Translation: The Sociology of Dunces

Writing in Novaya Gazeta, Andrei Vladimirovich Kolesnikov argues that the branding of the opinion pollster Levada Center as a “foreign agent” marks Russia’s return to the bad old days of Lysenkoism.

A Sociology of Dvoechniki

Levada Center is being destroyed with Stalinist methods.

Sociological data is dope for the present-day vlast. She looks at sociological reports just like a certain famous fairytale character, and with much the same question: “Who’s the fairest of them all?” But smoothing the wrinkles spreading all over the carcass of the political system requires ever more applications of the tonal cream of court sociology. Meanwhile, real sociology – incorrect, inconvenient – is being exiled. The method for this has been found: Amendments to the law on NGOs, so that they could be exiled as “foreign agents,” involved in “political activities.”

The Levada Center is being destroyed for the second time in its history. Founded at the end of the 1980s under the name of the exceptional sociologist Yuri Levada, this professional sociological organization has already once been demolished once – few now remember that VCIOM is, in fact, the old name of the Levada Center. In 2003, when Yuri Levada was still alive, the hostile takeover was successful, but not fully so – the re-branded sociological service remained the source of the country’s most reliable sociological data. I remember well that press-conference at Izvestia’s media center – Izvestia as it was then {Translator: It was more oppositional then} – I remember Yuri Alexandrovich’s bewilderment, and the sense of surrealism about the whole thing… And now we have the second attempt to destroy it, this time by tagging scientific work with the mark of politics. The Savelovskaya prosecutor’s office took upon itself this difficult mission.

This is unadulterated Stalinism. As far as today’s vlast is concerned, sociology is no different from what state statistics were to the Stalinist vlast. No coincidence that the spirit of the era became encapsulated in the following brilliant aphorism from the economist Stanislav Strumilin: “Better to stand for high growth rates, than sit for low ones” {Translator: To “sit” in Russian can simply mean to go to prison}. The Levada people aren’t sitting yet, but the continued exist of the Levada Center has come under threat; and not only of the Levada Center, but of independent, scientific sociology such as it is…

At the same time, we see the elimination of competition on the market on sociological services: Instead of a “Big Troika” – FOM, VCIOM, and the Levada Center – we are left with just a “Big Deuce.” And with all due respect to their colleagues, it will also be a sociology of dvoechniki. Where are the voices of other professional sociologists in defense of their colleagues, of science, and of honest research? Only crickets chirping. Are they afraid?

Even if the Levada Center somehow survives, it will be easy to bankrupt it via “market” mechanisms: Such agencies mainly live off marketing research, and how many of their clients will continue dealing with an organization branded as a “foreign agent”? They would henceforth go only to Kremlin-certified agencies, which had pledged allegiance to the “correct figures.”

On this account I also have an old anecdote, which I was told by the academic Revold Entov. The unchanging director of the Soviet statistics service Vladimir Starovsky, having passed through all epochs and outlived all leaders, became famous for the following phase addressed to a colleague: “I present you with the Order of Lenin for your ability to give the correct socialist figure.” Maybe it’s just the case that of all today’s surviving Russian sociologists dream of the Order of Lenin? But as is said: Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

Any honest research, any honest civic activism, any honest voluntary movement, any honest science, any honest newspaper or magazine article, is – by the logic of the Savelovskaya prosecutor’s office and of Prosecutor D. D. Minkov, whose names will enter the annals of history in the Saltykov-Shchedrin, if not the Gogolian, sense of the word {Translator: The latter two were famous 19th century Russian satirists} – equivalent to political activity. And if it is paid just a single cent by a foreign fund, then it becomes not only political activity, but hostile to boot. Vladimir Putin was lying when he claimed that the concept of a “foreign agent” carries an exclusively legal meaning, with no allusions to darker times. The semantics here are entire Stalinist, repressive, and propagandistic. According to the Levada Center’s own surveys, our compatriots quickly got the correct bearings: More than half of all Russians support harsh sanctions, up to and including liquidation, as regards NGOs that engage in politics, receive money from abroad, and don’t register as foreign agents.

The vlast is cutting off the very branch on which it sits. It deprives itself of reliable social feedbacks. It destroys studies of the humanities. And it risks being left alone with some kind of “Orthodox sociology.” But so what? “Orthodox sociology for Orthodox Chekists” – sounds about right.

At this rate it won’t be long before we get to the “rootless cosmopolitans,” and the “Weismann-Morganists,” and finally the academician Lysenko to top things off.

Reader comments

Дмитрий Кузьмин: The vlast isn’t cutting off any branch on which it sits. The Levada Center has open statistics, while the Chekist accounts are closed… Why does the alpha crane need people to know even part of the closed statistics. Better make the people into a herd of cattle, who don’t know their past or their present reality – and then, they have no more future!!

александр46 марков: Just register as a foreign agent and continue working! But wait a second, weren’t you saying earlier that you didn’t get any money from Gosdep!?

Сергей Аникин: The foreign agents are trying their utmost to conceal their true faces.

Не Гражданин (replying to above): And what is their “true face,” in your opinion. Do think, that instead of a face, they have a Botox-inflated ass, like our beloved Mr. President?

Previously, “enemies of the people” – now, “foreign agents”; previously, “witches” – now, “blasphemers”… But, at least, yesterday, “militaria” – today, “police,” that is modernizaton Medvedev-style. Modernassization.

That’s the problem with this country – the dominance of cattle, slaves, ready to lick the ass of anybody who comes to power, which itself consists of the same artiodactyla.

Don’t blame the mirror if your mug is skewed!


  1. God what hysterical rubbish. Comparing a technical label to being sent off to the gulags is obscene and retarded. What does it matter to Levada if its taking of foreign cash (i.e. he who pays the piper calls the tune) is officially recognized. There is no legal sanction after this label is affixed. Levada will not have to pay any fine and its staff will not be arrested, beaten and sent off to die in Siberia. So spare the rational majority of humanity this grotesque BS.