First Crises

From: "Sociology of My Mental Life", in: Allen, P.J., ed. Pitirim A. Sorokin in Review. The American Sociological Forum. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1963. Xxii; pp.4-36

First Crisis and Its Visible Factors

Around 1917. May 1st Labor Day Meeting in Petrograd

After my graduation from the advanced grade school in 1904 at the age of fourteen, I enrolled in the Khrenovo Teachers School. It was a denominational establishment controlled by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. It trained teachers for denominational elementary schools. Situated near the parish church in the village, its campus was near several textile factories not far from the city of Kineshma and other sizable industrial centers. I found myself in a new, more "civilized" environment and among people notably different from those I had known before. The three-year curriculum of the school was much more advanced, the students and teachers were better qualified, and the library and other facilities of the school were better than those of the elementary and grade schools I had attended. The outsiders whom I met there represented a wide diversity of ideas, standards, and values: peasants, factory hands, clerks and administrators, government officials, the intelligentsia of the region—teachers, priests, doctors, writers, newspapermen, leaders of co-operative organizations, representatives of various political parties, the "Social-Revolutionaries," "Social-Democrats" (Mensheviks and Bolsheviks), the "Anarchists," the "Monarchists," the local leaders of various liberal and conservative political organizations—these outsiders acquainted me with a multitude of new ideas, standards, and values. This new milieu, new people, and especially my intensive reading of hitherto unknown books, journals, and newspapers rapidly broadened my mental horizon and enriched my mental equipment. Their concerted impact was greatly reinforced by the Russian-Japanese War of 1904 and especially by the brewing revolutionary storm that was rapidly spreading over the whole of Russia and that resulted in the revolution of 1905 and subsequent years.

The total impact of all these factors was so powerful that within about two years after my enrolment at this school, most of my previous religious, philosophical, political, economic and social ideologies collapsed and were replaced by new views and values. My previous religiosity gave way to a semi-atheistic rejection of the theologies and rituals of the Russian Orthodox religion. Compulsory attendance of church services and the obligatory courses in dogmatic theology, imposed by the school, notably stimulated this revolt. Its place was largely taken by "scientific theories of evolution" and a "natural science philosophy." My preceding acceptance of the Tsarist monarchial regime and "the capitalist" economy was replaced by the republican, democratic, and socialist standpoint. Previous political indifference gave way to a revolutionary zeal. I became an enthusiastic missionary of the anti-Tsarist revolution and the leader of the Social-Revolutionary party in the school and adjacent region. In contrast to the Social Democrats, the Social-Revolutionary party claimed to be the party of all-peasant, industrial, and intellectual-labor classes. In contrast with the Marxian social-democratic materialism and economic interpretation of man and history, the philosophy and sociology of the Social-Revolutionary party was much more idealistic or integralistic. It emphasized strongly the role of creative ideas, voluntary efforts, the "struggle for individuality" vs. "struggle for existence," and the importance of non-economic factors in determining social processes and human conduct. My previous Weltanschauung was much more congenial to this kind of ideology than to the "proletarian," "materialistic," "economic" ideology of Marxian social-democracy. This congeniality explains why I chose the Social-Revolutionary but not the Social-Democratic party and why throughout my subsequent life I have never been "infected" by most of the Marxian ideologies.

Having been transformed into an ardent Social-Revolutionary, I began to spread the gospel of the revolution among the students, the factory workers, and the peasants of nearby villages.

On the eve of Christmas, 1906, at one of my regular meetings with a group of peasants, I was arrested, together with my fellow-revolutionist, and jailed in the prison of the city of Kineshma. There I met other political prisoners among whom there were several notable Social-Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats. Together we soon turned the prison into the safest place for keeping the revolutionary literature. The prison guards volunteered to serve as our messengers, and the warden offered his office, with its telephone and other facilities, for our use. During some five months of my imprisonment, the political prisoners had daily discussions of philosophical, social, and politico-economic problems. These discussions, plus my reading of the works of Marx, Mikhailovsky, Lavrov, Plekhanov, Lenin, Kropotkin, and Tolstoi, as well as those of Darwin, Hegel, and other evolutionists and philosophers, acquainted me fairly well with some of the basic works of the revolutionary thinkers, and of a few philosophers and scientists.

In these five months I probably learned a great deal more than I could learn in a semester in the Teachers School. In the prison I also met daily and conversed with many of the criminals: murderers, thieves, burglars, rapists, and other unfortunate "deviants." These meetings and conversations introduced me to the world of crime and criminals. They were largely responsible for the topic of my first book, Crime and Punishment, Service and Reward (published in 1913) and for my choice of criminology and penology—or more exactly of criminal, penal, and constitutional law—as the field of my first specialization at the University of St. Petersburg. (Here again "the existential," personal experiences seem to account for this rivulet in my mental life.)

