Lukács' critique of fascist ideology



The objective of Lukács' analysis is to demonstrate that the Nazi conception of the world is a product of the ideological evolution of the German bourgeoisie

In 1933, after Hitler's rise to power, Lukács wrote to Moscow, shortly after fleeing Berlin, a long essay entitled Wie ist die faschistische Philosophie in Deutschland entstanden? (How did fascist philosophy emerge in Germany?), which remained unpublished until 1982. The book reconstructs the birth of fascist ideology in Germany, from the irrationalist reaction against Hegelian philosophy to Nazi ideology itself. Lukács analyzes the influence of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on German intellectuals, both academic and otherwise. In fact, neither Schopenhauer nor Nietzsche were ever part of the German academy, which was later influenced by their philosophies regarding certain strata of German civil society. Instead, civil society was influenced by Bismarckian cultural policy or the Wilhelminian period, with the historians Treitschke and Meinecke. Lukács highlights the fact that prestigious philosophers and sociologists from the beginning of the 1914th century, such as Max Weber or Simmel, adhered to Bismarckian and Wilhelmine imperialist culture, approving – in Weber's case – enthusiastically Germany's entry into the war in XNUMX.

The adherence of German academia to the irrationalist conception of the world was also followed, in the post-war period, by the weakness of German social democracy, which was unable to counter Germany's entry into the war and then intervened to exit it only after the disastrous outcome. of events. In fact, those who signed the Compiègne armistice were the same ones who should have detained William II in 1914 and, instead, approved the “war credits”, that is, the social democrats. The book reflects the political climate of the time, that is, when social democrats were considered the “twin brothers” of fascists and communists rejected any anti-fascist alliance; therefore, after 1928, when the Blum's theses were written and after the great crisis of 1929, Lukács declared that the determining criterion in choosing the German philosophers to be criticized was their position in relation to Marx. The book has its importance in the history of the development of Lukács' thought, because, for the first time, the Economic-philosophical manuscripts 1844 were cited, which Lukács had read, in 1930, in Moscow. This book was preceded by writings in which the analysis of the fascization of culture begins.

The book begins with an analysis of German society shortly after Hitler's rise to power. Lukács states that among some strata of the German bourgeoisie there is discontent, a result of the growth of the crisis of the 30s, discontent that extends to the proletarian layers, because, without a doubt, a determining role in the seizure of power by the Nazis was played by the crisis of 1929 and the subsequent disappointment of the masses. In practice, Germany's problem after Hitler took power is the role of the proletariat, which leads to another problem: the existence or not of the capitalist system, that is, even in 1933, the question is the same as the first post -war. Lukács intuits that anti-capitalist sentiment among the masses is so strong that the German ruling class fears that the masses will join communism. Lukács hopes that opponents of Nazism can completely overthrow the structure of the capitalist system in Germany, freeing workers from exploitation and taking advantage of the crisis of 1929, which was one of the causes of Nazism's rise to power. However, the historical confrontation is between fascism and communism; democracy is excluded from the struggle for dominance in Europe.

The objective of Lukács' analysis is to demonstrate that the Nazi conception of the world is a product of the ideological evolution of the German bourgeoisie. The German bourgeoisie, threatened by the proletarian revolution, migrated to the Nazi camp and adopted its worldview, without straying too far from its ideological foundations. The alternative is the alliance between workers and intellectuals, that is, it comes from the ability of intellectuals to return to the fundamental values ​​of Marxism-Leninism and of workers to recover their class consciousness. It is necessary to transform the otherness of the worker in relation to capitalist society.

Adherence to dialectical materialism is considered by Lukács as an indispensable tool in the anti-Nazi struggle. With this statement, Lukács rejects his work History and Class Consciousness and denounces its errors, such as the limitation of materialism to human society and the impossibility of a dialectic of nature, as Engels defended. This is the first time that Lukács has distanced himself from his 1923 work and all his enthusiastic supporters. Soon after, Lukács explains the cultural background behind the reconstruction of the absorption of German philosophy into the Nazi conception of the world. Lukács recognizes that he himself lived this life experience in his youth. What he writes in this essay has the same tone of autobiography that can be found in The destruction of reason, but at the same time it is a measure of the difference of his own life experience and thinking in relation to many of his former friends. Here the reasons for his criticism are explained, but also for his relative adherence to Stalinism in the anti-Nazi struggle, which even goes back to his youthful rejection of his own class origin.

