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Georgy Lukacs contributed to new epoch in Marxism, veered away from Leninism

By Harsh Thakor 

Georgy Lukacs's “History and Class Consciousness” is a truly landmark work, and its English translation, after almost fifty years of neglect by English and American publishers, was a major development. This year we commemorate 100 years of this work being published, in year 1923. Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat section of this work, published in 1923, is a pioneering contribution. Marxism and Rosa Luxemburg is also a most illustrative historical writing.
That it took almost half a century to make his exceptional book accessible to English readers is due partly to the character of the publishing industry, but rather more, I would add, to the book's own intellectual character as a Marxist heresy; upon its original publication in 1923, it was assaulted at once by Social Democrats and Bolsheviks alike and, indeed, was officially condemned by Zinoviev at the 1924 Congress of the Third International.
The work may have powerful eclectic currents not coherent with Marxism Leninism or bending it in important ways .Still I appraise the wok as a compilation of outstanding research, manifesting the salient features of Leninism and the dialectics of ideology with the historical situation. In important ways it manifests the roots of Leninism and its essence in transforming the world. On the other hand it‘s content vitiates fundamentals of Leninist ideology.

Life background

Georgy Lukacs, was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, writer, and literary critic who influenced the mainstream of European Communist thought during the first half of the 20th century. His major contributions include the formulation of a Marxist system of aesthetics that opposed political control of artists and defended humanism and an elaboration of Marx's theory of alienation within industrial society. His What is Orthodox Marxism and The Changing Function of Historical Materialism demonstrated his creative and independent approach to Marxist theory.
Born into a wealthy Jewish family, Lukács had read Marx while at school, but was more influenced by Kierkaggard and Weber. He was unimpressed with the majority of the theoretical leaders of the Second International such as Karl Kuatsky but had been impressed by Rosa Luxemburg . In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, Lukács joined the Hungarian Communist Party in 1918. After the overthrow of Bela Kun’s short-lived Hungarian Communist regime in 1919, in which Lukács served as Commissar for Culture and Education, the Hungarian white terror brutally persecuted former government members.
In a book, “Georg Lukacs; The Man, His Work and His Ideas,” edited by G. H. R. Parkinson (Random House and Vintage), Istvan Meszaros gives a brilliant portrayal of Lukacs dialectics and other contributors summarize Lukacs's intellectual and political career. This portrays him as a rich young Hungarian Jew who assimilated the great traditions of German philosophical idealism and of classical academic sociology, as a student of Georg Simmel and associate of Max Weber and Karl Mannheim. Lukacs was Commissar for Public Education in the ill‐starred Hungarian‐Soviet Republic of 1919 and subsequently fled to Vienna, there to edit Kommunismus in 1920‐22, with an ultra‐Left group that resisted all efforts to inhibit revolutionary militancy, whether these came from the newly prudent Bolsheviks or from the long revisionist Social Democrats. After his work was condemned by the Third International, Lukacs went on , to complete his “apprenticeship” in Marxism, in the course of which he supported Stalin on the question of “socialism in one country"; indeed, after 1924 Lukacs was a Stalinist. In 1929, and in order to survive politically, he issued a self‐criticism of his political line on the Hungarian Revolution. In 1933 and, strangely enough, for the first time, he issued a public repudiation of “History and Class Consciousness,”
After his 1929 defeat, Lukacs says that he concluded that he was not very effective as a political figure, and so devoted himself increasingly to intellectual and literary work. Nonetheless, he was imprisoned briefly in 1941 and released after world protests. In 1944 he returned to Hungary after a long sojourn in Moscow, and in 1951 he once more came under political attack, once more recanted, and once more retired from political life, only to re‐emerge as the aging phoenix of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. After this was crushed, he was deported to Rumania but was later allowed to return to Hungary, where, in his last years, he was immensely fruitful and fortunate in his work with many talented and devoted students. He died on June 4th.

