W John Morgan. International Journal of Cultural Policy. Volume 12, Issue 3. 2006.
Georg Lukács has been claimed as a founder of Western Marxism, the basis of an anti‐Stalinist New Left. This was due politically to his participation in the reform communist government in Hungary overthrown by Soviet armed forces in 1956. Intellectually it was due to growing awareness of Lukács through the publication of his work in English. History and Class Consciousness (1971) with its sophisticated exposition of an Hegelian Marxism, provided sustenance to an intellectually famished socialist movement, which was returning to ideological sources. Lukács, became an intellectual inspiration to this New Left. His focus on culture was attractive, with its emphasis on humanist ethical values. However, the enthusiasm for Lukács’ Hegelian Marxism meant that few Western intellectuals considered the implications of Lukács’ life‐long membership of the Communist Party or those of his relationship with Stalinism. Yet both had an effect on how he perceived the responsibilities of intellectuals and the purposes of cultural policy. This is illustrated during the Communist International’s Popular Front period. This article examines these issues through an analysis of Lukács’ career in the Communist Party and concludes with a brief assessment of his continuing relevance for those interested in cultural policy today.
From Idealism to Bolshevism
Lukács was born in 1885 into an ennobled Jewish Hungarian banking family. He studied at Heidelberg where he became acquainted with Max Weber, Georg Simmel and Ernst Bloch. On returning to Hungary, he became the leading figure in a “Sunday Circle”, of bourgeois intellectuals, including Arnold Hauser, Karl Mannheim and Karl Polanyi. In 1917 Lukács took part in the Free School of the Humanities organized by Béla Balázs; its purpose was to consider “the gospel of idealism” through public lectures, seminars and discussions. It espoused ethical, utopian socialism, with Lukács described by Joszef Lengyel as a “Tolstoyan ethical socialist” (Morgan 2003, p. 86). However, in a move that for suddenness and completeness was likened to the conversion of St Paul, Lukács joined the Hungarian Communist Party in December 1918. Lukács, German in intellectual orientation, was familiar with Marx, with Kautsky and Bernstein and the pressures of war and of the October Revolution caused him to consider the possibilities of revolution. “Bolshevism as an ethical problem” shows him weighing up the options (Lukács 1995). Bolshevism, he says: “rests on the metaphysical assumption that good can issue from evil … This writer cannot share this faith and therefore sees at the root of Bolshevism an insoluble ethical dilemma” (Lukács 1995, p. 220). He believed that the proletarian struggle had an ultimate value: “the end of all class struggle and the creation of a new social order. … At this moment [December 1918] it is seductively within our reach to realize this goal” (Lukács 1995, p. 218). This meant dictatorship, terror and class oppression, justified by the belief that proletarian rule will wither away and with it all class rule. He committed himself to this Bolshevik ethic, believing it was no longer possible to wait: “until humanity’s own conscience will give birth to what its conscious members have already known for a long time as the only possible solution” (Lukács 1995, p. 219).
He admitted later that:
The World and the Russian Revolution of 1917 brought about a crisis in my whole world‐view, and my Syndicalist tendencies intensified under the personal influence of Ervin Szabó, who was the most important representative of Syndicalism in Hungary. Thus, when I joined the Communist Party of Hungary in 1918, my views were Syndicalistic and Idealistic. Notwithstanding my experiences of the revolution in Hungary, I let myself be led by an ultra left‐wing opposition to [the] Comintern line (1920-1921). (Sziklai 1992, pp. 199-200)
Lenin agreed, identifying Lukács with the “infantile disorder of left‐wing communism”, criticizing his views as “left‐wing and very poor” and describing his Marxism as “purely verbal” (Lenin 1966, p. 165).
During the Hungarian Commune of 1919 Lukács was deputy People’s Commissar for Education and Culture. He was motivated by: “an abstract utopianism in the realm of cultural politics” (Lukács 1971, p. xii). He aimed to establish communism as a moral and cultural force. This meant an end to the élitism in education and culture of which he was such a classic product. Instead, he began a debate, in Red News, on intellectuals and art in the proletarian revolution, coining the slogan “Art is the end and politics is the means” (Kadarkay 1991, pp. 216-217). Lukács believed that cultural revolution was the fundamental aim, but his campaign of decrees, such as for the confiscation of private libraries and art collections, and exhortation failed. Workers and peasants regarded the Commissariat of Education and Culture as patronizing and lacking in a sense of political pragmatism. The Hungarian Commune lasted six months. Lukács escaped from Hungary and, apart from some brief clandestine visits on party missions, spent the next twenty‐six years in exile in Austria, Germany and Russia.
History and Class Consciousness
Throughout the 1920s Lukács was in political struggle with opponents in the Hungarian Communist Party, notably with the former leader of the Commune, Béla Kun and his allies in the Communist (Third) International or Comintern (founded in Moscow in 1919 to co‐ordinate Communist Party campaigns for world revolution). Lukács’ writings during this period were both theoretical and pragmatic. The former included History and Class Consciousness (1923) and Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought (1924). The latter focused on political strategy for the communist movement and the most important of these were the Blum Theses of 1928 (Lukács 1978).