Nazi ideology is distinguished by the confusion of ideas, confused in a synthesis that only appears superficially coherent, but whose ultimate objective is the alleged reconciliation of opposing conceptions of social classes. Furthermore, Nazi ideology resorts to the use of myth to spread and impose its own ideology, treating this myth as if it were science. Therefore, scientificity is abandoned in favor of myth, and anti-scientificity is elevated to a scientific conception to the point of entering academia. In this way, the German intelligentsia completed its involution by allying itself with Nazism. Ideal chaos replaces the reconstruction of the causes of concrete things. The ideal condition of Nazi ideology is similar to the famous Hegelian metaphor of the “night when all cows are black”. Fascist ideology may even contain valid criticisms of capitalism, but it mixes them with enormous falsehoods, unable to overcome the limits of bourgeois society. However, it is undeniable that fascism supports monopoly capitalism and that it corrodes the philosophy that preceded it with the use of a language steeped in a biological lexicon.

Although with striking differences and nuances, romantic anti-capitalism converges in the Nazi conception of society. However, Lukács recognizes its importance. While it is dialectics that differentiates historical and dialectical materialism from any other critical tendency of bourgeois society. The other critical trends perceive the malaise of monopoly capitalist society, but are unable to trace the cause of this dissatisfaction. Not even the social democrats know how to resolve the dissatisfaction of the proletarian masses who, as a result, move closer to Nazi ideology. In fact, the Social Democrats assimilated Nazism to Bolshevism, denying any possibility of an anti-Nazi alliance, thus seeking to support bourgeois ideology. In reality, the struggle for bourgeois and social democratic “reason” was the annulment of dialectics and materialism and the work of convincing the German proletariat to passively accept all actions to consolidate the bourgeois social and economic order. Lukács suggests that social democracy was unable to distance itself from the bourgeois world conception, ending up continuing on the path of bourgeois decadence. In fact, for Lukács, the social-fascist betrayal goes back to Lassalle and his concessions to Bismarck's policy.

The great consequence of this “reason” purified by dialectics is the exaltation of necessity to the detriment of freedom and practice, to the point that freedom becomes irrational, at most it can be freedom from capitalist exploitation. This is the “Realpolitik without principles” for Lukács. Furthermore, the resumption of Kantian ethical formalism allows both bourgeois intellectuals and social democrats to preach an ethical universality that escapes the concrete conditions of proletarian life. Thus, an abstraction of the problems of everyday life occurs and an abstract solidarity is proposed, which often turns into a religious socialism with a romantic color. In this way, a unity of opposites is constituted, in which, however, the conflicting elements remain existing; it is not the identity of opposites, typical of Italian idealism, where opposites are canceled.

In the paragraph “The weakness of the left opposition”, Lukács renews his attack on Rosa Luxemburg and her opposition to the Bolshevik conception of organization, of the relationship between masses and class, class and party, party and political leadership. Lukács also accuses Rosa Luxemburg of rejecting the dialectical conception of Marxism. Rosa Luxemburg's Marxism, therefore, remained within the framework of the Second International. Furthermore, aesthetically, Rosa Luxemburg is linked to Franz Mehring's pro-Schiller positions, which caused this ideological confusion on the German left and prevented a reaction to the Nazi wave. Without a doubt, this attack by Lukács reveals a very rigid ideological position, a Leninism without nuances, which does not overcome the criticisms that Rosa Luxemburg directed at Lenin, which does not allow openings even to the most radical tendencies of German social democracy.

