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Georg Lukács: Autobiographical Texts and Discussions

Published by Frank Benseler and Werner Jung. Georg Lukács Works. Vol. 18. Aisthesis Publishing House, Bielefeld, 2009. 1-517.



Frank Benseler

Frank Benseler and Werner Jung (with Dieter Redlich’s collaboration) published in 2009 the long awaited next (18th) volume of Georg Lukács’ series, Georg Lukács’ volume: Autobiographical Texts and Discussions (Aisthesis Publishing House). The editors' foreword reports in detail about the fate of the edition of the diverse texts.


Werner Jung

The volume already contains printed texts. Interviews constitute exceptions, which Lukács gave around 1968 in a huge number to numerous international and Hungarian, theoretical and daily-political organs, it was the moment of an increased interest for a thinker, who experienced also in the Soviet Union the real socialist decades, was attached to the realsocialism and that the highlights of the New Left seemed to confirm like no other. Frank Benseler’s and Werner Jung’s foreword even gives a list of interviews, which are not included in the volume, but are nevertheless worth studying.

The importance of the autobiographical texts is by no means diminished. It is not only for future generations, but also for today's researchers and thinkers, a tremendous facilitation of the possibility of meeting Lukács and entering into dialogue with him.

Georg Lukács

Why such a dialogue was so difficult so far, would require a separate essay. In general, it is characteristic not only for Lukács and not only for the Marxists, but for the whole genre of the philosophy in the twentieth century, that they had to work, isolated in many times, surrounded by lack of communication, cut off from other countries and continents, supervised in every possible way, persecuted by strong political strata with suspicion, envy and fear (without mentioning the possibility, that they sometimes came on the scene also aggressively against others). Lukács experts know quite thoroughly how these extremely rigid circumstances in the work and life of this philosopher were procured. Another question complex would be, that in Lukács „autobiography" meant something only in the youth, what really had to do with the own personal biography. As a title of this volume also means, his "autobiography" was always "lived thought", therefore a resumé of thoughts.

The greater half of Lukács' philosophical activity fell on the period of the so-called Soviet Marxism (in which many inner periods of time should still be clarified). In general, one cannot say, that his "Soviet Marxist" period would not have philosophically differed from the most important trends. Nevertheless, it is precisely in a perspective of the history of the communism one of the most relevant forms of the communist politics and philosophy. The last balance would be drawn in him only with the most extreme difficulty. For his appartenance to the Soviet Marxism caused him to have been regarded never as "loyal" enough by the "true" representatives of the doctrine, they namely proceeded from the healthy assumption, that Lukács cannot then fully identify himself with this mode of thinking, even if he really wanted it.

On the other hand, Lukács could not and did not want to deviate spectacularly enough from the Soviet marxism in these decades (for instance up to Stalin's death, in a lesser extent, however also later), so that the external assessment, intentionally or not, also classified him often into this group.

As it has been the case in the Soviet Marxism, the fact that an entire philosophical life be on the basis restructured on a well-structured system of motives, lets emerge an unprecedented situationand without parallel. We however rarely see the unintended, finer consequences of this situation. Precisely because the discussion is interrupted, all can remain with their convictions and think, that the interdiction of the discussion happens precisely because its conviction is true. While the Soviet marxism eliminates all other convictions, he lets on the same line all other convictions be valid like by his own legitimation.

The truth is the interdiction. The officially represented must be wrong. What the own news agency says, must be incorrect. What the other says, must be correct.

Lukács, and the volume Autobiographical Texts and Discussions gets much justifications, he is very well versed in this situation. After 1956, for example, he pleaded that Western non-Marxist philosophies are taught in Hungary, without, however, at specially dedicated chairs, and generally have little positiv to say about the "pluralism". Without these background mechanisms of the Soviet Marxism, we could describe this attitude as narrow-mindedness, but from Lukács the long-term experience spoke about which hermeneutical horizons just the Soviet Marxism certainly built up against its own will.

The volume Autobiographical texts and Discussions lets reconstruct - again not in the narrow sense personally-life-historically, but as biographical moments of thought - above all three different ways of thinking and writing, which differ indeed from each other, but can also problemless be imagined as a unity.

Lukács is often asked about his views on the latest evolutions (1) and about his own philosophy (2). For another reason, he also takes position on the process of democratization in the real socialism of the late sixties (3).

Lukács reacts altogether about the evolution of the international politics as a thinker, for whom the ghost of the Stalinist totalitarianism was still hardly disappeared, but he has to deal with quite new challenges. While the age of the totalitarianism brought with it the hegemony of the politics over the aesthetics, a new situation arose in the consumer society. The advent of the consumer society built a deep gap between the East and the West. On the other hand, the student revolts also happened, which also transformed the political. The new beginning in this period meant for Lukács, on the one hand, a new beginning after the Stalinism-post-Stalinism and, on the other hand, already also a new beginning after the already existing and important tendencies of the neo-Marxist philosophical substance itself. On the one hand, he goes so far as not to regard the real socialism as a classical one. On the other hand, he diagnoses a quite new phase also in the history of the capitalism (that of the relative added-value). Thirdly, he also defines the new antagonism (a world of the manipulation against one of the leisure and the new emancipation). These three moments (even if only rarely in direct proximity to each other) are giving Lukács’ variant of the neo-Marxism and the year 1968.