History and Class Consciousness has acquired a considerable reputation and is regarded, with Karl Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy and Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, as a seminal work of “Western Marxism”. Lukács’ intention was to make clear the fundamental revolutionary meaning of Marx’s work, focusing on the section on “the fetishism of commodities” in the first volume of Capital and on the Theses on Feuerbach. Lukács attempts nothing less than a philosophical diagnosis of the cultural crisis of his world. It relies on Hegelian logic, but is also influenced by the activist spirit of Feuerbach and especially of Marx (Berki 1972, p. 55). The problem is that human relationships under capitalism are treated as commodity exchanges. This obscures the exploitative social relationships involved and results in the false consciousness and reification that are fundamental characteristics of capitalism. But Lukács goes further and explains “the entire development of modern rationalist philosophy in terms of reification” (Berki 1972, p. 54). Although they are obviously related, Lukács was only able to consider the concept of alienation later, on reading Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (Marx 1977) in 1930. Lukács points out, following Marx and anticipating Gramsci, that the bourgeoisie: “really does attempt to organize the whole of society in its own interests (and in this it has had some success). To achieve this it was forced to develop a coherent theory of economics, politics and society” (Lukács 1971, p. 65). But such a theory could never achieve more than a class‐biased understanding of the world. The way forward was through a proletarian revolution leading to a classless society, humane in an authentic rather than an illusory way. Lukács ascribed, as Marx had done, universal significance to this analysis of capitalist society. He also believed that capitalism might adapt and continue, threatening the ultimate destruction of civilization. The proletariat, which was far from homogenous, might adjust itself to the hegemony of bourgeois culture and to the demands of capitalist political economy. He stated: “In view of the great distance that the proletariat has to travel ideologically, it would be disastrous to foster any illusions” (Lukács 1971, p. 80).
By a proletarian class‐consciousness in opposition to that of the bourgeoisie, Lukács did not mean anything that the working classes might actually think and feel. He drew the Leninist conclusion that the proletariat had to acquire class consciousness “through the leadership of intellectuals, who by theoretical understanding have learnt what the class‐consciousness of the proletariat ought to be” (Borkenau 1962, p. 172). He was aware of the dangers, arguing that the vanguard party had to gain and merit the support of the proletarian masses. In “The Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg” Lukács emphasized:
The true strength of the party is moral: it is fed by the trust of the spontaneously revolutionary masses whom economic conditions have forced into revolt. … Only when the party has fought for this trust and earned it can it become the leader of the revolution. For only then will the masses spontaneously and instinctively press forward with all their energies towards the party and towards their own self‐consciousness. (Lukács 1971, p. 42)
Lukács believed the vanguard party should be educative, leading by moral example, a culturally hegemonic alternative to bourgeois capitalism. In his pamphlet on Lenin he argued that the vanguard party: “pre‐supposes the fact—the actuality—of the revolution” (Lukács 1977, p. 26).
History and Class Consciousness is: “an impressive exercise in Hegelian logic to the end of drawing out the full implications of Lenin’s doctrine of the vanguard” (Lichtheim 1965, p. 370n). The objective was proletarian rather than bourgeois hegemony. This would wither and die as commodity relationships gave way to a humane and classless society. The totalitarianism was noted by Nicholas Berdyaev in The Origin of Russian Communism. He observed: “Lukatch [sic] … a Hungarian, and the most interesting and philosophically cultured of communist writers, who writes in German and displays great acuteness of mind, makes an original, and, in my opinion, a true judgement about revolution” (Berdyaev 1948, p. 105). Berdyaev meant that Lukács recognized that, for the revolutionary: “there are no separate spheres; he tolerates no division of life into parts, nor will he admit any autonomy of thought in relation to action or autonomy of action in relation to thought” (Berdyaev 1948, p. 105). In short, a revolutionary has an integrated world‐view in which theory and practice organically coalesce. This is the meaning of Leninism. Lukács understood and accepted Bolshevism as the “only orthodox i.e. totalitarian integral Marxism, which refused to tolerate the breaking up of the Marxist world‐view into fragments and the adoption of separate parts of it” (Berdyaev 1948, pp. 105-106). Lukács was committed to this as his political history demonstrates.
Ironically for Lukács, the publication of History and Class Consciousness coincided with the campaign of the Communist International to “bolshevize” its “national sections”, that is, bring them directly under Soviet control. This meant the purging of communist deviationists (Bates 1976). Lukács’ book was symbolic of intellectual unorthodoxy and political dissidence. The Communist International could not tolerate the implication that there was a cultural difference between the prospects of communism in Europe and that of Russian bolshevism. To do so would undermine its authority, a view shared by Béla Kun who, in Kommunistische Internationale, attacked: “attempts undertaken in German literature to revise dialectical materialism or, to put it more accurately, to emasculate [it] by expunging materialism” (Watnick 1958, p. 52). Lukács’ work was criticized also by Soviet philosophers, such as A. M. Deborin, “for its Hegelian influences, utopian idealism “and deviation from the tenets of Marxism‐Leninism” (Watnick 1958, p. 52).