After five months of imprisonment I was released, subject to "open surveillance of police," to whom I had to report regularly about my domicile, any change of my address, and about my activities. Since I was discharged from the school, I decided to become a sort of an underground "professional revolutionary," going from factory to factory and from village to village to spread the gospel of the revolution and organize revolutionary "cells" and groups. Often hungry, cold, shelterless, and dirty (because nobody paid for this "professional work"), constantly hunted by the law and occasionally at mass meetings becoming the target for barking guns of attacking Cossacks and police, I carried on this "missionary activity" in contact with a few other revolutionaries for about three months. Towards the end of this period, my health and nervous system became impaired, my energy was greatly depleted, and my arrest appeared to be imminent.

These circumstances forced me to flee from this region to the region of the Komi, where my revolutionary activities were, as yet, unknown. I returned to the little farm of my peasant aunt in the small hamlet of Rymia, where I had stayed before many times. There for two months I helped my aunt with harvesting and farm work and regained my vitality and peace of mind. Having no prospects for either interesting employment or for continuation of my education in the Komi region, in the fall of 1907 I moved to St. Petersburg. Thus one big chapter of my life ended and a new chapter began.

Some of the factors of this crisis in my mental life are fairly obvious. They are the new mental currents and values, the new people, and the new environment I met and largely absorbed in the Teachers School and its region. Especially important was "the spirit of revolution" that was sweeping over the whole of Russia, with its ideologies, values, and aspirations. My previous idealistic Weltanschauung accounts somewhat for my choice of the Social-Revolutionary and not Social-Democratic party and ideology. My contacts and talks with the ordinary criminals as I earlier indicated largely account for my first book and specialization in the field of criminology and penology. These tangible factors consisted, however, not so much in a change of my social position, group-structure, and class-affiliation (as many sociologists of knowledge claim) as in different mental currents and cultural values I encountered and learned from books and people, in this new environment and in the all-pervading storm of the Revolution of 1905-6. Nor was my "mental revolution" a consequence of some grudge against, and frustration by, the Teachers School. Until my arrest I was treated very well by the teachers, administration, and students, and I had no grudge against the school or local authorities. For these reasons the visible factors of the sharp mutation of my mentality had to be the new ideas, values, and aspirations I had learned and my own selection and development of these in the inner workings of my mind. This hypothesis accounts for a large part of the discussed crisis of my mentality. It pardy explains also why in my later works, particularly in my Social and Cultural Dynamics, I took for the basic factor of social, cultural, and personality change the cultural-mental factor, and not the social factor of structural composition of groups and social classes. As we shall see further on, the configurations of cultural-mental systems and social structural systems neither coincide with each other nor change simultaneously in time and space.

Although they may account a great deal for the crises, the indicated visible factors leave, however, a number of dark points unexplained. Why, for instance, did not many of my fellow-students in the school experience a similar "mutation" of their mentality, though their background and social affiliations were similar to my own? Why, among those who underwent a change in their mental life, did not an overwhelming majority become the active missionaries of the revolutionary gospel rather than continue the prescribed routine life of the school? Why did I involve myself in the dangerous and most exacting activities of an itinerant missionary of the revolution and continue these activities until my health and peace of mind were seriously impaired? There were neither economic incentives, nor other sensate advantages such as power, popularity, respect, security, and sensate comfort, to be gained from such involvement. And yet, like many other apostles of the revolution, I was "driven" by some powerful force (often termed "call of duty" or "moral imperative") into this sort of activity; and this kind of "foolish," "unprofitable," and highly risky involvement has been repeated several times in later periods of my life.
These and similar "whys" give an idea of the dark points in the explanation of the dynamics of my own, as well as of many others' mental life. These points suggest that human beings and their mental life are something much more complex and intangible than most of the "economic," or "instinctive," or Freudian, or other popular theories indicate. This sort of experience and behavior, repeated later on several times in my life, may be partly responsible for my "integral theory" of human personality, cognition, creativity, and of social and cultural processes, developed in my later works. This integral theory shows the one-sidedness of all "simplistic" theories of man and of the sociocultural world and the extreme complexity of their "superorganic" nature and of the man-made sociocultural world. According to this theory, man and his man-made sociocultural world are "the fields" of manifestation and operation, not only of physical and vital energies, but also of the higher energies of the rational, conscious thought, and especially of the highest "super-rational" energy of creative genius different from the rational and vital energies.