone in regard to American sociology. Astonished journalists were listening to my praises of the high professionalism of my Soviet colleagues in general and their skills in composing questionnaires in particular. We had to refine our questions under the control of a half dozen bureaucracies. I ridiculed American sociologists who were very imprecise in formulating questions. After the lecture, an acquaintance of mine who used to work at the Moscow institute of sociology came up to me and asked me if I was crazy. Not having a job, I was blackening those who were my potential employers. The next day the New York Times published a large report about the press conference with my photo under the wonderful title “Soviet sociologists Are Better Than the American Ones in Organizing Opinion Polling.”
My deep involvement in the life of my Soviet colleagues was still strong in 1987-1988 when the liberal phase of perestroika began and my colleagues began to arrive in America. What joy I experienced when I greeted Shubkin for the first time in Lansing . He was the first of the Soviet sociologists who dared to visit me in my home. Then I met Grushin in New York , and then various other ones in different cities: Yadov, Levada, Zaslavskaya, Boris Firsov, and Lenia Gordon (who is now deceased). Together with perestroika I acquired what is called “Social capital.” This is another term that became fashionable in American sociology in the 1990s. It can be translated as simply connections or protection in high places. My colleagues did everything they could to raise my credentials in the eyes of the Americans. Obviously the “social capital” that I brought with me to America included the support of my friends who had arrived here five years earlier. Aron and Igor did everything they could in my first year to ease my transition to American life. However, the most important contributor to my “social capital” in America was Lena Mitskevich who was a professor at Michigan State University then. She was an expert on Soviet mass media and she had read my publications about researching Soviet newspapers in the 1960s. As a result, she published an article in a leading American journal on public opinion. After that she and I started corresponding regularly and exchanging books. When I decided to emigrate, she made sure that I had an invitation to her university and that eased my emigration.
In addition, I also brought with me from Russia “cultural capital.” I realize that my words can be understood as self-praise, but still I must confess that in terms of overall general culture I felt from the very beginning far superior to most professors around me in America . This concerned general European culture (let alone Russian culture) as well as American and classical and contemporary literature. Many of my colleagues do not have the slightest idea about the most important masterpieces of world literature. (This lack of familiarity does not include classical music that many people here know and love). Moreover, they simply do not know how to analyze literary works, or films, or plays. In their discourse they never go beyond pronouncements on how close to life that was, or whether that was entertaining enough, or whether the actors were good enough (and they are always good enough). For many years now, a private cinema lovers’ club has existed, which Bob Solow and I organized. After a Sunday visit to the cinema we all go to a restaurant to discuss the film. It took years for the members of the club (and they are all university professors) to comprehend the importance and the beauty of discussing the idea of the film, its ideological message, its aesthetical virtues, and its place in the history of cinema and so on. For a long time, my demands seemed to them ridiculous and artificial.
However, I should be fair to my poor American colleagues who lack culture. They cannot be blamed for their childhood (and much is determined then), during which they were deprived of contacts with culture. The absolute majority of them belonged to the first generation of emigrants who had received higher education. Their poorly educated parents when they arrived in the USA were preoccupied with the struggle for survival and of course there was no place in these conditions for culture, literature or art. The afterthought, however, may somewhat contradict my previous assertion. I do not see that my generation of people, who already have higher educations, were preoccupied more with fostering high culture in their families than their parents. The fact that I started studying philosophy with my grandson Jacob when he was eight-year-old and that we have been doing this for six years causes general astonishment among the parents of children of the same age. They never show any interest in following our example. In these studies we have been using a well-known book by a Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder on the history of philosophy for adolescents.
The situation is different among those who belong to the WASPs, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. They shaped the dominant elite in the country some time ago. (Even the catholic Kennedy was a parvenu for them). On those relatively infrequent occasions when I come across one, and there are very few of them among professors, I see people who had high educations in the fourth or fifth generation. They are highly refined. They know everything and they follow everything. The friend of the Vice-President of my University is a good example. Recently at a dinner at the University she was discussing the details of the life of Maiakovsky, although she is not a student of literature, nor a specialist on Russia (she is a lawyer).
I could also add in the defense of my average Americans that by far not all of my colleagues in the USSR surpassed them much in their overall level of culture. Many scholars at the Academic campus were rather gray, even though they read good literature much more than their American counterparts. This does not refer to such refined intellectuals as Volodya Zakharov, a fiction writer and a poet, Ronald Sagdeev, a well-known physicist, Raisa Lvovna Berg, a biologist and the daughter of a famous geographer, and Igor Poletaev, the author of one of the first books about cybernetics. It goes without saying that today’s Moscow intelligentsia, which I used to admire so much, certainly does not have any prevalence over the Americans, as they have almost completely given up on reading serious fiction.