On the other hand, Lukács continually argues throughout the volume that those who face fascism without decisive action, supported by a well-organized theory, end up choosing between nuances of fascism itself and are unable to avoid it. Thus, German social democracy, which did not take decisive political action and began to adopt a superficial Marxism, ended up becoming an organic component of the fascist system and its followers migrated to the ranks of the Nazis.

However, in the midst of the controversial analysis of the German situation shortly after the rise of Nazism to power, and even to clarify the foundations of his controversy, Lukács exposes some of his fundamental ideas about politics, in which his rejection of ideological impositions is clear. , including and above all from above, just as the appeal to the fundamental interests of the masses is clear, that is, to the reproduction of the lives of human beings through work, a true real strength, and with it freedom of action. Lukács is deeply concerned about the abandonment of the masses by the Social Democrats and their consequent participation in Nazi ideology; he sees this abandonment as a result of the social democratic party's distancing from civil society, but abandonment is common to all parties in the Weimar Republic and this space left empty will be filled by Nazism.

We seem to glimpse some of the political ideas of the last Lukács. His belief that the proletariat will bring a new culture and new democratic forms to political society is strong.

The second essay against fascist ideology, Wie ist Deutschland zum Zentrum der reaktionären Ideologie geworden? (How did Germany become the center of reactionary ideology?), was written by Lukács in the winter of 1941-42 in Taskent, where he was evacuated for fear of Moscow's surrender. It was written, as Lukács himself states, shortly after rejecting the attack on Moscow. The essay was ready for translation into French in 1947, but was neither translated nor published. Some parts ended up in the first chapter of The destruction of reason, but here I wanted to translate them. This essay, therefore, was written when the first signs of Nazism's military crisis manifested themselves, just as the previous one was written on the eve of Nazism's rise to power, both are writings dedicated to a particularly acute political struggle.

Lukács states that the weakness of German democracy also lies in the fragility of its worldview. This is a subjective factor that has always been present in German history. This subjective factor is indicated by Lukács with the name “German misery”, which consists of respect for authority, even when one does not agree with the decisions of that authority. These middle classes find a consoling philosophy in Nietzsche's philosophy, which justifies their refusal and rebellion against the existing order. This inner misery contrasts with the intellectual richness of some prominent figures in German culture, and Lukács analyzes two of them: Goethe and Hegel, who are the two figures traditionally referenced in his own intellectual evolution. Lukács finds in the classical German humanists the tradition that he intends to continue in his own political-intellectual project.

The most significant difference between the two essays on the analysis of pre-Nazi and Nazi German culture is in the judgment on German social democracy; If in the first there was a condemnation of social democracy as social fascism, in the second the tone is more moderate. Accusations of giving in to the political violence of Nazism remain, but the tones of criticism on this occasion reflect the changed international political climate and, mainly, the war, and, therefore, Stalin's rapprochement with his former “social-fascist” enemies, now allies. in the anti-fascist struggle. Lukács sees the validity of his political line expressed in Blum's theses, from 1928, of an alliance between communists and social democrats, that is, at a historical moment in which Stalin was imposing his line of “social fascism”, while Lukács proposed an alliance with the so-called class enemies of social democracy. In this critique of German culture, Lukács gives himself a task that he would like to extend to all communists: analyzing the German cultural tradition in order to recover the progressive roots of this culture and not leave them under conservative and reactionary cultural hegemony. It was, after all, the same task that Engels had set himself.

Now Lukács' judgment on pre-Nazi German culture is more balanced, there is, above all, a clear difference between the intention of the various pre-Nazi German philosophers and the result achieved, that is, the influence that their works had on the German readers, already prepared by a tradition of irrationalism widespread in pre-Nazi Germany. Irrationalism, combined with agnosticism and anti-scientificity, is the symptom of the decadence of bourgeois thought. Also in this second essay, Lukács recalls, but in more detail, that irrationalism was a reaction of German culture to the openings of classical German humanism which, in turn, was strongly influenced by the French Revolution. Fichte himself, who proclaimed himself champion of the wars of liberation from the Napoleonic occupation, did not completely reject the themes of classical humanism, but was concerned with translating them into political thought, albeit nationalist. For Lukács, even some eminent representatives of German romanticism were in favor of a democratization of German society, but they did not have sufficient capacity to penetrate German mass culture.

