BREINES. Young Lukacs, Old Lukacs, New Lukacs

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    Young Lukcs, Old Lukcs, New Lukcs Author(s): Paul Breines Source: The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 533-546Published by: University of Chicago PressStable URL: 14-01-2016 15:33 UTC

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  • Young Lukacs, Old Lukacs, New Luk'acs

    Paul Breines Boston College

    Once upon a time, Georg Lukacs's name and work were known only among small circles of central European intellectuals-leftist, literary, and philo- sophical. Those days have passed. While hardly a household word, Lukacs now looms large in international discussions of literature, philosophy, and above all Marxism, even finding his way into recent textbooks in the modem history of ideas as the progenitor of "Western" or humanistic Marxism.1 An equally apt sign of the shift in the reception of Lukacs comes from the publication history of his most famed work, History and Class Conscious- ness (1923), the livre maudit of twentieth-century Marxism. At the center of stormy controversy within the Left in the mid-1920s, the book went through only one printing, in accord with the wishes of its author, who proved himself a most loyal dissident. Rediscovered by French Marxists following World War II, the repressed text nevertheless remained literally and figura- tively rare, its very inaccessibility enhancing its aura as a real piece of revolutionary esoterica. So rare was it that until its second authorized printing in West Germany in 1968, there was, for example, but one known copy of Historv and Class Consciousness in Yugoslavia.2

    The revival of radical social movements in the 1960s had a great deal to do with the revival of interest in Lukacs, particularly his controversial book, which is now available in a wide range of languages and editions. As of spring 1978, though, the story has reached yet another plateau: the hard- bound American edition of Histor and Class Consciousness is a publisher's remainder. But as in the mid-1920s, so now, it is unlikely that a marketing decision will determine the fate of this singular criticism of the fetishism of commodities. In any event, since his death in 1971 at the age of eighty-six, Lukacs has become the subject of a growing body of studies, many of which have been prompted by recent discoveries of some remarkable unpublished documents, some hitherto unknown published ones, and the opening of the 'Lukacs Archive" in Budapest. It is an appropriate occasion for an inven-

    tory .3 I See the brief reference in Robert Anchor, The Modern Western Experience

    (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1978), p. 206; and the sensible capsule discussion of History and Class Consciousness in Franklin L. Baumer, Modern European Thought: Con- tinuity and Change in Ideas, 1600-1950 (New York, 1977), pp. 482-83.

    2 This is reported in Predrag Vranicki, 'Georg Lukacs: Geschichte und Klassen- bewusstsein' (review of 1968 edition), Praxis 6, nos. 1-2 (1970): 268-70. Over Lukacs's objections, a commercial edition of the book was published in French translation in 1960, and several pirated editions of the German original appeared in Holland and West Germany throughout the 1960s.

    3 Comments on some of the Lukacs studies published between the late 1940s and the early 1970s appear in the concluding chapter of Andrew Arato and Paul Breines, The Young Lukdcs and the Origins of Western Marxism (New York, 1979). See also Russell Jacoby, "Towards a Critique of Automatic Marxism: The Politics of Philoso- [Journal ojl Modern HistorY 51 (September 1979): 533-546] ? 1979 by The University of Chicago. 0022-2801/79/5103-0040$01.23

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  • 534 Review Articles Discussions of Lukacs, whose career and massive oeuvre can now be

    examined in their entirety, remain dominated by questions of the young Lukacs. In the simplest sense, this is the phase that extends from his first major essays in cultural criticism in 1908-9 through his conversion to Communism in late 1918 and the Marxist writings of the years immediately following, climaxing with the publication and debate over History and Class Consciousness in the mid-1920s.4 Thereafter, as Lukacs himself subse- quently contended, he bagan his transition to the genuine materialism and realism of Marxism-Leninism, leaving behind his "apprenticeship in Mar- xism" and his youthful idealist heritage. It is not without significance that the mid-1920s marked the close of the fervent revolutionary hopes that had infused the preceding years. While there is a definite shift to a "mature Lukacs" in this period, the fact is that when it comes to an adequate periodization of the man's work, there is no simple sense; anyone dedicated to locating precise ruptures and turning points is in for some philological nightmares. Just when one finds real and obvious breaks, for example, in Lukacs's sudden entrance into the Communist Party of Hungary, one promptly notices equally deep continuities, such as his abiding preoccupa- tion with Dostoevski and ethics. Similarly, while the 1928 political essay, the

