The CIA and György Lukács

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By ANTONINO INFRANCA*

The US agency reports on the activities of the Hungarian Marxist.

The most controversial issue for those who, in different degrees, are interested in Lukács is, without a doubt, taking a position in relation to the alleged Stalinist character of his thought. I write “supposed” because, I confess, from the beginning, I was not absolutely convinced of the existence of a Stalinist character in Lukács's thought. I do not deny that he had some connection with Stalinism, having lived from 1933 to 1945 in the Soviet Union and from 1945 to 1971 in Hungary.

But there is also no doubt that he was a victim of Stalinism: he was arrested, in 1941, by the Stalinist police and saved from the Gulag by the intervention of Dimitrov – head of the Communist International –; he was expelled from the University of Budapest in 1949; he was deported to Romania for participating in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution as a minister in the Nagy government; he was expelled from the Hungarian Communist Party from 1929 to 1945 and then from 1949 to 1967.

These data, perhaps, will not convince anyone who argues that, deep down, the victims of Stalinism were, above all, communists, but it cannot be denied that Lukács, as persecuted or excluded – as written above – was an anti-Stalinist communist. It is difficult to think of a victim as adhering to the system that persecuted him, unless one wants to invent some form of pathological masochism for which, moreover, there is no proof. In fact, Lukács always took positions or supported theses that were distant or hostile to Stalinism.

My intention, in this brief article, is to verify what his real opponents thought of Lukács. I am not referring to the irreducible anti-communists like Fejtö or Kerényi, who put forward untenable and substantially ridiculous theses. I am not even referring to the watchdogs of Stalinism, East Germans, or Russians, or Hungarians who, with their condemnations, confirmed the anti-Stalinist character of Lukács's thought.

I refer, on the contrary, to the Central Intelligence Agency, better known by the acronym CIA, that is, the American spy system, which certainly understood Stalinism. A famous intellectual like Lukács did not escape the CIA's attention. She was interested, above all, in his political positions in relation to the Kádár regime, following in his footsteps, therefore, especially after 1956, probably to understand the cultural dynamics of communist Hungary and to understand how much the Kadarian regime was able to control these dynamics.

The first CIA document referring to Lukács dates from 1959, by the author Paul Landy, a writer who fled Hungary due to repression after the defeat of the 1956 Revolution; today, the document is available on the website https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp81-01043r003400130004-2. There are three pages of a collection of documents entitled “The Creative Artist in a Communist Society”. The document referring to Lukács already has the significant title “György Lukács: Hungary's heretical Marxist”. Thus, Lukács was presented as a “heretical Marxist”, whose “thought is very far from the ideological position of the party” (p.1). Landy recognizes Lukács' international fame and warns that, recently (1959), the party attacked him again, because “he refused to give up his 'revisionist' ideas about the rights of individuals in a Marxist State” (Ibid).

Unacceptable for the party was the Lukacsian conception, according to which “the task of Marxist science is to objectively consider literary works”. This position is considered by Landy incompatible with the condemnation of Pasternak and other writers. Lukács was the target of “violent attacks for having refused Party control over literature” (p. 2), arguing that Lenin himself did not have this censorious attitude at all. Lukács is also accused of “having made 'false' statements about the anti-Soviet Hungarian rebellion of 1956 and having supported various views of Marxism which do not correspond to the party's interpretation” (Ibid).

Landy comments that the attack on Lukács is “a lesson to be taught to intellectuals who believe that a certain degree of freedom of thought is authorized in countries governed by communism” (Ibid). This comment confirms that Lukács, thanks to his prestige, could maintain a “heretical” position, that this “heretical” position was considered dangerous by the party, because it could serve as a model to be followed by other intellectuals. It must be remembered that a small group of young intellectuals gathered around Lukács, some of whom formed the so-called “Budapest School”, and other students who, by freeing themselves from the pressures of the Kadarian regime, ended up becoming the most distinguished intellectuals. critics within the entire communist system – Zoltai, Hermann, Almasi. Landy, in view of this, warns that, despite “the series of particularly virulent attacks, Lukács was always admired and respected by intellectuals throughout the communist bloc” (p. 3).

In the report, Landy goes on to emphasize that Lukács' position was always outside the Party's orthodox lines, even when he lived in the Soviet Union. Lukács' active participation in the Hungarian pre-revolutionary period of 1956 and Lukács' definition of “revolution” for the events of 1956 in Hungary particularly irritated the Party. Furthermore, Lukács rejected the official thesis that the events of 1956 were a fascist and imperialist counterrevolution. The regime does not forgive Lukács who, when he was one of the points of reference for the Petöfi Circle – an association of young reformists – argues that “the revolutionary youth could eliminate all Stalinist remnants. The strengthening of democratic freedoms and autonomy were the foundations for determining the Hungarian path to socialism” (p. 2). The future for Lukács will not be favorable unless he conforms to Party guidelines.