The rupture occurred with the Revolution of 1848, when the German bourgeoisie feared losing control over civil society to the benefit of the incipient socialist movements. Once again, the German masses frighten the bourgeois minority. For Lukács, in this second essay, the German bourgeoisie is still experiencing the consequences of the resistance and oppression that the German nobility put into practice against Thomas Müntzer's peasant movement. History repeated itself with the same disastrous consequences. First Schopenhauer and then Nietzsche managed to monopolize the cultural reaction of the German bourgeoisie against the danger of social movements emerging from below. Schopenhauer addressed the bourgeoisie of emerging German capitalism, which inherited superficial, ugly cultural forms from the old bourgeoisie and which delights in mixing cultural superficiality and the theatrical splendor of life. Nietzsche would even end up accusing Bismarck, an intelligent conservative, of having been too liberal and democratic towards the socialists and should have swept them with the same determination with which he defeated the Austrians and French. In practice, for Nietzsche, socialists were barbarians foreign to Germany who had penetrated its body to provoke the deadly disease of democracy.

The function of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche was to reassure the bourgeoisie, offering them completely invented arguments that fell from the sky: the myths of German culture's foreignness to democracy, suitable, on the contrary, for capitalist countries like France and England, and of the possibility of Germany having its own national path to capitalizing its economy. The myth is pointed out by Lukács as the ideal construction completely disconnected from the reality that German culture proposes to civil society. Thus, if Schopenhauer distracted German culture with a philosophy that comforted its anguish of living, Nietzsche constructed myths such as the superman or historical cyclicality that would lead Germany to dominate the world, as it deserved as a nation of bosses and not slaves.

Lukács analyzes in detail how imperialist culture was able to appropriate these myths to build a German mission in the world: to spread the myth of its superiority over other European nations. The justification of its ambitious expansionist objectives becomes the cultural broth to allow German imperialism to take any action, even those of the worst barbarity. It is already known that in the war against France in 1870, German troops in some cases behaved in a barbaric manner towards French citizens, as Maupassant reports in his Novels Prussians. The situation was even worse during the occupation of neutral Belgium at the beginning of the First World War. Nazi barbarism was clearly anticipated by German imperialist practices, justified by the civilizing mission of the German master race. Spengler and Rosenberg are the ideologues of this self-justification: the first suggesting to his German readers the end of the West, which only Germany can put a stop to, the second declaring that a new Reich with new political leaders will not only be able to stop the crisis of the West , but also to relaunch the Western civilizing mission from Western nations, if they willingly accept and collaborate with Germany's civilizing work.

In short, in the first post-war period, two trends confronted each other. On the one hand, the social democrat, which seeks to mobilize the masses for a reform of German capitalism in a majority sense, but which does not have enough strength to face the fundamental problems of German capitalism and, above all, falls into the trap of justifying the Treaty Peace of Versailles and the necessary restrictive economic measures in relation to workers. On the other hand, the nationalist tendency of a fierce minority, who later became Nazis, to resume the Wilhelmine imperialist project, but with even more radical, pretentious and unscrupulous measures. As we know, this trend was the winner, with the consequences we know.

Faced with the imminence of war, many German intellectuals gave up their judgment and took a stand in favor of the imperialist war desired by William II. Their support for the war also implied acceptance of particularly cruel military actions, such as the invasion of neutral countries Belgium and Luxembourg. Naturally, Lukács distanced himself from this consensus and broke relations with his “masters”, especially Max Weber. Just as in some passages in the first book, in this second we can also see traces of Lukács' philosophical training. It is known that Lukács had shown an inclination towards romantic anti-capitalism, and in this second essay there are also mentions of arguments such as excessive aestheticization, which were typical of the young Lukács, from which he would distance himself when joining the communist movement. The autobiographical allusions to his existential trajectory lead us to reiterate that he also dedicated his long and rich life and work to an ascetic self-discipline, which subordinated his personal interests to the expression of his convictions. Lukács himself, in his youth, behaved like the German philosophers he is criticizing and, it is also worth remembering, that Lukács, who wrote these lines in Taskhent in 1942, fled the previous year, 1941, from the Stalinist police, who had arrested him and He would most likely have been executed or sent to a concentration camp in Siberia, without Dimitrov's providential intervention. That was enough to make him rethink his entire life.