Another fundamental difference between America and Russia is that in Soviet Russia people valued education more. That is why the residents of the Academic campus or of Moscow, if they were invited to a reception at my house or any other, willingly accepted the existence of a chief guest of honor. This could have been a famous intellectual, a writer, or a traveler. They accepted the fact that all attention was to be focused on him. In return they received an enormous amount of cultural information and impressions. An approach like that is impossible in America , because of the profound egalitarianism that reigns here as well as the indifference to high culture. All guests are equal and there are none that are more equal than others.
With the weak interest of the average American professional (a member of the intelligentsia in the Soviet usage) in high culture (that is, non-mass culture), my “cultural capital” could not play a significant role in my advancement in America . There was just one exception when my Russian “cultural capital” was useable. Nezavisimaya Gazeta once published an article about an important official in the American government, one of the leading experts on strategic planning in the country. He called me up and asked what I knew about the author of the article. I answered that I did not know anything, but that I could assert with confidence that he belonged to the Moscow intellectuals. Then followed the question as to how I could be so certain. I answered that I had indisputable proof. The author of the article compared my caller with “Magister ludi,” a character from the novel The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. In the 1960s and 1970s in Moscow even those who had not read the novel pretended that they had because the book was seen as the staple reading of anyone who considered himself an educated person. The official who called me was very surprised by my train of thought and immediately ordered his secretary to deliver the book to him. Later he called me and said that he had read it.
As for my “moral capital,” its life in America turned out to be quite different. This may sound like it cannot possibly be true but in fact the kind of love and affection that I brought with me from Moscow, and above all the affection of Alik, of Vita, and all those who gathered on the fourth of every month at Alik’s workshop, played a tremendously important role in my life during my first years in America. It was very important to me that they shared my American problems. I needed their moral support in what I was doing or not doing in America. I needed to know that they were confident that I shared the same values. Javier Marias, a Spanish author I got to know thanks to Inostrannaya Literatura (Foreign Literature), made a very refined and accurate point that when any person goes through misfortune or simply is in the state of stress it is incredibly important for him to think that his friends and relatives know about it and therefore cannot help but be on his side.
When Alik found out that we bought our first car and started to make ironic remarks about it I got very agitated. He was saying that we were taking on the bourgeois lifestyle. I was trying to convince him that a car was not a luxury, but a means of transportation, and that this acquisition did not influence my psychology anyway. This conversation would appear as ridiculous today in Russia, barely seven-ten years later.
To be sure my emotional dependence on what Alik and other close friends thought about my American life diminished over the years. Our understanding of American and Russian reality was becoming profoundly different. Nevertheless, Liuba and I have kept forever many of the moral standards we brought from Russia. Above all there is the notion about obligations to friendship, in its Russian-Soviet interpretation, such as the norms of hospitality, or how important it is to distinguish private and societal life, including conversations at home and in the office and many other things.
Fears that pursued me in the totalitarian society have almost completely vanished from my mind. Only sometimes in my sleep they come alive again. This makes the awakening happier than usual from the realization that these were only dreams. Also in my dreams my friends and relatives come to me, sometimes in situations relating to my childhood and sometimes to my adult life. Then I wake up with the bitter feeling that I will never see them again, and will never be able to say to them again and again how much I love them – my parents, Izya and Alik.
Who is Who:
Aganbegian, Abel: member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the Institute of Economics at the Academic Campus in the 1960s-1970s.
Alievskaya-Shlapentokh: graduated from the History department of Kiev University and the Moscow Statistical Institute By Correspondence. In the 1970s she taught Mathematical Methods of Planning at the Academy of Government under the Council of Ministers of the USSR . After emigration, she worked as a specialist on computer programs in an American firm.
Andreeva, Galina: a well-known Soviet sociologist. The first chair of the Department of Sociology at the Moscow State University in the 1960s.
Berman, Mikhail: before World War II, studied at High School No. 58 in Kiev . In the 1960s worked as a director of the Dentist clinic of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. In 1973 emigrated first to America and then to Israel where he worked as a specialist in non-traditional medicine. He had seven children. Died in 2000.
Birman, Igor: a well-known Soviet economist. After he emigrated in the United States, worked as an instructor at famous prestigious colleges. He debated the issues of Soviet economic performance and the size of Soviet military expenses with the CIA successfully.
Gabina, Evgeniya: the wife of Aron Katsenelinboigen, a philologist. After emigration worked in prestigious colleges.
Golin, Mika: studied at the Kiev university in the years after WWII; he has an advanced degree in history; emigrated to the USA in the mid-1970s. He regularly publishes historical articles in the Novoye Russkoe Slovo.
Gofman, Mark: studied at the Philological department of the Kiev University in the years after WWII. From the 1950s on, an editor in the publishing house in Blagoveshchensk-on-Amur.
Grushin, Boris: a well-known Soviet and post-Soviet sociologist. He was the founder of the first independent private company to study public opinion in Russia.
Gurevich, Emil: a winner of the All-Union competition of pianists in 1935. After he was banished from the conservatory at the time of struggle with alien influences (the anti-cosmopolitanism campaign) he moved to Georgia . A Professor of Tbilisi conservatory, a renowned member of cultural elite of Georgia , died in 1981.
