## Philosophy and Science

### D.J. Struik's Marxist Mathematics

In October 2000 the Dutch-American mathematician Dirk Jan Struik peacefully passed away at his home in Belmont, ma, at the age of 106. Struik made his name as the author of *A Concise History of Mathematics*, published in 1948, one of the first books on the history of mathematics in which the influence of social factors is explicitly recognised. This book did more than any other to make mathematics' vast wealth of ideas accessible to a wide audience. It was translated into eighteen languages (including Persian) and is still in print.

Dirk Struik, born in 1894 as the son of a Rotterdam headmaster, studied mathematics and physics in Leiden. As a student of the inspiring theoretical physicist Paul Ehrenfest, a teacher with the ability to make science come alive, he hoped to find a connection between mathematics and socialism. He was a member of the sdp, the Marxist splinter of the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sociaal Democratische Arbeiders Partij), but mathematics took first place in his life. At about that time he married Saly Ruth Ramler, a Czech mathematician and a gifted ballet dancer. She died in 1993 at the age of 99. In 1922, Struik obtained his doctorate under Professor Schouten of Delft University. His thesis was on an aspect of topology, a branch of pure mathematics, and had to do with tensors. The close relationship between this theory and Einstein's general theory of relativity, formulated in 1915, especially appealed to Struik. He published a great deal on this subject right into his later years, with such works as *Lectures on Classical Differential Geometry*, written in 1950. Even at the age of 101 he wrote a review of a recent history of tensors.

Because of his communist sympathies he had no chance of finding a teaching post in the Netherlands, and in 1924 he left to spend a year in Rome as a Rockefeller fellow. After Schouten's ‘intellectual yoke’, Struik saw himself in Italy as ‘*an aristocrat à la Goethe*’. He worked in the Vatican Library, where his interest in the history of mathematics was finally fully aroused. One year later, Struik found himself in the German city of Göttingen, where the work of mathematician Frits Klein gave him ‘*confidence in the possibilities that Marxism offered for understanding the course of mathematics*’, as he put it in an interview sixty years later.

After acknowledging that the Netherlands had little to offer him, and refusing to drop everything and run off to Siberia with his brother Anton (an engineer), Struik turned his gaze westward. In 1926, the great mathematician Norbert Wiener, with whom Struik had become acquainted in Göttingen, brought him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mit) in Cam-