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Professor Stanislav Andreski

Sociologist whose wartime escape from Poland informed his later work on military organisation

Stanislaw Leonard Andrzejewski (Stanislav Andreski), sociologist: born Czestochowa, Poland 18 May 1919; Lecturer in Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa 1947-53; Senior Research Fellow in Anthropology, Manchester University 1954-56; Lecturer in Economics, Acton Technical College, London 1956-57; Lecturer in Management Studies, Brunel College of Technology, London 1957-60; Professor of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Santiago, Chile 1960-61; Senior Research Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, Ibadan, Nigeria 1962-64; Professor of Sociology, Reading University 1964-84 (Emeritus), Head of Sociology Department 1964-82; part-time Professor of Comparative Sociology, Polish University in London 1969-99; married 1957 Iris Gillespie (two sons, two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1977 Ruth Ash; died Reading, Berkshire 26 September 2007.

Stanislav Andreski, Professor Emeritus of Sociology of Reading University, was an outstanding figure in the first generation of British sociologists. At a time when other sociologists were obsessed with class, Andreski saw clearly that the key to power was control over the means of force.

In 1954 he published Military Organization and Society, which became recognised both as a pioneering work in military sociology and a model of how to use the comparative method. It was followed by Elements of Comparative Sociology (1964) and the collection of articles War, Revolutions, Dictatorships (1982), which again compared institutions in different societies to achieve sociological insights.

The later essays returned time and again to the key questions of who can and does employ force and their provocative titles include "The Armies and the Privileged Strata", "On the Peaceful Disposition of Military Dictators" and "Italian Military Inefficiency: an explanation". They were provocative because Andreski, a highly original thinker, widely travelled and extremely well read, was able and willing to challenge conventional assumptions that lesser sociologists and political thinkers took for granted.

Perhaps the clue to Andreski's interests, originality and unusual talents lay in his – for a British professor of sociology – unusual origins. He was born Stanislaw Andrzejewski in Czestochewa in Poland in 1919, and in 1939 fought in the Polish army against the German invader. His unit was forced to retreat and he was taken prisoner by the Soviet army which had attacked Poland from the other side.

As the prisoners were being marched eastwards, Andreski escaped and hid in the forest; had he not done so, he might well have been murdered by the Soviets along with the other Polish officers at Katyn. He then escaped from Poland over the mountains to Slovakia and Hungary, and from there via Yugoslavia and Italy to France, to eventually reach Britain in July 1940 – via a cargo boat from La Rochelle to Plymouth – where he rejoined the Polish army.

At one point on his journey he walked down a long, completely dark railway tunnel, feeling his way along the wall, and not knowing into which country he would emerge. As he emerged into the light, armed guards shouted at him and he was arrested. He used to say how relieved he had been that he could not understand anything that the guards said, which meant that he had to be in (then) neutral Hungary, and safe.

While he was stationed with the Polish army in Britain, Andreski obtained an external degree from London University with First Class Honours and later a PhD. At the end of the war he had no wish to return to Communist Poland. After such experiences it is easy to see why he saw military power and war as so crucial to understanding how societies function and why he was so determined an opponent of the Soviet Union and of its British sympathisers.

In 1947 he took up his first academic post, as Lecturer in Sociology at Rhodes University, South Africa. He returned to the UK in 1953, and for two years was a Senior Research Fellow in Anthropology at Manchester University, before moving to London to lecture at Acton and Brunel technical colleges.

Andreski's interest in the sociology of economic development then took him to work in Chile and in Nigeria and to his writing Parasitism and Subversion: the case of Latin America (1966), and The African Predicament: a study in the pathology of modernization (1968). On the voyage from London to Nigeria he met Yakubu Gowan, later General Gowan and president of the country, but then fresh out of Sandhurst. He asked him if he thought that army officers would ever seize power in Nigeria in the way they frequently had in Latin America. Gowan assured him that, due to their British training, such a thing was quite impossible.

After two years in Ibadan, Andreski returned to the UK in 1964 to become the first Professor of Sociology at Reading University, and founder of the department. He held the chair until his retirement in 1984, and for some years afterwards was Professor of Comparative Sociology at the Polish University in Exile in London. He continued to write and publish. His interest in the great sociologists of the past and his command of languages led him to edit selections from the works of Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer and Max Weber and in 1984 to publish Max Weber's Insights and Errors.

Andreski always wrote a clear, impeccable and attractive English that was a pleasure to read. He held in contempt those social scientists who were obscurantists and jargon-mongers, and in 1974 published an attack on them in his best-selling Social Sciences as Sorcery. It was very popular with the public but infuriated those of his colleagues whose careers were based on concealing behind verbiage the fact that they had nothing to say. Andreski was equally contemptuous of bureaucracy and when he received an absurd questionnaire from the Social Science Research Council asking him what method he used, he replied "thinking".

His attitude again had its roots in his wartime experiences. When guarding Scotland with the Polish army, he was sent a bundle of paperwork in Polish about the provision of a canteen for the NCOs marked "most highly secret", which he promptly threw in the waste paper basket of the place where he was billeted. His thrifty Scottish landlady rescued the papers and sold them to the local fish-and-chip shop. Unfortunately the commander of the local Polish forces had a great weakness for fish and chips, sent out for some and was not best pleased when they arrived wrapped in Polish military documents.

Andreski was a character, a man whose keen brain, encyclopaedic knowledge, fluency in five languages and ability to read others, enabled him to attain a commanding position in comparative sociology. Few British sociologists have matched him for originality or have had such a range of achievements.

Christie Davies