Gy�rgy Luk�cs (1885-1971) b. Budapest, Hungrary

Major work:


Key figures:

Related Figures:


History and Class Consciousness

Totality, Realism

Hegel, Marx, Adorno/ Frankfurt School - student of Weber and Simmel

e.g. Istvan Meszaros, Guy Debord

One of the few exiles before the war to head to the Soviet Union

Luk�cs is well known for placing the concept of totality at the heart of Marx�s system. For Luk�cs, orthodox marxism was characterised not by anyone of Marx�s own conclusions, but by the methodological centrality of the concept or method of totality. In history and Class Conciousness, Luk�cs argued that totality was the crucial form of the revolutionary class subjects objective identity with historical progress; for Luk�cs, class was the subject and object of knowledge. His concern for holistic modes of thinking however dates back to well before his engagement with Marxism. In 1909 Luk�cs wrote to Thomas Mann (the reknowned German novelist) praising him for showing the objective interconnectedness of thingas. However, there are also strong polemics that discuss how things merge into one, and how the very nature of life defeats the attempt to know it as a total whole. As Martin Jay( 1984 pp.14) has pointed out,� Luk�cs is on the face of it wrong to distinguish Marxism from Bourgeois thought by its adoption of point of view of totality because non-marxian non-radical holistic theories have been developed. As the defining feature of Marxian thought, the totality failed to bear up to scrutiny. This is a serious problem for a critique that had as its underlying premise �the belief that in Marx�s theory and method the true method by which to understand soceity and history has finaly been discovered� (pp xliii H&CC) The particular union between society and history and class and objective knowledge that Luk�cs seeks to perfect underlies his particular formulation that the �pre-eminent aim� of Marxist method is �knowledge of the present� (ibid.)

However, Lukcas had a large influence upon the development of western though, remaining one of the cornerstones of historical� (�[Marx�s] method is historical through and through�), humanist and hegelian Marxisms developing in the Western world through the C20th.

It is worthwhile dwelling on the preliminary remarks Luk�cs makes in his 1922 Preface concerning Marx�s relation to Hegel. He quotes Marx�s correspondence with Engels on the bad treatment of Hegel as a dead dog, and of the failure of serious thinkers to engage with Hegel. He also however quotes Marx�s last comment on the role of the hegelian dialectic in Das Kaptial, i.e. Marx�s �flirtation� with Hegel�s mode of expression. For Lukcas:

�This has freqeuntly misled people into believing that for Marx the dialectic was no more than a superficial stylistic ornament��.�they failed to notice that a whole series of catergories of central importance and in constant use stem directly from Hegel�s logic� ( pp xliv). The mentioned categories are here those of mediation and immediacy. Luk�cs approving quotes Lenin that �all good marxists should form���a kind of society of the materialist friends of the Hegelian dialectic�. (xlv). After this Lukcas goes on to make a series of curious statements. Marx�s system being coherent must be preserved. The Hegelian system is the reverse of this, and thus cannot be maintained in its total integrity, it belongs to the past. Lukcas seeks to rescue Hegel�s �vital intellectual force� yet the �dead architecure of the system� must be demolished, �release the modern sides of his though� and resussiate them as a �effective force for the present�.

What then is this vital force? Clearly it is the force of dialectic, it is a form of understanding. Yet there is something more to it, in Lukcas there is an intimate connection between history and consciousness�a quasi hegelian unity�which is brought together in a historical subjectivty, in class. This passage is worth quoting at length:

The dialectical method is distinguished from bourgeois thought not only by the fact that it alone can lead to knowledge of totality; it is also significant that such knowledge is only attainable because the relationship between parts and whole has become fundamentally different from what it is in htouh based on the categories of reflection. In brief, from this point of view, the essence of the dialectical methid lies in the fact that in every aspect correctly graped by the dialectic the whole totlaity is comphrehened and that the whole method can be unravelled from every single aspect. It is has often been claimed � and not without a certain justification � that the famous chapter in Hegel�s Logic treating of Being, Non-Being and Becoming contains the whole of his philosophy. It might be claimed with perhaps equal justification that the chapter dealing with the fetish character of the commodity contains within itself the whole of historical materialism and the whole self-knowledge of the proletariat seen as the knowledge of captialisit society (and of the societies that preceded it).

Obviously, this should not be taken to mean that the whole of history with its teeming abudance should be thought of as being superfluous. Quite the reverse. Hegel�s programme: to see the abolsute, the goal of his philosophy, as a result remains valid for Marxism with its very different objects of knowledge, and is seen to be identical with the course of history. The theoretical point we are anxious to emphasise here is merely thje structural fact that the single aspect is not a sefment of a mechanical totality that could be put together out of such segments, for this would lead us to see knowledge a s an infinite progression. It must e seen instead as containing the possibility of unraveeling the whole abundance of the totality from within itsef. But this in turn can only be done if the aspect is seen as aspect, i.e. as a point of transition to the totality; if every movement beyond the immediacy that had made the aspect and apsect of the dialectical process (whereas before it had been nothing more than the evident contradiction of two categoriesof thought) is not to freeze one more in a new rigidity and a new immediacy.� (pp. 170 H&CC)

In H&CC Lukacs propounds the idea that objectification and alienation were one and the same process. Yet after reading Marx�s economic and philosphical manuscripts in 1930, he saw there argued that �objectivity was the pimary material attribute of all things and relations�...� objectification is a natural means by which man masters the world and as such it can be either a positive or a negative fact.� �By contrast, alienation is a special variant of that activity that becomes operative in definite social conditions� � it shattered the central point of his work. As such the contradictions of Hegel repeat themselves in Lukacs.


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History and Class Consciousness

The meaning of contemporary realism

The ontology of social being

The historical novel

Jay, Martin." The Concept of Totality in Lukacs and Adorno." Telos (Summer 1977), 32:117-137. Reprinted in Shlomo Avineri, ed., Varieties of Marxism, pp. 147-174. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1977. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1976.

In Marshall Berman�s adventures in Marxism, there is an essay which describes the re-discovery of Lukacs in 60s America.