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Tetrasociology and Esperanto. By Ann Butkevich, Boris Kondratiev, & Valeria Cvetkova, Russia

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2.7. Tetrasociology and Esperanto

Anne Butkevich,  Boris Kondratiev & Valeria Cvetkova, Russia

This review examines and evaluates tetrasociology from the standpoint of Esperanto, developed as an international language almost 100 years ago. Tetrasociology (Semashko, 2002) is the o­nly modern sociological theory that attempts to discover social foundations for developing the use of Esperanto, and argues for its usefulness in the globalization era. There are quite a few studies devoted to cultural, linguistic, moral, spiritual and human-rights (linguistic human rights) significance of Esperanto[1]. But there has been no sociological analysis of Esperanto. So, Semashko's book is of special interest in this regard, even though he devotes just a little more than two pages to Esperanto as such (Semashko. 2002: 115-117). However, in essence, the book's overall content is a theoretical argument in favor of Esperanto. The book is all the more important because there are very few theoretical studies devoted to Esperanto (a fact that weakens Esperanto's positions and ideological influence). To explore and evaluate tetrasociology from an Esperantist viewpoint, we will first review the major ideological forces that brought Esperanto to life.

Zamenhof (1859-1917), the creator of Esperanto, saw in it not just another linguistic instrument, but a means of uniting people, a way to introduce and spread a common world religion, "homaranism"[2], in a neutral language for a dialog between different cultures, which would preserve the diversity of languages and cultures of the world. Zamenhof (1887) created Esperanto inspired by these supremely humanistic goals, which are united by an "internal idea" that includes such values as peace, tolerance, solidarity, camaraderie, mutual understanding, and communication. Zamenhof was thinking o­n a grand scale. In keeping with spiritual hopes of the late 19th, early 20th century, which were inspired by Marxist utopias, he hoped that Esperanto would bring together the working class. He wrote: "Perhaps, there are no other people in the world for whom our democratic language is so important as it is to workers, and I hope that sooner or later the working class will become the strongest support base for our cause"[3]. However, as became clear in the 20th century, the hopes Zamenhof cherished for the working class proved futile. Workers didn't espouse Esperanto. Moreover, it was o­n their behalf that Joseph Stalin, "the greatest leader of the international working class," relentlessly persecuted Esperanto and Esperantists, and was as cruel in that as another tyrant, Adolf Hitler. No o­ne knows how many Esperantists they shot: Stalin executed them as "Trotskyites and spies," and Hitler, as "communists and Jews"[4]. It is not the working class or any other antagonistic class that needs Esperanto, but non-antagonistic classes, cohesive and harmonious, which are yet unknown and which tetrasociology o­nly hypothesizes (see below).

The Esperanto Declaration, adopted at the first Congress of Esperantists in1905, says that "Esperantism is the endeavour to spread throughout the entire world the use of this neutral language which...(is)... in no way aiming to replace existing national languages, would give to people of different nations the ability to understand each other, and would be able to serve as a conciliatory language" for warring nations. It is also noteworthy that this Declaration formulated another theoretical thesis, the o­ne which today, almost 100 years later, seems if not erroneous and harmful, then severely crippling to the project of implanting Esperanto. It is that: "theoretical debate (about Esperanto) leads to nothing, and the aim can be attained o­nLY (italics are the authors) by practical work." A century of practical efforts to spread Esperanto has shown very convincingly that these efforts, much as we regret to admit it, have FAILED to attain the goal. For all the rises (and ebbs) of public interest in Esperanto, it has failed to become a universally accepted language of international communication. The biggest question here is WHY? An answer can be found o­nly in theory, and not in practice, which is powerless, here. However, no theoretically sound answer has been provided to this cardinally important question. (For this reason, any theoretical works attempting an answer deserve the closest attention from Esperantists, lest they become like ostriches who, faced with a danger, bury their heads in the sand.) Without a theoretical base, purely practical efforts at spreading Esperanto, as the practical experience shows, wither, weaken and shrink as shagreen leather. Therefore, we should return to Esperanto's ideological-theoretical roots and modernize them.

We believe that Esperanto's ideological-theoretical foundations were best illuminated in the first issues of "Espero" magazine, launched by Bitner in 1908 in St.Petersburg. His editorials, and other articles that he published, are worth the Esperantists' attention precisely because of their theoretical slant, of ideas that have preserved their topicality to this day. Here is what the magazine wrote in 1908 - we quote o­nly the most typical passages:

"Esperanto's goal is a cultural unity of all nations of the world, based o­n an awareness of kinship and o­n aspiration of progress for all of humankind." "A radical change in the civilized nations' understanding of the international significance of Esperanto" is to occur when "the readers en masse lend Esperanto their spiritual support." Esperanto helps "to publicize ideas of peace, to culturally unite the nations, and to elevate each nation's spiritual level to such a height where the existing enmities between them would die away by themselves..., and would be replaced by an awareness of universal fellowship o­n the basis of a true democracy."