Lukács was not the only West European communist censured for ideological deviation. He was joined by Karl Korsch and Antonio Gradiazei. Korsch had held a post as a Commissar for Education during the period of communist control in Thuringia during the German Revolution of 1919, while his Marxism and Philosophy had come to the same conclusions as those of History and Class Consciousness. There was also the Italian economist Antonio Graziadei who published Price and Surplus Price in the Capitalist Economy: A critique of Marx’s theory of value, in 1923 (Graziadei 1923) Official censure was pronounced at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in 1924. Gregori Zinoviev, its President, emphasized the ideological significance, stating: “This theoretical revisionism cannot be allowed to pass with impunity. Comrade Graziadei is a professor; Korsch is a professor. (Interruption: “Lukács is also a professor!”) If we get a few more of these professors spinning out their Marxist theories, we shall be lost. We cannot tolerate … theoretical revisionism of this kind in our Communist International” (Watnick 1958, p. 53).
By 1928, after bitter struggles, Korsch and Graziadei were expelled from the Communist Party, but Lukács survived. Unlike the others, he accepted censure and kept his membership. As Lukács stated in his 1967 Preface to History and Class Consciousness, “the Third (Communist) International correctly defined the position of the capitalist world as one of relative stability. These facts meant that I had to re‐think my theoretical position. In the debates of the Russian Party I agreed with Stalin about the necessity for socialism in one country and this shows very clearly the start of a new epoch in my thought” (Lukács 1967, p. xxvii). Lukács was not guilty of a failure of nerve; rather the contrary. Instead he preferred, from a powerful sense of party discipline, to follow the logic of his own arguments in History and Class Consciousness. These identified the Communist Party as “the institutionalized will and expression of proletarian class‐consciousness and thereby endowed it with a superior view of ‘total’ reality” (Watnick 1958, p. 53). Nothing more was required of him than silent acquiescence in the decisions of the party. Lukács, despite his intellectual sophistication, was prepared to accept this.
The Blum Theses
Lukács continued to live in Vienna and in Berlin, but spent a year in Moscow in 1930-1931. There he worked under David Ryazonoff, Director of the Marx‐Lenin Institute, which gave him the opportunity of studying Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Lukács remained active in the Hungarian Communist Party, but was realistic about the prospects for proletarian revolution in Western Europe. This was shaped by his experience of the 1919 Commune, his cultural assessment of Hungary and Europe and of developments in the Soviet Union, where he observed that, ideologically, the proletarian movement had a long way to travel. This cultural realism led Lukács to prepare a political statement debated internally by the Hungarian Communist Party and by the Communist International. This was a re‐evaluation of the political possibilities in Hungary that became known as the Blum Theses (Blum was then Lukács’ party name).
The Theses Concerning the Political and Economic Situation in Hungary and the Tasks of the Hungarian Communist Party were prepared by Lukács in 1928 and debated by the party the following year. They were the outcome of an alliance between Lukács and the communist railway worker and trade unionist Jenö Landler. Together they developed a gradualist programme with the aim of establishing a bourgeois democracy in Hungary creating a climate in which the Communist Party might operate. This led to the formation of a Hungarian Social Democratic Party linked with the illegal Communist Party in Vienna. Béla Kun, the official leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, with the support of the Communist International, criticized this as opportunistic right wing deviationism.
Lukács argued for a democratic dictatorship, by which he meant a republic governed by workers and peasants. It was necessary for communists to understand the difference: “between a democracy where the bourgeois is the politically dominant class and one where—although it maintains its economic exploitation—it has ceded at least part of its power to the broad masses of the workers” (Lukács 1972, p. 243). The point was that: “the struggle for bourgeois liberties must be connected with the everyday needs of the workers” (Lukács 1972, p. 249).
Lukács developed this strategy throughout the 1920s and it is argued that: “There is a consistent line in his essays on this subject from ‘Organization and Revolutionary Initiative’ (1921) and ‘The Politics of Illusion‐Yet Again’ (1922) right up to the Blum Theses” (Lukács 1972, xix). This influenced his thought on communist educational and cultural work. The significance of the Blum Theses was that they anticipated the Popular Front strategy adopted by the Comintern in 1935. In 1928 and 1929 they were anathema to a Communist International committed to a sectarian policy of struggle against so‐called “social fascism”. Lukács realized that a formal self‐criticism was necessary to avoid expulsion from the party; this was published in the Hungarian Communist Party journal in 1929. It anticipated his censure by the Executive Committee of the Communist International in an Open Letter to the Hungarian Communist Party. As Comrade Blum, he was accused of seeing the chief task of the party “not in the struggle against bourgeois illusions, but in the struggle against the Nihilism confronting bourgeois democracy. When he proposes that the Communist Party should proclaim to the workers that bourgeois democracy is the ‘best battle‐ground’, he really puts himself in the position of social democracy.” The statement ended ominously: “These theses have nothing in common with Bolshevism” (Lukács 1972, p. xx).