Continuity with Mother Traditions

The fundamental theme of Lukacs's Marxism is that it does not one‐sidedly place emphasis on the distinguishing elements of the Marxian contribution but also emphasizes its continuity with its traditions or genesis in German philosophy and, most particularly, Hegelianism. It is in part because of his emphasis on this continuity that Lukacs, repeatedly stressed the value of the works of the “young” Marx. The difference between Marxism and bourgeois thought was not the primacy of economics and of economic motives but, rather, the fact that Marxism adopts the standpoint of the “totality,” refuses to investigate social objects in isolation, and refuses to bow before the existing division of intellectual labour and separation in the different disciplines. Thus, Lukacs's Marxism does not recognise the existence of the autonomous sciences of economics, history law.
In clarifying his notion of the social totality, Lukacs defines a conception of its systemness where the social “totality” is composed of an interaction of social elements that, unlike interacting billiard balls, do not remain the same; they transform not only their positions but also their character. The social system must be interpreted as a historical product, as a thing shaped by men as active “subjects,” as continually retransformed and daily enacted by the ongoing acts of men, and hence as capable of being eradicated or re-laid by their future actions.
The social system is not something given in history, but is a social object that is selectively interpreted and is actively conceptualized by men in the here and now; it is seen as the creation of the integration of “subject” and “object.”
For Lukacs the liberation from capitalism means emancipation from the clutches of the economy. It will be the elimination of a society in which economic life was not a means to social life, but had become its dominating end. It is this autonomy and domination by the economic that is one of the major breeding grounds of the corruption of contemporary culture. Lukacs had no doubt that capitalist culture can and does, from the very first, mount critique of capitalist society; thus capitalist culture is limited by the interests of capitalist society; but also gives voice to the contradictions of capitalism. In short, while a cultural expression can be an authentic outcome of capitalist society it may interests. still be in opposition to its interests.
“History and Class Consciousness” should be basically studied for its text and not its repudiating introduction. For it is this text that manifests historical potentiality of Marxism, and has had a liberating historical role, precisely because it was politically militant, as well as philosophically creative.
For Lukacs, a socialist economy will be one which, unlike the capitalist, will no longer be characterized by the blind autonomy of its own economic laws but will, rather, be subordinated to control by human reason functioning through the planning process and the State administration.
The bureaucratic weakness of Lukacs's tradition of socialism also links up with the importance owed to the role of consciousness in revolution‐making and, in particular, with the cognitive, rational, and shaping character of consciousness that has its source in German idealism. If rational, deliberative consciousness is valued, then we must not be surprised to find that those upholding it will have created a social system in which organised planning is stressed and which, in turn, paves ground for its organizational conditions in the form of a bureaucracy. It began with a rationalistic pre‐bureaucratic conception of socialism, and it is this, and not only his political defeat, that created in him an inner drift to Stalinism. There was a component of Lukacs that complied with Stalinism , it rather than simply capitulating to it.

Consciousness and Theory

Marx too, valued consciousness in the form of a stress upon deliberately established social relationships and planned organization. To “socialize the means of production,” the very definition of socialism, meant on the one hand to denaturalize them and, on the other, to rationalize them. “Our task,” says Lenin in “What Is to Be Done,” “is to fight the natural run of things, to divert the labour Movement from its natural drift‐towards trade unionism.” To socialize the means of production meant to remove them from the “blind” command of nature and to monitor them under conscious control.
There was always an elitist potentiality in Marxist socialism, and that this is not an accidental corruption arising from Russian “backwardness.” The Bolshevik organizational plan, after all, was in part inspired by the German Social Democrats. The elitist potentiality is part of the indigenous character of Marxist theory. It has its base in the importance attributed to consciousness, an emphasis controlled, repressed, yet active even in orthodox Marxism, but salient and unbridled in its Hegelian formulation. It is this elevation of consciousness that tends to transform the proletariat into the political raw material of history, to be bound together and re-manufactured by the Party organization, which justifies its leadership precisely in the name of its possession of theory and consciousness. Under the banner of consciousness, the most “conscious” elements project themselves an avant‐garde and justify the right to rule.

Hegelian Messianism

A Hegelian revolutionary Messianism, such as Lukacs's, seeks the defiance of routine and an escape from the everyday world. It replaces consciousness‐raising and courage for knowledge and discipline.
A Hegelianized Marxism may highlight different aspects of “consciousness” and is vulnerable to breakdown in different directions. On the one side, it may become a politically degenerated academic Marxism; on the other, it may slide into a revolutionary Messianism. For a Hegelian Marxism may stress either the importance of the knowing consciousness, of awareness, or it may stress the willful consciousness, both commonly based in an assumption concerning the infinite potential of men. If a Hegelian Marxism stresses the importance of knowing or awareness, however, this may be experienced as an unbearable restriction upon the revolutionary will.
In Hegelian Marxism theory is seen as an anti-thesis of revolutionary militancy, thereby transforming itself into revolutionary Messianism. Presenting itself as a philosophy of consciousness, it attempts to disguise its anti‐intellectualism by calling ritualistically for the “unity of theory and praxis";.
The other outcome of this contradiction between the willing and knowing consciousness is the atrophy of the will, and its total subordination to the knowing consciousness. In short, another outcome of this contradiction may be to academicize Marxism, a critique which has been directed against the “Critical School” at Frankfurt.
A Hegelian revolutionary Messianism, such as Lukacs's, seeks the defiance of routine and an escape from the everyday world. It replaces consciousness‐raising and courage for knowledge and discipline.
It is precisely because the socialist consciousness does not originate from the‐material conditions of the proletariat's existence but must rather, as Lenin clearly saw, be inculcated within the proletariat from the outside, that it becomes the mission of the Party to cultivate theory and to protect it from sabotaging contact with the world. As Lukacs put it, “The form taken by the class consciousness of the proletariat is the Party.... The Party is assigned the sublime role of bearer of the class consciousness of the proletariat”.

