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Georg Lukács (April 13, 1885 - June 4, 1971) was a Hegelian and Marxist philosopher and literary critic.

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Georg Lukács


Life and politics

Lukács's full name, in German, was Georg Bernhard von Lukács von Szegedin, and in Hungarian was szegedi Lukács György Bernát; he published under the names Georg or György Lukács. (Lukács is pronounced roughly like "lou-kotch," or IPA , by most English speakers.)

He was born Löwinger György Bernát in Budapest to József Löwinger (szegedi Lukács József, b. Szeged) (18551928) and Adele Wertheimer (Wertheimer Adél, b. Budapest) (18601917).

While he was not politically active prior to the first World War, Lukács rethought his ideas in the light of the war and the Russian revolutions of 1917. He became a communist in this period and joined the fledgling Communist Party of Hungary and was a member of the government of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic.

After the Soviet Republic was defeated, he remained active in the Communist Party but also turned his atentions to developing Leninist ideas in the field of philosophy, which task he commenced with his short study Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought. His major works in this period, however, were the essays collected in History and Class Consciousness. Although these essays display signs of what Lenin referred to as "ultra-leftism," they arguably carry through his effort of providing Leninism with a philosophical basis.

History and Class Consciousness was a major contribution to the Marxist theory of ideology and false consciousness. This book develops the concept of class consciousness and insists that "ideology" is really a projection of the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie, which functions to prevent the proletariat from attaining a real consciousness of its revolutionary position. Lukács presents the category of reification whereby, due to the commodity nature of capitalist society, social relations become objectified, precluding the ability for a spontaneous emergence of class-consciousness. It is in this context that the need for a party in the Leninist sense emerges, the subjective aspect of the re-invigorated Marxian dialectic.

In his later career, Lukács repudiated the ideas of History and Class Consciousness, but he wrote a defence of them as late as 1925 or 1926. This book he called A Defense of History and Class Consciousness and was only published in Magyar in 1996 and English in 2000. It is perhaps the most important "unknown" Marxist text of the twentieth century.

As a Hungarian exile Lukács lived in the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War. After the war Lukács was involved in the establishment of the new Hungarian government as a member of the Hungarian Communist Party. Lukács was severely criticised in 1948, and was only rehabilitated in the 1950s. In 1956 Lukács became a minister of the brief communist revolutionary government led by Imre Nagy which opposed the Soviet Union. At this time Lukács' daughter led a brief-lived party of communist revolutionary youth. Lukács' position on the 1956 revolution was that the Hungarian Communist Party would need to retreat into a coalition government of socialists, and slowly rebuild its credibility with the Hungarian people. As such, while a minister in Imre Nagy's revolutionary government, Lukács also participated in the refoundation of the Hungarian Communist Party on a new basis. This party was rapidly coopted by János Kádár after 4 November 1956.(Woroszylski, 1957)

Unlike Nagy, Lukács survived the purges of 1956. Lukács publicly abandoned his positions of 1956 and engaged in self-criticism. Having abandoned his earlier positions, Lukács was to remain loyal to the Communist Party until his death in 1971. Lukács became more publicly critical of the Soviet Union and Hungarian Communist Party in his last years following the uprisings in France and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Lukács' complex and reasoned adherence to the general Soviet line in politics has led some leftists to accuse him of being "an apologist for Stalinism." However, Lukács' own historical line was continuously critical of Stalinism, and Lukács was repeatedly forced to undertake public self-criticism during his political career in order to avoid being expelled from the official Communist movement.

Literary and aesthetic work

In addition to his standing as a Marxist political thinker, Lukács was an influential literary critic of the twentieth century. His important work in literary criticism began early in his career, with The Theory of the Novel, a seminal work in literary theory and the theory of genre. The book is a history of the novel as a form, and an investigation into its distinct characteristics.

Lukács later repudiated The Theory of the Novel, writing a lengthy introduction that described it as erroneous, but nonetheless containing a "romantic anti-capitalism" which would later develop into Marxism. (This introduction also contains his famous dismissal of Theodor Adorno and others in Western Marxism as having taken up residence in the "Grand Hotel Abyss.")

Lukács's later literary criticism includes the well-known essay "Kafka or Thomas Mann?", in which Lukács argues for the work of Thomas Mann as a superior attempt to deal with the condition of modernity, while he criticizes Franz Kafka's brand of modernism. Lukács was steadfastly opposed to the formal innovations of modernist writers like Kafka, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, preferring the traditional aesthetic of realism. He famously argued for the revolutionary character of the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Honoré de Balzac. Lukács felt that both authors' nostalgic, pro-aristocratic politics allowed them accurate and critical stances because of their opposition to the rising bourgeoisie (albeit reactionary opposition). This view was expressed in his later book The Historical Novel.

Questions of moral culpability under Rákosism / Stalinism

During the period of the Hungarian Soviet Republic Lukács was a major party worker and a political comissar of the Fifth Division of the Hungarian Red Army. In this capacity he was responsible for executions in Poroszlo in May 1919 (see "About the Decimator" in External Links).