Lukács’ retraction of his views was a tactical matter of political survival within the party. In practice, it has been observed that the defeat of the Theses: “marked the beginning of his career as a realistic [party] ideologist and led to the ‘revolutionary’ change in his whole philosophy, strengthening Marxism in both its content and method. [However] [t]he theses had only opened a crack in sectarianism, instead of breaking through along a wide front, as the Seventh Congress of the Comintern was to do. That was their historical weakness” (Sziklai 1992, p. 56). Lukács noted: “None of us recognized that, in Europe, it was not Socialism versus Capitalism that was in the forefront, but the mobilization of all the anti‐Fascist forces against Fascism. No one recognized that, at that time in Europe, including the author of the ‘Blum Theses’ … In view of this, it cannot be declared that [the] ‘Blum Theses’ had made the turn in strategy and tactics that was to come only later” (Sziklai 1992, p. 56).
Isaiah Berlin places disputes “on the cultural front” within the context of disagreements within the Russian Communist Party about foreign policy and policy towards communists and communist parties outside the Soviet Union. As he says: “A good deal of experiment, sometimes bold and interesting, at other times merely eccentric and worthless, occurred at this time in the Soviet Union [1920s] in the guise of cultural warfare against the encircling capitalist world” (Berlin 2004, p. 137). Lenin and Trotsky were scornful of “proletarian” art and culture. Lenin “disliked all forms of modernism intensely; his attitude to radical artistic experiment was bourgeois in the extreme” (Berlin 2004, p. 138). He criticized the Prolet’cult severely, stating it mistaken to think one could: “become a Communist without assimilating the wealth of knowledge amassed by mankind” (Lenin 1970, p. 127), bringing it under the control of the vanguard Communist Party as early as 1920 (Morgan 2003, pp. 131-135). In the preface to Literature and Revolution (1924) Trotsky made it clear that he was of the same opinion. He wrote: “It is fundamentally incorrect to contrast bourgeois culture and bourgeois art with proletarian culture and proletarian art. The latter will never exist, because the proletarian regime is temporary and transient” (Trotsky 1960 , p. 14).
The debate about “Cultural Bolshevism” continued throughout the 1920s. As Berlin states:
The advocates of “proletarian” culture were divided on whether it was produced by individuals of talent who distilled within themselves the aspirations of the proletarian masses, actual and potential, acting as it were, as their mouthpieces or rather megaphones; or whether, as the extremer ideologists proclaimed, individuals as such had no part at all to play in the new order, for the art of the new collectivist society must itself be collective. (Berlin 2004, p. 138)
Others believed that the artist’s political task consisted in documentary reportage of the building of the new society—the advent of socialist realism. As Lev Averbakh, of the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) stated: “The issue is not the making of national culture accessible to the workers. It is the class struggle that defines the content and direction of culture” (Kadarkay 1991, p. 342). Communists elsewhere echoed this. For instance, the French communist Paul Nizan, in a 1930 review of Emmanuel Berl’s book The Death of Bourgeois Values, wrote: “Between culture … and the proletariat … there cannot be any reconciliation. This is because culture is a system of values erected against the proletariat … One must have the courage to say: bourgeois culture is a barrier” (Guiat 2003, p. 58).
Cultural Bolshevism, “against which Communist policy later so sternly set its face” (Berlin 2004, p. 137), was popular in Germany; as Ernst Toller, Erwin Piscator and Bertold Brecht indicate; there was also a long history of social‐democratic cultural activity that continued during the Weimar republic (van der Will & Burns 1985). The Institute for Social Research, or “Frankfurt School”, was also part of the debate. Lukács, was concerned with the critical analysis and appropriation of bourgeois culture, like Max Horkheimer, Theodore Adorno and others of the Frankfurt School, but Lukács was convinced that the “critical realism” of say the Mann brothers, overcame their subjective tendencies and made them superior to works which had a progressive tendency, but which were superficial in execution. This led him to look for equally effective works of “socialist realism”. This theory of art was rejected by Adorno and by the other members of the Frankfurt School as essentially conservative culturally, and “alien to the nature of art” (Slater 1977, p. 128), though they were themselves élitist and remote from working‐class life. Lukács’ party affiliation and discipline was the fundamental difference that for him decided his course of action (or inaction).
The “cultural front” was crucial for the Comintern in dealing with its “national sections”, individual communists, with socialist parties and with those who became known as “fellow‐travellers” (Caute 1973; Hollander 1981). After 1928 the Comintern was intransigent in dealing with deviations from Soviet policy and Lukács played a part in this. In 1926 he declared himself sceptical of the revolutionary contribution of “proletarian” culture, publishing an article on “Art for Art’s Sake and Proletarian Poetry” in the magazine Die Tat (The Deed) (Kadarkay 1991, p. 283). He drew upon Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution in his criticisms of Tendenzkunst or propaganda art, developed by people such as Ernst Toller (1934), calling it “an abstract and romantic utopianism” (Löwy 1979, p. 194). This encourages an interpretation of Lukács’ article as a self‐criticism of his utopian hopes of 1919. He believed that the workers’ revolution would provide conditions that would revitalize art, but warned: “It is wrong for a proletarian revolutionary, for a Marxist, to overestimate in a utopian way the real existing possibilities” (Sziklai 1992, p. 130). The question of cultural policy and the proletarian revolution needed rethinking and this included the bourgeois cultural heritage.
