Georg Lukács, philosopher of Bolshevism

I’ve posted about Georg Lukács in the past: here, here, and here. Lukács’ excellent polemic against Kautsky, from 1924, was also featured. Though he was denounced in 1924 by the vulgarian Zinoviev, and later forced to recant, the arguments he laid out in History and Class Consciousness, Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought, and his unpublished rebuttal Tailism and the Dialectic represent a high point in the history of revolutionary thought.

Victor Serge later recalled:

I held Georg Lukács in greatest esteem; indeed, I owe him a great deal. A former university teacher in Budapest, and then commissar to a Red division in the front line, Lukács was a philosopher steeped in the works of Hegel, Marx, and Freud, and possessing a free-ranging and rigorous mind. He was engaged in writing a number of outstanding books that were never to see the light of day. In him I saw a first-class brain that could have endowed Communism with a true intellectual greatness if it had developed as a social movement instead of degenerating into a movement in solidarity with an authoritarian power. Lukács’ thinking led him to a totalitarian vision of Marxism within which he united all aspects of human life; his theory of the Party could be taken as either superb or disastrous, depending on the circumstances. For example, he considered that since history could not be divorced from politics, it should be written by historians in the service of the Central Committee.

One day we were discussing the problem of whether or not revolutionaries who had been condemned to death should commit suicide; this arose from the execution in 1919 at Budapest of Otto Korvin, who had been in charge of the Hungarian Cheka, and whose hanging afforded a choice spectacle for “society” folk. “I thought of suicide,” said Lukács, “ in the hours when I was expecting to be arrested and hanged with him. I came to the conclusion that I had no right to it: a member o f the Central Committee must set the example.” (I was to meet Georg Lukács and his wife later, in 1928 or 1929, in a Moscow street. He was then working at the Marx-Engels Institute; his books were being suppressed, and he lived bravely in the general fear. Although he was fairly well-disposed towards me, he did not care to shake my hand in a public place, since I was expelled and a known [Left] Oppositionist. He enjoyed a physical survival, and wrote short, spiritless articles in Comintern journals.)

Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Henri Lefebvre, and Guy Debord would not have been possible without the groundbreaking work of Lukács. You can download full-text PDFs of his assorted writings below. And then, below that, you can read a brief reflection by Lukács’ fellow Marxist and countryman G.M. Tamás, occasioned by the removal of a statue in Budapest earlier this year.

Writings by Lukács

In English
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  1. Selected Correspondence: Dialogues with Weber, Simmel, Buber, Mannheim, and others (1902-1920)
  2. “The Sociology of Modern Drama” (1909)
  3. Soul and Form (1910)
  4. Theory of the Novel (1914-1915)
  5. “The Old Culture and the New” (1920)
  6. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (1920-1923)
  7. Reviews and Articles for Die Rote Fahne (1922)
  8. Lenin: A Study of the Unity of His Thought (1924)
  9. Tailism and the Dialectic (1925-1926)
  10. “Art for Art’s Sake and Proletarian Writing” (1926)
  11. Tactics and Ethics: Political Essays (1919-1929)
  12. The Historical Novel (1937)
  13. Writer and Critic, and Other Essays (1930s-1940s)
  14. Goethe and His Age (1934-1940)
  15. The Young Hegel: Studies in the Relations between Dialectics and Economics (1938/1948)
  16. Studies in European Realism: A Sociological Survey of the Writings of Balzac, Stendhal, Zola, Tolstoy, Gorki, and Others (1940-1947)
  17. The Culture of People’s Democracy: Hungarian Essays on Literature, Art, and Democratic Transition (1945-1948)
  18. “On the Responsibility of Intellectuals” (1948)
  19. German Realists in the Nineteenth Century (1951)
  20. The Destruction of Reason (1952)
  21. “Max Weber and German Sociology” (1955)
  22. The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (1957)
  23. “Reflections on the Cult of Stalin” (1962)
  24. “On Bertolt Brecht” (1963)
  25. “On Walter Benjamin” (1963)
  26. Essays on Thomas Mann (1963) [1909, 1936, 1948, 1955]
  27. “An Entire Epoch of Inhumanity” (1964)
  28. Solzhenitsyn (1964, 1969)
  29. The Process of Democratization (1968)
  30. The Ontology of Social Being, Volume 1: Hegel’s False and His Genuine Ontology (1971, published posthumously)
  31. The Ontology of Social Being, Volume 2: Marx’s Basic Ontological Principles (1971, published posthumously)
  32. The Ontology of Social Being, Volume 3: Labor (1971, published posthumously)
  33. Record of a Life: An Autobiographical Sketch (1971, published posthumously)
  34. Selected Writings