    phy from Lukacs to the Frankfurt School," Telos 10 (Winter 1971): 119-46; and Paul Breines, review of G. H. R. Parkinson, ed., Georg Lukdcs: The Man, His Work, and His Ideas (New York, 1970), and George Lichtheim, Lukdcs (New York, 1970), in Telos 6 (Fall 1970): 318-24; and of Giuseppe Vacca, Lukdcs 0 Korsch? (Bari, 1969), Telos 5 (Spring 1970): 215-20.

    4 The term 'young Lukacs" is a loose one. A glance at the calendar, for example, indicates that Lukacs was thirty-eight years old when he published History and Class Consciousness. Karl Marx wrote the "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts" when he was twenty-six; the chronologically comparable-and substantively comparable- works in Lukacs's career would be his Developmental History of Modern Drama (1909) and the book of essays, The Soul and the Forms (1910), the first major works. The youthful Lukacs in the strict sense is no less an intriguing subject. For chronolog- ical sketches see Istvan Meszaros, Lukdcs' Concept of Dialectic (London, 1972), pp. 115-20; and Johanna Rosenberg, "Das Leben Georg L,ukacs'-Eine Chronik,' in Dialog und Kontroverse mit Georg Lukdcs: Der Methodenstreit deutscher sozialis- tischer Schriftsteller, ed. Werner Mittenzwei (Leipzig, 1975), pp. 396-99. The first comprehensive analysis of Lukacs's role in the culturally radical "Thalia Theater" experiment in Hungary in 1904-5 can be found in Jose Ignacio Lopez Soria, "L'Ex- perience theatrale de Lukacs,' L'Homme et la sociee 43-44 (1977): 117-31. Soria's essay appears in a special issue of L'Homme et la societe containing previously unpublished Lukacs material and several essays cited below in this review. Regarding the youthful Lukacs, it is likely that a psychobiographer already waits in the wings. Bits of suggestive material are at hand. In an as yet unpublished autobiographical sketch written shortly before his death-"Gelebtes Denken"-Lukacs refers to his childhood "guerilla struggles" against a repressive mother, the exact expression used by Mao Tse-tung to characterize his relations with his own father. In a footnote to an otherwise unpsychological study, Rudi Dutschke proposes that "the Lukacsian pliabil- ity, his adaptive capacity, the conscious submissions, the insight into the weaknesses of 'blind spontaneity' etc. (which are often referred to superficially in Lukacs's later history as 'opportunism' when in reality they were more often than not sensible appraisals of the existing possibilities), these characteristics had their first roots in his childhood struggles" (Rudi Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Fiisse zu stellen: Uber den halbasiatischen und den west-europaischen Weg zum Sozialismus. Lenin Lukdcs und die Dritten Internationale [Berlin, 1974], p. 144n).

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  • Review Articles 535

    "Blum Theses" (after his party pseudonym), signifies the end of Lukacs's apprenticeship and what he called his "messianic sectarianism," it is now clear, as the following pages will indicate, that the origins of the supposedly mature realism can be found alongside the earlier messianism. The point for the moment is only that periodization of this dialectician's career requires an eye for the dialectic of transformation and continuity, of contradictions within unities.

    The young Lukacs, then, has commanded attention for three related reasons: first because of its crowning product, History and Class Con- sciousness, which "friends and foes alike admit nowadays was the single major event in the history of Marxism as philosophy since the death of Karl Marx."' Second, the book imposes the question of its own genesis, the process of social and intellectual formation through which Lukacs created so potent a reconstruction of Marxism. And third, while it must be examined on its own complex terms, the work of the