Lukács did this through literary and cultural criticism, book reviews and journalism, in party journals and magazines such as Die Linkscurve (Left Turn) and, from the early 1930s, Moskauer Rundschau (Moscow Review). After the defeat of the Blum Theses, Lukács survived Communist Party censure, although he withdrew from active participation in the policy debates of the Hungarian Communist Party and was registered formally with the Communist Party of Germany. Apart from his year at the Marx‐Lenin Institute in Moscow in 1930-1931, Lukács remained in Berlin. There, with the party name of Dr Hans Keller, he worked as a party functionary and led the communists within the Association of German Writers. “In this capacity”, said Lukács, “I succeeded in organizing a United‐Front movement involving left‐wing bourgeois. Social Democratic and Communist writers.” This accomplished, Lukács was elected vice‐chairman to the social democrat Heinz Pol. “These successes encouraged the Party to send me to other organizations of intellectuals as a leading official” (Sziklai 1992, p. 160).
Lukács was now delegated to assist László Radványi, a Hungarian communist and also a member of the “Sunday Circle”. Radványi, whose party name was Johan‐Lorenz Schmidt, was responsible for the party’s Marxist Workers’ Schools in Germany. Lukács gave lectures at the Berlin School about six times a week His lectures dealt with trends in modern bourgeois literature, the literature of the French Revolution, Marxist literary criticism and on aesthetics. He focused on the intellectual origins of Fascism and gave lectures on the literary theory of National Socialism, the literary crisis of contemporary Fascism and the Fascist falsification of Hegel (Congdon 1989, pp. 509-519; Sziklai 1992, p. 164). Motivated against sectarianism, he advocated the merits of realism in literature in lectures and literary articles, although the term “socialist realism” was not yet in use. Lukács remained in Germany until 1933, when Hitler and the Nazis saw him seek refuge in the Soviet Union.
Cultural Policy and the Popular Front
Between 1928 and 1934 the national communist parties followed the Comintern line of “class against class”. This endorsed a proletarian class war in cultural policy. However, in April 1932, a decree of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party disbanded the RAPP; a consequence of Stalin’s mistrust of the cultural revolutionary, even ultra‐leftist tendencies of its leadership. This was followed by the emergence of “socialist realism”, devised essentially by Maxim Gorky with the approval of Stalin. It attempted to distinguish between “social” and “critical” realism, emphasizing that artistic work must be assessed in its philosophical and social context. This coincided with Lukács’ return to the Soviet Union. There he contributed to Moscow journals, such as Internationale Literatur and “more precisely, above all—for the Russian language Literaturny Kritik” (Sziklai 1992, p. 44). The policy of the journal was to consider the contribution of bourgeois literature to the development of Marxism. In 1934, the First Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers (replacing RAPP) endorsed this trend. It emphasized “cultural continuity” in literature and art; a return to the original positions of Lenin (and of Trotsky). Lukács was admitted to the Union, following his lecture to the Philosophical Institute of the Communist Academy on 24 June 1934. In this he made a self‐criticism, reviewing past errors; especially those in History and Class Consciousness. This was not merely a tactical move by Lukács to ensure his position in the party and in practical terms in Moscow. The lecture also signalled the concerns that were to absorb him throughout his years in the Soviet Union, notably a critique of German philosophy and its part in the evolution of Fascism, together with a search for potential intellectual allies in the struggle against it. As Sziklai points out: “He had recognized the changes in the world‐historical situation and was familiar with conditions in the Soviet Union” (Sziklai 1992, p. 198).
Lukács contributed 25 articles to Literaturny Kritik between 1934 and 1940. These focused on the importance of continuity, even of tradition, in the development of literature and “appropriated ‘classical’ values on behalf of a proletarian state in need of socialist mass‐culture” (Kadarkay 1991, p. 344). In a sense Lukács complemented the efforts of that very different communist Maxim Gorky and his scheme for World Literature (Morgan 2003, 167-186). In the articles, later to become books, such as The Historical Novel (1962) and The Young Hegel (1975), Lukács expounded bourgeois culture to the culturally influential readership of Literaturny Kritik. His article on “The Novel as Bourgeois Epic” argued that the function of the artist is to find the spirit of the people and the mode of artistic expression corresponding to it. The socialist novel was a “transitory epic”, in the same way as the great classical novels of the bourgeois epoch, and incorporates them and eventually transcends them (Kadarkay 1991, p. 344). Criticized for Hegelianism, Lukács had raised the crucial political issue of “what to retain and what to discard from bourgeois culture?” (Kadarkay 1991, p. 344). This he considered in “Grand Hotel Abyss” (1933), a satire on intellectuals he saw accommodating Fascism. However, for Lukács the role of bourgeois intellectuals and of bourgeois philosophy in the development of Fascism was not primarily one for moral condemnation. In “Die deutsche Intelligenz und der Faschismus”, he comments: “The immense sociological, legal, philosophical, etc. literature produced about the crisis of the state, the party, parliamentarism and democracy all but blazed the trail for the ideology of Fascism” (Sziklai 1992, p. 177).
