Georges Sorel

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


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.


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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
This was true in late-19th-century France, when Georges Sorel and the revolutionary Syndicalists saw Jews in the same terms as the muralist in London.
Ciccariello-Maher uses a three-pronged approach to the decolonization of class, race, and "the people." First, he demonstrates how Georges Sorel decolonized class by insisting on a reconfiguration of the category from an "objective set of conditions" to one felt and lived by people (a mythical notion of class) and one that foregrounds "class-for-itself." Second, he uses Franz Fanon's reconfiguration of masterslave dialectics.
Syndicalist thought became increasingly prominent with Georges Sorel serving as a typical, and particularly influential, representative.
Part II discusses Georges Sorel, a sociologist who described politics as a mythology in which violence breaks through and refreshes modern inauthenticity.
For example, Brennan credits Vico's resistance to treating human subjects as objects of scientific study as having a profound influence on Georges Sorel's critique of violence (23).
To achieve this Woodcock pitted the French ideologue Georges Sorel whose infamous Reflections on Violence (1908) showcased the myth of the general strike as a catalyst for an armed worker's revolt, (31) against none other than Mikhail Bakunin, whose notion of violence Woodcock characterized as a positive force in a December 1944 Now essay titled 'The Destructive Urge' (which differs dramatically from his later appraisals of Bakunin).
This idea informed Symbolist, Futurist, Acmeist (an early twentieth-century group of Russian poets who opposed the aesthetic preoccupations of the Russian Symbolists), and Formalist movements, as well as the thinking of the French syndicalist, Georges Sorel, whose thought in turn would influence Alexander Bogdanov's Red Star of 1908.
Burnham focuses on four late 19th- and early 20th-century thinkers: Italian social theorists Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto; French syndicalist Georges Sorel; and German sociologist Robert Michels.
Part II on politics opens with Soulez's masterful analysis of Bergson's meditations on war, followed by Hitsashi Fujita's comparative study of the capitalist and anti-capitalist import of language and violence in the thought of Georges Sorel and Bergson; Leonard Lawlor's study of Bergson's interrelation of a "war instinct" with sexuality and our redemptive capacity to "cheat nature"; and three essays on political theory, focusing on democracy (Paulina Ochoa Espejo), Bergson's critique of "practical reason" as related to the thought of Kant and Alain Badiou (Carl Power), and human rights (Alexandre Lefebvre's superb contribution).