This issue of the magazine also carried a summary of an article by Professor Baudouin de Courtenay, of St. Petersburg University, defending Esperanto and responding to a tract by two German scholars who disapproved of artificial universal languages. Courtenay pointed to the following advantages of Esperanto: a) the language is real, b) it's not an exclusively Romanic language, c) its artificiality is relative, because it was created o­n the basis of a living language, d) it's the best among existing artificial languages, e) Esperanto is the most wide-spread among accessory languages. "This language can form a basis for the future cultural unification of humankind, o­n altruistic foundations... of the great idea of brotherly unification of nations." Esperanto is an agent of "cultural and brotherly unification" (Bitner, 1908. #1: 40-41).

Back then, Bitner realized already the major problems of Esperantism. He wrote: "Esperantists are committed people, who... are anxious about the inertia in the society, which doesn't understand the usefulness of studying Esperanto and doesn't want to do a thing to materialize the sublime idea of an international language" (Bitner. 1908. #2: 49). He raised questions which seem pertinent today: "Why are there still so few Esperantists, ...why are the ideas of Esperanto so slow to catch o­n? … The society is hardly to blame for this…, since Esperantists themselves DON'T KNOW HOW (italics are the authors) to make the society aware of their activity and willing to support it... Still, things aren't moving... The cause of the failure runs much deeper than inactivity..." Why then are things not moving? What are the "deep" causes? He explains: "Studying Esperanto is regarded, not as a means for realizing sublime universal ideals, but as a goal in itself. GIVEN SUCH A STANCE, THE ESPERANTISTS ARE DOOMED TO FAIL PERMANENTLY..." (Bitner. 1908. #2: 50-51). (italics are the authors). What a wise conclusion!

He continues: "We're locked in a logical circle: people don't want to study Esperanto because they can see no practical benefit of it; meanwhile, the benefits materialize o­nly when the new language is sufficiently widespread... Esperanto is not the end, but a means... for realizing the idea of universal brotherhood of nations, the idea which rejects any armed conflicts and affirms the principle of universal peace. (One of its functions is) mutual understanding, possible o­nly through the introduction of a universal international language. But  this is clearly too little, because wars are waged even between nations that understand each other, not to mention the never-ceasing class struggle which determines the policies of governments. (This is the root of it! This is the ultimate cause! - authors). The objective of Esperantism as the idea of universal brotherhood of nations is to spread the kind of education that is foreign to ideas of national superiority and is based o­n the principle of people's welfare and... true democracy"( Bitner, 1908. #2: 51-52).

So, the conceptual framework of Esperanto ideology embraces the following system of ideas: universal brotherhood of nations, peace across the world, true democracy, cultural unification of nations based o­n their awareness of brotherhood, humankind's progress, every nation's spiritual level, altruistic motives, mutual understanding, etc. With regard to these ideals, Esperanto is a means, o­ne of the instruments to realize them[5]. Esperanto isn't a goal in itself. Insightfully, Bitner says that what obstructs the progress of Esperanto is society's inertia, never-ending wars, class struggle and the Esperantists' narrow-minded concentration o­n spreading the language as an end in itself. The Esperantists should start dealing with global social problems. And the latter cannot be formulated without an adequate social theory. If nations, religions, cultures, and classes are hostile to o­ne another, rather than friendly, can they be expected to adopt Esperanto as a language of universal brotherhood and spiritual affinity? These insights, however, haven't been theoretically explored[6]. Presently, from the position of traditional theories, o­ne doesn't see a social basis for brotherhood and, therefore, for Esperanto. Tetrasociology is the o­nly social theory to conceptually explain the separation of humankind and to try to find social grounds for brotherhood, and therefore, for cultivating Esperanto in the new century. Let's explore this fundamental concept of tetrasociology, and evaluate it from the ideological positions of Esperanto.

From a tetrasociological viewpoint, society consists of four equally important, but different in object and product, spheres of social reproduction. They are eternal and constant, because they constantly reproduce resources that society needs and can't live without. These resources are PEOPLE, INFORMATION, ORGANIZATION, THINGS. They are reproduced in the corresponding spheres: SOCIOSPHERE, INFOSPHERE, ORGANISPHERE, TECHNOSPHERE, which correspond with SPHERE classes employed in these spheres: SOCIOCLASS (people working in education, healthcare, sports, social welfare, and also non-working persons engaged in reproduction of themselves), INFOCLASS (academics, artists, designers, journalists, etc.), ORGANICLASS (politicians, lawyers, managers, financiers, servicemen, etc.), and TECHNOCLASS (industry workers, peasants/farmers). Spheres, and sphere classes employed in them, are equally important for society and aspire to achieve balance, and this constitutes the basis of social harmony and makes the classes harmonious, cohesive, equal, and therefore, BROTHERLY. (In Semashko's view, the "awareness of brotherhood" that Bitner wrote about can exist o­nly in sphere classes, as classes that are equal and which, rather than by property, differ by major employment in o­ne of the spheres, this employment requiring balance and harmony from them instead of antagonism.)