This was the beginning of a theoretical explanation of the role of intellectuals in the development of Fascism. He had no sympathy with intellectuals “floating above social strata”, as advocated by yet another member of the “Sunday Circle”, Karl Mannheim (Mannheim 1936). Lukács’ view was that bourgeois intellectuals opposed to Fascism should affirm this by affiliation to the workers’ movement, for which they needed opportunity. That was why sectarianism should be replaced by anti‐Fascist unity. This analysis had, for Lukács, an urgent political purpose. It required him to balance the objectives of ideologist and of intellectual; an intensely difficult task aggravated by the political climate in which he lived as an émigré communist in Stalin’s Russia. Lukács’ views were expressed chiefly through his literary work, but also through journalism. He commented: “that outstanding journalistic achievements could be produced only when and where partisanship remained free from narrow sectarianism, the Communist Party literature adjusted itself to the whole of the left‐wing movement, and Communist ideas came to be articulated as questions with a universal appeal” (Sziklai 1992, p. 44). Gramscian in tone, this was a commitment to the political and cultural principles of the Popular Front. For the moment at least, Lukács’ literary views were “backed by political power”, requiring an assessment of who and what might be regarded as “progressive” (Kadarkay 1991, pp. 344-345). The articles in Literaturny Kritik demonstrate this, even though the regular publication of literary magazines in Soviet Russia was, to say the least, uncertain.
The Comintern showed this change of policy. Since 1928 it had followed a “class against class line” which had proved disastrous, especially in Germany. This was abandoned in favour of the anti‐Fascist alliance known as the Popular Front. The extinction of the German Communist Party and of the German labour movement by Hitler convinced Stalin that the Russian Communist Party and the Comintern had to change direction. This began with the Franco-Soviet Mutual Assistance Treaty in 2 May 1935, announced at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International, held in Moscow in July and August. The main address was by the Chairman of the Comintern, the Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov. He explained the change in line, declaring Fascism to be: “the most vicious enemy of the working class and of all working people”. Its threat made it essential to build “unity of action by all sections of the working class, irrespective of the party or organization to which they belong”; with anti‐Fascism being the only criterion for collaboration. He emphasized that: “the formation of a wide anti‐fascist People’s Front on the basis of the proletarian united front was a particularly important task” (Drachkovitch & Lazitch 1966, pp. 189-190).
The new line was a return to and an extension of the United Front established at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1924. The difference was that the Popular Front was generated by Fascism’s advance; soon to be aggravated by the war in Spain. These, coupled with the apparent successes of Soviet planning compared with the apparent failures of capitalism, increased the appeal of the Stalin cult and of the Soviet Union. It also rescued the Comintern, albeit temporarily and superficially from intellectual sterility. The new line had clear implications for the debate on cultural policy. This included not only art and literature, but also education, science, media, leisure activities and physical culture. In fact, the entire range of activities and associations that come under the heading of civil society, as well as those provided formally by the state. In cultural terms, this meant a campaign to recruit and to propagandize for the anti‐Fascist cause on as broad a basis as possible. This gave plenty of scope for the “front” organizations promoted by the extraordinary Willi Muenzenberg, such as the International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture, held in Paris in 1935 (Caute 1973, pp. 132-137).
Lukács’ contribution was, in the long term, more influential. He had not had a direct part in the Comintern’s Seventh Congress, as he remained excluded from the Hungarian delegation. Yet its decisions allowed Lukács to express cultural views with political confidence and to take advantage, as he put it, “of the extension of the field of conflict”. There were Popular Front tendencies in the Moscow literary circles to which he had access, while explorations of the potential for ideological resistance to Fascism were welcome politically (Lukács 1983, pp. 164-166; Sziklai 1992, p. 14). Lukács attacked the barbarism of Fascism, emphasizing the importance of cultural continuity in uniting progressive forces for Democracy (and Socialism). After 1935, Lukács recruited the work of bourgeois humanistic writers such as Anatole France, Romain Rolland, Heinrich and Thomas Mann and Bernard Shaw in opposition to Fascism. His 1936 article on Thomas Mann in Internationale Literatur has been identified as the decisive beginning of this new position (Sziklai 1992, p. 185). Lukács’ attempts to find common cause with such writers were the cultural equivalent of the Popular Front’s tactic of establishing political coalitions that ignored class positions (Löwy 1979, p. 202). Thomas and Heinrich Mann epitomized for Lukács the rationalism and critical realism of bourgeois humanism, in opposition to the irrationalism of Fascism.
This may be contrasted with Lukács’ attitude to Bertold Brecht. They had first encountered each other during Brecht’s attempt, probably in 1931, to organize a journal Krisis und Kritik to encourage debate between communists and leftist intellectuals. The attempt failed and, in a draft letter to Lukács found in his notebook, Brecht complains of condescension and of Lukács’ abstract definition of “intellectuals”. Brecht complains that: “A manifestly preachy attitude and the stress on our superiority are not sensible now, even if we are aware that, due to their deteriorating economic position, the intellectuals would be willing to come to terms with us over certain issues” (Brecht 1983, pp. 145-146; Sziklai 1992, p. 161). Brecht, who despised the bourgeoisie and was radical artistically, appeared to Lukács a caricaturist when compared with the sophisticated Mann brothers. But Brecht aimed to represent artistically a different Germany and his view was that the circumstances of the proletarian class struggle should recognize this difference; a concept of realism: “that provided Brecht with the key to the artistic avant‐garde” (Slater 1977, p. 130).
