This short essay is a study of Lukács, specifically the political ideas of Lukács and the Socialist ideas of Lukács. Georg Lukács has always been remembered as a great thinker. He is one of the few Socialist philosophers who is legitimately respected by all parts of the Left. Most Socialist groups study his works, and most Socialist groups study his ideas. He is probably the best-known Hungarian thinker — and the best-known Hungarian Socialist. Since the decline of the Soviet Union, Lukács has become even more significant. His Socialism is held up as an example of the possibilities of Marxism — a Marxism based on humanism, politics, philosophy, history, and revolution.
Lukács is one of the great thinkers of 20th century Marxism. This is because of his ideas — but also because of his longevity. He was one of the few Marxist thinkers to survive the entirety of the early years of the 20th century into the middle years of the 20th century. Lukács lived to see the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lukács lived to see the Cold War. His Marxism was effective — but it also adapted to these changing times and changing developments. The Socialism of Lukács is a Humanist Socialism. The Socialism of Lukács is a Revolutionary Socialism.
A key work by Lukács is his study: ‘History and Class Consciousness’ (1923).1 This work from 1923 is probably Lukács’ masterpiece — giving a full outline of Orthodox Marxism, the Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg, the revolutionary power of the working class, historical materialism, class consciousness, and a brief outline of Bolshevism. ‘History and Class Consciousness’, as a book and as a series of studies, is effectively the philosophical argument for Marxism and for revolutionary Marxism. This book, in effective terms, provides the basis for thinking through the philosophical issues of Marxism — and the means by which the ideas of Marxism can be translated into revolutionary action. The book, and its studies, also gives a clear outline of Lukács’ own thought — his attempt to develop philosophy in revolutionary terms, to make philosophy part of the struggle for Revolution and for Socialism. Lukács’ greatest contribution to the politics of Socialism remains ‘History and Class Consciousness’, which outlines, fully, the philosophical argument for Revolutionary Socialism.
Another key work by Lukács is his study: ‘Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought’ (1924).2 This work from 1924 was one of the first attempts to really engage with the politics of Lenin within the politics of Marxism. Lukács’ study of Lenin outlines the core ideas of Lenin’s Marxism — the theory of revolution, the theory of the revolutionary party, the theory of imperialism, the theory of state and revolution — and clearly connects them to the wider development of Marxism. In many ways this short 1924 work is one of the best studies of Lenin’s actual ideas — clearly outlining Lenin’s ideas as part of the revolutionary tradition of Marxism. Lukács’ genius, in this work, was his ability to fully outline Lenin’s theories and Lenin’s politics while also firmly placing them in the overall development of the ideas of Marx. Lukács shows, in his study of Lenin, how Lenin’s ideas were an effective continuation of the ideas of Marx — for the struggle for Socialism in Russia, and for the struggle for Socialism in the world.
Lukács is the philosopher of Socialist Revolution. His ideas always called for the open social struggle for revolution and for social revolution. His ideas, in effect, are the ideas of achieving social liberation via the process of social revolution. Social liberation and social revolution, for Lukács, are always the same process — guiding the process of social struggle towards Socialism. This makes him one of the key philosophers of Marxism — both as a philosophy of theory and as a philosophy of practice.
Lukács is the philosopher of Socialist Humanism. Indeed, the whole philosophical project of Socialist Humanism, after the Second World War, began with Lukács — before the development of the work of Bloch and Fromm. Lukács, in philosophical terms, can be clearly outlined as a philosopher who understood the basic humanist principle of Marx — that the revolutionary struggle for Socialism is always a revolutionary struggle for human liberation. Lukács, as a philosopher, remains the key philosopher of both Socialist Humanism and Marxist Humanism — a vision of Socialism which places the emancipation of people at the centre of the social struggle for Socialism. Socialist Humanism, and the Marxism of Lukács, places real human beings and real human liberation as the central focus of the politics of Socialism. Lukács might have rejected some of his earlier ideas in later life, but his politics remain crucial in terms of developing a Marxism which is firmly based in humanism and in revolution.
We can conclude this short essay by suggesting that Lukács remains the great philosopher of Socialist Revolution. No other thinker in the Marxist tradition, since the 1950s, has managed to establish the philosophical basis so firmly for Socialism and Socialist Revolution as Lukács. Indeed, Lukács’ greatest contribution, as a thinker, and as a philosopher, was his development of a theory of a philosophy of Socialist Revolution. This allowed his thought to influence the overall development of Western Marxism in a very positive sense — allowing Western Marxism, as a philosophical movement, to remain a revolutionary movement for Socialism and for the Socialist Revolution. Like Marx, the philosophy of Lukács is the philosophy of achieving revolution and changing the world. This is the revolutionary importance of Lukács — both as thinker and as theorist. He not only described the revolutionary theory of Marx and Lenin, but he also expanded that theory and placed it firmly within a materialist understanding of philosophy. This means that Lukács can still be part of the overall struggle for Socialism — despite his death. His ideas still have something to offer in terms of the political development of Socialist politics and the politics of Socialism. If we understand Lukács, correctly, we might yet understand the potential of revolution — the philosophy of revolution. This makes Lukács crucial. We must read him. We must understand him.
1. G. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, (1923)
2. G. Lukács, Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought, (1924)
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This post was written by R.G. Williams