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The Philosophical Leninism and Eastern ‘Western Marxism’ of Georg Lukács

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AbstractThis essay centres on the English translation (2000) of Georg Lukács’s Tailism and the Dialectic (written in either 1925 or 1926). Lukács is generally heralded as a founding theoretician of a ‘Western Marxism’, in opposition to ‘Eastern’ Soviet Marxism, and his most impressive and most influential work, History and Class Consciousness (1923), is generally treated as having rehabilitated Marxist concern with questions of subjectivity. It might therefore come as a surprise when Lukács in Tailism states that the purpose of History and Class Consciousness was to demonstrate ‘that the organisation and tactics of Bolshevism are the only possible consequence of Marxism’. In my view, however, this should already be abundantly clear from History and Class Consciousness. For Lukács’s absorption with proletarian subjectivity was motivated by an obsession with what he saw as its immaturity. And he coined the category of ‘reification’ in order to explain his disappointed expectations, to explain, that is, why the proletariat did not make a ‘socialist’ revolution in the ‘objectively ripe’ situation of an ‘imperialist war’ created by ‘moribund capitalism’. In short, Lukács did raise anew the question of the subjective, but only to then declare that workers, not even ‘the most revolutionary among them’, could never attain proper class consciousness, which he attributed instead to the ‘revolutionary party’ bearing the properly revolutionary theory. For this reason I agree with Slavoj Žižek’s characterisation of Lukács as the ‘ultimate philosopher [my emphasis] of Leninism’ – although I do think that Lenin himself would have found, as he did in connection with one of Lukács’s other works, Marxism ‘present only at a verbal level’. My concern is two-fold: with a critique of the methodological short-cuts that Lukács made in his purely conceptual derivation of the concept of reification, and his purely conceptual attribution of it as the necessary form of working-class consciousness ‘in its immediacy’; and with the dangerous political consequences that Lukács derived from his assessment of the reified character of working-class subjectivity, mainly a theoretical guarantee that the party with the proper revolutionary theory must always be right, or at least more right than anyone else.

Affiliations: 1: Clark Honors College, University of


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