Georges Sorel

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Sorel, Georges

 

Born Nov. 2, 1847, in Cherbourg; died Aug. 30,1922, in Boulogne-sur-Seine. French social philosopher; theoretician of anarchosyndicalism.

Sorel graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique and worked as an engineer in Perpignan. He became active in literary and sociopolitical work beginning in 1892. In 1895, with P. Lafargue and others, he founded the journal Le Devenir social, and in 1899 he became a contributor to the international socialist journal Le Mouvement socialiste.

Sorel’s eclectic philosophical views were influenced by A. Labriola, E. Renan, F. Nietzsche, and H. Bergson. V. I. Lenin criticized Sorel’s world view, calling Sorel a “notorious muddler” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 310). Sorel at first considered himself a representative of “the new school” of Marxism. However, he later attacked all forms of rational knowledge and the foundations of all sociopolitical programs, including Marxism, counterposing to these systems his anarchosyndicalist theory of the social myth (Reflections on Violence, 1906; Russian translation, 1907). Myth, according to Sorel, is an intuitive whole and an indivisible system of symbolic imagery; it is an essential element in any social group’s perception of the world. Myth is the expression of the will to power of the group or class that leads a social movement.

Sorel rejected such bourgeois institutions as democracy, ethics, and the educational system; he believed that a socialist revolution would save European civilization, which was undergoing a severe crisis. However, revolution, in Sorel’s view, was a spontaneous, irrational impulse of a people motivated by social myths. For Sorel, the myth of revolution is based on the idea of the ethical value of violence, which is the motive force of history. The bearers of socialist ideas are not political parties but trade unions (syndicates).

Sorel’s political views are inconsistent and contradictory. He criticized the parliamentary reformist socialism of J. Jaurès, but he was also close to various left-wing and right-wing radical groups, in particular, the nationalist Action Française.

Sorel welcomed the October Revolution of 1917, calling it the dawn of a new era. However, some of his reactionary ideas had a great influence on the rise of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. Modern ideologists of left-wing and right-wing extremist groups in France, Italy, and Latin America have shown a renewed interest in Sorel’s theories.

WORKS

Le Procès de Socrate. Paris, 1889.
La Décomposition du Marxisme. Paris, 1908.
Matériaux d’une théorie du prolétariat. Paris, 1919.
De l’Utilité du pragmatisme. Paris, 1921.
D’Aristote à Marx (L’Ancienne et la nouvelle métaphysique). Paris, 1935.
Lettres à Paul Delesalle, 1914–1921. Paris, 1947.
In Russian translation:
Sotsial’nye ocherki sovremennoi ekonomii. Moscow, 1908.
“Evoliutsiia sotsializma.” In Sotsial’noe dvizhenie v sovremennoi Frantsii. Moscow, 1908.

REFERENCES

Maletskii, L. “Zhorzh Sorel’.” Kommunisticheskii Internatsional, 1923, nos. 24, 25.
Labriola, A. Istoricheskii materializm i filosofiia (Pis’ma k Soreliu). Paris, 1922.
Rossignol, F. La Pensée de G. Sorel. Paris, 1948.
Berding, H. Rationalismus und Mythos: Geschichtsauffassung und politische Theorie bei G. Sorel. Munich-Vienna, 1969.

A. P. OGURTSOV