In the final part of the essay, however, Lukács poses the problem of the legacy of Nazism. He wonders which Germany will be ready for the necessary democratization of its political and civil societies. Lukács recognizes that the German people are reactionary; irrationalist culture has penetrated very deeply into German national culture, and they need to deal with this heritage. The problem is being able to assess whether Nazism is a “disease”, as the same liberal thesis would like to support, such as Croce’s interpretation of fascism as an “invasion of the Hyksos”. If Nazism was a temporary illness, then we can fear the desire of a new conservative trend to continue the history of Weimar Germany as if nothing had happened. Even in 1942, the breadth and depth of the Holocaust tragedy had not been fully revealed, although there was already some intuition about what the Nazi concentration camps were. When the truth emerged in all its cruelty, it was realized that one could not simply return to the Weimar era, as after a temporary “illness”.

If we consider the two essays together, we can observe that in the second, Lukács' analysis is more generic and less detailed than in the first essay. And this difference is quite understandable. In the first essay, Hitler's rise to power was more recent and therefore the awareness of defeat was more immediate. In fact, one can observe, on the one hand, considerations about the inability of communism, due to the social-democratic “betrayal”, to mobilize the masses against the reactionary danger, together with the recognition of the Nazi ability to mobilize the German masses to their side. favor. On the other hand, Lukács goes into more detail in the analysis of Nazi ideology, showing all its irrationalist content, together with the surprise of how such content could attract the sympathy of the German intelligentsia who, otherwise, would have been accustomed to the heights of great German humanist culture. This last aspect emerges, however, in the second essay, in which a more general analysis of the history of German culture prevails in relation to the analysis of the political situation of the recent defeat, contained in the first essay. In fact, in the second essay, Lukács asks himself how German culture will present itself in the face of its irrationalist degeneration, since military defeat was considered inevitable as early as 1942, that is, a year before the victory at Stalingrad.

Within the course of the evolution of Lukács' thought, these two essays have the function of preparing the ground for the publication of The destruction of reason, which, despite the objections of some critics of Lukácsian thought, is still a great work on the history of philosophy. Naturally, a work of this scope cannot reach universal consensus, just as these two essays cannot, but, as in the case of The Destruction of Reason, it cannot be denied that these two essays also show all of Lukács's profound analytical capacity. In fact, both essays, as well as The destruction of reason, do not fail to recognize both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and their reflective capabilities on individual issues. Lukács, however, observes how the two philosophers, considered together, form a trend of irrationalist philosophy that, during their lives, had no influence on academic culture, so much so that both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche found no place in German universities and made this rejection a starting point for his criticism of Germany's official culture at the time. Despite this recognition on the part of Lukács, there will obviously still be a small minority of his critics who will remain firm in their condemnation of these two essays, precisely because they are preparatory to The destruction of reason, but, as they say, there is no worse deaf person than the one who doesn't want to hear.

Compared to The destruction of reason, the first essay has a more political bias, although the ending of the essay with the exaltation of the peace movement also has its political relevance. Naturally, there are those who have condemned this exaltation of the peace movement, considering it a Stalinist position. This criticism may seem like a joke, but, unfortunately, it clearly expresses the ideological prejudice of those who criticized the book. In the second essay, there is political concern about which Germany will inherit the defeat of Nazism, but the historical situation is very different from 1954, the year of publication of The destruction of reason, just as the historical situation of the first essay, which is from 1934, is different. But the most important issue is that the irrationalist development of German philosophy passed into the political field: it became an ideology and of the worst kind, that is, an barbarism.