As Lukács lived in the Soviet Union during the 1940s, he can be considered to have been an agent of the Soviet Security apparatus during this period, much as Imre Nagy was. (See Granville, Joanna. "Imre Nagy, aka "Volodya" - a dent in the martyr's halo?" Cold War International History Project Bulletin 5 (1995): 28, 34-36; KGB Chief Kryuchkov to CC CPSU, 16 June 1989 (trans. Joanna Granville). Cold War International History Project Bulletin 5 (1995): 36 [from: TsKhSD, F. 89, Per. 45, Dok. 82.]).

From 1945 Lukács was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Between 1945 and 1946 he explosively criticised non-communist philosophers and writers. This critical work would have been part of Lukács' obligation to the party, though he certainly also believed in the need to thoroughly criticise non-communist thought as intellectually deficient. Lukács has been accused of playing an "administrative" (legal-bureaucratic) role in the removal of independent and non-communist intellectuals like Béla Hamvas, István Bibó and Lajos Prohászka from Hungarian academic life. Non-communist intellectuals like Bibó were often imprisoned, forced into menial and low waged mental labour (like translation work) or forced into manual labour during the 1946–1953 period. Claudio Mutti says that Lukács was the member of the party comission responsible for making lists of "anti-democratic" and socially "aberrant" books and works. In the jargon of the day "anti-democratic" was used for anti-party or anti-communist and socially "aberrant" was used to refer to moral or ethical statements outside of the very narrow (even socially reactionary) official ethics of the communist party. The lists of banned works (in three parts totalling 160 pages) were distributed by the Information and Press Department of the Prime Ministers office. The authors of these works were silenced by law, or unemployment. Either solely by intellectual criticism, or also by "administrative" means, Lukács has culpability for the censorship of Hungarian civil society during the "Salami Tactics" era of 1945–1950 which established the Mátyás Rákosi government.

Lukács' personal aesthetic and political position on culture was always that Socialist culture would eventually triumph in terms of quality, but that this conflict would be fought as one of competing cultures, not by "administrative" measures. In 1948–49 Lukács' position for cultural tolerance within the party and intellectual life was smashed in a "Lukács purge" when Mátyás Rákosi turned his famous Salami Tactics on the Hungarian Communist Party itself. Lukács was reintegrated into party life in the mid 1950s, and was used by the party during the purges of the writers association in 1955-56 (See Aczel, Meray Revolt of the Mind). However, Aczel and Meray both believe that Lukács was only present at the purge begrudgingly, and cite Lukács leaving the presidium and the meeting at the first break as evidence of this reluctance.

During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Lukács was present at debates of the anti-party and revolutionary communist Petofi society, while remaining part of the party apparatus. During the revolution itself, as mentioned in "Budapest Diary," Lukács argued for a new Soviet aligned communist party. In Lukács' view the new party could only win social leadership by persuasion instead of force. Lukács envisioned an alliance between the dissident communist Party of Youth, the revolutionary Hungarian Social Democratic Party and Lukács' own Soviet aligned party as a very junior partner. After 1956 Lukács narrowly avoided execution, and was not trusted by the party apparatus due to his role in the revolutionary Nagy government. Lukács' followers were indicted for political crimes throughout the 1960s and 70s, and a number fled to the West. Lukács' books The Young Hegel and The Destruction of Reason have been used to argue that Lukács was covertly critical of Stalinism as an irrational distortion of Hegelian-Marxism Lukacs/Hungary (

Lukács was out of power during 1948–1953 period, and also during the post 1956 period, when István Bibó was persecuted, he cannot be considered culpable for the administrative treatment of Bibó at these times.


  1. Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought. ISBN 1859841740.
  2. History and Class Consciousness. ISBN 0262620200.
  3. The Theory of the Novel. ISBN 0262620278.
  4. A Defense of History and Class Consciousness. ISBN 1859847471.
  5. Woroszylski, Wiktor. Diary of a revolt : Budapest through Polish eyes. Trans. Michael Segal. [Sydney : Outlook], 1957. (Pamphlet).
  6. Aczel, Tamas and Meray, Tibor. Revolt of the Mind: a case history of intellectual resistance behind the iron curtain Greenwood Press Reprint: 1975.
  7. Granville, Joanna. "Imre Nagy, aka "Volodya" - a dent in the martyr's halo?" Cold War International History Project Bulletin 5 (1995): 28, 34-36.
  8. Kadvany, John (2001). Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason. Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2659-0
  9. KGB Chief Kryuchkov to CC CPSU, 16 June 1989 (trans. Joanna Granville). Cold War International History Project Bulletin 5 (1995): 36 [from: TsKhSD, F. 89, Per. 45, Dok. 82.].

External links

eo:LUKÁCS György hu:Lukács György pl:György Lukács sk:György Lukács


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