Marxist Methodology

In his “History and Class Consciousness,” Lukacs spoke on behalf of the “methodology” and not of the substantive theories of Marxism. The fundamentals of Marxism are not to be discovered in any of its doctrines about capitalism, in any of its predictions or analyses concerning the capitalist economy, but, rather, in its dialectical perception of the totality. Marxism is thus above all a method. We can therefore still commit ourselves to Marxism today, argues Lukacs, even if all of Marx's predictions about capitalism were proved incorrect. This then cuts the specific connection between Marxism and capitalism and converts Marxism into dialectic of the generalized revolution, into a consciousness of the imminent revolution, of the revolution anywhere and at any time.
To reduce Marxism to a method is, in effect, to place into oblivion,, questions of observation, statistics, data, fact; it is a surrender of the empirical, a willing surrender, because the empirical is after all the manifestation of concern for the “other,” for alien‐ness, for nature in its own autonomy, and it is precisely as a methodologist that Lukacs firmly made a distinction between Marxism and Bolshevism, refusing to reduce the former to the latter. It is in this sense that the Lukacs of 1923 was very much an occidental or Westernizing Marxist. The Russian Revolution was made by socialists in a relatively underdeveloped industrial society and was fundamentally in contradiction or a dichtonomy with the deepest expectations of Marx and Engels. It thereby established the historical foundation for a thoroughgoing transformation of Marxism, the gist of which was to loosen its connection with a specific social system, capitalism. Lenin already saw of the world implications of this, but he saw these from the standpoint of someone immersed in the experience of the Russian revolutions. Lukacs, however, saw these from the standpoint of Western Europe. He could thus begin to develop a Marxism in which the Russian Revolution, vital paradigm that it was, was still only a dominating but never the culminating event.
Lukacs contributed to a new epoch in Marxism, which cultivates a deeper level of self‐awareness; it is a new level of Marxist self analysis which is not confined intellectually within the boundaries by the Russian Revolution, even though it was subdued politically by its subsequent diversion. The new level of Marxist self-awareness crystallized by Lukacs then becomes the bridge between orthodox Marxism and the subsequent development in Frankfurt of “the critical school,” as. G. E. Rusconi makes plain in his “La Teoria Critics della Societal.” In short, Lululcs's importance is also to be found in the fact that he is a major stimulus in the development of what is certainly the most creative school of social theorists in the 20th century, and of whom Herbert Marcuse was the best known member.


Historian Lanning notes the effect of reification is that the aims of socialism– are seen as unrealistic and unachievable. Most people fall back into the ideological inevitability that capitalism is natural and inevitable (even desirable). Even when workers are faced with inhumane, terrible conditions of employment – Lanning summarises – there is still ‘an absence of consciousness beyond immediate and limited needs’ Non-revolutionary attitudes in such situations are a ‘manifestation of reification’ (and organizations such as trade unions, alone, are incapable of providing the pivot to or mediation that might alter this. Yet Lukács (and Lanning) do not share the pessimism of other ‘Western’ Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse, as they assert that the method of reification is as complete as Marcuse seems to suggest.
In History and Class Consciousness he argues that the individualism of the bourgeois style of life and the fact that it so intimately relies on exploitation and the money economy, means that anyone who looks at the world from a bourgeois point of view is prevented from overcoming reification, even in thought. Contrary to this, the class position of the proletariat presents a real-world subject position which is both created by the objective dialectic of capitalism, and which has privileged access to the mediations that can overcome the immediacy of reification and create a genuine subjectivity.