Lukács also considered Fascism’s open ideologists such as Arthur Rosenberg and their treatment of intellectuals such as Schopenhauer, Nietzche, Simmel, Weber and Spengler. He also brought his re‐evaluation of bourgeois classics into line with the Popular Front’s cultural policy. “Lukács asserted—… all the more trenchant for its expressing a deep conviction—that the “great” writers can instruct the socialist writers about the human potential of the peoples who suffer under the “yoke of fascism” (Kadarkay 1991, p. 334). He regarded the work of anti‐Fascist bourgeois humanist writers, such as Romain Rolland, Thomas and Heinrich Mann and Arnold Zweig, “as the main political support of the Popular Front” (Sziklai 1992, p. 221). He went further, identifying in their work an anti‐capitalist content that exposed, if unconsciously, the irrationality of bourgeois society. He considered that: “Here is the clear voice of the newly awakened revolutionary democracy of Germany. Words like these in the writing of the German emigration spring from the soul of the fighting German people” (Lukács 1962, p. 269).
Towards the end of The Historical Novel, Lukács declares that the new historical novel
born of the popular and democratic spirit of our time, will indeed contrast with the classical historical novel. … [I]t is clear that this new perspective exists not only for the writers of the Soviet Union, but also for the humanists of the anti‐Fascist popular front; although of course, these tendencies are inevitably more distinct and developed in the Soviet Union. But the struggle for the democracy of a new type, the realization that the problems of this democracy are connected with the economic and cultural liberation of the exploited—something we have seen especially vividly in the writings of Heinrich Mann—show that this perspective is also a reality for the fighters of the popular front. Thus it can also become a reality for their literature. (Lukács 1963, p. 347)
He had in mind Heinrich Mann’s novel Henri Quatre, published in two parts in 1933 and 1938, in which the sixteenth‐century wars of religion were intended as a mirror to Hitler’s Europe. In this novel Mann attempted to “move from abstract humanism to political realism, historicity and active sympathy for violent political struggle against class tyranny” (Caute 1973, p. 237). Lukács praised him as “the most progressive and determined leader of anti‐Fascist writing” (Lukács 1963, p. 269).
For many years, Lukács’ work was available chiefly in journals and in Russian or German editions. This meant that his influence at the time of the Popular Front was greatest amongst communists in Europe. It was inevitably less so in the English‐speaking world, though his influence on Christopher Caudwell’s Studies in a Dying Culture and Illusion and Reality, on Ralph Fox’s The Novel and the People and on John Strachey’s The Coming Struggle for Power, has been noted (Mosse 1963, p. 388). He was also mentioned in Karl Mannheim’s influential Ideology and Utopia (Mannheim 1936). To this might be added the political and cultural thinking that lay behind the Left Book Club launched by the socialist and publisher Victor Gollancz, with the editorial assistance of John Strachey and of Harold Laski in May 1936 (Lewis 1970). Such influences may repay further investigation. As Isaac Deutscher stated: “He [Lukács] elevated the Popular Front from the level of tactics to that of ideology; he projected its principle into philosophy, literary history and aesthetic criticism” (Deutscher 1971, pp. 291-292). Years later, justifying his actions by what he perceived as their historical and political necessity, Lukács confirmed this. He stated: “I consider it the central task of my life to employ correctly the Marxist‐Leninist ideology in the areas of my competence. Inasmuch, as my activity coincided with the world historical significance of socialism in one country, and the struggle for its interest, it is natural that all my concerns, including those of my work, were subordinate to this consideration” (Kadarkay 1991, p. 326). Lukács’ aim was to contribute to a left‐wing programme, under the leadership of the Communist Party that would be effective internationally.
Lukács and Stalinism
The Communist International came under Stalinist direction with the Sixth Congress of 1928 that met after the defeat of Trotsky. This meant that, as political circumstances changed, so did the Comintern line. The Popular Front was the classic example of such a switch, coming to an end with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non‐Aggression Pact of 23 August 1939. This was motivated by Stalin’s need to defend the Soviet Union and “socialism in one country”. Party discipline required of communists the “necessary lie”, as Maxim Gorky had described it in 1929, when he described his hatred for “that truth which is an abomination and a lie for ninety nine per cent of the people” (Wolfe 1967, p. 59). This was also Lukács’ justification of his party loyalty and support for Stalin. Lukács’ desire for and acceptance of “totality” in revolution, as identified by Nicholas Berdyaev, explains this. It was also a pragmatic act of survival in the conditions of Soviet Russia; In the 1967 Preface to History and Class Consciousness Lukács claimed that he had been “on Stalin’s side on the central issue of Russia”, but was deeply repelled by the attitude to the United Front in 1928; when Stalin had “described the Social Democrats as the ‘twin brothers’ of the Fascists” (Lukács 1971, pp. xxviii).
