In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Die Erfindung des Marxismus. Wie eine Idee die Welt eroberte by Christina Morina
  • William Smaldone
Die Erfindung des Marxismus. Wie eine Idee die Welt eroberte. By Christina Morina. Munich: Siedler, 2017. Pp. 585. Cloth €25.00. ISBN 978-3827500991.

As Jonathan Sperber and Gareth Stedman Jones have recently produced excellent biographies historicizing the life of Karl Marx, so Christina Morina has now done the same for the first generation of Marx's students, who, along with Friedrich Engels, created Marxism in the decades following Marx's death in 1883 and the outbreak of World War I. Marxism, notes Morina, was a theoretical and practical effort to respond to the "social question" that arose in the context of European industrialization. Its intellectual adherents aimed for the radical transformation of capitalist society into a socialist one, and they emerged across Europe under a variety of conditions. Morina provides a group portrait of this founding generation of Marxist thinkers, focusing on nine major figures drawn from across the continent: Karl Kautsky, Edward Bernstein, and Victor Adler from Germany and Austria-Hungary; Jean Jaures and Jules Guesde [End Page 627] from France; Rosa Luxemburg from Poland; and Georgi Plekhanov, Peter B. Struve, and Vladimir I. Lenin from Russia. One could quibble about her selections, but her choices are logical because they represent the broad spectrum of Marxist thinking both within their respective states and the Second International.

Based on a solid mastery of the primary sources and secondary literature, Morina tells the story of how these thinkers matured at a time of rapid social, economic, and political change. With the exception of Bernstein, who grew up under modest circumstances and had firsthand experience with working-class people, all came from comfortable, middle-class families that prized education and all managed to make their living by the pen or party political work. While some obtained advanced degrees (Adler, Jaurés, Luxemburg, and Lenin), all were widely read, spoke several languages, and shared a cosmopolitan lifestyle that took them throughout Europe. Struck by the social contradictions of their quickly modernizing world, they eventually turned to the ideas of Marx and Engels as a means of understanding the origins of these conditions and as a path to transforming them. The adoption of a "Marxist" outlook was by no means easy, immediate, or inevitable, but resulted from a combination of study and life experience. Indeed, Morina stresses that her protagonists did not perceive their turn to Marx as a sudden "conversion." It was, rather, the result of a long, difficult process of enlightenment that opened the door to transformative action. After studying the masters' works, they then became central figures in the process of developing their ideas further, popularizing them through books and articles in the socialist press, and building institutions to educate and mobilize the masses.

Morina's analysis of her protagonists' socialization, politicization, and practical engagement reveals the rich diversity of experience in the early social democratic movement. These people generally knew one another, often corresponded, and sometimes engaged in sharp conflicts over theoretical and practical matters. Kautsky and Bernstein, for example, developed a deep friendship as two of Marx's and Engels's most trusted followers, but Bernstein's later efforts to "revise" some of their teachers' conclusions regarding socioeconomic development and his call for a more explicitly reformist politics put him at loggerheads with his old friend and with most leading socialists of his day. This rift exemplified the disagreements that underlay the socialist movement's ostensible unity. Could social democracy achieve its aims peacefully, using legal, parliamentary means, or would violence be necessary? What should be the role of a socialist party and its allied unions in the struggle for power? Morina shows how such fundamental philosophical and political questions divided her protagonists, and she illustrates how, despite having adopted a Marxist approach to understanding reality, their conclusions about how to change the world could be radically at odds.

This point becomes especially concrete in her chapter on the Russian Revolution of 1905. That event, which Lenin later described as a "dress rehearsal" for 1917, attracted the attention of the whole socialist world, and drew exiled figures such as [End Page...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 627-629
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.