In other languages
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  1. L’anima e le forme
  2. Die Theorie des Romans: Ein geschichtsphilosophischer Versuch über die großen Formen der Epik
  3. Storia e coscienza di classe
  4. La letteratura sovietica
  5. Écrits de Moscou
  6. „Zur philosophischen Entwicklung des jungen Marx (1840-1844)”
  7. Thomas Mann e la tragedia dell’arte moderna
  8. Socialismo e democratização: escritos políticos, 1956-1971
  9. Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins. Die ontologischen Grundprinzipien von Marx

Writings about Lukács

In English
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  1. Victor Zitta, Georg Lukács’ Marxism: Alienation, Dialectics, Revolution — A Study in Utopia and Ideology (1964)
  2. Lucien Goldmann, Lukács and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy (1970)
  3. George Lichtheim, Georg Lukács (1970)
  4. István Mészáros, Lukács’ Concept of Dialectic (1972)
  5. Michael Löwy, Georg Lukács: From Romanticism to Bolshevism (1976)
  6. Ágnes Heller, “Lukács and The Holy Family (1984)
  7. Constanzo Preve, “Viewing Lukács from the 1980s” (1987)
  8. Tom Rockmore (ed.), Lukács Today: Essays in Marxist Philosophy (1988)
  9. Moishe Postone, “Lukács and the Dialectical Critique of Capitalism” (2003)
  10. Michael J. Thompson (ed.), Lukács Reconsidered (2011)

The neverending Lukács debate

Gáspár Miklós Tamás
LA Review of Books
March 6, 2017
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Before 1914, Lukács’ early works were received with great antipathy by the literary establishment in Hungary; they were found to be too “German” — that is to say, too philosophical, not impressionistic and positivist enough. That was only the beginning, of course; from then on, Lukács would be attacked from the right incessantly, all his life. Lukács didn’t fare much better in leftist circles, either. When his most important book, History and Class Consciousness (1923), came out, it was savaged by both the Second and the Third International. It wasn’t to be republished until the 1960s. Lukács was given an ultimatum: if he wanted to stay in the Party, he had to repudiate the book and subject himself to self-criticism, which is what he eventually did.

He was harshly criticized in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Soon after he relocated from Vienna to Moscow, Lukács was exiled to Tashkent, and silenced. But in 1945, the Party needed him — or rather, his fame — in Hungary. He agreed to return there rather reluctantly; East Germany was also an option. After the dictatorship was established and consolidated in Hungary in 1947–1948, the “Lukács Debate” was launched in earnest: he was attacked as a “deviationist,” a “bourgeois,” as a man who did not esteem Soviet “socialist realism.” (Truth be told, he was indeed all these things.) He was again silenced, forbidden to teach or publish in Hungarian, but some of his work was smuggled out and printed in West Germany.

In 1956, Lukács was a member of the revolutionary Nagy government. That’s why he was arrested by the Soviet soldiers and temporarily deported to Romania. When he was brought back, he was expelled from the Party, blacklisted, and pensioned off. Once again, he had to smuggle his texts abroad, this time to West Germany, where Luchterhand Verlag began to publish his complete works (a project taken over by Aisthesis Verlag in 2009). A slander campaign was launched against him both in Hungary and in the DDR; he was now condemned as a “revisionist” and, possibly, “counter-revolutionary.” Entire volumes were dedicated to making this case; they were even translated into quite a few languages.

In 1968, Lukács expressed his sympathy for the reforms and protests in Czechoslovakia, as well as for the youth movements in the West. He protested against the Soviet occupation of Prague, which resulted in yet another excommunication. Later, however, his Party membership was silently restored and, with the advent of reforms in Hungary, he was, to some extent, rehabilitated. But this came too late: he died in 1971. Absurdly, Lukács’ political troubles didn’t end after his death. In 1973, his disciples were condemned by the Central Committee’s ideological outfit and blacklisted; they lost their jobs and could no longer publish.

And now, in today’s Hungary, Lukács is declared, à titre posthume, an “enemy of the people” for having been a communist leader, a Party favorite, a propagandist in the service of the Kádár régime — the same regime that strove to shut him up and almost succeeded. That he served in the 1956 revolutionary government — officially celebrated today by the anticommunist conservatives — is conveniently forgotten.

Yet Lukács was indeed a communist, and in 1956 an authentic socialist revolution took place, in which he participated. But the most important revolution of his life occurred long before, in 1917. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, Lukács was a pessimistic conservative. Like so many German and Austrian writers of the time, he hated the bourgeoisie from the right. In 1917, however, he lost all his reserve and reticence, and all his respect for convention. For him, as for many of his generation, the revolution brought salvation: it saved their souls by proclaiming the end of exploitation, of class divisions, of the distinction between intellectual and manual labor, of punitive law, property, family, churches, prisons. In other words, it promised the end of the state.

