Man, Hendrik (Henri) De

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Man, Hendrik (Henri) De



Hendrik (Henri) de Man (1885–1953), a Flemishborn socialist militant, was led by his long and disheartening experience with the stultified proletariat and bureaucratized socialist movements of Belgium, Germany, and England to question the doctrinal and pragmatic adequacy of that radical Marxism to which he had early subscribed. His searing experience during World War i of man’s capacity for self-sacrifice and of the role of national identity precipitated a major reformulation of socialist ideology, presented in his works Psychology of Socialism (1926) and Die sozialistische Idee (1933). This critique from the left could not be dismissed as mere bourgeois propaganda and, Moreover, answered to the radical discontent with socialist practice reflected at that time in the defection of militants to the communist movement.

De Man’s essential argument concerned the inadequacy of Marxist theory to account for contemporary trends within the socialist movement— above all, the unacknowledged collapse of chiliastic expectations that a socialist society would be ensured by means of the proletarian conquest of power. In political reality, the widening split between socialist practice and theory was leading to the covert sanctioning of reformist accommodation to the Western bourgeois order, a process that was merely veiled by the increasingly unrealistic revolutionary ideology. At the same time, the Russian experience demonstrated that orthodox Marxism could engender a tyrannical and Philistine sham egalitarianism.

The basic cause of the discrepancy between theory and practice was, de Man argued, the utilitarian explanation of behavior, which Marxism had inherited from classical economics. In interpreting all significant human action as the product of the maximization of advantages, “scientific socialism” had misinterpreted its own nature. This was strikingly demonstrated by its failure to explain such an anomaly as the absence of a class-conscious socialist movement in America and by the interpretation of the European movement as a response to economic conditions per se rather than to the conjunction of these conditions with invidious social distinctions.

De Man believed that if the autonomous role of values were recognized, it would also become evient that the development of a socialist society involved not only revolutionizing outward relations to the means of production but also infusing the work role itself with socialist values. This insight informed de Man’s pioneer study in industrial sociology, Joy in Work (1927). Further, he held that an ideology that justified socialism in terms of values rather than class interests would more clearly establish the manifold goals of the socialist movement and would facilitate its coming to political power by furnishing a cogent basis for rallying nonproletarian support.

These ideological considerations received concrete political expression in the form of the plan du travail with which de Man returned to Belgium in 1933 from the University of Frankfurt, shaken by the overthrow of that Sozialdemokratie in which he had invested his greatest hope of reformation. The new plan of action, which defined a minimal program necessary to resuscitate the economy—essentially a substantial public works program and public control of the principal credit institutions—and which called for political support from all segments of the population suffering from the hegemony of finance capitalism, revived the élan of the Belgian socialist party. But with the onset of a financial crisis in 1935 the party, in effect, sacrificed integral planisme in order to participate in progressive coalition governments, in which de Man occupied strategic ministerial positions.

In the late 1930s de Man, frustrated by the evanescence of “structural reform” and unsuited by temperament to the compromises of political practice, called for radical revision of parliamentary government in the direction of what he termed authoritarian democracy, capable of sustained and resolute action. He also diverged from his fellow socialists in his fidelity to the appeasement policy; upon the Nazi conquest, he issued a manifesto in which he celebrated the cessation of the ineffective political role of the socialist movement and recommended a rigidly neutralist policy toward the occupying power (1940). Within a year de Man had to acknowledge the bankruptcy of his desperate attempt to construe Nazism in the image of socialism, and he thereupon completely withdrew from public life. He found ultimate refuge in Switzerland and after the war was convicted in absentia for treason. Generalizing from the ruin of his life’s ambitions, he concluded that the socialist movement could not transcend its capitalist environment; in the general decadence the responsible individual could hope only that it would be possible to preserve the patrimony of the ages despite the convulsions of the historical “zone of catastrophe.”

If the political circumstances of the 1930s robbed de Man’s ideological reformulation of its force, the folly of the war years guaranteed that none thereafter would speak in his name. Yet postwar developments have moved socialism in the direction he indicated, and perhaps the perspicacity of this sociological socialist is best indicated by his insistence that responsible socialism must make ideological provision for the positive implementation of the rights of man in industrial society.

Peter Dodge

[For the historical context of de Man’s work, seeMarxismandSocialism; for discussion of the subsequentdevelopment of his ideas, seeIndustrial RelationsandMarxist sociology.]


(1926) 1928 Psychology of Socialism. London: Allen & Unwin. → First published as Zur Psychologic des Sozialismus.

(1927) 1929 Joy in Work. London: Allen & Unwin. → First published as Der Kampf um die Arbeitsfreude.

1933 Die sozialistische Idee. Jena (Germany): Diederich.

1940 Manifesto.Gazette de Charleroi [1940], July 3.

1941 Après coup: Mémoires. Brussels and Paris: Toison d’Or.

1948 Cavalier seul: Quar-ante-cinq années de socialisme européen. Geneva: Cheval Ailé. → A significantly rewritten and enlarged version of de Man 1941. 1951 Vermassung und Kulturverfall: Eine Diagnose unserer Zeit. Bern: Francke.


Dodge, Peter 1966 Beyond Marxism: The Faith and Works of Hendrik de Man. The Hague: Nijhoff. → Includes a bibliography.

Jong, Frits de 1952 Aanvaardbare vernieuwing? Socialisme en democratic 9:187–200.

KÄhler, Otto H. 1929 Determinismus und Voluntarismus in der Psychologic des Sozialismus Hendrik de Mans. Dillingen an der Donau (Germany): Schwabische Verlagsdruckerei.

Peski, Adriaan M. van 1963 Hendrik de Man: Ein Wille zum Sozialismus. Hamburger Jahrbuch fur Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik 8:183–204.

Pfaff, A. A. J. 1956 Hendrik de Man: Zijn wijsgerige fundering van het moderne socialisme. Antwerp and Amsterdam: Standaard Boekhandel.