Born Apr. 11, 1862, in Schwerin; died Aug. 26, 1936, in Berlin. Theoretician of German social democracy, historian, sociologist, ethnographer, and publicist.
The son of a poor stage worker, Cunow became a bookkeeper. After joining the social democratic movement, he wrote for the social democratic press and became a member of the Vorwärts editorial board in 1902. A chauvinist in World War I (1914–18), Cunow remained an extreme right-wing social democrat after the war. In 1917 he replaced the centrist K. Kautsky as editor of Die Neue Zeit, the theoretical journal of German social democracy, a position he held until 1923. He was a professor at the University of Berlin from 1919 to 1930 and director of the Museum of Ethnology from 1919 to 1924.
Cunow wrote many works, chiefly compilations, on the history of primitive society, in which he eclectically combined Marxist tenets with theories borrowed from bourgeois “economic” ethnography. His work Theological or Ethnological History of Religion? was revised by I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov and published in Russian under the title The Origin of Our God (1919; new ed., 1958). Cunow’s work on the Great French Revolution, published in 1908 (Russian translation, The Struggle of Classes and Parties in the Great French Revolution of 1789–94, 3d ed., 1923), is directed against bourgeois liberalism. Nevertheless, the work incorrectly interprets the role of individual classes and parties, as well as several problems relating to the Jacobin dictatorship.
. In his later works Cunow attempted a direct revision of many Marxist tenets. His sociological views combine positivist evolutionary theories with economic materialism. Cunow’s principal philosophical work, The Marxist Theory of the Historical Process of Society and the State (vols. 1–2, 1920; Russian translation of vol. 2, 1930), seeks to refute the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the four-volume study History of Economy (1926–31; Russian translation of vol. 1, The Economy of Primitive and Semicivilized Peoples, 1929), Cunow completely ignores the concept of socio-economic formation. He views history as a process of gradual social change in which “political revolutions” allegedly do not play a significant role.
WORKSIn Russian translation:
Sotsiologiia i etnologiia. St. Petersburg, 1905.
O proiskhozhdenii braka i sem’i. Moscow, 1923.
Ocherki po istorii pervobytnoi kul’tury, part 1. Minsk, 1923. (Coauthor.)
Vozniknovenie religii i very v boga, 4th ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925.
Pervobytnyi kommunizm. Kharkov, 1926.