Sorel, Georges


Sorel, Georges
(1847–1922)
   One of the most original and controversial thinkers linked to the Marxist tradition, Sorel was for a time the leading theoretician of revolutionary syndicalism. Born in Cherbourg, France and educated at the École Polytechnique in Paris, Sorel spent much of his life working as a government engineer. He was drawn to Marxism in 1893 after his retirement and gradually worked out his own revolutionary theory via a critique of Marxism. His most influential book is Reflections on Violence (1906) in which he put the case for the necessity and desirability of violence. Sorel viewed capitalism as a system damaging to the proletarian majority and in a state of decline. Parliamentary democracy he saw as a sham, and reformist socialists he described as traitors to the working class. Capitalism had to be overthrown in Sorel’s view by the unleashing of proletarian violence and the weapon of the general strike. Marxism identified the vital truth of the class struggle, but this had become lost in the theoretical elaborations of Marxists with some Marxists turning away from revolution and toward reformism. The truth of Marxism, Sorel argued, should be seen as a “myth” in the sense that it expressed images that acted as an inspiration to the workers to violently and valiantly fight their class enemy. He took Marxism as the inspiration for his revolutionary syndicalism stressing the aspect of class war, giving it a voluntarist and moral character, and adding his own distinctive theories of violence and myth.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.