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"The Hand That Will Rule The World—One Big Union"

Sorelianism is advocacy for or support of the ideology and thinking of French revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel. It typically refers to the anti-individualist, anti-liberal, anti-materialist, anti-positivist, anti-rationalist, spiritualist syndicalism that Sorel promoted.[1] Sorelians oppose bourgeois democracy, the developments of the 18th century, the secular spirit, and the French Revolution, while supporting classical tradition.[2] Sorel believed that the victory of the proletariat in class struggle could be achieved only through the power of myth and a general strike.[3] To Sorel, the aftermath of class conflict would involve rejuvenation of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.[4] Initially, Sorel was a revisionist of Marxism, but in 1910 announced his abandonment of socialist literature and claimed in 1914, using an aphorism of Benedetto Croce that "socialism is dead" due to the "decomposition of Marxism".[2] Sorel became a supporter of Maurrassian integral nationalism beginning in 1909 that influenced his works.[2] Sorelianism is considered to be a precursor to fascism.[5]


General strike

Sorel believed that class war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie would result from a general strike.[6] Sorel believed that the victory of the proletariat would end democracy, individualism, liberalism, and compromise between workers and the democratic, capitalist society.[6]

Syndicalist society

The ideal Sorelian syndicalist society would consist of workers' syndicates that would serve as the only social authority, all other authorities would be destroyed.[6]

Moral regeneration

Sorelianism focused on the moral regeneration of society and the rescue of civilization rather than only the working-class.[7] Sorelianism was more focused on support of socialism as a means for revolutionary transformation of society rather than a movement of the proletariat or a movement with a specific social structure.[7]

Class conflict and class rejuvenation

Sorel advocated the separation of groups in society, including support of the syndicalist model of a society where the proletariat workers would be autonomous and separate from bourgeois industrialists.[6] Sorel refused the idea of negotiation between the classes during the period of struggle between the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.[6] However, Sorel believed that it was the proletariat's task to awaken the bourgeoisie from intellectual stupor to recover its morality, "productive energy", and "feeling of its own dignity" that Sorel claimed had been lost because of democratic ideals.[4]

Hence, Sorel believed that both the end result of class conflict would in the end result in the rejuvenation of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.[4]

Revisionism of Marxism, claims of "decomposition of Marxism" by Blanquism and positivism

Sorel focused on the ethical dimension of Marxism, claiming its utility for historical analysis and a means for transforming society.[7] However, Sorel criticized the deterministic, materialist, and mechanist components of Marxism.[7] Sorel criticized vulgar interpretations of Marxism for being unfaithful to Marx's real intentions.[7] Sorel claimed that Marx was not materialist at all, noting that Marx did not regard psychological developments of people as part of the economic process.[8] Sorel noted that Marx described the necessary ideological superstructure of societies: law, the organization of the state, religion, art, and philosophy.[8] As a result, Sorel claimed that "no great philosophy can be established without being based on art and on religion".[8]

Sorel claimed that although Marx had initially denounced Pierre-Joseph Proudhon while supporting Blanquism, that Marx later synthesized ideas from both Blanquism and Proudhonism together.[9] Sorel claimed that Marxism had undergone a crisis in the 1880s and the 1890s when major socialist parties were being founded in France.[9] Sorel viewed non-Proudhonian socialism as being wrong-headed and corrupt, as being inherently oppressive.[9] Sorel claimed that a "decomposition of Marxism", as referring to the major goals and themes of the ideology, was being caused by Marx's Blanquist elements and Engels' positivist elements.[9]

Proudhonism was in Sorel's view, more consistent with the goals of Marxism than Blanquism which had become popular in France, and Sorel claimed that Blanquism was a vulgar and rigidly deterministic corruption of Marxism.[9]

Sorelianism and French integral nationalism

Interest in Sorelian thought arose in the French political right, particularly by French nationalist Charles Maurras of Action Française and his supporters.[10] While Maurras was a staunch opponent of Marxism, he was supportive of Sorelianism for its opposition to liberal democracy.[10] Maurras famously stated "a socialism liberated from the democratic and cosmopolitan element fits nationalism well as a well made glove fits a beautiful hand".[11] In the summer of 1909, Sorel endorsed French integral nationalism and praised Maurras.[2] Sorel was impressed by the significant numbers of "ardent youth" that enrolled in Action Française.[12] Sorel's turn to nationalism resulted in his disregarding of Marx in favour of the views of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.[13] In 1910, Sorel along with Action Française nationalists Édouard Berth and Georges Valois agreed to form a journal titled La Cité française that would promote a form of national-socialism, however this was abandoned.[14] Afterwards, Sorel supported another nationalist newspaper, L'Indépendence and began writing anti-Semitic content claiming that France was under attack from "Jewish invaders".[15] In 1911, on the issue of Sorelian syndicalism, Valois announced to the Fourth Congress of Action Française that "It was not a mere accident that our friends encountered the militants of syndicalism. The nationalist movement and the syndicalist movement, alien to another though they may seem, because of their present positions and orientations, have more than one common objective."[10]

