Georg Lukács

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Georg Lukács (April 13, 1885 – June 4, 1971) was a Hungary|Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic in the tradition of Western Marxism. He contributed the ideas of reification and class consciousness to Marxist philosophy and theory, and his literary criticism was influential in thinking about realism and about the novel as a literary genre. He served briefly as Hungary's Minister of Culture following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Life and politics

Lukács's full name, in German, was Georg Bernhard Lukács von Szegedin, and in Hungarian was Szegedi Lukács György Bernát; he published under the names Georg or György Lukács. (Lukács is pronounced IPA Template:IPA by most English speakers.)

He was born Löwinger György Bernát to a wealthy Jewish family in Budapest. His father was József Löwinger (Szegedi Lukács József, b. Szeged) (18551928), a banker, his mother was Adele Wertheimer (Wertheimer Adél, b. Budapest) (18601917). Lukács studied at the universities of Budapest and Berlin, receiving his Ph.D. in 1906.

Pre-Marxist period

While attending grammar school and university in Budapest, Lukács's membership of various socialist circles brought him into contact with the anarcho-syndicalist Ervin Szabó, who in turn introduced him to the works of Georges Sorel. His outlook during this period was modernist and anti-positivist. From 1904 to 1908, he was involved in a theatrical group that produced plays by dramatists such as Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg and Gerhart Hauptmann.

Lukács spent much time in Germany: he studied in Berlin in 1906 and again in 1909-10, where he made the acquaintance of Georg Simmel, and in Heidelberg in 1913, where he became friends with Max Weber, Ernst Bloch and Stefan George. The idealist system Lukács subscribed to at the time was indebted to the Kantianism that dominated in German universities, but also to Plato, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Dilthey and Dostoyevsky.

Lukács returned to Budapest in 1915 and led a predominantly left-wing intellectual circle that included eminent figures such as Karl Mannheim, Béla Bartok, Béla Balázs and Michael Polanyi amongst others.

History and Class Consciousness

Written between 1919 and 1922 and first published in 1923, History and Class Consciousness initiated the current of thought that came to be known as Western Marxism. The book is notable for contributing to debates concerning Marxism and its relation to sociology, politics and philosophy, and for reconstructing Marx's theory of alienation before many of the works of the Young Marx had been published. Lukács's work elaborates and expands upon Marxist theories such as ideology, false consciousness, reification and class consciousness.

For Lukács, "ideology" is really a projection of the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie, which functions to prevent the proletariat from attaining a real consciousness of its revolutionary position. Ideology determines the "form of objectivity", thus the structure of knowledge itself. Real science must attain, according to Lukács, the "concrete totality" through which only it is possible to think the current form of objectivity as a historical period. Thus, the so-called eternal "laws" of economics are dismissed as the ideological illusion projected by the current form of objectivity ("What is Orthodoxical Marxism?", §3). He also writes: "It is only when the core of being has showed itself as social becoming, that the being itself can appear as a product, so far unconscious, of human activity, and this activity, in turn, as the decisive element of the transformation of being." ("What is Orthodoxical Marxism?",§5) Finally, "orthodoxical marxism" is not defined as interpretation of The Capital as if it were the Bible or as embracement of certain "marxist thesis", but as fidelity to the "marxist method", dialectics.

Lukács presents the category of reification whereby, due to the commodity nature of capitalist society, social relations become objectified, precluding the ability for a spontaneous emergence of class consciousness. It is in this context that the need for a party in the Leninist sense emerges, the subjective aspect of the re-invigorated Marxian dialectic.

In his later career, Lukács repudiated the ideas of History and Class Consciousness, in particular the belief in the proletariat as a subject-object of history" (1960 Postface to French translation), but he wrote a defence of them as late as 1925 or 1926. This book he called A Defense of History and Class Consciousness and was only published in Hungarian in 1996 and English in 2000. It is perhaps the most important "unknown" Marxist text of the twentieth century.

Literary and aesthetic work

In addition to his standing as a Marxist political thinker, Lukács was an influential literary critic of the twentieth century. His important work in literary criticism began early in his career, with The Theory of the Novel, a seminal work in literary theory and the theory of genre. The book is a history of the novel as a form, and an investigation into its distinct characteristics.

Lukács later repudiated The Theory of the Novel, writing a lengthy introduction that described it as erroneous, but nonetheless containing a "romantic anti-capitalism" which would later develop into Marxism. (This introduction also contains his famous dismissal of Theodor Adorno and others in Western Marxism as having taken up residence in the "Grand Hotel Abyss".)

Lukács's later literary criticism includes the well-known essay "Kafka or Thomas Mann?", in which Lukács argues for the work of Thomas Mann as a superior attempt to deal with the condition of modernity, while he criticizes Franz Kafka's brand of modernism. Lukács was steadfastly opposed to the formal innovations of modernist writers like Kafka, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, preferring the traditional aesthetic of realism. He famously argued for the revolutionary character of the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Honoré de Balzac. Lukács felt that both authors' nostalgic, pro-aristocratic politics allowed them accurate and critical stances because of their opposition to the rising bourgeoisie (albeit reactionary opposition). This view was expressed in his later book The Historical Novel.



  1. Žižek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2006. p.6, 156

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