Lukács interfers into the activities of the coming or already mature neo-Marxism in general with astonishing enthusiasm, especially if we consider that, in his life between 1956 and the turn of the sixties, also the Romanian internment inserted a caesura. One of the later anticipating moment of Lukács' contribution of the specific neo-Marxism is undoubtedly his strong attention to the problematic of the manipulation. The importance of Lukács' insight into this new world of phenomena goes far beyond this question of the technical constitution of the types of networks.

In any case, the problematic of the manipulation has again common points with the establishment of the most essential determinations of the competition of the systems. In this context, Lukács formulates - again in the sign of his turn toward the reality manifesting in the Ontology -  sentences, which should be surely regarded as highly heretical in the party of the Marxism : "... if the technical-economic superiority in this agon of the social systems would make alone the decision, so the superiority of the capitalist system would never have been endangered and its hegemony would still be undisputed today...” [1]

We see, that Lukács has a self-conscious image of the current processes of his time. On the problem of the political democratization of the real-socialist countries, he however manifests much more cautious. [2]

The language of the "democratization" concept comes however from a real and in principle imagined socialism image. His thinker could by no means foresee the economic crisis of Poland and Yugoslavia, the frozen Brezhnev period or the left-totalitarian Bonapartism of a Ceausescu.

If he concretely speaks of the democratization of the socialism, it appears, that he identifies the whole process holistically with a "restoration of the Marxist method"[3] and ultimately imagines it as a process "guided from above" and "centrally". Already in this attitude, another deep and structural contradiction can be studied. Although the strengthening of the internal party-democracy and the opening up of the internal party of communication and discussion culture may be plausibly pragmatic in itself, the clear separation of the party and state, [4] the avoidance of an allusion to a possible multi-party system (twelve years after 1956 and at the time of Prague Spring) carry always further this basic contradiction. Lukács is certainly perfectly conscious of this irreconcilable contradiction, but his speech about the power is doing as if it was not existing. A real democratization "from above" speaks for itself - precisely as a living contradiction. The conceivable concretizations of this project remain in the space of the so-called "democratic centralism", which might be regarded as a somewhat popularly more comprehensible version of the real existing Leninism. A broad range stretches between the seriousness of the historical hour (the necessity and the fundamental character of the reforms) and the prudence in the practical concretization of the proposals.

While Lukács, in assessing the new international evolutions, bears testimony of high sovereignty, he uses - certainly perfectly consciously - a language of contradiction in the question of the internal reforms. It must not be forgotten, that Lukács dies in June 1971, that his last years are marked by a deep disease, so that his decision of which language to choose vis-à-vis the communist leadership has been rather more motivated by the spirit of the sixties than of the seventies.

A contradiction is still existing between a Lukács, who interprets the new world and another, who summarizes his reform ideas for his own leadership. It however seems to us, that this contradiction is transparent.

The contradiction appears to be all the more serious in the case of the third Lukács. In the constant reformulation of his current philosophical projects in the volume Autobiographical Texts and Discussions, it is quite clear, that he thinks of a new formulation of the Marxism under the new circumstances and the theoretical work pending for decades is painfully missing. His formulations are most of the time very general, simply formulated: Hegel is emphasized, the positivism and the directions pursued in the West are strongly devalued. The formulations effectively very often given in the discussions let sketch a concrete concept, where a closer, non-detailed, ontological reference also appears.

If one however compares the effective text of the Ontology with these descriptions, one must then experience the strong surprise, that the huge body of the Ontology is completely differently oriented than these descriptions.

Georg Lukács, in the Ontology, carries out namely a strong program of the dephilosophization of the Marxist tradition. What is excluded is the Hegelian paradigm of the philosophical coherence. The identification of this destructive will is astonishing. So considered, Lukács' approach might be regarded as a breach within the neo-Marxism, but a breach, however, which however practically already makes explode this paradigm. This philosophical overcoming of the neo-Marxism through Hegel’s elimination considers the Neo-Positivism of Carnapian kind as the most important current challenge. This attitude, articulated in the text of the Ontology, betrays in total clearness that Lukacs regarded at that time his Neo-Positivism as the most current and irresistible danger.

Lukács’ simultaneous struggle against both orientations leads him to a methodical noman’s land ! This rejection, which is equivalent to all the varieties of Positivism, leads to the fact, that Lukács cannot justify the basic assumption of his Ontology, i.e. the thesis, that the categories are determinations of the being.

Thus, we are back to the beginning.

We owe much to the volume of Autobiographical texts and Discussions. However, it is hardly „auto”-biographical. In this context, the possibility of comparing the text of the Ontology with the many determinations, in which Lukács discusses in detail on the renewal of the highly intended Marxist paradigm in numerous texts, is not present.



„…ein ziemlich bewegtes Leben”. Georg Lukács: Autobiographische Texte und Gespraeche. in: The International Newsletter of Communist Studies Online. Der Internationale Newsletter der Kommunismusforschung. Edited by Bernhard B. Bayerlein and Gleb J. Albert. XIX (2013), NO 26. ISSN: 1862 – 698X. in: 104-110.

[1] Ibid.

[2] These thoughts are in the volume Democratization today and tomorrow. Budapest, 1985. (Akadémiai). (written in 1968) summarized, they are however also published in the Autobiographical Texts and Discussions.

[4] Ibid, 171