Dialectics and Democracy in Georg Lukacs's Marxism

By Grollios, Vasilis | Capital & Class, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Dialectics and Democracy in Georg Lukacs's Marxism


Grollios, Vasilis, Capital & Class


Introduction

One of the central figures in traditional Marxist theory is Georg Lukacs. Although many articles and books have been written on his political philosophy, very few have attempted to analyse his theory of democracy by drawing a connection between his dialectics and his theory of the state, the role he ascribes to the party in the transition to socialism, and the way in which he believes class consciousness is formed. A philosophical analysis of these parts of his social theory requires an examination of Lukacs's use of the main notions that comprise dialectical theory, such as materialism, totality, negativity, nonidentity thinking, the dialectic between content/essence and form/appearance, and fetishism. The focus here will be not only to identify the obvious uses of these notions in Lukacs's main political writings, but also to unearth their implicit use.

My analysis will attempt to bring to the fore a new aspect of Lukacs's relation to the Frankfurt School's theory of dialectics by showing the extent to which his theory can be viewed as belonging to the bourgeois identity-thinking tradition. Thus, my analysis differs from the majority of the interpretations of Lukacs presented to date, which attribute Lukacs's support of Stalinism to an error in his political tactics, or to the 'sleight of hand' he employs in assigning a central role to the Communist Party. I will argue not only that the reasons for Lukacs's Stalinism lie deep within his theory of dialectics, but, more specifically, I will provide a foundation for the conclusion (a conclusion that, in terms of the existing literature on Lukacs, is 'heretical') that despite his harsh criticism of the philosophy of German idealism, Lukacs does not succeed in disengaging himself from the framework of liberal methodology.

The paper's goal is to offer a coherent view of Lukacs's democratic theory by showing the practical repercussions of his use of the notions that comprise dialectical theory, as well as their connections to one another. Therefore, I hope the paper will be of interest not only to philosophers but also to political scientists. As we are living in an era of crisis in which people are searching for new ideas that may help them fight for human dignity, and since all the ideological armoury of socialist philosophy is therefore being put to the test, an effort to better elaborate on the core ideas of the classics of socialist philosophy should be seen as a valuable exercise. Considering that we are witnessing intense social unrest, just as Lukacs was in his time, the questions his philosophy posed and the problems it tried to resolve are not dissimilar from those we face today.

This article is structured as follows. First, I will investigate Lukacs's writings that deal with aspects of the history of philosophy, including his reading of Marx's materialism and dialectics and the notion of labour in The Ontology of Social Being. In the subsequent section, I will explore his understanding of totality and the formation of consciousness that underpins his theory of the party and state in History and Class Consciousness and in his book on Lenin. Finally, via an exploration of the democratic deficit in Lukacs, the differences in his approach and that of the Frankfurt School toward the notion of negativity will be become clear.

Karl Marx's dialectical materialism in Georg Lukacs's ontology

Before investigating Lukacs's theory of democracy and the party in the third and fourth sections, it is first necessary to explore his reading of Hegel's and Marx's philosophies as his social theory follows and expands on Marx's dialectical materialism in particular. Rather than putting the contrast between the tradition of materialism and that of idealism at the centre of his reading of the history of philosophy, as is usually the case, Lukacs instead places the contrast between the tradition of irrationalism and the tradition that follows dialectical methodology at the centre of his analysis. …

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