During his association with French nationalism, Sorel joined Valois in the Cercle Proudhon, an organization that Valois declared to provide "a common platform for nationalists and leftist antidemocrats".[16] The organization recognized both Proudhon and Sorel as two great thinkers who had "prepared the meeting of the two French traditions that had opposed each other throughout the nineteenth century: nationalism and authentic socialism uncorrupted by democracy, represented by syndicalism".[16] Cercle Proudhon announced that it supported the replacement of bourgeois ideology and democratic socialism with a new ethic of an alliance of nationalism with syndicalism, as those "two synthesizing and convergent movements, one at the extreme right and the other at the extreme left, that have begun the siege and assault on democracy".[16] Cercle Proudhon supported the replacement of the liberal order with a new world that was "virile, heroic, pessimistic, and puritanical—based on the sense of duty and sacrifice: a world where the mentality of warriors and monks would prevail".[17] The society would be dominated by a powerful avant-garde proletarian elite that would serve as an aristocracy of producers, and allied with intellectual youth dedicated to action against the decadent bourgeoisie.[18]

Sorelianism and Fascism

Upon Sorel's death, an article in the Italian Fascist doctrinal review Gerarchia edited by Benito Mussolini and Agostino Lanzillo, a known Sorelian, declared "Perhaps fascism may have the good fortune to fulfill a mission that is the implicit aspiration of the whole oeuvre of the master of syndicalism: to tear away the proletariat from the domination of the Socialist party, to reconstitute it on the basis of spiritual liberty, and to animate it with the breath of creative violence. This would be the true revolution that would mold the forms of the Italy of tomorrow."[19]

Notable adherents

Aside from Sorel himself, there were a number of adherents of Sorelianism in the early 20th century. Sorel was a mentor to Hubert Lagardelle who, like Sorel, supported the segregation of social classes and who despised the bourgeoisie, democracy, democratic socialism, parliamentarism, social democracy, and universal suffrage.[20] Antonio Gramsci was influenced by the Sorelian views of social myth.[21] Based on influence from Sorel, Gramsci asserted that Italy and the West have suffered from crises of culture and authority due to the "wave of materialism" and the inability of liberalism to achieve consensus and hegemony over society.[22] Sorel influenced Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis in Kazantzakis' belief of strife as being creative while viewing peace as decadent.[23] José Carlos Mariátegui was a Sorelian who claimed that Vladimir Lenin was a Sorelian and Nietzschean hero.[24]

Benito Mussolini, when he was a Marxist, held various positions towards Sorelianism at times. Mussolini stated that he became a syndicalist during the 1904 Italian general strike; his close contact with syndicalists dates to 1902.[25] Mussolini reviewed Sorel's Reflections on Violence in 1909 and supported Sorel's view of consciousness as being a part of protracted struggle, where people display uplifting and self-sacrificing virtues akin to the heroes of antiquity.[26] Mussolini also supported the Sorelian view of the necessity of violence in revolution.[26] He followed Sorel in denouncing humanitarianism and compromise between revolutionary socialists and reformist socialists and bourgeois democrats.[26] By 1909, Mussolini supported elitism and anti-parliamentarism, and became a propagandist for the use of "regenerative violence".[26] When Sorelians initially began to come close to identifying themselves with nationalism and monarchism in 1911, Mussolini believed that such association would destroy their credibility as socialists.[27]


  1. Sternhell et al., pp. 77-78.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Sternhell et al., p. 78.
  3. Sternhell et al., p. 76.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Christensen et al., p. 18.
  5. Sternhell et al., p. 90.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Midlarsky, p. 93.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Sternhell, p. 17.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Stanley, p. 206.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 John Stanley. The Sociology of Virtue: The Political & Social Theories of George Sorel. Pp. 106.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Sternhell et al., p. 82.
  11. Holmes, p. 60.
  12. Sternhell et al., p. 80.
  13. Stuart, p. 149.
  14. Sternhell et al., p. 83.
  15. Sternhell et al., p. 85.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Sternhell, p. 11.
  17. Sternhell, pp. 11-12.
  18. Sternhell, p. 12.
  19. Sternhell et al., p. 93.
  20. Hellman, p. 35
  21. Gill, p. 19.
  22. Cohen & Arato, p. 144.
  23. Bien, p. 7.
  24. Schutte, p. 39.
  25. Sternhell et al., p. 33.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Gregor, p. 96.
  27. Gregor, p. 123.

Works cited

  • Peter Bien. Kazantzakis: politics of the spirit, Volume 2. Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, 2007.
  • Hans Dam Christensen, Øystein Hjort, Niels Marup Jensen. Rethinking art between the wars: new perspectives in art history. Aarhus, Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2001.
  • Jean L. Cohen, Andrew Arato. Civil society and political theory. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994.
  • Stephen Gill. Power and resistance in the new world order. New York, New York, USA: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2003.
  • Anthony James Gregor, University of California, Berkeley. Young Mussolini and the intellectual origins of fascism. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, USA: University of California Press, 1979.
  • John Hellman. The communitarian third way: Alexandre Marc's ordre nouveau, 1930-2000. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002.
  • Douglas R. Holmes. Integral Europe: fast-capitalism, multiculturalism, neofascism. Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, 2000.
  • Manus I. Midlarsky. Origins of Political Extremism: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Ofelia Schutte. Cultural identity and social liberation in Latin American thought. Albany, New York, USA: State University of New York Press, 1993.
  • John Stanley. Mainlining Marx. New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA: Transaction Publishers, 2002.
  • Zeev Sternhell. Neither right nor left: fascist ideology in France. 2nd edition. Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, 1986.
  • Zeev Sternhell, Mario Sznajder, Maia Ashéri. The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution. Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Robert Stuart. Marxism and National Identity: Socialism, Nationalism, and National Socialism during the French fin de siècle. Albany, New York, USA: State University of New York Press, 2006.