[Marxism] Barrington Moore Jr.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 22 08:51:59 MDT 2005

NY Times, October 22, 2005
Barrington Moore Jr., 92, Analyst of Totalitarianism, Dies

Barrington Moore Jr., a Harvard sociologist whose studies of the 
contemporary human condition led him to dissect the totalitarian society, 
particularly as it evolved in the Soviet Union, died last Sunday at his 
home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 92.

His death was announced by the university, where he taught from 1951 to 
1979. He had also been affiliated with the Russian Research Center at 
Harvard since 1948.

Dr. Moore followed an interdisciplinary approach, always placing social 
change in its historical context. He distrusted models of social behavior 
that ignored politics, economics and a multiplicity of other possible 
factors and events that helped determine it.

His methodology had its roots in years he spent as a wartime strategic 
analyst for the O.S.S., the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, 
and a stint at the interdisciplinary social science division of the 
University of Chicago.

His best-known book, "Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord 
and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World" (Beacon, 1966), remains in 
print. J. H. Plumb, in a review for The New York Times, called it "a 
profoundly important book."

Professor Plumb wrote that Dr. Moore had tackled a vast topic, namely "the 
routes by which various countries have come to the modern industrial 
world." In discussing their significant differences, he also provided 
"exceptionally perceptive" social analyses to compare conditions in, say, 
India and Prussia, Professor Plumb suggested.

"In fact," he continued, "the book is stuffed as a plum pudding with good 
things. And it is easy to read."

An earlier work, "Soviet Politics: The Dilemma of Power" (Harvard, 1950), 
helped "sort out communism from Russianism," as The Times's reviewer Edward 
Crankshaw put it. Another, "Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and 
Revolt" (Sharpe, 1978), explored why people at the bottom of a society 
sometimes accept their victimization and why, under other circumstances, 
they man the barricades.

Dr. Moore's two most recent volumes are in print: "Moral Aspects of 
Economic Growth and Other Essays" (Cornell, 1998), and "Moral Purity and 
Persecution in History" (Princeton, 2000).

Barrington Moore Jr. was born in Washington and graduated Phi Beta Kappa 
from Williams College. Having received his Ph.D. in sociology from Yale in 
1941, he worked for the Justice Department and was posted as an analyst to 
the Office of Strategic Studies - the wartime O.S.S. He joined the staff at 
Harvard in 1948 as a senior research fellow at the Russian Research Center.

He is survived by a brother, Dr. Peter Van C. Moore, of Bethesda, Md.


Posted to Progressive Sociologists Network (PSN) on October 19, 1999 by 
Steve Rosenthal, a Maoist professor:

The Sept., 1999, issue of Contemporary Sociology includes a review of a 
festschrift for Harvard sociologist Barrington Moore, Jr., titled 
"Democracy, Revolution, and History, edited by Theda Skocpol, George Ross, 
Tony Smith, and Judith Eisenberg Vichniac. The review, written by John 
Walton, appears on pp. 597-98.

As a former student of Barrington Moore, Jr., who was not invited to 
contribute to the festschrift, I ask PSN'ers to indulge me while I engage 
in a few sociological and political reminiscences.

I studied with Moore for two years while I was a graduate student at 
Harvard from 1963 to 1965. I took his courses in comparative historical 
sociology and social theory. His courses were my first serious introduction 
to Marxism. Much of the material he presented in these seminars would 
appear in 1966 in his "The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy." 
My first semi-professional publication was a review of that book in Monthly 
Review in 1967.

When I entered the Ph.D. program in Sociology at Brandeis University, I 
continued to take independent studies courses with Moore at Harvard.

Moore's theory courses challenged students to think in a way that graduate 
sociology courses today rarely do. His comparative historical sociology 
courses required a vast amount of reading and exposed me to a serious study 
of non-European society for the first time. And on top of all this, Moore 
invited me and my wife to visit him on his yacht off the coast of Bar 
Harbor, Maine. We still have a photograph of my wife at the helm of the yacht.