This meant balancing the development of theory, the acceptance of party commissions and periods of silence. In Russia he engaged in what he claimed was a covert criticism of the Stalinist sectarian line. He commented later: “For that reason I had to wage a guerilla war in order to advocate my ideas. I had to secure publication of my works by including some appropriate quotations from Stalin. By following this method I could explicate my dissenting views with the required caution … Naturally, there were times when it dictated silence” (Lukács 1967, p. 647; Sziklai 1992, p. 41). Lukács accepted the change of line in 1939, because to do otherwise could have been fatal, but also from communist discipline. When his own assessment of political strategy differed from that of the party, he bowed to the party, in public at least. After the Blum Theses, this occurred when Stalinism failed to align itself with Western democracy and culture in common cause against Fascism.
The difficulty of maintaining such a position is shown between 1939 and 1941. As the line began to change to reflect Stalinist policy towards Fascism and the bourgeois democracies, Literaturny Kritik, Lukács’ chief vehicle for publication, was closed in 1940. He was accused of right‐opportunism by the Hungarian Party and by the Comintern and in 1941 the NKVD arrested him. This was almost certainly because he was identified as a potential opponent of Stalinist accommodation with Nazi Germany, although he took care to obscure this in the autobiographical statement he wrote preparatory to his interrogation. He was released shortly after the German invasion of Russia, following the intervention of Georgi Dimitrov. The objectives of the Popular Front returned with the alliance against Nazi Germany and “his intellectual services to anti‐fascism became useful once more” (Löwy 1979, p. 204).
Lukács’ Curriculum Vitae states: “Since the day of my discharge I have been working on war propaganda, my primary concern being the ideological fight against Fascism” (Sziklai 1992, p. 207). Evacuated to Central Asia in October 1941, Lukács’ work ranged from journalism for English and American newspapers through the Soviet Information Bureau, articles for Internationale Literatur, propaganda radio broadcasts, to the political re‐education of German and Hungarian prisoners of war. Lukács’ appointment in 1942 to the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences allowed him to work on the history of philosophy. In short, he continued the “duality of roles between the scholar and the publicist, the philosopher and the propagandist, the aesthete and the staff‐member of editorial boards” (Sziklai 1992, p. 208).
Conclusion: The Legacy
Lukács returned to Hungary in 1945 and became engaged in political and cultural affairs, as a member of the now ruling Hungarian Communist Party and as a university professor. He based his position on a 1944 publication in Hungarian on the responsibility of writers. In 1948 he broadened this into a general statement of the responsibility of intellectuals in the post‐war world. The question was would they, “like the intellectuals of France in the 18th century or those in Russia in the 19th century, become path‐breakers and champions of a progressive turn in world history; or, like the German intellectuals of the first half of the 20th century [would they] become helpless victims, witless helpers of a barbaric reaction?” (Lukács 1969, p. 131). Lukács was in conflict, on Marxist tactical grounds, with the Stalinists of the Hungarian Communist Party. In 1956, at an open meeting of the Petöfi Circle of communist intellectuals critical of the leadership, he complained of: “the bankruptcy of Marxism in Hungary” (Braunthal 1980, p. 414). In the same year he joined the national communist government of Nagy, ironically once more as Minister of Culture. He was removed from office by the Soviet suppression of Nagy’s government, but managed to survive execution and was re‐admitted to membership of the Hungarian Communist Party.
After 1956 and up to and beyond his death in 1971, Lukács’ reputation grew as he was claimed as a founder of Western Marxism. This was enhanced by the surge of the New Left in the late 1960s, accompanied by the English translation and publication of his work, especially History and Class Consciousness (which Lukács himself continued to reject). His attitude to Stalinism remained ambiguous. In the 1957 preface to the German edition of The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, he referred to events which demand a rethinking of certain problems connected with Stalin’s legacy. Only then “as with Rosa Luxemburg’s complex legacy, can Stalin’s positive achievements be seen in perspective” (Lukács 1963, p. 10). In the preface to the English edition in 1962, he went further, stating: “Nevertheless, the effort to rid the movement of the disastrous legacy of Stalinism—and to recover the creative teaching of Marx, Engels and Lenin—remains our most urgent task” (Lukács 1963, p. 7).
Lukács’ political importance declined with the failures of the orthodox communist movement and of the New Left that aspired to replace it. He was a man of great learning and intellectual power and his work, notably History and Class Consciousness and The Historical Novel, retains considerable importance for those interested in the relationship between the communist movement and cultural policy. However, as Deutscher has pointed out, one has to be wary of Lukács’ erudite sophistication (Deutscher 1971, pp. 292-293). At best, Lukács struggled to maintain an ambiguity between the European culture with which he was imbued and the totality of the communist movement to which he had given himself. At worst, he adopted a “notoriously Stalinist standpoint”, with his writings on Heinrich Mann “a pendant to the Stalinist ‘struggle for allies’” (Deutscher 1971, pp. 291-292). Kolakowski makes a similar point when he observes that Lukács’ critique of Stalinism “did not step outside its fundamental bases” (Kolakowski 1978, p. 307). Instead, Lukács saw only Stalinism’s tactical errors and sectarian basis and did not attempt any fundamental assessment of its moral direction, remaining to the end what he had been since 1919: a committed Communist Party ideologist. The implications for Lukács’ continuing relevance as a cultural theorist are profound. His work should be read in historical context and only applied to the development of a new anti‐capitalist cultural politics in the light of an understanding of Lukács’ original motivation and perspective.