A second CIA report on Lukács, dated May 13, 1968, entitled "Lukács Strikes Again", is referred to as "confidential". Can be found on the website https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp79b00864a000800010039-1. The report highlights Lukács' position, publicly expressed in an article in the magazine kortars, against “slightly improved and modernized dogmas and, also, the unilateral adoption of the most stupid Western follies”. The report recalls Lukács' always heretical position in relation to Party directives, his participation in the Nagy government of 1956 and his recent readmission to the Party, which took place in 1967, but which in no way implies “the approval of his theories by the Party ”.

The article in kortars this is nothing new, since “Lukács has recently published numerous articles in foreign magazines, attacking, in turn, the intransigent Stalinists and the desertion of Marxist principles”. The report concludes that all attacks on Lukács only increase his popularity and discredit the party. This confirms that Lukács was able to interpret and therefore represent Hungarian public opinion, which was substantially contrary to Kádár's neo-Stalinist regime.

The third report appears on January 10, 1970, is classified as “Top Secret” and has the generic title “Hungary-Yugoslavia-USSR”. The date is a few months before Lukács' death, June 04, 1971. Available on the website https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0005977238. Refers to an interview by Lukács to the Yugoslav newspaper Borba, in which Lukács “emphatically explains the need for a Marxist renewal to avoid a crisis in the socialist world”. “Lukács vehemently rebuked the Soviet leadership for not more closely partnering with European socialists and dismissed the Stalin theories of his predecessors as “tactical maneuvers that are largely irrelevant”. Lukács' statements were typical of his political position at the time. Quite unusual is the statement that criticism of Stalin was also joined by those of his predecessors: perhaps even Lenin? Certainly not, because it would be a unique case, which was not observed by any scholar of Lukács, nor was it an argument repeated by the Hungarian philosopher. It can therefore be considered a statement worthy of further clarification, perhaps the informant himself wanted to remain vague in order to instill some suspicion about Lukács, as a radical critic of Leninism.

More important, however, is the appreciation expressed towards Tito and the Yugoslav regime, considered “as the greatest contribution to the renewal of Marxism”. This statement by Lukács was probably a concession to the Yugoslavian interviewer, because the term “major” can be contested in light of statements at the time. Lukács recognized the importance of the newness of the Titoist regime, but without wanting to make it a model to propose. Indeed, at the close of the report, the anonymous informant argues that, a few days before the interview, “statements for Lenin's centenary had raised implicit criticisms of the Yugoslav system”, assertions expressed by the Soviet regime. Thus, newspaper editors Borba they had taken the opportunity to interview Lukács and give more relevance to Yugoslav socialism.

The informant, after having summarized the facts, concludes the report with his analysis, arguing that Lukács, for the first time, linked his criticisms of Stalin to current Soviet policy. In fact, Lukács had never spared criticism of Brezhnev's neo-Stalinism, in power in 1970. For the informant, "Lukács' statements will complicate the position of the leader of the Hungarian party Kádár, who is trying to introduce more liberal measures within the limits imposed by Soviet conservatism" .

The fourth report, dated January 10, 1970 and qualified as “Secret”, is entitled “USSR-Yugoslavia-Hungary” and builds on the previous report. It was forwarded to President Richard Nixon in the “The President's Daily Brief”. Can be found on the website https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp79t00975a015300100002-9. In the text addressed to the US president, it is mentioned that Lukács “blamed the Soviets for persistent distortions of Marxism and called for a 'renewed Marxism' in all socialist countries”. The report reinforces the critical value of the interview with the Hungarian philosopher, relating a comparison proposed by Lukács: “French and Italian workers would not like to live in the undemocratic system of the Soviets”.

The intention is clearly to highlight the criticism, not so much of the Soviet economic system, but of the political system, unacceptable for Western workers, accustomed to democratic confrontation with state institutions. Contrary to the unacceptable Soviet system, “Lukács praised Tito's system of self-management as a contribution to the resurgence of the fundamental ideas of a workers' democracy”. The report concludes with the observation that the Kádár regime can also ignore Lukács' criticisms, but these will not go unnoticed by the Soviets, who will ask their Hungarian ally for explanations.

The report fears that “the Yugoslav officials will be equally concerned about the interview; although they do not disagree with Lukács, they nevertheless do not want Hungary's prudent liberalization to be compromised by the strengthening of Soviet controls”. In short, Lukács seems to be able to disturb all three socialist regimes with his interviews and outright positions that, according to the CIA, renew his strong anti-Stalinist character.

*Antonino Infranca He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Author, among other books, of Work, individual, history – the concept of work in Lukács (Boitempo).

Translation: Juliana Hass

 

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