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Szabó, Ervin

(1877–1918), librarian and socialist theoretician. Ervin Szabó was born in northern Hungary in a region that is now part of Slovakia. He changed his name from Samuel Armin Schlesinger and converted to Calvinism while still in his teens. Later, as a revolutionary, he expressed no attachment either to Judaism or Christianity. Szabó studied at the faculties of law and administration at universities in Budapest and Vienna, and earned a doctorate in 1903. Beginning in 1904 he worked as founder and director of the Budapest Municipal Library, where he adopted the model of the American public library, unknown until then in Hungary. Even today, the Hungarian library network remains named for him.

Szabó’s socialist leanings were influenced by Russian revolutionaries he had met in Vienna in 1898–1899. In the years that followed, he regularly forwarded their radical literature to Russia. Within the social democratic movement in Hungary, he emphasized the importance of individual initiative and moral qualities, hoped for a more revolutionary outcome, and started a small opposition group to transform the reformist spirit of the party. Though he failed in this latter goal, he was successful in raising the ideological consciousness of the Hungarian workers’ movement. He was regarded as the spiritual leader of revolutionary trends among youth and some workers and was said to have been the moral conscience of Hungarian socialism.

Though Szabó veered toward Bolshevism, he did not accept Lenin’s etatist principles. He published the major works of Marx and Engels in Hungarian, with his own—unorthodox—introductions. These volumes remained the main source of Marxist socialism in Hungary for several decades. In his later years, Szabó drifted from reformist social democracy and embraced French and Italian revolutionary syndicalism, which favored economic struggle (and advocated general strikes, among other actions) over political fights for universal suffrage. At the same time, he cooperated with his friend Oszkár Jászi in editing Huszadik Század (Twentieth Century), the first modern review of social sciences in Hungary, and contributed to the journal’s discussion on the Jewish question, to which he asserted strong assimilationist convictions. Szabó also led the Society of Social Sciences, an influential body that supported progressive public opinion.

Szabó died at the age of 41, just before the end of World War I, which he had opposed from the outset. His funeral, accompanied by demonstrations in October 1918, became a dress rehearsal of the approaching revolution.

Szabó’s main works included essays on socialism (A szocializmus; 1904) and syndicalism (Szindikalizmus és szociáldemokrácia; 1908), as well as the selected works of Marx and Engels (Marx és Engels válogatott Muvei, 2 vols.;1905, 1909). He also wrote A tőke és a munka harca (The Struggle of Capital and Work; 1911), and the posthumously published historical text Társadalmi és pártharcok az 48–49-es magyar forradalomban (Social and Party Struggles within the Hungarian Revolution of 1848–1849; 1921).

Suggested Reading

György Litván and János M. Bak, eds., Socialism and Social Science: Selected Writings of Ervin Szabó, 1877–1918 (London, 1982).