However, historically, and especially during the last centuries, within industrial society, societies have become  BRANCH-BASED, with a large number of branches within each sphere. Branch-based, industrial organization of society led to the formation of branch-based classes, differing by property and branch employment. Branches and branch-based classes strive for supremacy over o­ne another and, consequently, are ruled by the law of disharmony, which engenders class antagonism, constant struggle, and hostility among them. Branch-based society and branch classes can exist o­nly in a state of permanent war ("hot" or "cold"), which precludes peace and brotherhood of nations. Thus, branch-based and disharmonious classes, warring nations, and the religions that serve them, don't need a language of international communication. Instead, languages of nations that dominate the world economically and politically are thrust o­n people.

Beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century, with the o­nset of globalization, which involved the rise of an informational/network society, rapid growth of international organizations, and the transformation of economies into a single world market, branch-based organization of society has begun to decompose. Meanwhile, what is becoming central is a tendency to dialog and harmonize, to overcome the antagonisms between branch classes and nations (which have put the world o­n the brink of total mutual destruction by accumulated weapons of mass destruction), o­n the basis of new, global and harmonious human communities - sphere classes, brotherly in their very essence (Semashko, 2002: 32-48, 59-88, 105-110, 113-117, etc). Hence, the author of tetrasociology draws this major conclusion regarding Esperanto: Esperanto, as a single, global language of international dialog, is necessary, not to traditional branch groups, but to sphere classes as agents of harmony. But, until sphere classes "self-identify and self-organize, emergence of a single language is unlikely. It is difficult to hope for a single language without it." (Semashko. 2002:117)

Based o­n this thesis, Semashko builds his entire argument in favor of Esperanto, and his criticism of Esperanto's opponents. First: he sees the social significance of globalization in the formation of new global and harmonious social communities - sphere classes, which are the o­nly social groups common to all humankind, who need Esperanto as a universal, neutral, accessory, brotherly, and peace-making language. Second: the English language, which is presently very widespread, cannot efficiently function as an international language, because it isn't neutral, and it projects Anglophonic nations' supremacy, instead of equality and brotherhood of all nations. Besides, English exists in a multitude of versions, which hampers international communication. Third: the need for Esperanto arises from the global economy, global communications, global informational technologies, and the internet most of all. The rise of an international language of electronic hypertext, HTML, breaks ground and creates the need for a solid, international language, a nomination for which Esperanto is the best contender. Fourth: Esperanto is bound to enhance the potential of technologies, work, culture and education, and to become an adequate response to the global linguistic challenge. Semashko proposes to fellow sociologists to adopt Esperanto as the official language of the International Sociological Association, a move that should help Esperanto take root (Semashko. 2002:117).

All the arguments that tetrasociology makes, to affirm Esperanto's value for society, seem to us convincing and deserving public attention and further development. These arguments specify and elaborate the ideas of Zamenhof, Bitner, and other personalities who helped launch Esperantism. If we project their ideas - which seem fair to us - that Esperanto isn't an end in itself but a means, Esperantism today should be oriented toward the formation of new, sphere classes, should help to raise their consciousness, and publicize theories that boost their growth. o­nly then will Esperantism gain a specific social support base in the modern world. o­nly then will Esperantism overcome what Bitner called its "fate of perennial failure." In order to join the ranks of those "fated to always WIN," Esperantists should coordinate their efforts to implant the language with the affirmation of new, sphere classes, which are the o­nly groups who need the language and can adopt it. To this end, Esperantism should go beyond its narrow, branch-based limits, become open to sphere contacts, and begin to foster and develop relevant social theories, social movements, and organizations.

Semashko proposes an "International Publishing Project," which is very important for expansion of Esperanto's zone of influence: the plan is to publish books of multicultural dialog (dialog among religions, cultures, languages, ideologies, and theories) in three or four languages, including Esperanto. This project will allow readers to compare different languages and to see the advantages of Esperanto, and for this reason it deserves full support from Esperantists.

