Ludwik Krzywicki

 In Italian


Krzywicki was undoubtedly the greatest Marxist thinker in Polish history. An intellectual with a wide range of different interests, his production was extremely vast and covered a multitude of disciplines (including philosophy, social anthropology, psychology, political economy, statistics, education and aesthetics), its main focus being, however, of a socio-anthropological nature. Rejecting Hegelism, to which he preferred a familiarity with the works of positivism (especially Comte) and the socio-economic writings of Marx, in philosophy he opted substantially for an acceptance of empiriocritical phenomenalism. He was above all a sociologist (being one of the founders of the discipline in Poland) and he always approached historical materialism from the sociological viewpoint. His Marxism was decidedly anti-economistic and he strongly emphasised the role that circumstance and various other factors (institutions, beliefs, anthropological characteristics, etc.) played in the evolution of human society. Another characteristic concept was the theory of the "migration of ideas", i.e. that ideas, which spring from social needs and expectations and spread by virtue of their capacity to respond to these needs and expectations, can "migrate" to other countries (or ages) which, due to their underdeveloped social conditions, are not yet capable of expressing them autonomously. Here, if they succeed in embodying existing needs, they will take root and accelerate socio-economic development. Krzywicki was also important for his application in the field of sociology, particularly in the interpretation of social history inspired by historical materialism, of the structural method, which consisted of building up theoretical models that go beyond mere description to capture the underlying regularities.


Born into an aristocratic but impoverished family, he showed an interest in psychology, philosophy and natural sciences from an early age, reading authors such as Darwin, Taine, Ribot and Comte. He studied mathematics at the University of Warsaw and after obtaining his degree enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine. His studies therefore took a scientific direction right from the start and he came under the influence of the positivistic climate of the times. While at University he also met Krusinski, taking part in the organisation and activities of the first Polish Socialist associations and becoming their main public speaker. Around this time he read a Russian translation of Marx's Capital, which was decisive in orienting his interests in a socio-economic direction and which he was later to translate into Polish. Expelled from the University on account of his political activities, he went abroad, first to Leipzig (where he attended the lectures of Wundt), then to Zurich (where he met Liebknecht, Bernstein and Krautsky), and finally to Paris in 1885, where most of the Polish Socialist émigrés in Europe lived. It was in Paris that he began to study anthropology, ethnology and archaeology, using the fruits of his studies in his later works on the history of culture. Returning to Poland, he resumed his political, scientific and journalistic activity until 1891, when he was again forced to emigrate, first to Berlin and then to the United States, where he gained a better knowledge of capitalism and came into contact with American ethnologists. He returned to Poland again in 1893 and continued his political and pedagogical activity. He was arrested several times, notably when he took part in the 1905 revolution (during which he edited the paper of the Socialist Party), but took a doctorate in Lvov   with a dissertation of an ethnographic nature. In the years leading up to the First World War he lived in great hardship, but when war broke out he was back in the front line of social activity (taking part in various workers' and trade union organisations even though his relationship with the Socialist Party had cooled off somewhat). After the war, he abandoned all political activity and devoted himself exclusively to scientific research, intending to conclude the works he had never had the serenity or time to finish. He did, however, take part in the management and organisation of scientific bodies: he was the vice-director of the Central Statistics Office, he taught at the University of Warsaw and other institutions of further education and directed the Socio-Economic Institute which, under his guidance, became one of the most important research centres in the socio-economic field. He was injured in an air raid on Warsaw during the Second World War (the bomb which destroyed his apartment also causing the loss of the majority of his papers and manuscripts) and his working conditions became increasingly worse. He died of heart disease shortly afterwards.

Main works

- L. Krzywicki, Dziela (Opere), 5 voll., Warszawa, 1957-1961.
- L. Krzywicki,Wybór pism (Scritti scelti), ed. by H. Holda-Róziewicz, Warszawa, 1978

Selected Bibliography

- T. Kowalik, Krzywicki, Warszawa, 1965
- H. Kozakiewicz, Ludwik Krzywicki - Sociologist and Activist, in Masters of Polish Sociology, ed. P. Sztompka, Wroclaw, 1984, pp. 53-65.

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