But that is only the beginning of this reminiscence. In 1967 I began to 
make the painful but essential transition from a Marxist intellectual to an 
activist. Compelled to do so by the war in Vietnam and the anti-racist and 
anti-sexist movements of the 1960s, many of Moore's students became active 
in SDS and other movement organizations.

In 1969, the student movement reached a climactic moment at Harvard. The 
Harvard Administration brought in the Cambridge police to break up a large 
sit-in. The cops beat and dragged the students out of the building, as 
hundreds watch in horror and amazement. The next day an SDS-led strike shut 
down the University. The "worker-student alliance" caucus, led by the 
communist Progressive Labor Party, comprised much of the leadership of the 

Very few Harvard faculty even grudgingly supported the student strikers. 
Barrington Moore, Jr., criticized the strike as an attack on the 
university, on academic freedom, and on free speech. He regarded the strike 
as a terrible blow against what he regarded as the only institution devoted 
to intellectual freedom.

Moore was wrong about the university and about Harvard. Harvard, for 
example, collaborated with McCarthyites in purging communist and 
pro-communist faculty during the early 1950s. Harvard had significant ties 
to the war machine that was responsible for the Vietnam war. Harvard's 
Russian Studies program, from which I received my masters degree, was 
partly funded by the CIA, which subsidized books published by its 
affiliated faculty.

Harvard, like all universities, was no ivory tower, in which students and 
faculty were free to shop in the free marketplace of ideas. Moore himself 
was excluded from Talcott Parsons' Social Relations Department, because 
Moore did not share Parsons' functionalist paradigm celebrating American 

As I lived and learned, I figured out that Barrington Moore, Jr., did not 
really change much in 1969. His Marxian (not Marxist) analyses in his 
seminars and books were consistent with his opposition to the anti-racist, 
anti-imperialist activism of the student movement. Moore believed that 
bourgeois democratic revolutions in countries such as the U.S., Britain, 
and France paved the way for democarcy in those countries. The absence of 
such revolutions, he argued, led to fascism in Germany and Japan, and to 
communism in Russia and China. Moore shared with liberals opposition to 
both fascism and communism. His analysis treated fascism not as an 
outgrowth of the contradictions of 20th century monopoly capitalism, but as 
the unfortunate consequence of capitalism's failure to uproot feudalism 
completely. Thus, for Moore, the solution to the problems of the 20th 
century was not to end capitalism, but to make the world more fully capitalist.

Moore was also a close friend of Herbert Marcuse, whom I met through Moore. 
The two of them shared a broad ignorance of the history of the working 
class in the U.S. and a lack of appreciation for the achievements of 
working class movements everywhere. Although both of them made trenchant 
critiques of American society, they were academic intellectuals who chose 
to remain extremely isolated from working class movements.

I dropped out of graduate school in 1968 for a year and one-half and worked 
in factory jobs. I learned many things that I could never have learned in a 
Moore seminar or a Marcuse book. Black and white workers taught me a great 
deal about exploitation and racism. When I began teaching college at Boston 
State College in 1970, my working class students taught me a whole lot more 
about the working class.

I'm certainly not surprised that I was not invited to contribute to the 
Barrington Moore, Jr., festschrift. Theda Skocpol certainly knows me well 
enough to know that she and I profoundly disagree with each other. She is a 
reformist supporter of the Clinton administration. Her main works celebrate 
the bourgeois state as a vehicle of progressive reform and dismiss Marxist 
ideology as an insignificant aspect of revolutionary change.

I will readily acknowledge that she was not only the more successful 
protege of Barrington Moore, Jr. Ultimately, she was also more faithful to 
his sociological orientations than I have been.  Nevertheless, I am 
grateful that I had the opportunity to study with Barrington Moore, Jr. He 
opened doors for me to places where he chose not to go himself. I hope all 
of us will have students who go farther than we have.

Steve Rosenthal

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