The revolution also meant the end of utopia. “The class struggle of the proletariat,” Lukács writes in 1919 (the year of the communist revolution in Hungary), “is the objective itself and concomitantly its realization.” The driving force in human society, therefore, is history, not utopia, because the aims of the proletarian revolution are not outside the world, but within it. It would be silly to deny the religious undertones of such a view of history, which some of Lukács’ subsequent pronouncements would echo. For example, in spite of all his disappointments, he insisted on remaining a member of the Party — since extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, there is no salvation outside the church. It was his — and other communists’ — conscience (to use another religious term) that was the Party proper, not the politics or ideology of those who happened to be Party leaders at one moment or another.

In one of his major works, The Young Hegel (first published in 1948), Lukács tells the story of a giant thinker who called for a revolt against positivity — that is, against an ecclesiastical Christianity that regarded religion as mere tradition and as a valuable web of institutions, that preferred cathedrals to gospels — a thinker who then, ironically, became the foremost defender of the traditional order, of positivity, in order to rescue some achievements of the French Revolution against reactionary romanticism and fanaticism. This story, I think, is Lukács’ own intellectual autobiography in disguise. Between its lines, he concedes defeat.

Western audiences know only liberal anticommunism, the kind created by antifascist émigrés such as Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, and Michael Polanyi, as well as by former far-left figures such as George Orwell, Ignazio Silone, and Arthur Koestler. After 1968, this type of anticommunism was picked up by East and Central European and Russian dissidents and clandestine human rights groups. But relatively little is known in the West about the “White Guard” type of anticommunism, which was prevalent on the European continent in the interwar period, and which is now triumphantly reborn in contemporary Eastern and Central Europe, including Hungary. The latter has tended to see socialism and communism as the uprising of the Untermensch, the biologically and spiritually inferior members of society. For these anticommunists, communism does not mean too little, but too much freedom, and the idea of equality is a sin against nature.

These are also the people for whom “Christian” means “Gentile” and for whom universal franchise means mob rule, just as “constitution” and “the rule of law” mean a loss of nerve. These people believe in the whip, in the cane, in putting women in their place, and in kicking the queer down the club steps. They believe in making deals with the swarthy Levantine and robbing him blind.

And however one feels about putting up graven images of controversial thinkers for the pigeons in the park, one must understand: it is these anticommunists who will destroy Lukács’ statue. They will scatter the contents of the Lukács Archives (owned and administered by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, too timorous to do anything about it) to various dusty corners of Budapest.

Moreover, Lukács was Jewish. The regime does not openly declare its antisemitism, but this campaign is part of a general anti-Jewish drive.

Lukács’ presence as a major witness to — and philosopher of — some of the greatest revolutions of modern humanity cannot be tolerated in a regime like Viktor Orbán’s. It simply cannot. His “System of National Cooperation” worships soccer and Schnapps instead.

¤

G. M. Tamás is a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and public intellectual. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna.

4 thoughts on “Georg Lukács, philosopher of Bolshevism

  1. There is a slight problem,however, with the Marxism of this “Greatest Marxists since Marx”– and that was that neither it, nor he, could mount a historical analysis and criticism of “modern” capitalism, nor of the course of development of the Soviet Union.

    There is that critical moment in, and critical moment to, Marxist analysis, when philosophy is supposed to “wither away”– is supposed to be overcome by actual material analysis of the reproduction of society, of the a actual conditions of social labor, and the actual content of the class struggle precipitated by those conditions— as demonstrated, for example, in Marx’s own writings on France, the Commune, or on capital in general; or say Trotsky’s work in Results and Prospects, or any number of works dealing both concretely and abstractly with problems of revolution.

    But we get none of that, not a drop, from or in the writings of Lukacs. We get a world of the abstract that capitulates to the world of the concrete, as he does personally in his direct, explicit capitulation to Stalinism.

    Short, explicit version of the above opinion: History and Class Consciousness is a retreat, not an advance.

    “Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Henri Lefebvre, and Guy Debord would not have been possible without the groundbreaking work of Lukács.”

    Maybe, maybe not. We certainly wouldn’t have obtained from them what we did; but we might have obtained something much, much better than we did.

    I mean really, this guy doesn’t want to risk being seen talking to an oppositionist on the Soviet Union and yet this guy’s the “Greatest Marxist since Marx”? That might be praise for Lukacs, but it’s an indictment for Marxism.

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