Ninety years later in the case of the first essay and more than eighty years in the case of the second, it is surprising that some themes discussed in them return to the present day. The political growth of the extreme right in Europe presents striking parallels with the political situation analyzed by Lukács. If then socialism caused fear, understood as a foreign element in relation to political society, now the issue of immigration from Africa and Asia takes the place of socialist danger, but with the aggravating factor that the rejection of the strange has passed from political society to civil society. Even now, immigrants are seen as foreign bodies within European civil society, when in fact they are the result of centuries of European imperialism, which destroyed the economic, social and cultural riches of immigrants' countries of origin and now deny, or rather , they hide their responsibility for the origin of this problem. In the same way, the political society of the 1930s in Germany concealed from the working masses that Germany's disastrous economic situation was a consequence of German imperialist policy, aggravated by the economic crisis of 1929.

The massive arrival of masses of immigrants gives rise to the myth of the cultural purity of Europe, or even worse, the West. Official European culture, especially academic culture, hides the objective facts of Western history. European primacy was built on the apocalyptic destruction of America, understood in its broadest sense of the entire American continent. The transfer of mineral wealth, such as gold and silver, to Europe allowed the emergence of European capitalism. At the same time, the transfer of food, such as corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, tobacco, etc., from fertile and abundant America to poor and miserable Europe, fed the European masses who until then suffered daily from hunger. The very conception of the West arises from this transfer of wealth from America to Europe, in contrast to the East which, at the time, was clearly richer and more scientifically and technologically advanced than the West. We cannot forget the human cost of this transfer of wealth, that is, the extermination of pre-Columbian indigenous populations in America, with all their rich heritage of languages, cultures and traditions, of which little memory remains.

Nazism resumed and strengthened the concept of race to find an ideological justification for its imperialist work of extermination of peoples and cultures foreign to that of Germany. Its model was precisely the apocalyptic conquest carried out in the name of the god of peace and love, therefore even more paradoxical and hypocritical in relation to German racial purity. Both conquistadores Both the Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America and the Protestant colonists in North America destroyed and killed to spread Christianity. With religion, they justified this work of apocalypse, because their god could not have given so much natural wealth to people who did not believe in him, so it was necessary to take from them what they did not deserve. The Nazis also intended to destroy and plunder the Soviet Union, because it was the homeland of communism, but at the same time, its Slavic population deserved to become slaves of Germany to build the great Reich of the future, since a superior race deserved a superior role in world history.

Today, we want to defend that West and that Europe resulting from the American Apocalypse. Obviously, it can be rightly objected that today's Europe is not the same as the conquest of America, because among them are the French Revolution and the great values ​​of the Enlightenment. Except for the little-recognized truth that these great Enlightenment values ​​were valid only for Europe, if not even for France, or better yet, for the French bourgeoisie. Likewise, these great Enlightenment values ​​were valid only for white settlers in the United States. The revolt of black slaves in Haiti, in the name of these great Enlightenment values, realized precisely the universality of these values, so it can be said that it was the slaves who made the true revolution.

Today, we want to defend that West and that Europe with all its great Enlightenment values ​​against the victims of Western domination over the planet, against even its critics, proposing irrational myths such as those of progress and European superiority. Defenders of this domain can be placed on the same level as critics of Lukács's analysis of German irrationalism. Lukács criticized a culture both in its initial phase and in its final phase, but our current West is also in a final phase, and intellectuals on the European right are once again proposing and revaluing the West, just as Spengler did in the 30s. as Marx teaches, now history is repeating itself as a farce. The dramatic aspect of this farce is the closure of borders to immigrants; a closure made even more apocalyptic by the intention of helping immigrants “in their home” with the handouts that the European Union proposes to their governments, which were essentially imposed by the West itself to make the exploitation of Africa's riches even more radical and Asia.

In short, history repeats itself, and that would be the eternal return of the same.

*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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