1970 Goethe Prize Winner:
György Lukács (/ˈluːkɑːtʃ/; Hungarian: [ˌɟørɟ ˈlukaːtʃ]; 13 April 1885 – 4 June 1971) was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, aesthetician, literary historian, and critic. He was one of the founders of Western Marxism, an interpretive tradition that departed from the Marxist ideological orthodoxy of the USSR. He developed the theory of reification, and contributed to Marxist theory with developments of Karl Marx's theory of class consciousness. He was also the philosopher of Leninism. He ideologically developed and organised Lenin’s pragmatic revolutionary practices into the formal philosophy of vanguard-party revolution (Leninism).
As a literary critic Lukács was especially influential, because of his theoretical developments of realism and of the novel as a literary genre. In 1919, he was the Hungarian Minister of Culture of the government of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic (March–August 1919).
Lukács has been described as the preeminent Marxist intellectual of the Stalinist era, though assessing his legacy can be difficult as Lukács seemed to both support Stalinism as the embodiment of Marxist thought, and yet also champion a return to pre-Stalinist Marxism.
Life and politics
Georg Lukács was born Löwinger György Bernát, in Budapest, Hungary, to the investment banker József Löwinger (later Szegedi Lukács József; 1855–1928) and his wife Adele Wertheimer (Wertheimer Adél; 1860–1917), who were a wealthy Jewish family. He had a brother and sister. József Löwinger was knighted by the empire and received a baronial title, making Georg Lukács a baron as well, through inheritance. As an Austro-Hungarian subject, the full names of Georg Lukács were the German Baron "Georg Bernhard Lukács von Szegedin", and the Hungarian "Szegedi Lukács György Bernát"; as a writer, he published under the names "Georg Lukács" and "György Lukács". Georg Lukács studied at the universities of Budapest and Berlin, and received his doctorate in 1906 in Kolozsvár.
Whilst at university in Budapest, Lukács was part of socialist intellectual circles through which he met Ervin Szabó, an anarcho-syndicalist who introduced him to the works of Georges Sorel (1847–1922), the French proponent of revolutionary syndicalism. In that period, Lukács’ intellectual perspectives were modernist and anti-positivist. From 1904 to 1908, he was part of a theatre troupe that produced modernist, psychologically realistic plays by Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Gerhart Hauptmann.
Lukács spent much time in Germany, and studied in Berlin from 1906 to 1910, during which time he made the acquaintance of the philosopher Georg Simmel. Later, in 1913, whilst in Heidelberg he befriended Max Weber, Ernst Bloch, and Stefan George. The idealist system to which Lukács subscribed was intellectually indebted to Kantianism (then the dominant philosophy in German universities) and to Plato, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In that period, he published Soul and Form (1911; tr. 1974) and The Theory of the Novel (1920; tr. 1971).
In 1915, Lukács returned to Budapest, where he was the leader of the Sunday Circle, an intellectual salon. Its concerns were the cultural themes that arose from the existential works of Dostoyevsky, which thematically aligned with Lukács’ interests in his last years at Heidelberg. As a salon, the Sunday Circle sponsored cultural events whose participants included literary and musical avant-garde figures, such as Karl Mannheim, the composer Béla Bartók, Béla Balázs, and Karl Polanyi; some of them also attended the weekly salons. In 1918, the last year of the First World War (1914–18), the Sunday Circle became divided. They dissolved the salon because of their divergent politics; several of the leading members accompanied Lukács into the Communist Party of Hungary.
In light of the First World War and the Russian Revolution of 1917, Lukács rethought his ideas. He became a committed Marxist in this period and joined the fledgling Communist Party of Hungary in 1918. As part of the government of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, Lukács was made People's Commissar for Education and Culture (he was deputy to the Commissar for Education Zsigmond Kunfi).
During the Hungarian Soviet Republic, Lukács was a commissar of the Fifth Division of the Hungarian Red Army, in which capacity he ordered the execution of eight fighters, who supported the czech invasion troops, in Poroszlo, in May 1919.
After the Hungarian Soviet Republic was defeated, Lukács fled from Hungary to Vienna. He was arrested but was saved from extradition due to a group of writers including Thomas and Heinrich Mann. Thomas Mann later based the character Naphta on Lukács in his novel The Magic Mountain. During his time in Vienna in the 1920s, Lukács befriended other Left Communists who were working or in exile there, including Victor Serge, Adolf Joffe and Antonio Gramsci.
Lukács began to develop Leninist ideas in the field of philosophy. His major works in this period were the essays collected in his magnum opus History and Class Consciousness (1923). Although these essays display signs of what Vladimir Lenin referred to as "ultra-leftism", they provided Leninism with a substantive philosophical basis. In July 1924 Grigory Zinoviev attacked this book along with the work of Karl Korsch at the Fifth Comintern Congress. In 1924, shortly after Lenin's death, Lukács published the short study Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought. In 1925, he published a critical review of Nikolai Bukharin's manual of historical materialism.