All significance for spreading Esperanto notwithstanding, tetrasociological arguments (2002) have several major weaknesses. First of all, the terseness and complexity of Semashko's argumentation hamper the ordinary reader's understanding. True, Semashko notes that he limited himself to the most general theses, aimed at professional sociologists. (Semashko's book, translated into English, was intended for participants of the 15th World Congress of Sociology in Australia, in July, 2002, where it was presented.) o­ne hopes that the author will write a special book or article, maybe in partnership with an Esperanto theoretician, presenting a circumstantial and more accessible argumentation. That there are no sociological studies to substantiate the author's conclusions is another big drawback. As he explains it, what accounts for this was that his objective was to succinctly introduce tetrasociology to the International Sociological Association, and also that such studies are very labor- and cost-intensive. But the author has no objections to, and is willing to conduct, such studies with adequate funding. Despite these drawbacks, we believe that this and other, less significant weaknesses of tetrasociology do not detract from its importance as a fundamental theory for developing and implanting Esperanto in the world today.


Bitner, V.Espero. (1908). #1

Bitner, V.Espero. (1908). #2

Dr Esperanto. (1887) The international language. The foreword and complete textbook. Por Rusoj. Warsaw

Semashko, L. M. (2002). Tetrasociology: Responses to Challenges. St. Petersburg: Technical University.

Anne Butkevich, President of "Espero" society since 1992, Esperantist 20 years;

Boris Kondratiev, expert in the Esperanto’s lexicography, developed the Large Esperanto-Russian, Russian-Esperanto dictionary, Esperantist 30 years; and

Valeria Cvetkova, Esperantist 48 years.


[1] Gudskov, N.L. Esperanto primer. Moscow: Impeto, (2000); Melnikov, A.S. Portrait of an Idea Against the Background of Eccentrics, or the Language of Dr.Hopeful. Rostov-na-Donu, (1997). These books tell about numerous instances when Esperanto proved viable, useful, and necessary, and about the instances of decline and increase of interest in Esperanto in different countries in the 20th century; they explore major arguments "pro" and "con" Esperanto, and argue that the various myths about Esperanto are groundless. o­ne of the important conclusions is this: The English language "will never become the sole and truly democratic vehicle of international communication"; it is inadequate. At the same time, the French Academy of Science characterizes Esperanto as the "masterpiece of logic and simplicity." Hungary has had experience using Esperanto for people's personal improvement. UNESCO in 1985 suggested governments include Esperanto in educational curricular. See Melnikov A.S. Op.cit., p.15-16, 46, 89, 90. The book also draws interesting, revealing parallels between the activities of different Esperanto organizations in different countries, including the USSR. Op.cit., p.98-102. M.S.Abolskaya's "Under the Sign of Lyre and Green Star" (St. Petersburg, 1999) tells about the tempestuous life of and persecutions suffered by a famous Russian actor and Esperantist Nikolay Rytkov (1913-1973). The most comprehensive study of persecutions suffered by Esperanto, in different countires, from the moment of its inception thru 1985, is U. Lins' "The Dangerous Language. A Story of Esperanto Persecutions." Moscow, IMPETO, (1999).

[2] "Homaranism is a religious unification of humankind o­n the basis of universal moral principles and the ecumenical idea of Yoga." See Gudskov, N.L., Op.cit., p.11.

[3] Quoted from Kolker, B.G. "Esperanto manual. The basics." Moscow: Nauka, (1992), p.4

[4] The Esperanto movement has almost never and nowhere enjoyed a significant state support. Soviet Esperantists, if asked about what the government gave them, could have answered, 'Free tickets to GULAG." See Gudskov, N.L. Op.cit., p.20. In the USSR, Esperantists' activity has always been controlled by the party and state security service, and some Esperanto organizations were banned for more than 50 years. Op. cit., p.24-25

[5]  "Editorial note," Espero, 1908, N. 1, p.3-4. It should be noted that the emblem of Esperanto is a green (the colour of hope) pentagonal star, symbolizing the hopes for peace cherished across the five continents.

[6] The ideas mentioned above are akin to "finvictism", an Esperanto word meaning "aspiration for the final victory," i.e., for the establishment of this language as the world's major auxiliary language. For fairness sake, we should mention that there is a group in the contemporary Esperanto movement that holds a cardinally different view o­n Esperanto's role in society and its prospects, a trend known as "raumism." The word derives from Rauma, the name of a Finnish city where this group first adopted a manifesto. Raumists consider Esperanto as a self-sufficient, quasi-ethnic language, and a distinctive culture, able to exist independently and autonomously from all other cultures and languages. Exploration of this complicated philosophical argument would call for a separate study, and lies beyond the scope of our brief overview. These trends show that the Esperanto movement is split, and is looking for various ways to survive. The first group argues for an expansion, a quantitative amplification of Esperanto, while the second group stakes o­n the internal quality of Esperanto culture as such.

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