The Institut für Sozialforschung was the creation of Felix Weil, who was able to use money from his father's grain business to finance the Institut. Weil was a young Marxist who had written his PhD on the practical problems of implementing socialism and was published by Karl Korsch.
With the hope of bringing different trends of Marxism together, Weil organised a week-long symposium (the Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche) in 1922 attended by Georg Lukacs, Karl Korsch, Karl August Wittfogel, Friedrich Pollock and others. The event was so successful that Weil set about erecting a building and funding salaries for a permanent institute. Weil negotiated with the Ministry of Education that the Director of the Institut would be a full professor from the state system, so that the Institut would have the status of a University.
Weil himself was an orthodox Marxist, who saw Marxism as scientific; the role of the Institut would be social and historical research mainly on the workers' movement. Indeed, in its early years, the Institut did fairly orthodox historical research. However, one of Weil's central objectives was also cross-disciplinary research, something which the German University system made impossible.
Max Horkheimer's Opening address defines the task of the Institute: The matter is different if one puts the question more precisely: which connections can be demonstrated between the economic role of a specific social group in a specific era in specific countries, the transformation of the psychic structure of its individual members, and the ideas and institutions as a whole that influence them and that they created? Then the possibility of the introduction of real research work comes into view, and these are to be taken up in the Institute. Initially, we want to apply them to a particularly significant and salient social group, namely to the skilled craftspeople and white collar workers in Germany, and then subsequently to the same strata in the other highly developed European countries.
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944)
The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception (In: Dialectic of Enlightenment):
"THE sociological theory that the loss of the support of objectively established religion, the dissolution of the last remnants of pre-capitalism, together with technological and social differentiation or specialisation, have led to cultural chaos is disproved every day; for culture now impresses the same stamp on everything.
Films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part. Even the aesthetic activities of political opposites are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system. The decorative industrial management buildings and exhibition centers in authoritarian countries are much the same as anywhere else.
Today the culture industry has taken over the civilising inheritance of the entrepreneurial and frontier democracy – whose appreciation of intellectual deviations was never very finely attuned. All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralisation of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology – since ideology always reflects economic coercion – everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same. The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date, the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation, the choice of words in conversation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology, bear witness to man’s attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry."
Walter Benjamin: The Storyteller
"Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force. He has already become something remote from us and something that is getting even more distant. To present someone like Leskov as a storyteller does not mean bringing him closer to us but, rather, increasing our distance from him. ...
One reason for this phenomenon is obvious: experience has fallen in value. And it looks as if it is contin- uing to fall into bottomlessness. Every glance at a newspaper demonstrates that it has reached a new low, that our picture, not only of the external world but of the moral world as well, overnight has undergone changes which were never thought possible. With the [First] World War a process began to become ap- parent which has not halted since then. Was it not noticeable at the end of the war that men returned from the battlefield grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? What ten years later was poured out in the flood of war books was anything but experience that goes from mouth to mouth. And there was nothing remarkable about that. For never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechan- ical warfare, moral experience by those in power. A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body."
And Benjamin: On Some Motifs in Baudelaire (Finnish translation: Silmä väkijoukossa): "Baudelaire knew how it stood with the poet: as a flâneur he went to the market; to look it over, as he thought, but in reality to find a buyer."