Lukács, Georgii

Lukács, Georgii
   One of the foremost Marxist intellectuals of the 20th century and one of the most important and influential contributors to Marxist theory. Lukács interpreted Karl Marx from a Hegelian perspective, emphasizing the influence of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel on Marx and drawing out the humanism of Marx’s thought. Of particular note is his advancement of a political theory of alienation and reification, a sociological theory of class consciousness, a theory of aesthetics and significant contributions to the development of Marxist literary criticism. Lukács is one of the giants of Western Marxism and a key influence on the Frankfurt School.
   Born in Budapest, Hungary, Lukács studied in Berlin, Budapest, Heidelberg and Moscow, gaining three doctorates in the course of his studies. In 1918 he joined the Hungarian Communist Party and in 1919 he became people’s commissar for education and culture in the short-lived communist Hungarian Republic of Councils. After its collapse he fled the country, a death sentence being passed on him in his absence. He then lived in Austria and Germany before emigrating to Moscow in 1933 after the Nazis came to power in Germany. During his years of exile he wrote prolifically, including his brilliant theoretical work History and Class Consciousness in 1923. Condemned at the time by the Comintern, it has subsequently become acknowledged as an outstanding piece of political theory and a classic of Marxist writing. A further notable work from this period was his Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought (1924). Lukács returned to Hungary in 1945 where he again wrote extensively and was very active in the fields of culture and politics, founding the cultural journal Forum. Vehemently attacked by the politically dominant Hungarian Stalinists, Lukács retreated into philosophical studies until the 1956 uprising and brief government of Imre Nagy under whom Lukács served as minister of culture. The defeat of Nagy’s government by the intervention of Soviet troops saw Lukács deported to Rumania. He was allowed to return in 1957 and his most significant achievements in the final period of his life were major works on aesthetics, The Specific Nature of the Aesthetic (1962), and on social ontology, Towards an Ontology of Social Being (1971). He died in Budapest in 1971.
   Lukács’ intellectual contributions include the significant concept of reification. By this Lukács means the process of dehumanization where human beings become mere “things” subject to social forces beyond their control. We become governed by a system composed of things we created that become independent of us, and this system is centered around the commodity, the characteristic feature of capitalism. According to Lukács, the whole of capitalist society is permeated by reification, with human beings losing their essential humanity as the logic of the system, its seemingly unalterable laws, strips us of our imagination, creativity and spirituality. Efficiency, rationality and profit govern both the system of production and the social system as a whole, making the masses passive and less than fully human. However, influenced by Hegel Lukács adopts an optimistic teleological view of the future, putting his faith in the proletariat as the agent of revolution and seeing history as moving toward communism, directed by an inner logic.
   As well as the notion of teleology and historical progress, Lukács also drew from Hegel the notion of “totality.” All parts of reality are interconnected in a whole and the parts can only be understood in relation to this whole, this totality. We must grasp this totality (this is the point of Marx’s method of analysis), and in understanding the totality we will change reality as part of a single process. Theory and practice constitute a unity; we understand as we act upon the world and our understanding directs our actions. The proletariat stands at the end of a long process of dialectical development, uniquely placed to grasp the totality, and Marxism represents the truth or meaning of the totality, the key to understanding history. Proletarian class consciousness, that only exists as potential in capitalism, will develop to express the same essential truth found in Marxism.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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