As a Hungarian exile, he remained active on the left wing of Hungarian Communist Party, and was opposed to the Moscow-backed programme of Béla Kun. His 'Blum theses' of 1928 called for the overthrow of the counter-revolutionary regime of Admiral Horthy in Hungary by a strategy similar to the Popular Fronts that arose in the 1930s. He advocated a 'democratic dictatorship' of the proletariat and peasantry as a transitional stage leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat. After Lukács' strategy was condemned by the Comintern, he retreated from active politics into theoretical work.
Under Stalin and Rákosi
In 1930, while residing in Vienna, Lukács was summoned to Moscow. This coincided with the signing of a Viennese police order for his expulsion. Leaving their children to attend their studies, Lukács and his wife ventured to Moscow in March 1930. Soon after his arrival, Lukács was "prevented" from leaving and assigned to work alongside David Riazanov ("in the basement") at the Marx-Engels Institute.
Lukács and his wife were not permitted to leave the Soviet Union until after the Second World War. During Stalin's Great Purge, Lukacs was sent to internal exile in Tashkent for a time, where he and Johannes Becher became friends. Lukács survived the purges of the "Great Terror," which claimed the lives of an estimated 80% of the Hungarian émigrés in the Soviet Union. There is much debate among historians concerning the extent to which Lukács accepted Stalinism.
After the war, Lukács and his wife returned to Hungary. As a member of the Hungarian Communist Party, he took part in establishing the new Hungarian government. From 1945 Lukács was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Between 1945 and 1946 he strongly criticised non-communist philosophers and writers. Lukács has been accused of playing an "administrative" (legal-bureaucratic) role in the removal of independent and non-communist intellectuals such as Béla Hamvas, István Bibó, Lajos Prohászka, and Károly Kerényi from Hungarian academic life. Between 1946 and 1953, many non-communist intellectuals, including Bibó, were imprisoned or forced into menial work or manual labour.
Lukács' personal aesthetic and political position on culture was always that Socialist culture would eventually triumph in terms of quality. He thought it should play out in terms of competing cultures, not by "administrative" measures. In 1948–49 Lukács' position for cultural tolerance was smashed in a "Lukács purge," when Mátyás Rákosi turned his famous salami tactics on the Hungarian Communist Party.
In the mid-1950s Lukács was reintegrated into party life. The party used him to help purge the Hungarian Writers' Union in 1955–56. Tamás Aczél and Tibor Méray (former Secretaries of the Hungarian Writers' Union) both believe that Lukács participated grudgingly, and cite Lukács leaving the presidium and the meeting at the first break as evidence of this reluctance.
In 1956 Lukács became a minister of the brief communist revolutionary government led by Imre Nagy, which opposed the Soviet Union. At this time Lukács' daughter led a short-lived party of communist revolutionary youth. Lukács' position on the 1956 revolution was that the Hungarian Communist Party would need to retreat into a coalition government of socialists, and slowly rebuild its credibility with the Hungarian people. While a minister in Nagy's revolutionary government, Lukács also participated in trying to reform the Hungarian Communist Party on a new basis. This party, the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, was rapidly co-opted by János Kádár after 4 November 1956.
During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Lukács was present at debates of the anti-party and revolutionary communist Petőfi society, while remaining part of the party apparatus. During the revolution, as mentioned in Budapest Diary, Lukács argued for a new Soviet-aligned communist party. In Lukács' view, the new party could win social leadership only by persuasion instead of force. Lukács envisioned an alliance between the dissident communist Party of Youth, the revolutionary Hungarian Social Democratic Party and his own Soviet-aligned party as a very junior partner.
After 1956 Lukács narrowly avoided execution. Due to his role in Nagy's government, he was no longer trusted by the party apparatus. Lukács' followers were indicted for political crimes throughout the 1960s and 70s, and a number fled to the West. Lukács' books The Young Hegel and The Destruction of Reason have been used to argue that Lukács was covertly critical of Stalinism as an irrational distortion of Hegelian-Marxism.
Following the defeat of the Revolution, Lukács was deported to Romania with the rest of Nagy's government. Unlike Nagy, he survived the purges of 1956. He returned to Budapest in 1957. Lukács publicly abandoned his positions of 1956 and engaged in self-criticism. Having abandoned his earlier positions, Lukács remained loyal to the Communist Party until his death in 1971. In his last years, following the uprisings in France and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Lukács became more publicly critical of the Soviet Union and Hungarian Communist Party.
In an interview just before his death, Lukács remarked:
Without a genuine general theory of society and its movement, one does not get away from Stalinism. Stalin was a great tactician... But Stalin, unfortunately, was not a Marxist... The essence of Stalinism lies in placing tactics before strategy, practice above theory... The bureaucracy generated by Stalinism is a tremendous evil. Society is suffocated by it. Everything becomes unreal, nominalistic. People see no design, no strategic aim, and do not move..." Thus Lukács concludes "[w]e must learn to connect the great decisions of popular political power with personal needs, those of individuals.
— Marcus & Zoltan 1989: 215–16