Party and Working class Consciousness

Lukács’s critics have argued that the way Lukács formulated the role of the Communist Party and its relationship to the working class paved the way for an undemocratic, despotic and elitist form of ‘Marxism’. Through a critical analysis of Lukács controversial concept of imputed class consciousness, Robert Lanning’s Georg Lukács and Organizing Class Consciousness refutes these interpretations of his thought and argues that the role of the Party, conceptualised in Lukácsian terms, remains a vital tool to organizing resistance and developing class consciousness.
Lanning argues that imputed class consciousness is ‘not an autonomously operating social force. It is the element of consciousness mediated by a social movement, a political organization or party, or the leading sector of a class’ The role of the revolutionary party is to instill consciousness to the working class and, as Lanning argues, the concept of imputed class consciousness is therefore recognition of the functional role of the working class on the Communist Party. The developments of consciousness through a revolutionary organization and by a conscious minority are, in Lanning’s view, absolutely fundamental to any future goal of socialism.
What is most impressive about Lanning’s book is that at the focal point it deals with, the key criticisms of Lukács conception of the role of the party and the crystallisation of working-class consciousness. He cogently argues that Lukács philosophy sums up neither to negating the role of the party or that it advocates an idealised role of the working class. Lanning argues that the role of the Party, as conceived in Lukácsian terms, remains vital to building resistance and instilling class consciousness.
Critics of Lukács (and perhaps any form of democratic centralism more generally) will immediately recognise at least two potential problems – the first concerning the format and role of the revolutionary party and the second centred on the process of crystallising consciousness itself. The first of these criticisms assumes that any type of imputation of consciousness from an organized party to the working class necessarily implies a kind of imposition from above On this view, the party regards itself as being in possession of a superior knowledge to the working class and their role is to ‘educate’ the masses accordingly (as Marx himself warned against in the third `Thesis on Feuerbach’). Yet this type of criticism, as Lanning shows, interprets the role of the party in a fundamentally misguided way. As both Gramsci and Lenin argued, those leading the revolutionary party are not top-down elitists, but ordinary workers who, through road of radicalism, have sprung into the role of the professional revolutionary and leader. Their position might be temporary, as others emerge to replace them, and the process is one of ebb and flow.

Destruction of Reason’ work

In 1953, Georgy Lukács, published his masterpiece, The Destruction of Reason, on the close relation of philosophical irrationalism to capitalism, imperialism, and fascism. In this work, Lukács had portrayed the relation of philosophical irrationalism—which first emerged on the European Continent, particularly in Germany, with the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, and that became a dominant force near the end of the century—to the rise of the imperialist stage of capitalism. For Lukács, irrationalism, including its ultimate collaboration with Nazism, was no self created development, but rather a product of capitalism itself.
The Destruction of Reason as a critique of the main traditions of Western irrationalism, Rather than treating the various irrationalist systems of thought of the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries as if they had simply fallen from the sky, Lukács traced them to the historical and material roots from which they crystallised.
Here, his argument projected V. I. Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Irrationalism was, therefore, classified as in Lenin, principally with historical-material conditions of the age of monopoly capitalism, the dividing up of the entire world between the great powers, and the geopolitical contention over hegemony and spheres of influence. This was expressed in an economic-colonial battle between various capitalist states, painting the entire historical context in which the new imperialist stage of capitalism sprung up.
Today this fundamental material reality still engulfs the globe, but it has been so modified under the U.S. global imperium that a new phase of late imperialism could be said to have bloomed, dating back to the end of the Second World War, merging immediately into the Cold War, and crystallised, following a brief interregnum, into the New Cold War of today.


Later in life Lukcas championed New Left Ideas and veered away from Leninism and became a strong anti-Stalinist critique. In later years, Lukács rejected many of the positions formulated in his early works which had formed the starting point which not only rejected the Stalinised version of Marxism, but deviated from Marx's central principles. He frequently clashed with Jean Paul Sartre and others who combined Marxism with psychoanalysis, structuralism and other philosophical currents inherently incompatible with Marxism.
In his own right he gave renewed perspective to Marxian analysis or methodology. .Without doubt Lukcas was one of the most insightful and creative intellectuals who gave a new dimension to research of Marxists, championed humanism and gave a new perspective in analysing impact of capitalism, imperialism and fascism on philosophy. He battled dogmatism and mechanical tendencies.
However, later , Lukcas went overboard in negating Stalin as a Marxist, rejecting the Marxist orientation of USSR during the New Economic Policy Period in 1921, gave no credence to the Chinese Cultural Revolution,pardoned anti-Marxists like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and diluted the cutting edge of third world anti-imperialism .He thus fell into the quagmire of ecclectism, negating essence of Leninism.
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has extensively researched history of Marxism Thanks invaluable information from Article by Alvin Gouldner in New York Times of 1971, John Gregson Book review of Robert Lanning work Georg Lukács and Organizing Class Consciousness and Monthly. Review article.



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