Gurevich-Shlapentokh, Vera (Ita) Yakovlevna: graduated from the Kiev conservatory, taught at the Kiev musical college, died in 1977 in Moscow.
Zabokritskaya, Lilya: graduated from the Kiev medical institute, worked as a doctor in Kiev until her retirement in 2002.
Zabokritsky, Zhenya: graduated from the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, worked as an engineer, died in Kiev in 1999.
Zaslavskaya, Tatiana: a well-known sociologist, served as an active deputy on the side of the opposition in the Congress of People’s Deputies in 1989. In 1988 she founded the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM).
Zakharov, Vladimir: worked and studied at the Academic campus in the 1960s, was a dissident; after 1991 was a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Director of the Institute named after Landau in Chernogolovka; a poet, published extensively in Novyi Mir.
Kantorov, Dmitry: the son of Askold Kantorov, an artist. In the early 1990s an award winner at the Pollock-Krasner competition; had art shows in America, Poland , France and Russia .
Kantorova-Lipetskaya, Viktoria: the wife of Askold Kantorov, Ph.D., up until retirement worked at the Institute of Zoology at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow; author of many scholarly publications.
Katsenelinboigen, Aron: a well-known Soviet economist; after emigration in the USA a professor at Pennsylvania University. In America published books on Soviet society and its economy, as well as problems of philosophical and biological character.
Kertman, Lev: a historian, professor of Kiev University after the war years; after expulsion from Kiev in 1949, served as a chair of the department of History at Perm University; the author of several books on the history of England.
Kontorovich, Vladimir: the son of Izya Kantorovich, professor at Haverford college; the author of many books and articles on Soviet and post-Soviet economics.
Kuzmina-Gordon, Elena: graduated from the psychology department of the Moscow University; served as a dean of the department of advertisement at one of the private universities.
Laskin, Vsevolod: studied at school No. 58 in Kiev before WWII; after graduating from college, worked in the war industry for many years in Kiev.
Marchenko, Tatiana, Ph.D.: one of the organizers of several international conferences in the USA in the 1990s.
Muraviov, Vladimir: an artist, was popular among the academic elite in Moscow until 1985. After 1991 had several exhibitions in America.
Levada, Yuri: a well-known Soviet and post-Soviet sociologist, the only sociologist who threw a challenge to the authorities. After 1991, he was a director of the all-Russian center for the Study of Public Opinion.
Levita, Roman: studied after the war years at Kiev university; publisher of the well-known Tarussky Pages in the early 1960s. Was persecuted by Soviet authorities; published The History of Economic Teachings in 1999 in Moscow; died on 6 January 2003.
Loiberg, Misha: studied at Kiev University after the war; a Soviet and post-Soviet sociologist, Ph.D. Before emigrating to the USA in 1988, published a textbook History of the World Economic Teachings in Moscow.
Mitskevich, Elena: one of the prominent sociologists on Russia in the USA ; the author of books on Soviet and Russian mass media; Professor at Duke University .
Petrenko, Elena: a sociologist, PhD., in the post-Soviet period one of the founders and directors of the Public Opinion Fund.
Raskolnikov, Feliks: an instructor of literature at the well-known Second School of Mathematics in Moscow in the 1970s; professor of Russian language and literature at Michigan State University.
Sokolov, Vadim: a well-known Soviet literary critic, died in Moscow in 1997.
Sokolova-Lipetskaya, Ekaterina: the wife of Vadim Sokolov; an editor at various Moscow publishing houses.
Solo, Bob: a prominent American economist, professor at Michigan State University; the author of many books on theoretical economics.
Soskin, Varlen: a historian; from the 1960s to the present day member of the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences; author of many books on the history of Soviet culture.
Temkina, Ada : the wife if Isaak Kontorovich; an engineer; immigrated to the USA together with her son Vladimir in 1977.
Firsov, Boris: Russian sociologist, served as a director of Leningrad television in the 1960s, the founder and first President of the European University in Petersburg , the author of many books and articles on mass communication.
Frayer, Era: studied at the Philological department of Kiev University after WWII; professor of French language in Blagoveshchensk.
Shlapentohkh, Alexandra: professor of mathematics at the University in North Carolina , author of numerous articles in journals on mathematics.
Shlapentokh, Dmitry: professor of history at Indiana University; the author of a number of books on Russian history and of articles in American journals.
Shlapentokh, Emmanuil (Haim) Solomonovich: graduated from the Kiev Medical Institute; worked as a physician and as a director of the district department of health in Emelchino in Kiev province; died in Kiev in 1939.
Shubkin, Vladimir: a well-known Soviet and post-Soviet sociologist, after 1991 served as director of the Institute of Sociology in Moscow ; the author of the first Soviet textbook on sociology and of many books and articles.
Yaroshenko, Tatiana: a sociologist, Ph.D., participant in numerous sociological research projects in the 1960s-1970s.